4. The Vanderbilt Triple Palace: 640 and 660 Fifth Avenue and 2 West 52nd Street: Demolished

The Vanderbilt triplex of Gilded Age Mansions
Image from Public Domain from the A. D. White Architectural Photographs Collection, Cornell University Library

Two granddaughters of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt were each given their own 5th Avenue mansions. In 1882, the girls’ father, William Henry Vanderbilt, bought an entire block between 51st and 52nd Street where he built the “Triple Palaces,” three near-identical brownstone homes for himself and his wife along with their two daughters, Emily and Margaret. When hosting large events, the separate drawing rooms could be converted into one large ballroom!

The “palaces” caught the eye of another wealthy New Yorker, Henry Clay Frick. Frick is reported to have said, “That is all I shall ever want” on a drive past the Triple Palaces with his friend Andrew Mellon. In 1905, Frick would get the chance to have his own palace when he rented one out on a 10-year lease while George Vanderbilt was preoccupied with building the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. He would have bought the house if William H. Vanderbilt’s will had not barred George from selling the home and art outside of the family. Later, via a loophole, the property and artwork were able to be sold by Vanderbilt’s grandson to the Astors, who in turn sold the holdings in the 1940s. Today, skyscrapers stand in place of the palaces and where once there were ballrooms and drawing rooms, there are now retailers like H&M, Godiva and Juicy Couture.