Back in the day, Colonnade Row was a top address for the guilded age wealthy of NYC. However, in the infinite wisdom of other NYC real estate moves, John Wannamaker tore down five of the facades of this beautiful architectural landmark to put up one of his warehouses. And since that infamous decision, the fate of these ruins have remained a mystery. That is, unless you went to the Delbarton School in Morristown, NJ:
In the 1890s the Philadelphia dry goods magnate John Wanamaker, who had taken over the old A. T. Stewart store on Broadway and Eighth Street, acquired the southerly five houses of Colonnade Row. In 1902, or perhaps 1903, he demolished his properties.
Two decades later, Delbarton, the country house of the banker Luther Kountze in Morristown, N.J., came to be owned by a Benedictine monastery, St. Mary’s Abbey, which also operates the Delbarton School.
Generations of students wandered into the woods for nonacademic purposes, encountering a mysterious group of tumbled Corinthian capitals, column drums, wreaths and cornices that came to be known as the Lost City.
The archivist of Delbarton was always curious about these ruins in the forest behind the school, and it was a recent and amazingly simple Google search that solved the mystery.
In a chance encounter with a garden designer, Marta McDowell of Chatham, N.J., Father Benet mentioned his continuing quest. Within a day or two, he recalls, she had typed into Google the search string ‘wanamaker Corinthian demolition’ raising a March 2008 article in Period Homes magazine by the classical architect Thomas Gordon Smith on the surviving houses of Colonnade Row “with images that match exactly the pieces of Delbarton’s Lost City.” Bingo.
As it happens Mr. Smith, a professor of architecture at the University of Notre Dame, has for years been studying Colonnade Row, making measured drawings of the surviving houses and interiors. He used them as an inspiration in designing the 2007 Classical Galleries in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
When he learned of the Delbarton trove, he was in Morristown in a week, like an Egyptologist who has found out that there is another chamber in King Tut’s Tomb.
Doing a simple search on Google today yields a Flickr Photo Set from May of this year that also connects these dots, so while this mystery is profiled in the NY Times today, it’s really been in the public domain for about 4 months now.
Old Colonnade Row Photo courtesy Curator of Shit