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
                                                                         Salon
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



18 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing all of the information, photographs and drawings you've collected.

    Do you have the plans of the rest of the mansion's layout?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do not have plans for the rest of the house but I can make some plans myself of the house based on photographs and written descriptions of the house if you want, I will keep searching for floor plans of the house but so far I have found none.

      Delete
  2. Self-serving answer - yes, please draw the plans.

    Real answer - If you'd planned to draw them and then post them, thanks. If not, no problem.

    You've been very generous with sharing your collection and knowledge of the buildings.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alright then I will post them soon, probably later tonight or sometime tomorrow, no later than that.

      Delete
  3. I see the house in a different way. It is beautiful. Please see the new book,"The Art of Wealth". The Huntingtons seem to have been colored by Mr. Mahers book, "The Twilight of Splendor". Unfortunately, it might be true: that there is no accurate floor plan. The scale of the house is so difficult to read, Without accurate plans, it is difficult to decide how large the rooms are, everything seems to be a mile high,, up,, the windows are narrow looking. Now with this new book, well Archer Huntington did not throw everything out. I suspect that there are other photograps, and in time more will be released. I am only an art teacher. Have been to, and have belonged to the "Huntington". It seems the answer may be found at the "Hispanic Society of America, New York". Had there been a clock on the four faces of the tower, I could say: let the trains come in. But the tower was housing at least one elevator............ I fear I read the kitchen on the fourth floor. Cooking oders up, and health problems with plumbing and bad water, raised above the basement. It seems that it may have been granite, see the new book! So many answers,,,,,, more questions. The people come out as real people. Nothing to be ashamed of here. Thanks for listening..........M.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Just stumbled upon your site. Very nice work. Your commentary connects a lot of "the dots". Thanks!

    One thing I would love to see is a map showing callouts of the photos to better orient all these homes.

    What is the big building next to the Vanderbilt

    ReplyDelete
  5. Looking south as we are, the building that looks like a wedding cake was the Hechser Building. It has a different name today. The building on extreme right is the Plaza Hotel.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Were you ever able to finish the plans for this house? I would certainly love to see them! I bet they're fantastic! :)

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