Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Mrs. Astor's House

The Astor mansion at 65th Street and Fifth Avenue, circa 1900.

Designed by society's famed architect, Richard Morris Hunt, who had designed many a mansion for the Vanderbilt family, the mansion was built by the John Jacob Astor IV, the Astor family playboy, for him and his mother, Caroline, the self-appointed queen of New York society and known to everyone as simply, THE Mrs. Astor. Mrs. Astor had originally reigned at a four-bay brownstone on 34th Street ~ currently today the present site of the Empire State Building. Due to a social fued between herself and her nephew, William Waldorf Astor, the neighboring townhouse at 34th Street, owned by her nephew, was demolished and replaced with a 13-story hotel, named, interestingly enough, "The Waldorf Hotel". All the dirt, dust, noise and traffic the hotel brought forced Queen Caroline to move from her home of 40 years. Replacing her home, a 17-story hotel built by son John, named rightfully, "The Astoria". Despite the family's feud, business, was, after all, business, so the two fueding cousins decided to merge the two hotels to form the "Waldorf~Astoria", New York City's most luxurious hotel. 

Carolus Duran's famed portrait of Caroline
Astor, which she regally greeted guests in
Front of. It now hangs in the Metropolitan
Museum of Ar. Circa 1890's.
Mrs. Astor made sure her new home would be the epitome of luxury. She and her son asked Hunt to create matching residences for them both, exact duplicates. The mansion, on the outside, would appear to be one palatial fortress, on the inside would be two matching residences facing each other, one for the queen, the other for her son and his family. Connecting the two residences was a sumptuous ballroom, which also housed Mrs. Astor's expansive collection of European art. Both homes would rise to a towering five-stories. 

Mrs. Astor filled her side(the left) of the mansion with the finest French antiques, many of which had come from her brownstone at 34th Street. Dominating her reception room was Carolus Duran's portrait of herself, which she greeted guests in front of. Wearing her signature diamond stomacher, her 200-stone diamond necklace and her diamond star-shaped tiara, she held the most lavish parties of the season, including her annual Patriarch's Ball, which officially opened the New York social season. Her ballroom, capable of holding 1,200 guests, 800 more than her famous '400'. 

The Ballroom/Art Gallery in the Astor mansion at 65th Street. Circa, 1902.

The dining room in the Astor mansion at 65th Street. Circa 1908.
The stair hall in the Astor mansion at 65th Street. Circa 1908.

The mansion underwent massive renovations carried out by her son, after her death, to transform the home into a single residence. The partition wall was removed and the two staircases were replaced with one, baronial bronze great hall. Rooms were taken out and moved. Walls and floors were ripped apart and replaced. Furniture was sold and bought. Bedrooms were torn apart to make bigger ones. Fixtures were replaced. Moldings were updated. The only room not to be touched, save replacing the furniture, was the now out-dated ballroom, which it was said John kept as a tribute to his mother. The home was completely transformed. 

The Great Hall in the renovated Astor mansion at 65th Street. Circa 1912.
After a mere 33 years in the Astor family, the mansion was sold by Caroline's grandson, Vincent, in 1926 for around $1 million. Had her son John not died in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, it is likely the home would have survived much longer than it did. The wrecking ball finally put an end to Mrs. Astor's 5th Avenue palace, 18 years after her death, to be replaced by the Temple Emanu-El.


  1. The central court enclosed by that massive glass & iron canopy had to be a sight to behold. A beautiful townhouse that like many others in New York did not last long enough.

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