THE TIFFANYS — FATHER AND SON
The Tiffanys, both father and son created impressive works for a couple of historic figures captured in bronze in Madison Square Park — Admiral David G. Farragut (Augustus Saint-Gaudens, sculptor; Stanford White, architect, 1881) and Chester Arthur.
In 1864, Farragut, the distinguished naval war hero was presented a gem-stone encrusted commemorative sword specially crafted by Tiffany & Co. Then in 1881, Arthur upon the assassination of James Garfield, contracted Louis Comfort Tiffany to redecorate several rooms of the White House, including the East Room, Blue Room, Red Room and State Dining Room. Arthur did not agree with Garfield’s taste and would not take up residency before work was complete, which Tiffany achieved in a record seven weeks.
As early as the 1840s, the crossing of Fifth Avenue and Broadway juxtaposed with Madison Square Park created a vast field for public gatherings and entertainments. It was around 1845 when members of the Knickerbocker Club played an English game of rounders on the abandoned Military Parade Ground from which the current Madison Square Park is carved. From their game evolved the creation of the rules of baseball as we know them today. How fitting that Tiffany & Co. in 1888 created the first World Championship Baseball Trophy depicting the five players necessary to play the game — umpire, catcher, pitcher, batter and outfielder.
A series of colossal celebrations would fill the Madison Square venue between 23rd and 26th Streets. One of the earliest of these was held in 1876 to celebrate the Centennial of United States Independence. For this occasion, Tiffany & Co created an American Flag brooch, with the original 13 colonies represented by 13 diamond and ruby stripes and 13 diamond stars surrounded by sapphires. They also produced a sterling silver bangle bracelet with 13 stars commemorating the original 13 colonies. In 1889, for the centennial celebration of George Washington’s inauguration, Augustus Saint-Gaudens designed a medallion from which Tiffany & Co. produced medal badges of gold, silver and bronze for the members of the committees and certain distinguished invited guests, including President Benjamin Harrison. This event was followed in 1892 by the festivities marking the four-hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America, for which Louis Comfort Tiffany was appointed to the Honorary Advisory Committee and together with Stanford White created the guidelines for property owners on the appropriate festive adornments for their shops, homes and clubs. Then in 1899, the city welcomed Admiral George Dewey back from the Philippines. The main viewing stand was erected at 24th Street where a temporary commemorative arch spanned Fifth Avenue. For the occasion, Tiffany & Co. produced a special military decoration, the Dewey medal, commemorating the Battle of Manila Bay, which was awarded to every officer who took part in the war effort.
Charles Tiffany died in February 1902, and his funeral was held at the old Madison Square Presbyterian Church, or Parkhurst Church, at the southeast corner of Madison Avenue and 24th Street on the site of today’s Met Life Tower. Upon the death of his father, Louis Comfort Tiffany was given a controlling interest in Tiffany & Co. and became the company’s first Artistic Director, establishing the “Tiffany Art Jewelry” Department.
Stanford White, who had designed the second Madison Square Garden on the Park, and Louis Comfort Tiffany would work extremely closely on two of White’s last commissions. Charles Tiffany, at the time of his death, had already been thinking about his next move, so shortly thereafter, the board of directors commissioned Stanford White to design its fifth retail location for Tiffany & Co. — an elegant marble palazzo on Fifth Avenue at 37th Street that was completed in 1905.
In 1904, Stanford White would begin work on his final, and what was considered to be his finest, work — the new Madison Square Presbyterian Church. He called upon Louis Comfort Tiffany to create most of the interior appointments for the church that was to be located directly across the street from the old church structure. Aside from the pews and altar details, Tiffany created six arched windows — three fitted with stained glass and three with mosaics — plus a stained glass rose window. These windows were the product of the Ecclesiastic Department of Louis Comfort Tiffany, which was located at 46 West 23rd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, another division of his business created to handle his many church commissions.
In 1906 White was just putting the finishing touches on this great work, when he met his untimely death on the nearby roof garden of Madison Square Garden at the hands of a deranged Harry Thaw. White’s masterpiece stood for a brief 13 years until Reverend Parkhurst retired in 1919. At this time the church was carefully dismantled with many of its magnificent elements acquired by various institutions. The Tiffany windows went to the Mission Inn in Riverside, California and many of Tiffany’s interior appointments were placed in the First Presbyterian Church on Fifth Avenue and 12th Street, in New York City. Other elements went to the Brooklyn Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art.
It is quite difficult to calculate how many Tiffany treasures — produced by both father and son — might have been sequestered behind the residential facades of Madison Square. In addition to possessing safely secured jewels, residents certainly would have dined with, and sipped from, the most exquisite silver services Charles Lewis Tiffany had to offer. At the same time, they would have relaxed in their parlors decorated and illuminated with the furnishings, textiles and lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Although the lines between father and son seem to often blur, both Charles L. Tiffany and Louis Comfort Tiffany managed to leave their indelible stamp of taste and elegance — each in his own way — on Madison Square’s Gilded Age.