Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Fathers of the Five Towns: Isaac D. Levy

Roselle Manor in Cedarhurst, built in the style of an English Renaissance manor house, was the summer home of Isaac D. Levy and his family.  Levy, president of Oppenheim, Collins and Co., a women's specialty department store, lived in the home for over 20 years.

When it was built in the early 1900s,  the mansion was surrounded by five and a half acres at Cedarhurst Avenue and West Broadway.  The $300,000 mansion was designed by the architects Buchman and Fox, and  was landscaped by the firm of Lord and Burnham, who also designed the attached conservatory.   According to Long Island Country Houses and their Architects, 1860-1940:
 the sedate mansion incorporated curved gables, mullioned windows and other motifs of English Renaissance manor houses.   (p.86)
Rosetta and Isaac D. Levy (c1920)

Born in London, Isaac Levy's family came to the United States in 1880.  After a brief stay in New York, they settled in Chicago, where Isaac got a position as a cash boy for $2 a week in the cloak department of The Fair, a popular retail store.  He learned quickly, and by 1891 was a cloak and suit buyer for another large retail establishment.  His experience and innovation earned him a transfer from Chicago to New York.  It was shortly after this that Levy approached Charles J. Oppenheim of Oppenheim Collins with the idea of opening a retail store.  For a business which had formerly catered only to the wholesale trade, this was a major endeavor, but Oppenheim backed Levy's vision and a store on 21st Street and Broadway was quickly replaced by a larger emporium at 35 West 34th Street. 
Oppenheim & Collins' 34th St. store, c1955 (Library of Congress)

In 1902, the "prominent young business man of New York" married "one of the belles in Jewish society circles of the city [Boston]."  The "strikingly handsome" Miss Rosetta Davis and Isaac Levy were wed in a ceremony which was detailed in  the Boston Globe (June 10, 1902, p.8) 

Manhattan changed rapidly during the next few years  years and 34th Street, which had not been a fashionable shopping area, was developing thanks to the efforts of John Howes Burton (another Branch resident) and the Save New York Committee.  The area became second only to Fifth Avenue as a shopping center.

Levy's career took off and their country home was built to accommodate their growing family.  The 1915 New York State census lists the Isaac and Rosetta Levy in Cedarhurst with their daughters, Miriam and Kathleen and a son, Robert.  Another child, Dorothy, had died. An estate the size of Roselle Manor required a staff of eleven living on the property. 

While maintaining their Manhattan apartment, the Levy's summered in Cedarhurst for at least twenty years. But by 1925, they had decided to sell Roselle Manor.  A legal dispute arose between the Levys and their agents, resulting in a 1927 compromise in which Roselle Manor was donated to St. Joseph's Hospital in Far Rockaway as a memorial for Dorothy.  The house was to be used as a convalescent home for children. It was eventually turned over to five trustees to sell and use the proceeds to build a maternity and children's wing for the hospital. The house was eventually demolished in the 1960s.  

After leaving Cedarhurst, the Levys  relocated to Deal, New Jersey, where Isaac Levy died in 1934, after a brief illness. Over 700 people attended the funeral of the man the Brooklyn Daily Eagle called "the prince of merchant princes in the realm of ready-to-wear"   Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, a close friend,  eulogized Mr. Levy as 

an outstanding and revealing personality.    ...What he believed he said and what he said he believed.  He spoke the truth, for he loved the truth and he hated a lie.  He loathed anything that was unfair.  He rose from obscurity to a place of power and distinction in the world of affairs.  His business meant much to him, and he gave unwearyingly [sic] of his time to it, not for his own sake but for the sake of those close to him and for the reputation of his business.  - (The New York Times, September 12, 1934, p. 23)

J.J. Schmidt, whose great-grandmother, Annie Turner (Wallace)  worked at Roselle Manor, has allowed us to use some images from his collection, which show the mansion in its glory days.

Further Information:   (Some links may require HWPL library card login)
"Isaac D. Levy Dies, head of Big Store," The New York Times, September 16, 1934, p. 17.
"Isaac D. Levy, merchant, dies at Home,"  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 10, 1934, p. 7.
"Suit is Turned into $200,000 Hospital Gift, as Litigants Transfer Estate as Memorial," The New York Times, February 22, 1927, p. 21.
"Levy-Davis: Members of Jewish Society of Boston, New York and Philadelphia unite in Celebrating the Event." Boston Daily Globe, June 10, 1902, p. 8.

No comments: