Last Friday evening, YIMBY attended a plaque unveiling dedicated to the late James Vincent Forrestal at 17 Beekman Place in Turtle Bay. The residential building, located by the corner of Beekman Place and East 50th Street, formerly served as Forrestal’s private home and is now owned by the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and its diplomatic missions. The event was attended by Luxembourg Prime Minister H.E. Xavier Bettel, Karen Donfried, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. State Department, Lt. Col. James Hendon, Commissioner, NYC Department of Veterans’ Services, and Francesca C. Forrestal, the sole grandchild of the Forrestals.
“I am so thankful to the Government of Luxembourg for honoring my grandfather on these two anniversaries, and for maintaining the home of my grandparents, my father Peter, and my uncle Michael,” said Francesca C. Forrestal.
Below are photographs of the plaque now visible on the ground floor next to the main entrance, and images of Luxembourg Prime Minister H.E. Mr. Xavier Bettel and Ms. Karen Donfried giving their speeches.
The house number is displayed above the doorway on a restored semicircular light fixture, which illuminated as dusk fell and the dedication ceremony came to a close.
James Vincent Forrestal, born on February 15, 1892 in Matteawan, NY (renamed Beacon, NY), selected the site for his five-story residence in the 1920s, which Harold Sterner designed in Neo-Georgian style. The property features a garden with a planting plan designed by Ellen Biddle Shipman, the “Dean of American Women Landscape Architects,” in 1938. The garden was restored in the spring of 2020 by Dorothy Pfeiffer, owner and creative director of New York-based Cornucopia Flowers, in partnership with the Luxembourg Consulate.
“The Forrestal house is the last residence that was built in the quiet cul-de-sac of Beekman Place,” said Consul General Paul Steinmetz. “On the 90th anniversary of Forrestal’s moving into 17 Beekman Place, we are proud to honor the man whose home would be first passed on to the late songwriter Irving Berlin in 1946, and then to the Government of Luxembourg on April 30, 1990.”
Forrestal graduated from Matteawan High School where he served as the editor of the school’s publication, then went to Dartmouth College and later transferred to Princeton University in 1912 where he edited the Daily Princetonian and became a member of the University Cottage Club. Leaving Princeton without a degree, he switched from journalism to a finance career in 1916 and became a successful Wall Street banker at Dillon, Read & Company. Forrestal enlisted in the Navy during World War I. He was discharged in 1919 and returned to banking. In 1926, he married Vogue magazine writer Josephine Ogden Stovall (1899-1976). The following year they had their first son Michael (1927-1989) while Forrestal became Vice President of the firm, and also worked for the Dutchess County Democratic party. It was during his thirties that he decided to envision a home that measured up to his level of success.
His second son Peter (1930-1982) was born during the construction of 17 Beekman Place. In 1940, Forrestal moved to Washington D.C. to serve as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s advisor. His duties as a liaison officer between the president, the Treasury Department, and other governmental financial agencies led to his appointment as an Under Secretary of the Navy on August 22, 1940, where he was tasked with the procurement of urgently needed ships, planes, and munition. Forrestal became the Secretary of the Navy on April 23, 1944.
17 Beekman Place was rented out during the Forrestal family’s absence, and was later sold to Irving Berlin, songwriter of “God Bless America,” in 1946. Two years later, Forrestal was awarded the Medal of Merit and the Distinguished Service Medal the day following his resignation from his post on March 28, 1949. Forrestal died less then two months later on May 22, 1949 from a fall from a window at Bethesda Naval Hospital where he was being treated for depression. He is buried in Section 30 of Arlington Cemetery, along with his wife and two sons.