The luxury power center of the Gilded Age city

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]

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25 Responses to “The luxury power center of the Gilded Age city”

  1. Mike Ghelardi Says:

    Dear ENY,

    In the picture one can see the tall Hoffman Hotel at 25th & Bway, which must also have had an elevator, and which had in it’s first floor all-male bar one of the most sensuous paintings ever made – Nymphs & Satyr – now at the Clark Institute in Ma. One wonders why these guys are at 23rd Street when that painting was only a block away. These were not saints, but literally robber barons. Love your site and the great work you do reminding us of our history. You are the best!

    Mike G, NYC

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thanks Mike G!

    • trilby1895 Says:

      Mike G., you are correct! I and two others who feel the way I do about our NY history have made a special trip to Williamstown just to look at “Nymphs and Satyr”. It was easy to imagine the painting on display in the Hoffman House bar and robber barons and their cohorts raucously enjoying themselves….Oh! for time machine!!!

  2. fultonferrylandingassociation Says:

    Eno’s Folly.

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Yes, thank you!

  4. trilby1895 Says:

    I LOVE this site…and the Gilded Age is my most favorite era in New York history and society. Walking in the area, for me, is almost like a visit to the past. Thank you!!!

  5. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you Trilby! It’s always great reading your comments.

  6. trilby1895 Says:

    You’re welcome, ephem! And thank you for the compliment; I learn so much from ephemeralnewyork and especially love the photos of New York back then. Would you do a piece on the building (now demolished, I’m afraid) on, I think W 25 St., that housed not only the original F.A.O Schwartz toy store but the apartment in which Stanford White’s infamous red velvet swing was installed? Thank you in advance!!

  7. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Yes, thank you for the suggestion!

  8. nooface Says:

    Remains of Fifth Avenue Hotel after demolition in 1908:

  9. trilby1895 Says:

    Wow! What a powerful, and not in a positive sense, photo! There is the iconic Flatiron Building and the debris that is all that remains of yet another testament to New York’s greatness of the day. Whenever we lose another of our splendid buildings, and some not in any way splendid but historic all the same, it is for many of us a crime of sorts.

  10. A rainy September evening at Madison Square | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] opposite the park, likely waiting for the city’s wealthy and powerful to emerge from the Fifth Avenue Hotel, demolished in […]

  11. Where fashionable Gilded Age ladies lunched | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Confectionery, on 23rd Street inside the posh Fifth Avenue Hotel, was one of the most fashionable. Billing itself as “an ideal luncheon restaurant for […]

  12. Gilded Age New York City’s “Beggars’ Paradise” | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] the day thanks to its fashionable and luxurious stores and hotels, like Stern Brothers and the Fifth Avenue Hotel across Madison […]

  13. A brutal murder on 23rd Street rocks Manhattan | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] kids an elegant brownstone at 12 West 23rd Street (above). His four-story house was across from the Fifth Avenue Hotel (below in 1886) in one of the post–Civil War city’s most exclusive […]

  14. Central Park’s sensational 1865 balloon wedding | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] objected to venture in the flesh so near heaven. The marriage was done on terra firma [at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, performed by future Brooklyn-based preacher T.D. Talmage], only the marriage contract was to be […]

  15. A 21st Street building’s former life as a hotel | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] not have been the poshest hotel in the 19th century city. That honor may have gone to the nearby Fifth Avenue Hotel at Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street, where politicians and powerbrokers wined and […]

  16. A 21st Street building’s former life as a hotel ⋆ New York city blog Says:

    […] have been the poshest hotel in the 19th century city. That honor could be bestowed on the nearby Fifth Avenue Hotel at Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street, where politicians and power brokers wined and […]

  17. The four-faced street clock of East 79th Street | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Clocks are emblems of stability and certainty, like the 1853 clock carried by Atlas at the entrance to Tiffany & Co on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. There’s also the 1909 cast-iron sidewalk clock on Fifth and 23rd Street, once at the front of the posh Fifth Avenue Hotel. […]

  18. ROB Says:

    The haunt of Republican Boss Tom Platt. His nook gave birth to the Amen Corner moniker. Like almost all machine bosses, Tom brooked no dissent.

  19. All the arches that were built (and then bulldozed) in Madison Square | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] the Beaux-Arts city through the end of the Gilded Age. So 10 years later, another arch was unveiled beside the Fifth Avenue Hotel at 24th Street and […]

  20. Roosevelt Island Historical Society » Wednesday, July 28, 2021 – HOW MANY TIMES CAN YOU BUILD AN ARCH……LET’S COUNT IN MADISON SQUARE Says:

    […] city through the end of the Gilded Age. So 10 years later, another arch was unveiled beside the Fifth Avenue Hotel at 24th Street and Broadway.This impressive structure was the Dewey Arch (above), named for […]

  21. The crossroads of Gilded Age life, as seen by a little-known New York painter | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] the iconic skyscraper didn’t open until 1902. But to the left in the foreground is the Fifth Avenue Hotel, the meeting place of business and political movers and shakers. Farther up is Marble Collegiate Church, built in the […]

  22. The visiting British royal who dazzled 19th century New York City | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] procession continued past Grace Church, Union Square, and then to the new luxurious Fifth Avenue Hotel, where the Prince would be staying—with an army of policemen stationed in and outside the hotel […]

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