The sad fate of these Lafayette Street columns

You could call it one of New York’s first luxury developments: a nine-building stretch of magnificent marble row houses on the recently laid out cobblestone cul-de-sac of Lafayette Place.


The new, two-block street was uptown in the late 1820s, when construction, spearheaded by John Jacob Astor, began. Land that had recently been forests and fields was about to become the young city’s most fashionable quarter.

Sing Sing inmates quarried the white marble used to build what would be named LaGrange Terrace (above, in 1895), after the name of the Marquis de Lafayette’s estate in France.


(Lafayette fever was running high in the city; the Revolutionary War hero had just made a rock star-like return visit to the grateful metropolis in 1825).

Completed in 1833 (above) with amenities like running water, central heating, and bathrooms, LaGrange Terrace was occupied by Delanos, Vanderbilts, and Gardiners, as well as short-term residents Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, and Washington Irving.


“Society liked the seclusion of the street, and houses were soon built on every side of the terrace,” wrote the New-York Tribune in 1902.

But fashions change, and Manhattan was on a steady march northward. By the end of the 19th century, the marble row—sandwiched in the light industry district on renamed Lafayette Street—was faded and forlorn.


After they were acquired by department store magnate John Wanamaker (whose store was on 9th Street), five of the buildings had a date with the wrecking ball in 1902. The columns were reportedly salvaged by a builder who intended to use them in another project.

In the ensuing years, LaGrange Terrace, known also as Colonnade Row, has had its ups and downs. A mansard roof was added, and the grimy columns began disintegrating. But earning landmark status gave the row historic recognition.


And what about the marble columns bulldozed a century ago?

They turned up decades later outside a boys’ school in Morristown, New Jersey—on property that was once the estate of the builder who salvaged them.

[Top photo: MCNY; second and third images: NYPL; fifth photo: Wikipedia]

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4 Responses to “The sad fate of these Lafayette Street columns”

  1. Mike Says:

    There is a top section and bottom section of a column at the Met

  2. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    This ‘crumbling marble’ business is serious. Back in 1976, I was in Athens, Greece and watched the replacement of the major columns of one of the temples atop the Acropolis. I imagine they are all ‘replacments’ now as the air pollution was EATING the delicate stone.

    Washington, D.C. – the columns on the Western side of the U.S. Capitol bldg were replaced in the 1950s (I think?) They were crumbling under the weight of the structure and the rotting of the stone. (Yes, rock can rot!) These priceless columns were saved and were installed (just a few years ago) as a magnificent display gracing an elegant plaza atop a knoll at the National Arboretum.

    These columns (in the blog) should be placed INSIDE a structure. as decor They could be considered both historic pieces as well as art — and perhaps, even serve to honor individual ‘NYC Preservationists,’ calling them: “THE PILLARS OF THE COMMUNITY’

  3. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    Drat – I forgot to mention the pitiful fate of the marble statues atop the arching colonades stretching out from the main building of the Vatican in Rome. Marble can be very delicate! These once highly defined figures resemble melting candles today. The columns – located nearby – are not in good shape either.

    The new Rome city officials now disallow all vehicles, except mass transit buses, near the Coliseum. The air pollution (and vibration) was greatly damaging the stonework. The historic site has just undergone a massive restoration project, has had centuries of grime removed and a big ceremony re-opening the site for public tours.

  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thanks Audrey! If you visit NYC and stand in front of what’s left of Colonnade Row, you’ll see the effects of air pollution. I’m not sure why the city can’t free up a little cash to spruce the columns up, as this is a landmarked row and unique in the city.

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