Gotham Lost and Found header image 1

7 West 46th Street, Part 2: Diamond Jim Brady/Lillian Russell Love Nest?

June 21st, 2009 by DavidFreeland

The first thing I encountered about the imposing house at number 7 West 46th Street (see previous post) was the following clip in the New York Times of 30 March 1952: “An old brownstone house at 7 West Forty-Sixth Street, once the home of ‘Diamond Jim’ Brady…is now occupied by the perfume firm of Michel Pasquier, who has a shop and offices in the building.”

If true, the Times account was a marvelous discovery.  James Buchanan “Diamond Jim” Brady was one of the most fascinating characters of late 19th century New York.  Born into humble circumstances on the far lower West Side of Manhattan, the son of a saloon owner, Brady grew (both literally and figuratively, as shall be seen) to prominence as a crack salesman for railroad supply companies.

Diamond Jim Brady, image taken from Parker Morell's 1934 biography

Diamond Jim Brady, image taken from Parker Morell’s 1934 biography

By the late 1880s Brady was rich enough to indulge liberally in his twin passions: diamonds and food.  Of the former, his possessions came to include such extravagances as his famed “Transportation Set,” a collection of 2,637 diamonds set into bicycle-shaped shirt studs, train-car cuff links, Wright Brothers flying machine lapel buttons, and the like.  It is upon the latter, however, that Diamond Jim’s modern-day reputation has largely been staked.  In researching this post I came across a biography, Parker Morell’s The Life and Times of James Buchanan Brady (1934), that offers detailed accounts of his gustatory indulgences:

“Jim started things off in the morning with a light breakfast of beefsteak, a few chops, eggs, flapjacks, fried potatoes, hominy, corn-bread, a few muffins, and a huge beaker of milk…Luncheon was apt to be a bit heavier than breakfast.  It generally consisted of more oysters and clams, a deviled crab or two, or three, perhaps a pair of broiled lobsters, then a joint of beef or another steak, a salad, and several kinds of fruit pie.  Jim also liked to finish off this meal with the better part of a box of chocolate candies.  It made the food set better, he figured.”

Whew!

I began to suspect that Morell came from the Herbert Asbury school of writing; that is, he sought to entertain first and foremost.  Factual accuracy was secondary.  As a result, the biography is a fun, breezy read, but its assertions perhaps need to be taken with (forgive the cliche, however apt) a grain of salt.

Diamond Jim Brady is known, as it turns out, for one other aspect of his personal life: for decades he was rumored to be the lover of the reigning sex symbol of the 1880s and 90s, actress and singer Lillian Russell.  Here and there online I’ve found other references to 7 West 46th Street in connection with Brady and Russell.  In his bio Thom Lafferty, a San Francisco-based artist, recalls how he once lived in the house, and that at the time it was reputed as having been built by Brady for Russell.  Also, there was evidently once a brass plaque on the building’s exterior, placed just below the first-floor window, bearing an inscription to the effect of “Diamond Jim Brady lived here.”  So far, it’s pretty conclusive, right?

Lillian Russell, 1880s

Lillian Russell, 1880s

Maybe not.  Lillian Russell, it should be noted, was definitely her own woman, and it is unlikely that, with her fame and salary, she would have needed to be (in the terminology of the day) “kept” by anyone.  Her friendship with Brady, in fact, seems based more upon a shared enthusiasm for food and the high life, than it does for any romantic or sexual aspect.  This realization suggested the first hole in the story that Diamond Jim Brady and Russell were once associated with the residence at 7 West 46th Street.

The second came from the Morell biography itself.  The author described an opulent residence Brady constructed on West 86th Street, near Central Park, but nothing about a house on 46th Street.  Knowing that Morell may not be the most reliable source, I consulted a more recent biography, H. Paul Jeffers’ Diamond Jim Brady: Prince of the Gilded Age (2001).  No reference to 46th Street there either.  Going to the 1900 census, available on www.ancestry.com, I found an entry for Lillian Russell listing her residence as a site on Broadway.  Again, there was nothing to indicate that either she or Brady ever lived at 7 West 46th Street.  Instead, I discovered that the 46th Street house was occupied for years by one Robert Jaffray, a longtime employee of Bank of America who died there in 1902.

And then it hit me.  Reviewing Diamond Jim Brady’s obituary in the Times (he died of a heart attack in 1917), I read that friends came to visit him as he lay in state at “his late residence, 7 West Eighty-sixth Street.”  This was the first time I had seen the actual house number.  Lining it up with “7 West Forty-sixth Street,” it became clear that somewhere along the line (perhaps in the 1952 Times notice, but maybe earlier) a writer made a typo, and the error stuck.  Diamond Jim Brady’s actual house, at 7 West 86th Street, was demolished for the 1930s apartment building that now sits at the address.  The structure at 7 West 46th Street, meanwhile, remains (provided it does not become altered beyond recognition) a testament to Manhattan’s 19th century residential elegance.

Tags:   · 29 Comments

Leave a Comment

29 responses so far ↓

  • Hello, can you please post some more information on this topic? I would like to read more.

  • I own a home in ventnor which was occupied by lillian russell, who was at the time Mrs. moore.( Thisis valadated on the census and land records. ) It is said that the home was built by diamond jim brady. The house is currently up for sale ,so if you ould like to see photos…go to zillow.com and type in 6803 atlantic ave. ventnor, nj.It is a grand olde house and has been beautifully restored.

  • Wow – that is indeed a beauty. It seems to be in wonderful shape. Do you know when exactly it was built? Thanks for sharing the link – I hope you find lots of interested potential buyers.

  • to david…the house was built about 1910. It was originally a beachfront propety and encompassed a good deal of land. The house was later owned by boxing promoter Frank Palermo who lost it to the bank. At this point the land was divided into 3 or 4 lots and sold off. Of the original structures remains the Lillian Russell House and a huge servants home 2 doors down.

  • Lillian Russell is soo beautiful and cute indeed.

  • …is this gem still for sale?

  • wow that was quite a rabbit trail you went down with this story. there was an old post over at the NY times going into more detail about what a glutton he was or wasn’t depending on what biographies you want to believe. anyway it was a fascinating story and i loved the contrasting photos your provided between Jim and Lillian clearly that was all about the lifestyle as she looked to be way out of his league ;-)

  • I had always heard the name Diamond Jim growing up, but never really new anything about him. Thanks for the wonderful article.

  • +The house is still for sale..it has been almost completly renovated,,ei air condtioned, updated kitchen, with very little alterations to the original structure…7 bedrooms,3 1/2 baths on 3 levels, basement apt. huge wrap around porch,ocean views

  • She is so charming. the article is quite interesting. Did she own by only Brady, did she keep a relationship with any other guy. I am curious about her and need to know more about her. Can you post some more about this mostly about Lillian Russell?

  • You gotta love someone who goes by the name of diamond jim , beefsteak for breakfast ? and what about all the rest of his food before dinner time, these days he would be in bootcamp for sure, Lillian Russel seems to be a great example of a woman of the day , elegant and pretty , these characters from the past is what hollywood should be looking at these days , not repeats of 1970′s tv shows.

  • I love your blog it always produces the things that I can’t find out on a tour of the city.

  • Nice history reading

  • Very interesting post. I like reading about past, about past people. I enjoy it, because I’m romantic.

  • I am in no way surprised that he died froma heart attack!

  • i was borned in louisville ky. in 1938 in 1950 or so my buddys and myself would clime the fence into churchill downs for derby day where we would would see movie stares such as Bob Hope come in and one of them was a man with lots of dimonds and what impresed me was he had diomonds on the ends of his showstrings and people were saying is was dimound jie brady and i have told this story many times over the years. just desided to google him today….who could this man have been, any thoughts?

  • I’ve studied “Diamond Jim” Brady and he was one interesting guy. He was quite the jewelry collector. Amazing guy.

  • I do not think he was a glutton, he really liked food though, he probably would have been into weight lifting if he were around now.

  • I head about Diamond Jim but not much and i always wanted to know more. Thanks for this post about Diamond Jim.

  • It seems odd that Lillian Russel would gravitate to Diamond Jim. During the period that the so called “relationship” lasted..she was married more than once. In 1884 she married a composer by the name of Edward Sullivan…divorced him and remarried again in 1894. Whoo hoo this girl was busy! So I agree..maybe the singing and acting career wasn’t as lucrative as many would believe.

  • hi… David, nice info for me, i will follow your blog and i hope you follow me too
    thanks broo… nice post

  • I always enjoy learning the truth behind the many people and statements that get thrown around in our day and age.

    I have an Uncle that my brother and I have coined Diamond Jim, so imagine my surprise when I happened upon this article.

    Definitely an interesting read and you have to admit he live that adage go big or go home no pun intended.

    He knew what he liked and he made sure he indulged maybe in an excessive sense, but enjoyed himself he did no doubt.

  • I am niece of Richard Crowley, Diamond Jim’s associate..I have many item..will..cane etc. Looking for someone interested.

  • There was A Diamond Jim Brady Saloon in St. Paul Mn, That I worked at in the 70″s that had a lot of pics of Diamond Jim Brady.

  • There was A Diamond Jim Brady Saloon in St. Paul Mn, That I worked at in the 70″s that had a lot of pics of Diamond Jim Brady. It has since been turned into a carlot !!!

  • well, Lillian Russel gave me an impression of a fine and interesting personality

  • Ok, if 7 w46th was not a Diamond Jim residence… why are the NYC Property taxes being paid by DIAMOND JIM REALTY ASSOC ?? And what about the Lion?

  • Wondering if anyone has the recipe for the Lillian russel shrimp salad Diamond Jim Brady’s used to serve. Thanks!