When the white marble Fifth Avenue Hotel was set to open in 1859, it was mocked as “Eno’s Folly,” after the developer who built it.
With the city’s hotel district farther south on Broadway, why would anyone pay to stay on the outskirts of the city’s center, as Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street was at the time?
But after its grand opening, the Fifth Avenue Hotel became the city’s premier luxury residence and made Madison Square the focal point of post–Civil War New York.
Among the amenities: rooms with private baths and fireplaces and the first “vertical railway”—aka, elevator—ever installed in a hotel.
Presidents and kings stayed there, attended to by a staff of 400. The city’s richest men, like Jim Fisk, Jay Gould, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, congregated in the drawing rooms. Local politicians held court.
In 1908 it was demolished; its demise serves as a bookend of the Gilded Age. Today the building occupying this spot houses the Italian dining emporium Eataly.
[Bottom image: the hotel’s reading room, a decidedly all-male place. NYPL]