Theodore Roosevelt: 26th President, Flatiron District Born
It was a wedding gift most could treasure forever — a neo-Gothic style four-story brownstone with a backyard, located at 28 East 20th Street in the heart of New York City’s fashionable Flatiron District.
Wealthy Roosevelt in-laws, with real estate roots and founders of Chemical Bank now known as Chase, bequeathed the property in 1853 to newlyweds Martha Bulloch, who was raised in Georgia and reportedly the prototype for the Scarlett O’Hara character in Gone With the Wind, and her husband, philanthropist and sixth generation Dutch New Yorker, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr.
The couple’s four children were born and educated in the brownstone. Of their offspring, the Roosevelts’ second child and first son Theodore, Jr., who began his life on October 27, 1858, would most notably go on to become a Harvard honors graduate, New York City Police Commissioner, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and the only native New Yorker and youngest person ever to occupy the White House as the 26th President of the United States.
Young Theodore or “Teedie,” because he disliked the nickname “Teddy,” lived at the brownstone until the age of 14. Growing up there, he suffered from asthma and other ailments, including a sensitivity to horsehairs, a then popular filler for parlor room furniture. Recalled Roosevelt in his 1913 autobiography Theodore Roosevelt, “One of my memories is of my father walking up and down the room with me in his arms at night when I was a very small person, and of sitting up in bed gasping, with my father and mother trying to help me.”
To comfort their son, the Roosevelts had a red velvet plush chair designed for “Teedie,” whose boyhood interests ranged from the history of nature to keeping pet snakes and with dreams of being a zoologist. “I remember distinctly the first day that I started my career,” wrote Roosevelt about his youth in the Flatiron District. “I was walking up Broadway, and as I passed the market to which I used sometimes to be sent before breakfast to get strawberries I suddenly saw a dead seal laid out on a slab of wood. That seal filled me with every possible feeling of romance and adventure.”
The family left their beloved starter home in 1872 for a larger one at 6 West 57th, which would become in 1930 part of the Bonwit Teller department store site. At the turn of the 20th century, the Roosevelts’ original 20th Street home was demolished for a two-story property featuring a restaurant and shops, according to the March 15, 1919 edition of Real Estate Record and Builders Guide. However, shortly after the 1919 death of President Theodore Roosevelt at age 60, the Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association reportedly purchased the property and hired one of America’s first female architects, Theodate Pope Riddle, to build a replica of the original brownstone as a museum for $1.2 million.
Today, the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site offers free hour-long guided tours Tuesday through Saturday beginning at 10 a.m. through 4 p.m., except at noon. Visitors can also view a 30-minute reenactment film about the early years of young “Teedie,” native and favorite son of Flatiron and accomplished global statesman.
Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site, 28 East 20th, between Broadway and Park Avenue South, (212) 260-1616.