The 1800s were a pivotal period for 5th Avenue, marking its transformation from a mere residential street to an address synonymous with grandeur and luxury. It all began with the wealthy Astor family who decided to call this avenue their home, and soon, other prominent families followed suit. They erected opulent New York mansions, many designed in the popular Beaux-Arts architectural style, that featured grand entrances, majestic staircases, and ornate details.
The dawn of the 20th century only added to 5th Avenue’s allure. The Gilded Age saw an explosion of even more extravagant residences, built by the likes of the Vanderbilts and the Fricks. These New York mansions were designed to reflect their owners’ immense wealth and social status, often boasting intricate interiors, art collections, and even private gardens.
However, the Gilded Age mansion era on 5th Avenue wasn’t meant to last forever. As the 20th century rolled on, the commercial appeal of the area led many families to relocate and their grand homes were replaced by shops, hotels, and high-rise apartments. Still, a few historic mansions remain today as a testament to the street’s illustrious past, housing museums and luxury boutiques.
Join us on this journey through time as we revisit the grandeur of 5th Avenue’s past. Though these New York mansions may be largely gone, their stories live on, whispering tales of a city that continually evolves while maintaining a solid link to its vibrant history.
Shirley Temple’s Fifth Avenue song performance
Hop a bus, take a car / Hail a cab and there you are
On Fifth Avenue (old Fifth Avenue)
Ev’ry Joe, ev’ry Jane / Walks along that dreamer’s lane
On Fifth Avenue (that’s Fifth Avenue)
Where they stop, window shop, and their hopes are so high
Pricing rings, pretty things that they can’t afford to buy
But they smile, they don’t care / Ev’ryone’s a millionaire
When you’re strolling on Fifth Avenue
(From “Fifth Avenue,” lyrics & music by Mack Gordon/Harry Warren)
Palatial homes and hotels of upper Fifth Ave. (1904)
from Fifth Ave. Presby. Church, N., to Central Park, New York
The old John Jacob Astor residence (1893)
This Gilded Age mansion, located at 840 Fifth Avenue, New York City, was the home of millionaire businessman John Jacob Astor IV, who died when the Titanic sank. You might also know the Astor name from the famed old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
Designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, the mansion at 840 Fifth Avenue was a testament to the Beaux-Arts style. Known for its grandeur and opulence, it represented the pinnacle of Gilded Age elegance. Its lavish interiors, imposing façade, and intricate detailing were emblematic of the Astor family’s immense wealth and social status.
Beyond its architectural magnificence, the mansion also bore witness to the social gatherings of the city’s elite. From grand parties to intimate soirées, the mansion was a hub of high society, reinforcing the Astor family’s place in the uppermost echelons of New York City’s social scene.
Like many of the great mansions of that era, the Astor mansion succumbed to the shifting sands of time and urban progress. It was demolished in 1926 to make way for a new wave of development.
Today, the site is home to Temple Emanu-El, one of the largest synagogues in the world, a building of spiritual significance and architectural merit in its own right.
Home of Mr & Mrs Cornelius Vanderbilt II (1896 & 1894)
The New York mansion of Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt II at 742-748 Fifth Avenue was nothing short of a spectacle in its heyday. This architectural marvel, designed by George B. Post and Richard Morris Hunt, set a new standard for luxury when it was completed in 1883.
Cornelius Vanderbilt II, the eldest grandson of “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt, who had amassed a fortune through steamships and the New York Central Railroad, used his inheritance to create a testament to the family’s wealth and social status.
The Vanderbilt mansion was the largest private residence ever built in New York City, occupying an entire city block between 57th and 58th Streets. The mansion’s facade was an impressive sight, crafted in granite and sporting a French Renaissance design. It boasted an elaborate three-story high entrance gate, and the ornamentation was intricate and rich, echoing the grandeur of European palaces.
The interior was just as magnificent. It included an impressive two-story grand hall, a library, a grand salon, a dining room that could seat 100 guests, and numerous bedrooms, all elaborately decorated. Tapestries, fine woods, marble, and gold leaf were used throughout the mansion, along with an array of valuable artwork and furnishings.
In 1927, the mansion was demolished to make way for the commercial development of Fifth Avenue. The Bergdorf Goodman department store now stands on the site where the mansion once was.
Here are two views of the enormous house that belonged to the Vanderbilt family in the late Victorian Era.
(Note: Cornelius’ granddaughter was Gloria Vanderbilt — the jeans fashionista and designer — which makes him Anderson Cooper’s great-grandfather.)
Home of William K Vanderbilt (1903)
If 5th Avenue during the Gilded Age had a crown, the mansion of William Kissam Vanderbilt, known as the “Petit Chateau,” would be one of its most sparkling jewels. Located at 660 Fifth Avenue, this stunning example of Beaux-Arts architecture was completed in 1883 and stood as an imposing testament to the Vanderbilt family’s wealth and social prominence.
The Petit Chateau was commissioned by William K. Vanderbilt, grandson of the Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (and brother of Cornelius II, above), who made his fortune in railroads and shipping. William’s wife, Alva, played a significant role in the mansion’s conception, hiring the famed American architect Richard Morris Hunt to design a home that would dazzle New York society.
And dazzle it did. The Petit Chateau was an architectural marvel, designed to resemble a French Renaissance chateau. Its limestone facade boasted intricately carved details, from cherubs and grotesques to ornate window surrounds and balustrades. It was a palace in the truest sense, with an air of European sophistication that was unmatched among its New York contemporaries.
The interior of this Vanderbilt mansion included a two-story grand hall, a lavish ballroom, and a variety of entertaining and private rooms. Each space was meticulously designed, boasting features like high ceilings, ornate plasterwork, and elaborate wood paneling.
The mansion was the site of numerous grand parties, including the famous 1883 ball which marked the Vanderbilt family’s acceptance into New York high society.
However, like many other magnificent homes from that era, the Petit Chateau did not stand the test of time. It was demolished in 1926 to make way for commercial development and today is the site of a 41-story office building.
Twin Vanderbilt houses – George W Vanderbilt’s old New York mansion (1915)
George Washington Vanderbilt II, who was renowned for building his palatial Biltmore Estate in North Carolina in 1895, also made a significant mark on New York City’s 5th Avenue with the construction of his “Marble Twins.”
These two magnificent townhouses were located on 5th Avenue between 51st and 59th streets. These Vanderbilt mansions — built between 1905 and 1907 — were aptly named due to their exquisite white marble facades.
One of the townhomes survives still today as a designated historical landmark and commercial space occupied entirely by Versace. The other townhome was demolished and Olympic Tower stands in its place.
Residence of Mrs Mary Mason Jones and Mrs Marietta Reed Stevens at 1 E 57th Street
Constructed in 1869, the Mary Mason Jones Mansion at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street marked a critical turning point in the history of Manhattan. This striking edifice, crafted from gleaming white marble, was the dream of socialite Mary Mason Jones, aunt to esteemed author Edith Wharton. Her vision was to create a luxurious residential enclave that would inspire Manhattan’s wealthy denizens to venture further north, sparking a transformative migration along the Fifth Avenue corridor.
Mary Mason Jones’ mansion was the crown jewel of the “Marble Row,” a series of eight townhouses that stood as gleaming beacons of wealth and sophistication in a rapidly changing city. Designed by the accomplished architect Robert Mook, her mansion towered three stories high, distinguished by its chic Mansard roof, a nod to Parisian architectural style. Inside, opulence abounded: high ceilings, grand reception rooms, and a level of craftsmanship that could only be expected in the most elite circles.
Mary Mason Jones’ reign over the mansion and her imprint on the social scene was substantial, but it was the arrival of another powerhouse figure (who Jones considered a social-climbing, upstart rival) that would ensure the mansion’s place in the annals of New York history.
In 1892, just a year after the death of Mary Mason Jones, her mansion was seemingly revenge-purchased by Mrs. Marietta Reed Stevens, widow of the late hotelier Paran Stevens. Already a recognized figure in New York high society, Mrs. Stevens capitalized on the mansion’s potential as a social hub. Under her ownership, the mansion hosted extravagant soirees attended by the who’s who of New York, including the Astors and Vanderbilts.
Despite the grandeur of the mansion and its influential residents, the relentless tide of progress eventually caught up. As Fifth Avenue grew more commercial, the grand homes of Marble Row, including the Mary Mason Jones Mansion, were demolished to make way for commercial development. Today, where the mansion once stood, the flagship store of Louis Vuitton now welcomes patrons from around the world.
Residence of Andrew Carnegie at 5th Ave and 91st St, New York, NY (1920)
Residence of Mr H O Havemeyer
Home of Commodore Elbridge T Gerry (5th and 61st Street)
Homes with a beautiful view of Central Park
Fifth Avenue looking north at 67th Street, showing the residences of George J Gould, Thomas F Ryan, Mrs Joseph Stickney, Daniel Gray Reid, and Francis Burton Harrison.
William A. Clark House, or “Clark’s Folly” in 1910
This 5th Avenue mansion of former Senator William A Clark reportedly cost $7,000,000 to build — about $205 million in 2022 dollars. Construction started in the late 1800s, and although it was finished enough to be featured in magazines in 1905, it was considered to be complete in 1911.
The 121-room home was not around for long. Just two years after the Senator’s death in 1925, the Clark Mansion was demolished to make way for a fancy apartment building.
W V Lawrence residence
Mansion home located at 969 Fifth Avenue in New York City (photo from 1891)
Mansion home of Mr Griswald, 5th Ave., New York City
Located at 857 Fifth Avenue — at the northeast corner of 5th and 67th Street. Home number 858, next door, was the residence of Thomas F Ryan.
Alexander Turney Stewart New York mansion at 34 5th Avenue
This large home was built around 1869, by architect John Kellum (photo from 1899)
Henry C Frick’s New York mansion – Fifth Avenue (1915)
The Frick Residence, now known as The Frick Collection, is one of the last remaining vestiges of the Gilded Age mansions that once lined New York City’s prestigious 5th Avenue. This New York mansion occupied the site of the former Lenox Library, between 70th and 71st Streets.
Henry Clay Frick, a wealthy Pittsburgh industrialist known for his role in the expansion of the U.S. steel industry, commissioned the mansion at the turn of the 20th century. His intention was not only to create a home for his family but also a suitable space to display his growing collection of old master paintings and fine furniture.
Constructed between 1912 and 1914, the Frick Residence was designed by prominent American architect Thomas Hastings of the renowned firm Carrère and Hastings. Frick’s mansion was inspired by European architectural styles, specifically reminiscent of French neoclassical designs. It stands as a testament to the grandeur and opulence that characterized Manhatten’s Millionaires’ Row.
Following Frick’s death in 1919, his will stipulated that the residence be transformed into a museum for the public to enjoy his art collection. In 1935, The Frick Collection officially opened its doors. Today, it houses one of the most prestigious collections of Western fine art in the world, including works by artists such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Renoir. Despite the changes over the years, the building maintains much of its original residential character, giving visitors a taste of what life was like in the Gilded Age.
John B Cornell and Manton marble residences (1889)
Brokaw Gilded Age mansion
This is the Isaac Brokaw mansion, designed by Rose & Stone, with an apartment house in the background. The New York mansion was located at 5th Avenue and East 79th Street, and was demolished in 1965. (Source: Flickr Commons project, 2010)