Long before the days of $88M penthouses for 22-year-olds and $130M Manhattan sprawls, before Russian oligarchs and tropical Florida playgrounds came into their own, the greatest way to flaunt ridiculous wealth was by way of Fifth Avenue mansions, urban manors done up in gold and boasting chandeliers with room for 30-plus candles, countless pieces of 19th-century custom furniture, and edifice façades with more gables and gingerbread milieu than a midcentury horror house. Happily, Vanity Fair just published archival photos of Gilded Age real estate, images resuscitated by a new book, Gilded New York (Monacelli Press), which publishes in conjunction with an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York.
The year is 1883, and construction is wrapping on the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, the favorite grandson of railroad baron Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. Built on Fifth Avenue, 1 57th Street was the largest house in the city—indeed Vanderbilt bought out the entire block, worried as he was that peers would try to one-up him. The six-story mansion would still be NYC's largest, if it weren't for fledgling inheritances and pressure from skyscraper developers, which forced Cornelius' wife Alice to sell the place at the onset of WWI, to be replaced by Bergdorf Goodman. The mansion, something of an architectural symbol of the Gilded Age, had a drawing room and an art gallery on the ground floor; a salon, music room, and conservatory on the second; and a slew of bedrooms done up by French design firm Jules Allard and Sons on the remaining four stories. Read more over at Vanity Fair.