Cornelius Vanderbilt II Mansion-Fifth Avenue-57th Street-Bergdorf Goodman-NYCCornelius Vanderbilt II’s Mansion at 742-748 Fifth Avenue (between 57th and 58th Streets). Photo via Library of Congress.

Welcome to our Then & Now column, exploring the ever-changing landscape of New York City.  

The rise and fall of the Vanderbilt family, which still pervades American historical lore, can be viewed through the lens of Cornelius Vanderbilt II”s Fifth Avenue mansion. The original mansion was constructed in 1882 at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street in what was a highly respectable residential neighborhood. Although it seems ostentatious today, at the time it was considered restrained by Vanderbilt standards.

In 1893, Vanderbilt expanded the original mansion to establish what was reportedly the largest single family house in New York City.

Photo from Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection

Cornelius Vanderbilt II Mansion-Fifth Avenue-House-Gilded Age-NYCPhoto from Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection

By the 1920s, the neighborhood had changed. Hotels and commercial enterprises co-opted  this once-residential neighborhood. The Vanderbilt mansion soon begins to appear as an out of place relic from a different time, surrounded by the Plaza Hotel and the Heckscher Building.

Original location of the MoMA at the Heckscher Building on 5th Avenue (the tall building behind the Vanderbilt mansion). Image from Library of Congress

In 1926, the mansion was sold to the Braisted Realty Corporation for approximately  $7 million. Bergdorf Goodman‘s flagship store quickly took the mansion’s place. The below photograph from the 1930s depicts a streetscape which has remained almost unchanged.

It is hard to imagine that less than a century ago a chateau stood here, on Fifth Avenue.

For more on the mansion’s history and the relics that remain from it, check out the Remnants of the Vanderbilt Mansion in New York CityNext, see more of the Gilded Age Mansions on Fifth Avenue.