Thursday, June 22, 2017

Throwback Thursday "Vanderbilt Mansion"

We are peeking at today a mansion that is no more, located where now the Bergdorf Goodman store stands. I think it would have been pretty cool to tour this one, and think about the stories it would tell.  
Here is some history about Mr. Cornelius Vanderbilt: 

Shipping and railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) was a self-made multi-millionaire who became one of the wealthiest Americans of the 19th century. As a boy, he worked with his father, who operated a boat that ferried cargo between Staten Island, New York, where they lived, and Manhattan. After working as a steamship captain, Vanderbilt went into business for himself in the late 1820s, and eventually became one of the country’s largest steamship operators. In the process, the Commodore, as he was publicly nicknamed, gained a reputation for being fiercely competitive and ruthless. In the 1860s, he shifted his focus to the railroad industry, where he built another empire and helped make railroad transportation more efficient. When Vanderbilt died, he was worth more than $100 million.

The mansion was built in 1883, the mansion was, and remains, the largest private residence ever built in New York City.

After Cornelius died, his wife Alice never remarried and continued to live in the mansion and in Newport but the house was never opened again to friends, and the only functions that are known to have happened there were the funerals of her two sons. Subsequently, it was just Alice and the 37 servants needed to run the mansion. (can you imagine having 37 servants for 1 person?)

The trust fund Cornelius had left her produced a yearly income of $250,000, which was just enough to maintain both houses. Alice held on as long as she could, but by the outbreak of World War I Alice was forced to sell it. She had no hope for the house's preservation because she knew that developers (led by real estate developer Frederick Brown) had paid a hefty $7,000,000 for the land, and not for the house that stood on it. A week before the wrecking ball was scheduled to demolish the 43-year-old home, Mrs. Vanderbilt arranged to have it opened to the public for fifty cents admission which would be donated to charity. Before selling it, she donated as many elements from the interiors as she could, including the baronial August St. Gaudens designed fireplace which had graced the entrance hall and the Moorish ceiling piece from the smoking room. She also donated the 10-foot-tall metal front entryway gates. After being forced to sell the house for $7,000,000, she later bought the George J. Gould House for $800,000. 1 West 57th Street was demolished to make way for the Bergdorf Goodman department store which opened in 1928.

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