Wealthy clothier Isaac Vail Brokaw lived a more under-the-radar life than his fellow stupendously rich New Yorkers in the late 19th century.
But Brokaw did have at least one thing in common with Gilded Age titans with names like Frick, Vanderbilt, and Carnegie: he too built himself a sumptuous mansion on Fifth Avenue.
It had all the trappings of a multimillionaire’s home from the Age of Elegance: four stories, stained glass windows, a staff of seven, even its own moat.
“Its grandiose entrance hall is of Italian marble and mosaic and huge murals line the walls,” wrote the New York Times decades after it was built.
“The ceilings are paneled in stone and wood and no two of them are alike. The library has a seven‐foot‐tall safe concealed behind a panel opened by pressing a hidden catch in the moulding,” the Times continued.
After he died, squabbling family members occupied all four Brokaw mansions. Three were eventually sold off to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers between the 1940s and early 1960s, which used them as office space.
Gilded Age chateaus with skyrocketing upkeep costs had long since gone out of favor; dozens of the more than 70 mansions constructed along Fifth Avenue in its Millionaires’ Mile heyday had been razed in favor of stately apartment houses.
In 1964, the Brokaw mansion was headed toward the same fate. But it wasn’t going down without a fight.
Newspaper editorials denounced the demolition. More than 100 people (including Ed Koch, then a city councilman) attended a rally in front of the original chateau to persuade officials to protect this remnant of a fast disappearing older city.
“However, in spite of the best efforts of preservation campaigns, demolition scaffolding went up on February 5, 1965,” reports The New York Preservation Archives Project.
It stands today, across 79th Street from one of the last remaining Gilded Age palaces—the Fletcher-Sinclair mansion, occupied by the Ukrainian Institute of America.