New York Life — a skyscraper with a golden crown

The 40-story tower crowned by the 6-story shining golden roof in the shape of an octagonal pyramid on the northeast corner of Madison Park belongs to New York Life Insurance Company. The crown was originally covered by cooper-and-gold leaf, which eventually eroded and was replaced with gold-colored tile. The effect is fantastic — the golden…

Cartier Building—A Pearl of Fifth Avenue

It’s not so much the shimmering beauty of natural pearls that made them more valuable than diamonds during the Gilded Age, but rather the danger inherent in the task of finding the perfect pearl. The divers plunged deep into the waters in search of the gems—alas, most of the mollusks were empty or the pearls…

Neue Gallery—Grace Vanderbilt’s “Gardener’s Cottage”

The beautiful mansion that houses Neue Gallery was modeled on the 17th-century Place des Vosges in Paris. It was designed in 1914 by the architectural firm of Carrère and Hastings, well-known for their Beaux-Arts masterpieces such as the New York Public Library. While most of the grand, single-family mansions of Fifth Avenue were destroyed in…

Vanderbilt’s Oak Leaves and Acorns at the Grand Central Terminal

The spectacular Grand Central Terminal owes its presence to Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of America’s first great tycoons and the patriarch of the Vanderbilt family, prominent during the Gilded Age. Cornelius Vanderbilt started his business when he launched a ferryboat service from Staten Island to Manhattan using a $100 loan from his mother. Vanderbilt’s operation eventually…

Grand Central Terminal

Please, do not, under any circumstance, call it a station. It’s a Terminal. Grand Central Terminal was built to house Cornelius Vanderbilt’s railroad network and was envisioned as a gateway to the city. It’s hard to underestimate its grandeur: every day, more than 750,000 people pass through the Grand Central, which is more than the entire…

Consuelo Vanderbilt – A Wedding on Fifth Avenue

The main American export of the Gilded Age was not cotton, not tobacco, not flaxseed, rice, tar, or turpentine… it was the American bride. Refined, educated, and groomed for every social situation, exquisitely dressed, beautiful and fantastically wealthy the American heiresses, joined in matrimony with the English aristocracy, were expected to form a perfect union…

Alva Vanderbilt’s Party of the Century

When Alva Vanderbilt built a home, she built a castle, and when she threw a housewarming party, it was the party of the century. Alva Vanderbilt, the wife of William Kissam Vanderbilt (Cornelius Vanderbilt’s grandson), had a mission: to carve out her own rightful place in Gilded Age society. At the time the undisputed leader…

Alva Vanderbilt’s “Petit Chateau”

Completed 1882 Demolished in 1926 Architect Richard Morris Hunt 660 5th Ave at W 52nd Street If you found yourself back in the 1880s and were standing at the corner of West 52nd Street and Fifth Ave, you’d be in awe of the massive castle-like white limestone structure modestly referred to as “Petit Chateau.” The…

Vanderbilt’s 5th Ave Triple Palace

Completed 1881Demolished 1945 A stretch of Fifth Ave from 52nd to 58th street has the moniker of Vanderbilt Row. Although now mostly gone and forgotten, it was once upon a time lined with glorious mansions which belonged to the Vanderbilt family. Cornelius Vanderbilt, the dynasty founder, was crude, uneducated and pretty cruel to all, including…