Champagne bar owner shows interest in Catasauqua’s historic Dery mansion
Herve Rousseau has indicated an interest in purchasing the Dery mansion in Catasauqua.
“I really don’t want to talk too much about what we want to do because we are figuring out what we can offer,” Rousseau told The Press. “I have partners that work with me, and we want to offer the area a good product and not over-promise.”
According to Catasauqua Borough Manager Eugene Goldfeder, the property has an approved plan on file with the borough to convert it to 13 condominiums. A previous owner had submitted the plan but did not follow through with it.
Blog comments describe the property, located at 520 Fifth St., as a money pit that can never be restored to its former glory, but Rousseau disagrees.
“I think we can make this an interesting venue,” he said.
Goldfeder has spoken with Rousseau at several private meetings.
“We wanted to see it restored,” Goldfeder said. “There are problems with parking, but we are willing to work with the owner on it.”
Local residents who grew up near the property are ecstatic about the potential.
“The bar area is elegant and lined with Moravian tile,” said Kimberly Brubaker, president of Main Streets, Catasauqua’s business-owners association. The Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in Doylestown was the premier supplier of tile for the wealthy.
Rousseau has some insight into running an elegant entertainment business. He developed and owns two Champagne bars in New York City — the Flute Flatiron and the Flute Midtown. His flagship Champagne bar, Flute, is a popular spot in Paris.
The Dery mansion, built in 1910 at a cost of $1.7 million, is the largest residential house in the Lehigh Valley. The elaborate structure boasts 24,000 square feet of space, spread across 56 rooms. Its bar was a highlight for guests during the mansion’s heyday.
It is listed in the National Register of Historical Places.
Other features not normally found in high-end listings of the gilded age include an observatory for stargazing, an indoor pool and a series of art galleries.
The mansion is built with reinforced concrete and a brick exterior, an innovative technique at the turn of the century. Exterior trim is Colorado limestone rumored to have been brought to Catasauqua on a dedicated train. Interior features boast a Tiffany glass skylight, pouring in light three stories above the imported marble staircase.
Janice Lathrop, with Historical Catasauqua Preservation Association, has extensively researched the history of the mansion. Desiderius George Dery built the mansion when he came to the Lehigh Valley in the latter part of the 19th century. He opened a silk mill on Race Street that employed 400 skilled tradesmen. With his success in Catasauqua, Dery went on to build several more mills. He rose to fame as a Forbes 100-style entrepreneur, dubbed the largest individual silk manufacturer in the world.
After World War I, Dery saw his fortune disappear. China entered the world market, and silk prices collapsed. Dery closed his mill in 1923 and moved to a smaller house near the mansion. He passed away in 1942.
The silk mill in Catasauqua has since converted to apartments.
The mansion has gone through varied uses during its years of neglect and was at one time operated as a specialty event center, catering to private weddings and events.
Since then, vandals have taken some of its artifacts, stripping it of copper and artistic metals.