Saturday, August 25, 2012
The Vanderbilt's "Marble Twins"
In 1900, millionaire George Vanderbilt purchased a large lot, formerly occupied by the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum, that was diagonally opposite his mansion, where he planned to erect two fine townhouses. Vanderbilt had purchased the lot in an effort to protect the area from commercial invasion, because already a developer had expressed interest in the lot as the site of his new apartment building.
George commissioned the architects of Hunt & Hunt, sons of famed architect Richard Morris Hunt, to design the homes. The homes would both be made to mirror each other and designed as a double house. When completed, the entire cost of the project totaled $100,000 ($2.7 million in today's money). Because of the all marble exterior, the homes were nicknamed "The Marble Twins".
The exterior was very grand and decorative, although the same could not be said about the interiors, which were called dull and plain. On the ground floors were the reception room, main hall, stair hall, dining room and the service pantry. The second floors held the drawing room, library and the hall. The third floors held his and her master suites, each with their own bath and dressing room, the den, guest room and the hall. The next two floors held guest and servant's rooms, while the basement held the kitchen, laundry room, a vault and more servant's rooms.
The townhouses, located at 645 and 647 Fifth Avenue, were soon leased out to others. 647 became the home of Robert Goelet and his wife Elsie, while 645 became the home of Lila (daughter of Emily Vanderbilt) and William Field.
In 1911, when Fifth Avenue was widened, Hunt & Hunt were called in again to perform the renovations, costing a total of $12,000. Soon after, in 1914, Elsie Goelet filled for divorce against Robert and moved out of 647, eventually marrying Henry Clews Jr. Robert temporarily closed down the townhouse, but he soon was back in residence a year later.
In 1916, Morton F. Plant, sick and tired of the commercial invasion surrounding his mansion, sold his mansion to Willie K. Vanderbilt and moved to a large townhouse far up the avenue, near the Central Park. Vanderbilt had no choice but to lease the mansion to the jeweler Cartier, who eventually bought the building.
Robert Goelet had permanently left 647 in 1916 and it was then leased to Gimpel & Wildenstein for $36,000 a year. They added another floor and made several other renovations, totaling $140,000. The house was then renovated again in 1938, which made it a "Dignified but architecturally attractive commercial building". In 1945, 645 was demolished to make way for The Olympic Tower. Also demolished was the Union Club.
Today, The Plant mansion and 647 continue to survive. 647 now houses Versace and it remains somewhat intact. The Plant residence still houses Cartier, which continues to maintain it well.
The Plant and Vanderbilt residences are both survivors and are a few of the remaining remnants of the long gone era known as The Gilded Age.