8. The Cornelius Vanderbilt II Mansion, 742-748 Fifth Avenue: Demolished

Cornelius Vanderbilt II house, one of the largest lost Gilded Age Mansions
The Cornelius Vanderbilt II Mansion on 57th Street and 5th Avenue, now demolished. Photo from Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection

The home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II was allegedly the largest single-family house in New York City at the time, a far cry from his father’s humble beginning on Staten Island. Using the fortune he inherited from his father the Commodore, Cornelius purchased three brownstones on the corner of 57th Street and 5th Avenue, only to knock them down and build his own from scratch. Not to be outdone by her sister-in-law Alva, Cornelius’ wife Alice Vanderbilt made sure their home was lavish. The Cornelius Vanderbilts hired George B. Post to design the home, and later enlisted Alva’s favorite architect Richard Morris Hunt to help Post make the mansion even larger in the 1890s.

By the 1920s, the grand home was dwarfed by surrounding commercial development including the Plaza Hotel and the Heckscher Building. Alice sold the home in 1926 to a realty corporation that demolished it and built the Bergdorf Goodman department store, which still stands there today. Despite the home’s demolition, you can still track down the remnants of the mansion scattered around Manhattan, including the front gates that are now in Central Park, sculptural reliefs now in the Sherry-Netherland Hotel, and a grand fireplace now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.