Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Vanderbilt house on Fifth Avenue

I did a few good deals this month and finally have some extra cash to buy a new digital camera. "Best Buy," here I come. For now, however, I'm going to use another couple of photos from my book, "The Vanderbilts and the Gilded Age; Architectural Aspirations 1879 -1901," published in 1991 by St. Martin's Press in New York. Between 1882 and 1925 this house stood on the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 52nd St. The NBA Football store is on the site today, at street level in the office building called 666 Fifth Avenue. The house was built for William Kissam Vanderbilt, grandson of the Commodore, and designed by America's first Beaux Arts trained architect, Richard Morris Hunt. The project really belonged to Vanderbilt's wife Alva, a woman with an equal abundance of money and taste. Historians love to condemn Alva as a cold-blooded social climber, but she was in fact a remarkable woman whose remarkable life did not entail kowtowing to men. Her New York house at 660 Fifth Avenue started a craze for the "Chateau Style" that swept the country. The photo below shows the drawing room. This is no copy of a European room, but rather a careful interpretation of classic French interior design for a sophisticated (the Vanderbilts spoke French at home) American client. It was executed by a guy named Jules Allard, who back then was outfitting mansions all over the place with rooms like it. A critic of the time remarked on the "effortless elegance" of Alva's interiors, an opinion with which I heartily agree. OK, OK, so it's a little formal. What can I say?I have a taste for formality


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  2. wonderful drawing room of the vanderbilts...

    can you post more pics of their 666 Fifth avenue chateau?


  3. Yes, please post more! And BTW, it was 660 Fifth Avenue then . . . the addresses changed with the number of buildings.