This 1899 Gilded Age fairy-tale mansion on Fifth Avenue has had only 4 owners

New Yorkers have always used real estate to showcase their wealth and position. But in Gilded Age Manhattan, the one-upmanship reached crazy new heights—with rich Fifth Avenoodles, as they were mockingly called by the general public, constantly outdoing their neighbors by building more ostentatious mansions fronting Central Park.

2 East 79th Street

Industrialist Isaac D. Fletcher seemed to have this competitive mindset. When he commissioned his new mansion at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 79th Street in 1897, he supposedly wanted the house to rival William K. and Alva Vanderbilt’s 1882 “petit chateau” on Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street.

Completed in 1899, Fletcher’s palace at 2 East 79th Street managed to outshine even the venerable Vanderbilt chateau. Designed by premier Gilded Age architect C.P.H. Gilbert, it’s been described as an eclectic French Renaissance manor house, a Loire Valley Gothic chateau, and a fairy tale-like castle—complete with lots of gargoyles, grotesques, and whimsical creatures carved in stone on the house’s two facades.

The Fletcher Mansion, New York City, 1899 by Jean-Francois Raffaelli

Like other new money mansion dwellers on Upper Fifth Avenue, Fletcher was a titan of industry. After moving to New York as a young man, he became president the New York Coal Tar Company; later he headed a manufacturing concern, according to a 1977 Historic Preservation Commission report. He lived in 2 East 79th Street with his wife, Mary, and a staff of eight servants. As members of his class did, he visited the Metropolitan Opera house and sailed to Europe.

An avid art collector, the wide, open rooms of Fletcher’s mansion must have made it possible to display his collection of Old Masters, which he bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art along with the house when he died in 1917.

The mansion in 1940, with the former Brokaw Mansion across 79th Street

The Met accepted the artwork but a year later flipped the mansion to its second owner, businessman Harry F. Sinclair. An oil baron, Sinclair was already living on Fifth Avenue at 72nd Street, according to the Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide in 1918.

The owner of the St. Louis Browns and a Kentucky Derby-winning horse, Sinclair became embroiled in the Teapot Dome bribery scandals of the 1920s. Though “he was not convicted of any criminal charges, he did serve a brief prison sentence for contempt of court,” per the HPC report.

The facade from East 79th Street, 1975

After the scandal died down in 1930, Sinclair sold 2 East 79th Street to its third owner, Augustus Van Horne Stuyvesant—a scion of the Stuyvesant family described by the New York Times in 1953 as the last direct descendent of Peter Stuyvesant, the 17th century governor general of New Amsterdam. The price, per the Times: $450,000.

Stuyvesant, a bachelor, lived in the mansion with his unmarried sister, Anne. After she died in 1938, this surviving brother occupied the house alone, save for a staff of servants. The Times described him as a recluse, spending his time walking around his Upper East Side neighborhood or visiting the Stuyvesant family vault at St. Mark’s Church on Second Avenue and 10th Street.

“For the last 30 years or more, Mr. Stuyvesant had led an extraordinary secluded life,” according to the article. “He followed no profession. His only recreation seems to have been an hour’s stroll each day through the streets near his home. He had no family or social life. Occasionally he traded in real estate anonymously through brokers and lawyers and thus helped to build up the millions he inherited.”

After Stuyvesant died in 1953, felled by the August heat while on a neighborhood stroll, he joined his relatives in the family vault.

The fourth owner of 2 East 79th Street has occupied the mansion since 1955. The Ukrainian Institute—a nonprofit dedicated to showcasing the art, literature, and music of Ukraine—has maintained this Gilded Age palace and opens to the public the rooms where Fletcher displayed his art, where Sinclair worked on his defense in court, and where Augustus Stuyvesant waited out his days.

War in Ukraine dominates the headlines right now, but the Institute offers a respite: a place to view exhibits (free of charge, though donations are accepted) and see the preserved interior of one of the city’s last Gilded Age mansions.

[Third image: Metropolitan Museum of Art; fourth image: NYC Department of Records and Information Services; fifth image: MCNY, 2013.3.2.732]

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11 Responses to “This 1899 Gilded Age fairy-tale mansion on Fifth Avenue has had only 4 owners”

  1. countrypaul Says:

    While the mansion is truly “over the top” judging from the exterior photos, it seems worth a visit, both for its architectural value and to support Ukraine in yet another way.

  2. Beth Says:

    A few scenes from the movie Kate and Leopold (Hugh Jackman and Meg Ryan) were filmed in this building. It’s beautiful inside.

  3. Shayne Davidson Says:

    I can imagine Augustus rattling around the place at night, in search of the ghosts of his family members!

  4. Greg Says:

    “After the scandal died down in 1930, Sinclair sold 2 East 79th Street to its third owner, Augustus Van Horne Stuyvesant—a scion of the Stuyvesant family described by the New York Times in 1953 as the last direct descendent of Peter Stuyvesant, the 17th century governor general of New Amsterdam.”

    Stuyvesant has hundreds of direct descendants, including some celebrities. Augustus was just the last to bear the Stuyvesant name (unless you count Rutherford Stuyvesant, who changed his name from Stuyvesant Rutherford in 1863 to satisfy the terms of a will).

  5. velovixen Says:

    It’s almost a kind of poetic justice that the building is now the Ukranian Institute.

  6. Bill Wolfe Says:

    The link to the definition of “Fifth Avenoodles” says that, dating back to the 1850s, Fifth Avenue was commonly referred to as “The Avenue.” I like that nearly a century later Irving Berlin preserved this in song in his “Easter Parade” lyric.

  7. A rich Gilded Age ‘man of mystery’ builds Murray Hill’s most flamboyant mansion | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] ended in divorce. After Lamar returned to Manhattan with Alice, he hired Charles P. H. Gilbert, the architect behind some of the best-known Gilded Age mansions, to construct his as well. Lamar gave Gilbert “a free hand so far as the dwelling itself […]

  8. Finding the servant call buttons in New York City’s Gilded Age mansions | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] servant call buttons above come from the Gothic mansion on Fifth Avenue and 79th Street. Once known as the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion, it’s now home to the Ukrainian Institute. Several servant buttons can be found around the […]

  9. The Fifth Avenue wedding present gifted to these rich Gilded Age newlyweds | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] and printed some financial details of the yet-to-be-built home—which would be end up between the splendid 1899 Isaac Fletcher chateau-like mansion and then the James B. Duke mansion when that one was completed in […]

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