740 Park: The Story of the World’s Richest Apartment Building
Michael Gross Broadway
The Astors once dismissed the Vanderbilts as a railroad people, but one early resident of 740, Rosina Sherman Hoyt, who was a grandniece of Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman, says a family member, ‘would have thought Mrs Astor a parvenue’. Snobbism about money is at the core of this illuminating social history, in which we are treated to a captivating cast of tycoons, entrepreneurs, wayward heirs, eccentric widows, idlers, spendthrifts, rogues, villains, and other exemplars of the maladjusted rich.
The building was the brainchild of Jackie Kennedy’s grandfather, James T Lee, an Irish-American property developer (who apparently kept his own mother upstairs when visitors came to call, on account of her impenetrable Irish brogue) and Rosario Candela, an innovative Sicilian-born architect with a penchant for crosswords and cryptography, and the ‘masterbuilder of uptown New York’.
Candela ‘set out to build a stack of mansions, four triplex maisonettes and another 20 grand duplex apartments, most with between ten and 13 spacious rooms, galleries, conservatories, and loggias, all designed to offer maximum sunlight and corss-venitlation’, Gross explains. ‘It was a beehive of apartments, each fit for its own Queen.’ Or princess. Jackie Kennedy’s father, Jack Bouvier, was given an apartment by his father in-law, but he didn’t have enough furniture, so the Bouvier girls, Lee and Jackie, learned to roller-skate and rode tricycles around rooms with 18 feet-high ceilings.
As Gross points out, ‘nobody with serious money would have lived on Park’ before the mid-1920s when the Grand Central Terminal was completed and the rail yards hidden underground.
So how did the 740 Park story begin?