Posts Tagged ‘Gilded Age mansions New York City’

What happened to the missing mansion built in 1906 on Upper Fifth Avenue

January 16, 2023

There’s a curious hole in the cityscape across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

On a stretch of Fifth Avenue once known as Millionaire Mile, where handsome apartment houses and single-family mansions stand in alignment (with few exceptions) from 59th Street to the upper reaches of Central Park, the faded outline of a building can be seen on the side of 1026 Fifth, between 83rd and 84th Streets.

Number 1025 Fifth Avenue was evidently a smaller structure. Based on the ghostly outline left behind, it also lacked the Beaux-Arts flourishes of its neighbors, with their steep rooflines.

But even though it’s just a phantom building these days, its prominent address and strange disappearance from such an expensive swatch of real estate hint that the house has a backstory worth exploring. Here’s the mansion’s story, and the prominent early New Yorkers who called it home.

It all started in 1906, a few years after the three neighboring mansions to the north went up and filled out the block to 84th Street. Architect Ogden Codman was brought in to design a house for Genera Lloyd S. Bryce and his wife Edith, a granddaughter of Peter Cooper.

Bryce isn’t a household name anymore. But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he was a well-known writer, editor, and politician, serving positions in New York State government and as a rep in Congress in the 1880s.

The house Codman designed for Bryce (above, in 1939)) was a restrained, elegant beauty, described as a “white marble English basement” dwelling by the Real Estate Record and Builders Guide. The guide also noted Bryce’s well-heeled neighbors, which included Mrs. William M. Kingsland at Number 1026 next door.

Bryce spent five years in his Fifth Avenue mansion before being named the U.S. diplomat to the Netherlands in 1911. Newspaper accounts have it that Vincent Astor (son of John Jacob Astor IV, who died on the Titanic) leased the house from Bryce.

After Astor, a newlywed couple with an old New York pedigree became the new occupants in 1912 (above photo).

Peter Goelet Gerry (descendent of the landowning, Knickerbocker-era Goelet family) and his bride, railroad heiress Mathilde Townsend (“one of the noted beauties” of her hometown of Washington, D.C., per one newspaper), threw themselves what the New York Times described as a “small house warming” party in their ballroom to celebrate their move into Number 1025.

“There was a dinner of 28 covers, followed by dancing, for which additional guests came in, and a seated supper was served soon after 12 o’clock,” wrote the Times on February 1. “There were 150 guests in all. The guests were chiefly young married couples.”

Unfortunately, the party didn’t last. Mathilde and Peter, who would eventually become a senator from Rhode Island, divorced in 1925.

The next occupants of 1025 Fifth Avenue arrived in 1918, purchasing the mansion from the estate of Bryce, who passed away in 1917. Their last name was the one that likely opened the most doors.

Frederick W.Vanderbilt, grandson of Commodore Vanderbilt, and his wife, Louise (below, in the 1880s), had original architect Ogden Codman renovate the house (above photo) before they took up occupancy.

Though the Vanderbilt name is synonymous with fancy dress balls and nights at the Metropolitan Opera, Frederick and Louise lived a relatively quiet life. Louise opened the home to recitals and luncheons; she was known for her devotion to charity and philanthropy.

After Louise’s death in 1926, this genealogy source states that Frederick spent the rest of his life in his Hyde Park mansion, becoming “a virtual recluse, living alone except for his servants.”

Frederick died in 1938, and Number 1025 was sold after his death. By 1954, the house was knocked down, replaced not by another mansion but by the long courtyard and corridor-like lobby of a towering apartment building erected in 1955, according to the Metropolitan Museum Historic District report.

The new apartment building took the mansion’s address, though only the 100-foot-long canopy and lobby extend to Fifth. It’s been called a gimmick and “clever ploy” by developers to obtain a Fifth Avenue address even though the building itself is actually on a side street.

The lobby gimmick has an upside, though: It keeps the original mansion’s faded outline visible, never fully erased from the cityscape like so many other houses with equally rich histories.

[Second photo: NYC Department of Records & Information Services; third photo: Library of Congress; fourth photo: unknown; fifth photo: Wikipedia; sixth photo: Google]

A Gilded Age mansion goes down in the 1960s

June 16, 2016

Wealthy clothier Isaac Vail Brokaw lived a more under-the-radar life than his fellow stupendously rich New Yorkers in the late 19th century.

Brokawmansionbain

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.

Brokaw1927mcnyBrokaw’s French Renaissance palace, modeled after a 16th century chateau in France’s Loire Valley, went up in 1887 at 1 East 79th Street.

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.

Brokawmansion1960sBy 1911, three more modest mansions adjoined the chateau, built by Brokaw for his two sons and daughter.

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.

BrokawmansionIEEE

In 1964, the Brokaw mansion was headed toward the same fate. But it wasn’t going down without a fight.

BrokawmansionprotestNYPAPNewspaper 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.

Brokawmansion2016The wreckers came the next day. A year later, the Brokaw mansion’s successor, a 26-story apartment co-op, was completed.

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.

[Top photo: 1920s, LOC; second photo: 1927, MCNY; third photo: Getty Images, 1960s; fourth photo: 1960s, IEEE; fifth photo: The New York Preservation Archives Project]