Benjamin Sonnenberg (1901-1978) was a larger-than-life figure among New York’s elite in the mid-20th century; one of the original public relations maestros who burnished and promoted corporate and individual images. Though he represented some of the nation’s most powerful power brokers, his own home on Gramercy Park outshone the residences of all but a few of his clients. Fittingly, here in town, he owned two houses: 566-568 Commercial and 571 Commercial.
This had been the home until 1950 of Nellie G. (Whalen) Lewis, the daughter of William and Martha (Mayo) Whalen and the widow of John A. Lewis, who rented “rooms and bath” here by the day or week. It was purchased in 1955 from Nellie’s daughter, Elizabeth R. (Lewis) Carlos, by Hilda Caplan Sonnenberg (±1902-1979), Benjamin’s wife.
Sonnenberg’s clients included CBS and its legendary chief, William S. Paley; Pan American World Airways; the movie producers David O. Selznick and Samuel Goldwyn; Lever Brothers; Lipton Tea; Federated Department Stores and the banker Robert Lehman of Lehman Brothers. The house at No. 566 was also used by the Sonnenbergs’ children, Ben Sonnenberg (1936-2010), the founding editor and publisher of the literary magazine Grand Street; and Helen (Sonnenberg) Tucker, a revered philanthropist in New York. Her daughter, Barbara (Tucker) Cardinal, is a proprietor of the Kiley Court Gallery, 445 Commercial Street.
In the 1980s, the property was once again put to transients’ use, as the Windamar House. It is now a four-unit condominium.