In 1859, Leonard Jerome—one of the richest men in New York City, who amassed a pile of cash in stocks and a name for himself as a horse fancier—made a promise his wife.
“I’ll build you a palace yet!” he told her, while the two were temporarily living abroad and enjoying the social swirl of Paris.
Jerome was a competitive and driven man who would build a racetrack in the Bronx and make and lose fortunes throughout his life. But he certainly stuck to his pledge.
Once back in New York later that year, he bought a parcel of land on the southeast corner of Madison Avenue and 26th Street, a posh neighborhood of new brownstones reserved for New York’s wealthiest.
The Jeromes didn’t want a brownstone, however. Instead they built an extravagant mansion inspired by the architecture of Paris (top photo, in 1877).
“The result was the most lavish statement of the Parisian Second Empire style as applied to domestic architecture in New York before the Civil War,” wrote Wayne Craven in Gilded Mansions.
“Its design broke with the uniformity of the Knickerbocker brownstones, for the Jerome mansion possessed the signature mansard roof with dormers and a richness of decorated architectural surfaces, especially around doors, windows, and dormers.”
For the next few decades, the Jerome mansion was the site of incredible balls and concerts in the mansion’s theater. And conveniently, Madison Square Garden was soon built across the street (second photo).
In 1867, Jerome’s finances collapsed, and his womanizing compelled his wife to relocate to France with their three daughters (including Jennie, future mother of Lord Winston Churchill, above).
He moved out of his palace, leasing it to the Union League Club.
By the 20th century, with Madison Avenue no longer stylish, the mansion changed hands and underwent alterations by the University Club and the Manhattan Club.
As the decades went on, the Manhattan Club moved uptown, and the Jerome mansion fell into disrepair—a faded reminder of a long-gone era.
In 1965, the house received landmark status from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. It was put on the market for $850,000 (above photos, from 1967), but found no takers, and was demolished in 1967.
In its place rose the 42-story tinted glass skyscraper known as Merchandise Mart (left).
[Top, third, and fourth photos: Library of Congress; second photo: NYPL Digital Gallery]