So, Martin Van Buren is not among the most memorable U.S. presidents. Nonetheless, he was the eighth president of America — and the first U.S. president to actually be born in America after the country declared its independence from England, unlike the previous seven, who had been born in colonial America.
The son of a Dutch tavern owner and farmer, Van Buren was born upstate in Kinderhook and, as a lawyer, he became a power player in New York politics with such skill that he was eventually rewarded with the presidency in 1847. He served one term.
Now comes word that a townhouse at 150 East 38th Street may or may not have been the residence of Van Buren or any of his relatives. While there is no definitive documentation about the actual Van Buren ownership of the property, 150 East 38th Street has been listed for sale, and with it the revived the legend that his family once resided there.
The owners of this Federalist-style townhouse are seeking $4.9 million for the property, which is unique not only because of its potential presidential lineage. The 20-foot wide townhouse has not been on the market for 53 years and is said to be part of a larger parcel owned by Van Buren’s wife, which also included the home at 152 East 38th Street, which sits in the back. (You can see that brick home in the picture above.) The two houses share the courtyard entry.
Located in Murray Hill, which remains one of the most classically, Old World neighborhoods in the city, the 1850’s townhouse runs 3,680 square feet. There are 5 bedrooms, 4 full baths, 2 partial baths, library, terrace, garden and laundry room.
The New York Times wrote extensively in 2001 about the property at 152 East 38th Street, which was once part of the same parcel as 150 East 38th Street. The garden path of 152 East 38th Street’s lot winds through the side of this listing’s yard.
The Times writes that:
Although the plaque, installed in 1989 by the New York Landmarks Preservation Foundation, a private group, says that the house was ”a gatehouse for an estate belonging to a member of President Martin Van Buren’s family,” the estate era of Murray Hill was long over by 1855, when Patrick McCafferty, a contractor, bought a vacant lot at 152 East 38th Street and an adjacent plot on the north side of 37th Street.
Likewise, there are no records that can verify if Mary Van Buren, who is shown to have bought the home in 1887, truly was the widow of James Van Buren or what relationship there was to the former president.
Regardless of the real nature of the presidential history, a remodel of the combined properties on E. 38th Street was undertaken in 1934, which turned the “Van Buren” residence into an office, while 152 East 38th was made the property’s home. The project was commissioned by the tenant at the time for both houses, an engineer named Russell Pettengill. It was the work of Robert Ward, and it was well received.
In 1936, House & Garden lauded the Pettengill project, which placed offices and a conference room in the front house, 150 East 38th Street, and living quarters in the setback house at No. 152.
‘A breath of the real country,” said House & Garden, referring to the yellow tulips, the white and pink of dogwoods and the pastel azaleas. Mr. Pettengill moved out after only a few years, and the rear house was taken by Cass Canfield, president of Harper & Row, who worked with authors like Henry Steele Commager, E. B. White and James Thurber.
Eventually, the rear building at 152 East 38th Street was separated from the row house at No. 150. In 1967, the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated 152 East 38th Street a landmark.
And regardless of its actual, factual history, it is still a very cool property.