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1009 Fifth Avenue

(originally the Benjamin N. and Sarah Duke House)

Southeast corner at 82nd Street

1009 Fifth Avenue

1009 Fifth Avenue

By Carter B. Horsley

This splendid, robust and interesting Beaux Arts-style mansion was originally built in 1901 on speculation by W. W. & T. Hall and designed by Alexander Welch of Welch, Smith & Provot.

It first owner was Benjamin N. Duke.

It has more visibility perhaps than any other townhouse in the city because it is directly opposite the large stairs at the entrance of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Depending upon one's attitudes, this is a fabulous location because of its proximity to the museum and its treasures, or a terrible location because of its proximity to the museum and its tourists.

(One's attitude should be the former!)

A confection of fašade details, this red-brick building has large curved bays on its avenue and side-street frontages topped by balustraded balconies, a very handsome rusticated limestone one-story base, limestone quoins, a handsome fenced moat, and a delightful mansard roof capped with finials that were replaced in 1985 when the building was renovated and subdivided into apartments.

In his excellent book: "Streetscapes, Tales of Manhattan's Significant Buildings and Landmarks," (Harry N. Abrams, 2003), Christopher Gray devotes a chapter to this building and notes that "it was actually one of a group of four houses, 1006-1009 Fifth," adding that "In late 1901, the critic Montgomery Schuyler ridiculed this building and others in an article in the magazine Architectural Record entitled "The Architecture of the Billionaire District.' Schuyler conceded some competent touches in the thouse but generally dismissed 1009 Fifth Avenue (and other mansions on Fifth), singling out the sheet-metal cornice painted to imitate stone."

Mr. Gray also wrote that it is not clear why Benjamin Duke "bought 1009 Fifth Avenue instead of building a house of his own design. In addition, census, city directories , and other sources list no occupant of the house until 1907, when Benjamin Duke moved in from the old Hoffman House Hotel. He moved to the Plaza Hotel in 1909, and his brother replaced him at 1009 Fifth. In 1912, James built his own mansion at 1 East 78th Street, now owned by New York University, and Benjamin built one on the southeast corner of 89th Street and Fifth Avenue that was demolished years later for the Guggenheim Museum. Other family members moved into 1009 Fifth; they were followed in 1922 by Anthony J. Drexel Biddle Jr., and his wife, Mary, Benjamin's daughter. Mrs. Biddle died in 1960, and her daughter, Mary Biddle Semans, took over the home."

The building was owned by Alex Sapir who acquired it for about $40 million.  It was put on the market in January, 2010, for about $50 million and an article by Josh Barbanel at wsj.com July 28, 2010 said it was sold for about $44 million to Carlos Slim, a wealthy Mexican.

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