4. Samuel Tilden’s Mansion
The stately Greek Revival townhouse that now houses the National Arts Club was once home to Samuel Tilden, who was elected governor of New York in 1875 after taking down the infamous William “Boss” Tweed. After winning 51% of the popular vote but losing the presidency to Rutherford B. Hayes, Tilden retreated to his home and focused on renovating it. He hired Calvert Vaux to combine two adjacent townhouses into one palatial mansion overlooking the prestigious Gramercy Park, which was inspired by the residential squares and private parks of London.
Vaux set about combining the two homes, modernizing the façades, creating lavishly decorated interiors, and adding an escape tunnel for Tilden, who feared retaliation from Tweed’s associates. He decorated the façade with elaborate carvings of leaves and a decorative panel sculpted with busts of Tilden’s favorite authors, including Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe, and Dante. The interiors feature dark walnut boiserie and carved wood fireplaces, but the crowning achievement is the cove domed ceiling by Donald McDonald made with small pieces of yellow, gold, and white glass and inspired by Islamic geometric designs.