The Manhattan Country School purchased the five-story townhouse at 7 East 96th Street as their base of operations in 1965, exactly fifty years after the building was constructed and two years before it was designated an individual landmark by the city. Now, another half-century later, the school has decided that it's time to expand, and put the French-style limestone mansion on the market for $23 million.
The house was designed, built, and originally lived in by early 20th century architect Ogden Codman, who hoped that he could inspire others to hire him to design similar houses on 96th Street between Fifth and Madison, turning his block into what historian Christopher Gray referred to as "an elegant Parisian ensemble, with wide, French-style town houses lining the wide block, almost like a European square." If anyone could have done it, it would have been Codman, who designed houses for Edith Wharton and Cornelius Vanderbilt II and, with Wharton, wrote the popular book "The Decoration of Houses," which cemented his reputation as a tastemaker. Codman and Wharton argued against the "overstuffed opulence of the gilded age," advocating a more pared down aesthetic. Although many of his ideas caught on, his vision for 96th Street never fully materialized and Codman moved to Paris in the 1920s.
The house's next residents were the daughter of Joseph Pulitzer and her husband, the great-great=grandson of Clement Clarke Moore, who wrote "Twas the Night Before Christmas." The couple sold the house in 1948. In 1965, it was purchased by the Manhattan Country School, who would go on to renovate and add the fifth floor. Even five stories are barely enough to contain their 208-person student body, however, and the school is now in the process of looking for new digs that will allow their enrollment to double to 400. As for what's next for the mansion, it's anybody's guess, although the individual landmark status should halt overzealous condo developers in their tracks. Despite it being used as a school for the past 49 years, the building is still zoned for residential use.
· Listing: 7 East 96th Street [Corcoran]
· Streetscapes/7 East 96th Street; A French-Style 1913 Town House, in Limestone [NYT]
· Manhattan Country School Outgrows Its Mansion [WSJ]