The nude statue outside Alice Vanderbilt’s window

In 1916, when the Pulitzer Fountain was completed at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, all of Grand Army Plaza dazzled.

Funded by New York World publisher Henry Pulitzer (who left 50K in his will to create it), the elegant fountain features stepped ornamental basins topped by a shell holding a bronze female figure in the center. The statue represents Pomona, the Greek goddess of abundance.

Like many allegorical female statues, Pomona doesn’t have a stitch on. Holding a basket of fruit, she’s in a slight crouching position, her front facing Central Park and her backside aimed at 58th Street.

And no one seemed to have a problem with that—except, supposedly, the very rich widow living out her days in a 137-room mansion that spanned 57th to 58th Street, and whose bedroom window had a direct view of Pomona’s nude butt.

This wasn’t just any wealthy widow. The mansion (below in 1908, behind the Plaza) was the home of Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt II, aka Alice Vanderbilt. In the Gilded Age, the family- and charity-focused Alice was considered less ostentatious than her social-climbing sister-in-law, Alva Vanderbilt.

But in her day, Alice also had a full calendar of society events. This mother of seven even wore the best gown to Alva’s famous 1883 masquerade ball: an electric dress that actually lit up thanks to a portable battery pack (below).

Looking out your window and seeing a naked butt every day isn’t the worst thing. But as the story goes, it really bothered Alice.

“One is not surprised to learn that Alice Vanderbilt was indignant when the city fathers permitted the statue of the nude lady surmounting the fountain to present her backside to her bedroom,” wrote Louis Auchincloss in The Vanderbilt Era: Profiles of a Gilded Age.

In response, Alice reportedly had her bedroom moved across the mansion, so she wouldn’t be subjected to the buttocks of the naked goddess.

Alice would have been 71 when the statue began bubbling water, and she stayed in the mansion until the mid-1920s, eventually relocating to another, more manageable house at One East 67th Street.

In 1927, she sold her 58th Street mansion. A week before it was to be demolished later that year, she had the house opened to the public, “charging fifty cents’ admission to raise money for charity,” wrote Wayne Craven in Gilded Mansions: Grand Architecture and High Society.

Bergdorf Goodman replaced Alice’s mansion, and the department store still occupies the site today…reportedly with no complaints from customers about Pomona’s butt.

[Third and fourth photos: Wikipedia]

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7 Responses to “The nude statue outside Alice Vanderbilt’s window”

  1. Joe Ruiz Says:

    Didn’t Mayor LaGuardia have a similar problem with the statue of Civic Virtue?

  2. John Schroeter Says:

    Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt

  3. Greg Says:

    Just imagine what a great city you could make out of NYC’s demolished structures. It would be the second best city in the US.

  4. countrypaul Says:

    Bergdorf is fine; the mansion was cooler.

  5. From brownstones to business: 3 centuries on a West 57th Street Midtown block | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] not in the photo on the right at the corner of Fifth Avenue extending all the way to 58th Street is the Alice Vanderbilt mansion—where the widow of Cornelius Vanderbilt III lived until the 137-room Gilded Age relic was torn […]

  6. A Gilded Age chateau on Madison Avenue, and the old-money owner who never moved in | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Perhaps the most famous chateau was constructed in 1882 at Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street: the William K. Vanderbilt mansion—called “petite chateau” by Alva Vanderbilt, W.K.’s social-climbing wife. A year later, W.K.’s brother, Cornelius Vanderbilt, built an even more ostentatious chateau-like mansion at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. […]

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