Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Last of New York City's Grand Mansions, Part 1

The declining of New York City's grand Fifth Avenue mansion could be dated all the way back to 1913, when congress passed America's brand new Income Tax (another way the Government chooses to tax American citizens). This process was speeded up with the end of World War I, when land prices skyrocketed. 

"Traditionally, the Great Depression is cited as the cause
for the end of the Great House era.
However, the economic collapse was merely the "coup de grace"
for an already defunct tradition .
The Declining Years actually began around the end of World War I. 
Several factors contributed to the demise of the Great House:
a shortage of servants brought on by the severely restrictive 
Immigration Act of 1919;
the first income tax was instituted in 1913; and immediately following the end 
of the war, escalating land values in Manhattan discouraged even
the very rich from building single-family residences"

Michael C. Kathrens 

With all of these factors contributing, it became very hard for even the super wealthy to maintain their palaces along Fifth Avenue. 

Alva Belmont's Chateau, The Mansion That Started The Great House Era, Was The First To Go, Demolished in 1926

Not Far Behind Was The Astor Mansion At 65th Street, Which Made Way For The Temple Emanu-El In 1926
Click HERE To Read More About The Astor Mansion

The following year, Alice Vanderbilt, widow of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, finally was forced to give up the block-long Vanderbilt mansion to developers. The massive home was the largest home ever built in New York City. The home made way for the Bergdorf Goodman Department Store. Alice moved to the much smaller George Gould mansion. 

The Massive Vanderbilt Fortress, Overlooking The Grand Army Plaza, Made Way For The Sleek Department Store That Stands There Today

Click HERE To Read More About The Vanderbilt Mansion 

With The fall of the Vanderbilt Mansion, so went the rest of the area. Quickly following the Vanderbilt mansion's demolition, was the leveling of the Arabella Huntington mansion, also in 1927, the Elbridge T Gerry mansion and then the Mary Mason Jones mansion, both in 1929. Quickly, mansion after mansion along Fifth Avenue was demolished to make way for massive skyscrapers and commercial buildings. The surviving homeowners were practically fighting a war.  

Mrs Cornelius Vanderbilt III, Grace, Refused To Give Up Her Brownstone Fort At 640 Fifth Avenue, The Last of The Vanderbilt Homes (Photo From Robert Bruce)

The Vanderbilt Mansion, 640 Fifth Avenue, Was The First Of The Vanderbilt Homes Along Fifth Avenue, It Was Also The Last

640 Fifth Avenue, Towered Over By Hundred of Skyscrapers, The Mansion Was Finally Demolished In 1947

Click HERE To Read More About 640 Fifth Avenue

The 6-Story William Watts Sherman Brownstone, Then Occupied By His Widow, Seemed Small Compared To The 20-Story Skyscrapers Around It, The Home Was Demolished In 1950 

Click HERE To Read More About The William Watts Sherman Mansion

The George F. Baker Jr Mansion, Occupied By His Widow Until 1958, It Survives Today As The Russian Orthodox Church 

The William Starr Miller Mansion, Later Owned By Grace Vanderbilt After She Sold 640 Fifth Avenue, Still Survives Today As The Neue Gallery 

Click HERE To Read More About The William Starr Miller Mansion 

Another dowager who refused to give up her home was Harriet Alexander, widow of Charles B Alexander. Although her home was engulfed by commercial invasion, she still ran the house just as it always had. She eventually got sick of the skyscrapers and moved to Paris, although she still kept her New York City mansion. 

Harriet Alexander Was Determined Not To Let Her Home Have The Same Fate As The Other Demolished Mansions
The Alexander Mansion (right) Up Against The Bergdorf-Goodman, The Mansion Was Demolished In 1940 

Click HERE To Read More About The Mrs Charles B Alexander Mansion



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