The end of a Madison Square Gilded Age mansion

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.

JeromemansionLOC1877

“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.

Jeromemansionmadave1870nypl

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.

Jeromemansion1968The 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.

Jenniejerome“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.

Jeromemansion19682

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.

MerchandisemartAs 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]

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9 Responses to “The end of a Madison Square Gilded Age mansion”

  1. Newport Carl Says:

    Wonderful story. Keep ‘em coming.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Glad you liked it!

  3. Frank Says:

    I wish I had a dime (alright, $50; why not go for it?) for every time I’ve tried to remember what used to be on the site of the Merchandise Mart. Thank you for helping! I’ve never read anything about the architectural similarities that seem to be found around Madison Square; here I refer to what I assume is the “Parisian Second Empire style” seen abutting the south side of the Jerome mansion in the photo next to Jennie Jerome. Consider the former Martha Washington Hotel and other buildings, mostly between Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue South in the high 20’s and lower 30’s. I’m a little surprised that you didn’t note the beautiful New York State Appellate Court which now abuts the south side of the Merchandise mart.

    Keep up the grand work. It’s marvelous and much appreciated.

  4. Mykola Mick Dementiuk Says:

    In the 1960s it was a sleazy hotel with men and women going in and out. I used to watch them from Madison Park. I was propositioned by both sexes, women with their purses and men with their umbrellas. But I’m only 15, I dared say… That usually had them turning away. But a few times their got hungrier and stepped closer, talking a little more…

  5. Barbara Pryce Says:

    I actively mourn the loss of these irreplaceable gems. New York City is the poorer Thank you so much for your wonderful story and, more, more, more PLEASE!

  6. P. Gavan Says:

    What a shame — and a sin — to demolish such a beautiful old building, and a landmark, no less.

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