John W. Campbell (New York)

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For other people named John Campbell, see John Campbell (disambiguation).

John Williams Campbell (1880–1957) was a millionaire American financier. Campbell succeeded his father in a management role at Credit Clearing House. He kept an office at Grand Central Terminal in New York City. It was later converted into a bar called the Campbell Apartment, which is now a popular gathering spot for commuters and others after work.

Biographical information[edit]

Campbell was the son of John H. Campbell, the treasurer of Credit Clearing House, a credit-reference firm specializing in the garment industry. The younger Campbell had two sisters and an older brother. The family lived on Cumberland Street, in the affluent Brooklyn neighborhood known as The Hill, now called Fort Greene.

Having never attended college, Campbell started work at 18 at his father’s firm, where he became a senior executive at 25 and later president and chairman. In 1941, Credit Clearing House merged with Dun & Bradstreet.

He married the former Rosalind D. Casanave, nicknamed Princess, who was once listed in the New York Times as a “patroness” of a “Monte Carlo party and dance” at the Westchester Country Club.

In 1920, at the age of 40, Campbell was appointed to the board of New York Central Railroad, where he crossed paths with William Kissam Vanderbilt II, the railroad scion whose office was in Grand Central Terminal. It is probable that Vanderbilt showed Campbell the space. Campbell became chairman of the board of the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad, keeping the position until he died in 1957.

Office in Grand Central[edit]

Main article: Campbell Apartment

Like other successful tycoons of the day, Campbell demanded a grand office, one convenient to his clients and close to the railroad so he could commute first from a nearby 270 Park Avenue apartment, and later, from the Westchester Country Club to the north. To satisfy these needs, he leased 3,500 square feet (330 m2) of space from Grand Central Terminal. It was a single room 60 feet (18 m) long by 30 feet (9.1 m) wide with a 25-foot (7.6 m) ceiling and an enormous fireplace in which he kept a steel safe.

In 1923, Campbell commissioned Augustus N. Allen, an architect known for designing estates on Long Island and townhouses in Manhattan, to build an office in the leased space in Grand Central. He transformed it into a 13th-century Florentine palace with a hand-painted plaster of Paris ceiling and leaded windows. He installed 19th-century Italian chairs and tables, an art collection worth more than $1 million, and a massive desk from which he conducted business. One of the most striking features was a Persian carpet that took up the entire floor and was said[by whom?] to have cost $300,000 at the time, or roughly $3.5 million today. Campbell added a piano and pipe organ, and at night turned his office into a reception hall, entertaining 50 or 60 friends who came to hear famous musicians play private recitals. He had a permanent butler named Stackhouse.

After Campbell’s death in 1957, the rug and other furnishings disappeared from his office and the space eventually became a signalman’s office and later a closet at Grand Central, where the transit police stored guns and other equipment. It also became a small jail, in the area of the present-day bar.

The Campbell Apartment[edit]

Not until 1999, long after his death, was the office of John W. Campbell restored and renovated into a public bar and lounge called the Campbell Apartment. The name is apparently a misnomer, people having assumed that such a grand space was an apartment, not an office. The walls and ceiling were brought back to their former glory and the original steel safe, once hidden behind a wall, now sits in the massive fireplace as a reminder of Campbell's wealth. The renovation cost $1.5 million.

In 2006, Mark Grossich, who restored the leased space and owns the bar, decided the Campbell Apartment needed further updating. He hired Nina Campbell, an interior designer in London, to spruce it up. She replaced a largely blue palette with a largely red one, including new carpet, bar stools and chairs. To avoid closing for even one night, the renovation took place in less than 12 hours and cost $350,000.

References[edit]

  • The Chief Executive, "From Corner to Community: Transformation of CEO Office Space," by Margie Goldsmith (August 2001)
  • The New York Times, "Threadbare to Quite Posh, in Just 12 Hours," by Anthony Ramirez (March 5, 2007)