Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Metropolitan Opera House

Originally the elite of New York went to the Academy of Music to attend opera, but by the 1880's The wealthy New York families that had been banded from the Academy decided they wanted an opera house of their own. Architect J. Cleaveland Candy was hired to build an opera house twice as large as the Academy and to be far more luxurious. Immediately private boxes were put up for sale but were limited. As soon as they went up for sale 25 of the nouveau riche families, such as Vanderbilt, Goelet, Morgan, Wilson, Gould and Rockefeller, bought boxes for around $15,000 each and soon after many other families followed.
                                                            Academy of Music

Candy was instructed to design the building to fit as many boxes as he could (there were over 250 nouveau riche who all wanted private boxes so there would need to be plenty of space) and also to include several luxuriously designed rooms.


                                                                    Floor Plans

                                                            Shortly after it was built

                                                                Cartoon rendering

The opening night was a lavish scene of musicians, actors and richly clad ladies and gentlemen. Christine Nilsson topped the evening off with the "Jewel Song" after which a beautiful golden casket was given to her. The wealthy spectators watched with joy as they new that they had beaten the Academy.

                                            Opening Night of The Metropolitan Opera House

After that night the Academy closed it's doors and the old New York families all moved to the Met as it was called. Old New York families such as The Astors, Fish, Van Alens, Mortons, Livingstons and The Barlows bought boxes while other like Mary Mason Jones shared with others. All in all there were 122 boxes, 83 of which were occupied. A decade later renovations were done to the boxes and lush decorations were added all over the place. The first tier of boxes was where the most fashionable sat, it was called the "Diamond Horeshoe" ( Mrs. Astor always maintained that it was named that because of her famous 200 stone diamond necklace although that has never been proved ) while the second tier housed the nobodies according to society.

                                                             The private boxes

The auditorium was the largest room in New York and had 3,200 seats. At one end was a grand entrance while the other was the massive stage.

                                                                  The Auditorium

The stage was designed to be able to hold the hundreds of actors that performed there it was 2 stories high and was equipped with the latest machines to help to help the act run smoothly.

                                                            Diagram of the Stage
                                                           Upper part of Auditorium

                                                                        Stair Hall

Of it's many patrons, the strongest patron of the Met was Grace Wilson Vanderbilt, wife of Cornelius Vanderbilt III. Very many people agree that after Mrs. Astor died Grace took over as queen of society and one of her entertaining spots was in her private box at the Met, where she could receive prominent guests and foreign dignitaries.

                                Grace Vanderbilt at the opera on the night before black tuesday
                                                                (center middle)

                                                                     In 1966

After so many years of glory and triumph, the Met was demolished in 1966 14 years after it's strongest patron died. Today it is occupied by just another apartment building.

The Fifth Avenue Mansion of Paran Stevens

In 1893 proprietor Paran Stevens bought a large property expanding the entire block between 57th and 58th Streetand that he and his family moved into. The property was know as "Marble Row" and was really seven homes called units. "Marble Row" had formerly been the home of Ms. Mary Mason Jones who lived in the corner house and rented the other six to wealthy socialites and matrons for small sums.

                                                        The other "Marble Row" units

It was after Ms. Jones's death that the Stevens bought it. Paran commissioned several interior renovations including removing the master suite from the first floor to the second floor ( Ms. Jones's age made it impossible for her to climb stairs so she put her bedroom on the first floor ) and adding a large art gallery to the second floor. The result was french style rooms which looked cluttered and stuffed and every wall space covered with something. Mrs. Stevens entertained lavishly in the home and in Newport. After her and her husband's death the house was sold to the Herman Oelrichs and then later on demolished, today Louis Vuitton occupies the site.  

                                                Drawing Room (former first floor master suite)

                                                                     Dining Room
                                                                      Stair Hall
                                                         Second Floor Sitting Room
                                                                      Art Gallery

Monday, May 28, 2012

Astor Mansion At 65th Street

This massive mega mansion on 65th street fifth avenue was the New York City mansion of Caroline Astor and her son John, the richest man on the Titanic. This mansion was really a double mansion divided in half, Mrs. Astor lived in the left side and John and his family lived in the right side, the ballroom at the rear was shared. The Astors were a very wealthy family of slumlords, whose fortune came from the family's many land holdings and real estate properties, in fact the family at one point owned 29% of New York City. The Astor family fortune enabled them to live in luxurious mansions, eat of off of gold plated china, drive around in expensive Rolls Royce limousines and be attended to by a fleet of servants. Mrs. Astor, whose husband William was once the head of the family until he died, was the Queen of New York City society, the famous "400" as they were called, and also had homes in Newport,Paris and on the Hudson. Mrs. Astor had originally lived in a brownstone mansion at 34th street, but conflicts with her nephew William Waldorf, caused him to tear downs his father's mansion next door and build the Walorf Hotel. The noise and trafic caused by the hotel forced her to move to another location, she picked a lot on 65th street she owned and tore down her brownstone and had built a competing hotel (now the site of the Empire State Building). She hired architect Richard Morris Hunt to   design the Mansion in the french style for her and her son on a 100 by 100 foot lot.

5th Avenue Elevation 

Plumbing in the basement 

                                                             Fifth Avenue Front

                                                                     Rear View
                                                                   Angle View


                                                                      Main Hall

                                                               Main Hall Light Fixtures

                                                             Stair Hall (one of two )
                                                              Stair Hall Chandelier

                                                           Mrs. Astor's Drawing Room
                                                              John's Drawing Room

                                                                State Dining Room



Morning Room       

                                                             Ballroom/Art Gallery 

                                                       Corner View and Musician's Balcony

                                                                Fireplace Detail

After Mrs. Astor died John had the double mansion converted into one large mansion. He had the dividing wall removed and also removed the double staircases, in the place he added a large great hall with a smaller staircase in the rear of the home. Also changed in the Astor Mansion was his dining room, which became the library, his drawing room, which stayed , his and his mom's reception room, opened up to create a large vestibule and his mother's drawing room, which became the morning room. After John went down on the Titanic his second wife Madeleine moved in on the terms that if she remarried she would have to give up the mansions and millions she inherited. Madeleine did many major renovations including turning the Guest room on the second floor into her bedroom and completely tearing out all of the guest rooms on that side and turning them into a private bathroom, dressing room, walk in closet and glass domed boudoir. Later on Madeleine remarried and the mansion went to John's son Vincent. Vincent and his wife preferred their Long Island estate to Newport and sold the Astor family estate "Beechwood" in Newport for $30,000 and also sold the Astor estate "Ferncliff" on the Hudson for $20,000. Vincent also wanted a smaller New York City residence and sold the Astor Mansion to developers for $130,000. The salon, library and all of the painting in the ballroom where bought by the Ringling Brothers Museum. Today a Temple stands on the spot where Mrs. Astor had received the famous "400".

* Note Photos of Musician's balcony in ballroom came from Half Pudding Half Sauce Blog 
*Note  Photos of the Main Hal and Library came from Mansions of The Gilded Age Blog 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Cornelius Vanderbilt II Mansion New York City

In the early 1890's millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt II commissioned a block long renovation to his already large New York City mansion that changed the world's view of the Vanderbilt's forever. In 1883 Vanderbilt had had a large townhouse built on the corner of 57th street that could suit him and his large family comfortably. But by the 1890's he felt that others were trying to trying to outdo him and his family, so he commissioned society architect George Post to build him a block long mansion and Richard Morris Hunt as advisor.

                                                       The First Vanderbilt Mansion at 57th Street

When it was completed, it extended the entire block of 57th street giving it a superb view of the Pultizer Fountain and was the largest house ever constructed in New York, a title which it still holds today.

                                                      The Mansion extending the entire block

Although the family entrance remained on the west side there was a new formal entrance on the east side with a large porte cochere. The floor plan of the house shows that tthe rooms on the first floor were centered around the large great hall and ballroom. Upstairs were the numerous family bedrooms and guest rooms along with the play room and servants rooms.

The interiors we done by the famous interior design firm of Julus Allard and filled with the family's large collection of french rococo style antiques. From the formal entrance guests walked into a stone  vestibule and were led up stone steps to the water color reception room.

The water color room was basically a reception room where formal guests would wait to be greeted by the Vanderbilts, on the wall is a photo of Mrs. Vanderbilt in her younger years as well as water color paintings.

Through the family entrance guests entered the Great Hall. The Great Hall was done with caen stone and had a beautiful spiral staircase. 

                                                                The Great Hall

To the left of the great hall was the Dining room which also doubled as the art gallery. The dining room could seat 200 people at a Vanderbilt party and almost 300 people when the table was broken up.

                                                           The Dining Room/Art Gallery

Behind the dining room was the somking room done in a very moorish style with a very ornate chandelier.

In the middle of the House was the ballroom. The ballroom could hold 650 people and had walls that could open up into other rooms to increase the already large room of 64 by 50 foot long.

On the right side were two salons and a drawing room.

                                                                 The Petit Salon

                                                            The Grand Salon

Upstairs were the family bedrooms, servant's rooms and guest rooms. In 1899 Cornelius died he left an estate of over $72 million to his family and charity. His wife Alice Gwynne received a $7 million trust fund, the New York City Mansion and the Breakers cottage in Newport. For years alice resided gloomily in her two homes. Ever since the day of Cornelius's death Alice, the reigning Mrs. Vanderbilt,  had worn nothing but black and pearls, living in the past, spending her days alone in her fortress of a mansion on Fifth Avenue and in The Breakers Villa, visiting only her family, never seen in the public.

                                        The New York City Mansion in 1925

                                       The Breakers mansion Newport in 1925

In 1925 it had become so expensive to run both home that they both starting to look worn. To run the Breakers it took 37 servants, 13 grooms and 12 gardeners. To run the 137 room Mansion in New York City took 37 servants. The $t million dollar trust fund Alice had been left produced and annual income of $250,000 which soon was just enough to cover the taxes on both houses. The taxes on the Breakers was $83,000 a year while taxes on the New York City Mansion which had been $38,000 in 1890 had risen to $130,000. In 1925 Alice was forced to sell the home for $7 million dollars to The Bergdorf-Goodman department store which demolished it and built upon it another department store which still occupies the spot today.  

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