Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mrs. Astor's Ballroom and Art Gallery

Mrs. Astor's ballroom had always been society's inner sanctum and her original ballroom's capacity  had been the magic number of how many people where in society, 400 people. Her new ballroom, however, could hold much more than that, 1,200 people to be exact, making it the largest private ballroom in the city. Instead of having a separate space for an art gallery, Mrs. Astor decided that her ballroom would also house her art collection. The Astor art collection had been expanded so much over the years that the ballroom had to be big enough to hold it all, 100 paintings in all. Among the famous art collection was Ferdinand Roybet's The Connoisseurs, Jules Lefebvre's Odalisque, Jean Corot's Monte Pincio, Rome, Detaille's French Artillery and Van Marcke's Dans les Dunes.

           The Connoisseurs

                        By Ferdinand Roybet

                    By Jules Lefebvre

            Monte Pincio, Rome
                      By Jean Corot

            French Artillery
                       By Jean Detaille

       Dans les Dunes
              By Emile van Marcke

Also in the Ballroom were several pieces of furniture most of which had come from her original ballroom at 34th Street.

Mrs. Astor's banquette (The Throne)
found a place in the new ballroom too,
just where it was in her original ballroom, right in front of the fireplace although this time it was facing the fireplace. During balls it would be on a raised dais with smaller cushions around it for the few privileged.

The two red velvet lounge chairs on either side of the fireplace in the original ballroom also found the same spot in the new one. These chairs were normally occupied by observers who did not participate in the quadrille and who only wished to watch.

The white satin rose patterned armchair found it's way to the new ballroom as well. This time in the opposite corner, of the ballroom. This chair was a Schermerhorn Family heirloom and had been in Caroline's family many years. It had been given to her by her father as a wedding present.

The large gilt candelabra found places near the fireplace, just like in the original ballroom. This candelabra was special to Caroline in the fact that it had been a wedding present from her husband, William. William had searched all over Europe for the perfect set of candelabra for his soon-to- be wife. He had finally come across a set at an auction and bought them $1,540. Caroline had decided to place them in her art gallery/ballroom at the 34th Street mansion and when she made the tough move she brought them with her and placed them near the fireplace in her new ballroom, where  they could burn as brightly as they had before.  

All of these pieces helped Caroline to remember where she started in society and she could not and would not abandon them. Her new ballroom helped to show Caroline's power and putting furniture from her original ballroom, society's inner sanctum, into her new one showed that traces of the original "400" still lingered although Caroline must have recognized that society was expanding, because she had her new ballroom built to hold 1,200 people comfortably.

Friday, June 22, 2012

William Henry Vanderbilt's Vase

In 1880, while construction was underway on his massive triple house in New York, millionaire William Henry Vanderbilt was out in Europe raiding antique shops and out bidding others in auctions of french collections. While attending an auction of the Demidoff collections, William stumbled upon a large Russian malachite vase that was going up for $6,000 ($136,363 in today's money) William new immediately that he had to have it so he out bid everyone at $10,000 ($227,272 in today's money). The vase had originally been built in 1819 by Pierre Thomire in Paris. Eventually it was given by Emperor Nicholas I of Russia to Nicholas Demidoff. The vase was over 9 feet tall and was mounted in bronze. After the mansion was completed William put it in the vestibule that connected his home to that of his daughters'.
         William Henry Vanderbilt's triple house he lived on the left his two daughters lived on the right
                                                   The vase in the connecting vestibule

Vanderbilt did not enjoy his home or his vase for very long because he died a few years later, the vase and home then passed to George, Vanderbilt's youngest son, who leased the property to Henry Clay Frick while his house was under construction. Frick loved the beautiful designs of the vase and the colors made him want it. He offered George $10,000 for the vase but George could not sell according to the terms of his father's will. After George died it passed to Cornelius Vanderbilt III and his wife Grace. Grace gutted the place keeping only the malachite vase which she moved to the great hall after her renovation because the vestibule was demolished.

                                          The vase in the great hall after Grace's renovations

By 1920 commercial invasion had completely surrounded the mansion and soon it was the only piece of land not occupying a skyscraper in that part of town.

                                                       The Mansion in 1920

Sadly, though, it was demolished and the mansion's contents were sold or donated. All the artwork was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as the vase which is now on display.

It survives today and is a wonderful display of an era that is now gone.

*Note all photos of the vase come from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, photo of the great hall comes from a private collection and photo of the vestibule comes from the Museum of New York as well as the exterior photos

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Collis P. Huntington Mansion on Fifth Avenue

In 1889 millionaire Collis P. Huntington purchased six adjoining lots on the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street  for his second wife Arabella and commissioned architect George B. Post to build a large residence in which he could house his large collection of antiques. Huntington new what he was doing when he purchased these lots from editor Robert Bonner because the surrounding area was becoming highly fashionable, prominent residences were popping up all over the place. For example catercorner the lot was the large mansion of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, across the street was the mansion of Hermann Oelrich and sideways was the mansion of Harry Payne Whitney. Soon after they hired Post he declined on the grounds that what Arabella wanted was to large so they went to Richard Morris Hunt who declined as well saying that they should give Post another chance, finally his plans were accepted and soon was finished in 1891.

                                                      The house when completed in 1891

The interiors were said to have been poorly done and it a shame that Hunt did not have a hand in it. It was so bad that writer James Maher described it as "a wayward railroad station". The plan is awkward especially the cellar plan with rooms all jumbled together.

But nevertheless the Huntingtons moved in and resided there but gave rarely any parties for even though their house was large it wasn't enough to get them in society so the atmosphere tended to be very quiet. The first floor contained a large great hall that housed the art collection, a dining room, salon, reception room and library that was in a separate wing of the house.
                                                                   Entrance Corridor
Great Hall 
Great Hall Skylight    
                                                                 The Grand Staircase
                                                            The Dining Room

In 1900 Huntington died, leaving some $15 million of his $50 million to Arabella and the Fifth Avenue mansion while some $25 million was left to his nephew Henry E. Huntington. Arabella started buying major amounts of artwork with the large fortune she had been left and filled the Fifth Avenue mansion with artwork that was much more better and extremely more expensive than what she had bought before. Arabella became so enraptured with art that she even bought a hotel in Paris just to fill it with her artwork. In 1913 Arabella shocked everyone by marrying Henry, which reunited the Huntington fortune. Henry was know as a big spender and built a huge estate in San Marino, California to entice Arabella to move out west. She rarely went out there and only to oversee construction, she much more liked to live in New York and Paris and never visited the house. Arabella spent most of her time in the New York Mansion while Henry lived in California. By 1920 they were practically separated. Meanwhile commercial invasion continued in New York.

By 1923 nearly every residential property surrounding the mansion had been demolished except for
The Three residences behind Arabella, the two middle ones belonging to  William Waldorf the end one belonging to H. Storr Wells 

     The Cornelius Vanderbilt II mansion now occupied by his widow Alice  
          And the Hermann Oelrich mansion which was now a bank.

Sadly, though, in 1924 Arabella died in the mansion on September 14. Three years lather the mansion was demolished and replaced with Tiffany & Co. and New York City lost another one of it's Gilded Age mansions.

*Note all photos of the interior come from American Architect and Building the rest come from the Museum of the City of New York

Vincent Astor Townhouse

Vincent Astor was described as the richest kid in the world, a title he had been given rather than had earned. His seemingly endless fortune came not from hard work and years of saving but from his enormously wealthy father and his enormously wealthy family, who not only had the benefit of being one of the wealthiest families in the United States but also one of the most socially prominent. This was all made possible by Vincent's grandmother Caroline Schermerhorn Astor who was know simply as The Mrs. Astor, The dowager queen of New York City society. The Astors were an  extremely wealthy family of slumlords whose fortune was found by the patron of the family John Jacob Astor who was a fur trader and real estate mogul. Vincent's father, John IV, had built the most luxurious hotel in the world, the Waldorf-Astoria. Sadly, though, John did not live very long and perished on the Titanic at almost age fifty. His larger than life fortune was left mostly intact to Vincent some $87 million with a $10 million trust to his daughter Alice and a $7 million trust and $1 million going to his second wife, Madeleine. Madeleine had received most of the residences all to be given up if she remarried. Well madeleine did remarry and the houses went to Vincent. Vincent later on sold the properties and instead of the massive Fifth Avenue mansion he had received he commissioned a small townhouse. The architect he chose was Mott B. Schmidt  and soon Schmidt submitted plans for an Adam-inspired townhouse with a floor plan designed for comfort.

                                                                  Floor Plans

The interiors would be comfortable although still designed for entertainment. The biggest room in the house was the living room which would on occasion double as the ballroom. During huge balls the entire second floor was opened up to create one massive ballroom. His second wife, Brooke, had her bedroom on the second floor in the front while his was toward the back on the third floor.

                          The Living Room Which on Occasion Would Become The Ballroom

                                                               Living Room Doorway

                                                                The Dining Room

                                                             Entrance Hall Fireplace

                                                              Second Floor Hall

                                                                      Stair Hall

Astor latter on decided he no longer wanted the expense of maintaining a city townhouse and moved to an apartment at 120 East End Avenue. The home was latter bought Junior League which still maintains it today.  

*Note all photos and floor plans except for the first photo come from Mott B. Schmidt the first one comes from Wikipedia

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Astor Double Mansion: Mrs. Astor's Side

As you know from my previous post about the Astor Mansion, millionaire John Jacob Astor IV and his mother Caroline lived in a large double house on the corner of 65th Street on Fifth Avenue. This post will be specifically about Caroline's side of the house and the ballroom that was shared. In 1892 when
Caroline's nephew, William Waldorf Astor, decided to demolish his father's mansion and erect the Waldorf Hotel right next door to her mansion she was literally forced from her home of 40 years because of all the noise, traffic, dust and crowds of people. Caroline's son John came up with a solution and built a massive mansion on a plot the family owned at 65th Street. The mansion on the outside would appear to be one house but on the inside the home was really two with Caroline occupying the left side and John and his family occupying the right side. This way Caroline could enjoy the comfort of her son's home practically in the same house and yet be enabled to enjoy the privacy of her own. Guests entered through large bronze doors and after ascending the large vestibule steps were greeted by the large stair hall.
                                                                  The Stair Hall

The stair hall was two storeys high and done in white Caen stone. Along the walls were large Flemish tapestries, painting reproduced from the Palace of Versailles, stucco reliefs and life size female nudes reaching up to the large bronze skylight. In the center hung the large ormolu chandelier and the massive handsome staircase was done in white marble with iron fixtures. Off the stair hall were the entertaining room such as the reception room.
                                                            The Reception Room

The reception room was the smallest entertaining room and was where Mrs. Astor would receive guest in front of her portrait done by Carolus Duran. The large chandelier had originally graced the entrance hall of her brownstone at 34th Street. The large rug had also come from her home on 34th Street where it had graced one of the reception rooms. From the reception room guests could enter the large drawing room.
                                                          The Drawing Room
The drawing room was the largest of the entertaining rooms (not including the ballroom) and had antique french paneling and a enormous persian rug that completely covered the floor. The doors were mirrored and topped with semicircular mirrors. The rooms was filled with Louis XIV-style carved and gilded furniture, french tapestries and a collection of Sevres vases. From the drawing room one could enter the dining room.

                                                            The Dining Room
Th dining room was the most detailed room with it's black oak paneled walls accented with ebony and inlays of gilt. The walls were covered with tapestries depicting hunting scenes that had come from the dining room at the 34th Street mansion. Also from the mansion at 34th Street were the fireplace which had originally graced the ballroom and the large statue of Venus which had also graced the ballroom. The last great entertaining room on this floor was the ballroom.

                                                         The Ballroom/Art Gallery
The ballroom, which also doubled as the art gallery, was the largest room in the house and shared by both houses (but it was mainly used by Caroline). This ballroom also happened to be the largest ballroom in the city, capable of holding not just the famous 400 but 1,200 people. It was one and a half storeys high and had a massive bronze skylight. The walls were crammed with row after row of european paintings and art pieces. At one end rose the huge white marble fireplace imported from Italy. At the other end was wrought iron musician's gallery that opened off the second floor. Here there was more objects from the mansion at 34th Street not only had all the art work come from there but also most of the furniture including Mrs. Astor's round red velvet ottoman that was toward the front and the standing gilt candelabra on either side of the fireplace had come from the ballroom.    

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