St. Thomas—Medieval Church on 5th Avenue

The St. Thomas church we now see is not the first St. Thomas on 5th Avenue. Its predecessor, St. Thomas by Richard Upjohn, stood on the same spot from 1870 to 1905. Nestled among 5th Avenue’s most spectacular Gilded Age mansions, it was the parish of the wealthiest—where the Vanderbilts themselves came to worship. The…

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…

A.T. Stewart’s Valuable Bones

It can certainly be considered a sign of success when even your bones have monetary value. Not too many people in history have had their bones stolen and held for ransom, but Alexander Turney Stewart was one such person. A.T. Stewart, an Irish immigrant, pioneered the concept of modern shopping. The idea that seemingly existed…

Anna Held—the First Star of Ziegfeld Follies

Whatever she lacked in talent, she more than made up for with her spectacular looks and playful flamboyancy. With her hourglass figure, flirty personality, and love of show business, Anna Held completely captivated America’s collective imagination as one of the turn-of-the-century’s most glamorous stars. The original leading lady of the Ziegfeld Follies and the first…

Marble Palace—the First Department Store in the Nation

A.T. Stewart, an Irish immigrant with a genius for commerce, is credited with the invention of modern day shopping. He came up with such groundbreaking concepts as ready-to-wear clothes, garment displays in store windows, and clearly marked price-tags. He was the first to offer his customers fixed prices, eliminating the undignified process of bargaining. He…

Grand Central Terminal—a Beaux-Arts Masterpiece

Grand Central Terminal, built in 1913 to replace a previous outdated structure, stands as a grandiose Beaux-Arts edifice. Beaux-Arts, the academic architectural style taught at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris during the 1830s-90s, was based on the aesthetic principles of neoclassicism. It became popular in America as a result of the City Beautiful movement,…

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…

Salamanders on 7th Avenue

The elaborate facade of Alwyn Court—the most ornate in the city—is encrusted with terra-cotta ornaments such as flowers, urns, crests, and salamanders wearing crowns and breathing fire. Over the centuries salamanders have acquired a special place in folklore as mystical creatures who are resurrected from ashes and get re-born from the fire. While not exactly…

Grace Church—Marble, Talent, and Nepotism

The earliest example of Gothic Revival architecture in New York City, it was the very first commission of James Renwick Jr., who went on to design St. Patrick’s Cathedral and earn his place as one of America’s most prominent architects.

Airship Docking Station on Top of the Empire State

If you’ve ever arrived in NYC via one of the major airports, you must have fantasized about landing miraculously in the middle of Manhattan instead. Turns out that such a seemingly ridiculous idea was once actually considered. In the late 20s it was believed that cross-Atlantic travel would soon be executed using zeppelins or dirigibles….

The Longest Survived Elevator Fall in History

The Empire State Building has more than a fair share of earth-shattering records: it was the tallest in the world for astounding 41 years and was built with the lightening speed of 410 days. Yet it has another lesser known but no less astonishing record:  it was the location of the longest survived elevator fall…

Integrity Presiding over the New York Stock Exchange

The group within the pediment over the New York Stock Exchange is entitled “Integrity Protecting the Works of Man,” which makes it fair to assume that the central female figure in the sculpture is Integrity herself. She is tasked with “Protecting the Works of Man”—with Industry on one side and Agriculture on the other. The…