- 1886 to 1916
- Old Mansions
- Astor Family
- Forty-Second Street
- Vanderbilt Residences
There is nothing so typical of New York, its greatness, its wealth, its progressiveness and its ever-changing variety, as its most splendid thoroughfare. Fifth Avenue. Taking it in a stretch of a little over three miles, from Madison Square to the home of Mr. Andrew Carnegie, it is to-day the most magnificent street in the world. In its first mile, starting at Washington Square northward, it is partially reminiscent and partially a nightmare, but it is neither poor nor drab. It represents capital in its ugly loft buildings covering the sites of stately brownstone houses of the founders of fortunes. These utilitarian structures may not appeal to one's sense of beauty, but there is a certain majesty about them and they rise over the graves of many architectural blunders of an inartistic period. From Madison Square to Central Park, it is the Via Appia of opulence. Beyond, it is Arcady
It is in this mile and a half, where the changes are most apparent. A writer in the Sun once said that in New York "memories like rats are chased away by the ever rising flood of progress. There is no room for ghosts." W. D. Howells in his amusing sequel to his delightful book "Their Wedding Journey" gives the impressions of a middle aged couple revisiting the scenes of their honeymoon, after a lapse of thirty years. Place these people in Madison Square, in this year and let them look about them. Nearly all the familiar landmarks of 1886 have disappeared. They are in another city. Their New York has vanished. The Square is the same, perhaps a little less conservative - but the loiterers are of a different class. The children of the wealthy residents and their nurses are gone. It is no longer a residential neighborhood.
All up the Avenue, there has been a complete transformation. Thirty years is really a short period. In this summary of what has taken place, no attempt will be made to allude to the older history of the street. It will be confined to the period between 1886 and 1916.
- A Famous Fifth Avenue Character
At the northeast corner of Twenty-sixth Street was the Brunswick, a fashionable and comfortable hotel in the mid-Victorian style. It was here that the Coaching parade assembled, one of the brilliant social affairs of the springtide. At the southwest corner was Delmonico's, sedate, sober and "elegant". It was the restaurant of the time, and had moved with each epoch in the development of the town, from the Bowling Green. The late Ward McAllister established the Patriarchs here, giving several handsome balls each winter. In fact all the world dined and danced and celebrated at Delmonico's. When the more formidable rivals of its glory opened farther up town, it moved to its present abode at Forty-fourth Street. Martin, who had a French table d'h�te on University Place, took Delmonico's old building and made it a gorgeous resort for Bohemia.
The owners of the property, the heirs of the late R. W. Montgomery, concluded to sell, and now a great business building is on its site and there is another where was once the Brunswick. Mr. Montgomery bought the plot seventy or more years ago. It was called Montgomery's Folly because he paid what was considered a large sum for such an out of the way site. This was quite under $100,000. Delmonico, however, paid the estate a rent of $80,000 a year and it finally brought over two million.
No mention of Delmonico's will be complelte without an allusion to Frank Work who lived in the brownstone house next to the Brunswick Hotel and who dined so frequently at this restaurant. He was usually alone and that was one of his fads. In the rear of his house was his stable, a most luxurious affair and until nearly ninety years of age, he drove each day his team of trotters up the Avenue and through the Park. Frank Work was a Wall Street banker who had made several fortunes. He was somewhat of a rough diamond and a character. He was one of the last of the millionaires who were devoted to driving, and he and William H. Vanderbilt had many speeding contests in the 80's behind their teams of fast trotters. His daughter Mrs. Burke Roche kept up the sporl and even until very recently would be seen in the afternoons in a road cart with her groom beside her. But an equipage is almost a rarity on the Avenue these days. John Mackay the bonanza king, Tom Ochiltree teller of Texas yarns and jokes, Wright Sanford and Hermann Oelrichs and Frederick Gebhard, the fashionable type of the man about town, Berry Wall, king of the dudes, Nat Goodwin the comedian and many others - some ghosts, some yet hale and hearty - were among the habitues of Delmonico's. And in a place by a Fifth Avenue window could be seen for hours a comfortable, fat, middle-aged couple, eating and eating and eating. It was a Frenchman called the Marquis de Croisic and his wife, an American woman who had a fortune. They built an apartment house opposite Delmonico's on the northwest side and later tried their luck when fortunes were failing - at hotel keeping.
- The Fate of Some Old Mansions
Our friends will note the change in the general appearance of the Avenue. It seems wider and lighter. The ordinance requiring the removal of stoops and steps and obstructions generally was fought by many of the old residents. When it was put in force, it looked as if the street had been struck by a tidal wave. But it broadened it and brought in the sunlight and many of the residents were content to sell their old homes at high prices. At the Holland House lived Roscoe Conkling who died from the effects of a cold caught on the day of the famous blizzard of March 1888, when he fell into a snowdrift on Union Square. He had walked to and from the Surrogate's Court, as that day was fixed for the opening of the Stewart will case, in which he was one of the counsel.
These, with a few exceptions, have all gone - the Hammersleys, the Mortimers, the Laws, Mrs. Paran Stevens, Mrs. Frederick Coodridge's with its garden, the Livingstons, and a score of others. There is more variegated architecture employed even in this locality, while above Thirty-fourth Street there is a series of huge white marble and stone palaces. The Calumet Club on the northeast corner of Twenty-ninth, opposite the Marble Collegiate Church occupied two houses thrown into one. Until recently it stood, ivy clad, a dignified landmark of the past. It is now in its new home on West Fifty-sixth Street. The Knickerbocker, now at Sixty-second Street, had the Moller residence at the corresponding corner at Thirty-second Street.
On the west side of the Avenue, in the block between Thirty-third and Thirty-fourth Streets, stood the twin residences of the late John Jacob and William Astor, sons of William B. Astor and grandsons of the founder of the fortunes of the family. William B. Astor had acquired a large tract of property in this vicinity, in the early part of the last century. The houses were completed for occupancy in 1872. and it was at the home of his son John Jacob that he died in 1874. In 1890, John Jacob died and his son William Waldorf Astor who had decided to live abroad, tore down the house and built there the Waldorf Hotel. This was opened in 1893 and it created a social revolution in New York. Madison Square was pronounced downtown and Delmonico moved to Forty-fourth Street. A few years afterwards, Mrs. William Astor, the mother of the late Col. John Jacob Astor and grandmother of Vincent Astor, gave up her house which had been the scene of much splendid entertaining and the Astoria was erected on its site and in 1895, the Waldorf-Astoria the largest and most magnificent hotel of its day in New York, came into existence.
- Some Chronicles of the Astor Family
Nearly every day in the year, except in mid-summer, a portly, well bearing, middle aged gentleman could be met on the Avenue in the morning going downtown and in the evening returning. He was like clock work and men set their watches by him. Many took him to be an Englishman. He had the hale, bluff appearance of a retired army officer. His brother William Astor who lived in the house at Thirty-fourth Street and Fifth Avenue was more of a sportsman and was devoted to yachting. His son, the late Col. John Jacob Astor, continued the family practice of walking to the offices of the estate, which is now divided into two separate corporations, even after he had moved to his new home on upper Fifth Avenue. Once in a while he drove down in a buggy, of an antique pattern and more latterly in a motor, but when he was in town, he never missed this pilgrimage.
On the northwest corner of Thirty-fourth Street is also historic ground. Here in the fifties, Dr. Townsend, the sarsaparilla king, built a residence which was a wonder. It was said to cost with the ground over two hundred thousand dollars and it was frequently open for public inspection. After his death the property at a much advanced price passed into the possession of the rich drygoods merchant, A. T. Stewart. Here he built his marble palace, as it was called, costing over a million. He died there and the stealing of his body from St. Mark's churchyard and the subsequent litigation over the will of his widow are familiar to everyone. Then the Manhattan Club leased the place, but their stay was confined to a few years. It was torn down and the Knickerbocker Trust Building now stands on its site. At the Thirty-fifth Street corner, the New York Club had a beautiful home which they occupied for about fifteen years when it was sold and the property occupied by large shops. Opposite, the entire block is now taken by the great Altman store, where there were the homes of the Gordon Norries, the Griswolds, George Bend and Christ Church, and on Madison Avenue several of the many Astor residences. All up Murray Hill, as this elevation is called, and on the side streets, were these red brick and grey stone mansions, occupied by the descendants of the original John Jacob Astor, the stone being quarried from near Red Hook, on a family estate. One of the last of the stately homes of the eighties was that of Mrs. Louis Hoyt, at the northeast corner of Thirty-sixth Street and facing it is the Astor Trust and offices of The Spur, formerly the residence of Pierre Lorillard.
Murray Hill itself, once the site of the Murray farm and of Mrs. Coventry Waddell's Italian villa where Thackeray was entertained, has proved a bonanza for real estate speculators. The boom lasted a few years, and in its duration frontage blocks were assessed in the millions. Tiffany, Lord & Taylor and other well known firms built superb emporiums on the site of the old residences and the owners of the land reaped immense fortunes. One lady who had a small house, had determined to live there the rest of her days. It was on Fifth Avenue and she had valued it at a little over one hundred thousand dollars. She was so harrassed by the dealers with one bidding higher than the other, that she was forced to leave, selling for $600,000. Here was Governor Morgan's home, afterwards owned by the Lewis family, at East Thirty-seventh Street with its rear garden; James-Gordon Bennett's home, and the former residence of William H. Vanderbill, at East Thirty-ninth, of the traditional brownstone, and in its day, one of the most admired on the Avenue. Mr. Vanderbill built the twin houses at West Fifty-first and Fifty-second Streets and gave his home as a wedding present to Mrs. Seward Webb, one of his daughters, but later it was transferred to Frederick Vanderbilt, and a house was built for Mrs. Webb farther up town.
The home of the late John G. Wendel on the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and Thirty-ninth Street still stands, for the Wendels never sell. They are relatives of the Astors. In the rear is a yard worth a million dollars which was kept it is said to give exercise room for a pet dog.
- The Great Changes at Forty-Second Street
The Public Library is a most modern acquisition. It stands where was the old Croton Aqueduct, a gloomy affair fashioned like an Egyptian tomb. It was the first large aqueduct New York ever possessed, and here until nearly the sixties was the end of Fifth Avenue proper. The rest was nothing but a country street with road houses and a few residences. Some of the former, notably the Willow Tree near Forty-fourth Street, remained until a short time ago.
Our William D. Howells' couple may have wondered at the constant stream of traffic up and down the Avenue, principally motors, and experienced the difficulty of crossing. In 1886, even here at the junction of Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue, it was like the main street of a village. They look for a stage, the lumbering antiquated ark drawn by decrepit horses. These have passed away with the brownstone houses and the provincial customs of another day. Here are the high motor busses, with their upper decks crowded with passengers. Our old-fashioned friends mighl be fearsome now to leave the sidewalk, and stand bewildered at the coping. But behold the traffic policeman, mounted on a well groomed nag, and holding up the traffic for them with a wave of his white-gloved hand. There was little need for him in 1886.
The assessed valuation recently from Forty-second to Sixtieth Street on both sides ol the Avenue is $110,727,000 an average of over six millions for each of the eighteen blocks. According to a newspaper statistician, the value oi the hotels now on this land would more than pay the national debt.
The northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and Forty-second Street was bought by Peter Goelet in 1845 for $4,850. It is now owned by Mrs. Elbridge T. Geny who married his nephew. The Bristol Hotel, Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue, has been changed and converted into an office building. This corner 100 feet on the Avenue and 125 on the street - is assessed for $1,850,000. The price paid tor the entire block in 1845 was $9,200. It is now held at over $8,000,000.
Passing at Forty-third Street by the site of the former residence ol William N. Tweed which was later owned by heirs of Richard T. Wilson, one reaches another historic point. It is the plot occupied by Windsor Arcade owned by Klbridge T. Curry and on the Madison Avenue side, by the famous Ritz-Carlton Hotel, built by Robert Goelet. Here was the Windsor Hotel, a rambling old fashioned affair, but considered in its time, one of the best in New York. It was the pioneer of the uptown hostelries. On St. Patrick's day in 1899, while the procession was passing, it caught fire and it burned so quickly that before aid could reach it, a large number of lives were lost.
- Some of the Vanderbilt Residences
On the west side of the Avenue, between Fifty-first and Fifty-second Streets are the famous Vanderbilt twin houses. It is told that the entire plot was once owned by the late Henry Keep, president of the Lake Shore Railroad. He bought it for $250,000. Opposite him on the east side of the Avenue, the Roman Catholic Diocese built an Orphanage. It was a drab structure and long an eyesore to the neighborhood. Mr. Keep concluded to give his property to some institution. He held on to it however for a long period. The value increased almost 400 percent and when William H. Vanderbill wanted a Fifth Avenue site, he sold it to him for $1,000,000. The Orphanage was later put in the market and the shabby building was demolished. Mr. Vanderbilt, like Mr. Astor, had an interest in a quarry. His was brown freestone, and although Richard Hunt the architect had specified white marble, the houses were constructed from "home" materials.
Mr. Vanderbilt had his gallery of paintings in the Fifty-first Street house, and at one time the public was allowed on certain days to view them. It was in this house that he died in 1885. It was left to his youngest son George, and in default of a male heir, it was inherited by Cornelius Vanderbilt who intends to reside there. For a time, it was leased by Henry C. Frick, the steel magnate.
The late William H. Vanderbilt was a great lover of horses and it was he who first introduced the custom of fast driving teams and thirty-five years ago, he was a familiar figure on the Avenue, starting out for the afternoon behind Maud S. and Aldine, or the latter and Early Rose. The succeeding generation of Vanderbilts cared little for horses and the love of the sport was revived by his grandson the late Alfred Vanderbilt. Col. Elliott Shepard who lived in the upper Vanderbilt house, was the owner of the Fifth Avenue stage line. He married the eldest daughter of Mr. Vanderbilt and later bought the Mail and Express and had a text from the Bible each day on its editorial page. The late William D. Sloane married Miss Leila Vanderbilt and the two families occupied the same residence for a long time.
The Vanderbilts were determined that the immediate vicinity of their homes should not be invaded by business. The Union Club moving from Fifth Avenue and Twenty-first Street bought the northeast corner of Fifty-first Street, a plot of 175 feet and their beautiful club house designed for them by John Dufais was built there. The Vanderbilts immediately purchased the rest of the property for $1,000,000 and on it are two marble residences, one occupied by Mr. and Mrs. W. B. O. Field. Mrs. Field was Miss Lila Sloane, whose mother was a Vanderbilt. Morton F. Plant is the owner of the large house on the southeast corner of Fifty-second Street.