Bergdorf Goodman – the Wealthiest Janitors in History and 5th Ave Haute Couture

The year was 1928 and Edwin Goodman was about to move his widely successful women’s clothing store to 5th Ave and 58th Street – the spot previously occupied by Cornelious Vanderbilt’s mansion, the largest single-family residence in New York. As commerce relentlessly marched up 5th Avenue, the palace-like Vanderbilt mansion was demolished to be replaced…

Mrs. Astor and “The Four Hundred”

The winter social season in Gilded Age New York, which lasted from October until Easter, was a whirlwind of frantic activity that included dinner parties, luncheons, receptions, opera performances, and, of course, balls. The single most important event of the season was indisputably Mrs. Astor’s annual ball, which always took place on a Monday in…

The Waldorf-Astoria: hyphenated hotel and a family scandal

Most family scandals don’t result in hotel construction. However, the famed Waldorf-Astoria owes its existence to the Astor family quarrel. The Astor fortune was divided between two branches of the Astor family headed by the two grandsons of the dynasty founder – John Jacob Astor III and William Backhouse Astor, Jr. Each of them had…

The Knickerbocker – a Hotel and a Dry Martini

There are West Coast and East Coast versions of the origins of the martini cocktail. The West Coast stories usually feature a rough character challenging a bartender to mix him a drink before venturing into the town of Martinez to search for gold, or an even rougher personage returning from Martinez with a fortune and…

The St. Regis or What do Napoleon, Dalí and Marilyn Monroe have in common?

Architects: Trowbridge and Livingston Built: 1904 Although there is seemingly nothing in common between Napoleon Buonaparte and the 17th-century French monk named Francis Regis, these names strangely come together in the story of the St. Regis Hotel in New York. Built in 1904 by John Jacob Astor IV as the most opulent hotel in the world, it…

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…

“Mesopotamian” in Manhattan

Although New York skyscrapers bear no restraint in height or a lack of diversity in architectural influences, colorful they are not! What separates the Fred F. French Building from the rest is its warm hue and multicolored decorations. The only “Mesopotamian” or “Babylonian” inspired skyscraper in Manhattan, The Fred F. French Building, is covered in…

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…

Audrey Munson – American Venus

  There are many rags to riches stories in the American experience, as well as the stories of falling from grace and losing fortunes. But out of all of them – hers was the most bizarre. Her name was Audrey Munson. The name was forgotten, but her likeness, cast in granite, bronze, and marble, is…

Owls in Manhattan

James Gordon Bennett Jr. was obsessed. His obsession was quite unusual – it was owls. Some of them, with flickering eyes, can be seen on Herald Square, guarding James Gordon Bennett Monument. Herald Square takes its name from the New York Herald, a newspaper founded by James Gordon Bennett Sr and inherited by Gordon Bennett…

Evelyn Nesbit and “the Trial of the Century”

The premiere of “Mam’zelle Champagne” did not go well. Despite the lovely songs and beautiful ingenues, the show was simply a bore. The performance took place on the rooftop of Madison Square Garden – a lavish venue designed by Stanford White, an accomplished architect and a socialite about town. That fateful night the famous architect…

Edwin Booth, the Hamlet of New York

In the center of Gramercy Park, there is a statue. It depicts an actor in the role of Hamlet, forever contemplating “To Be or Not To Be”. This actor is Edwin Booth. One of the great American Shakespearean actors of the 19th century, he was particularly famous for his signature role of Hamlet. In 1864…