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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Postcard Thursday: The Vanderbilt Mansion and Plaza Hotel

Today's postcard again takes us back to the era before 1907 when messages had to be crammed on the front of the card because the back was reserved solely for the address. You can also date this card as being before 1907 because the building on the right is the original Plaza Hotel. It stood on the exact same spot as the current incarnation, but was only around from 1890 to 1905, when it was demolished so that Henry Hardenbergh's new hotel could be built.

The mansion at the left of the image is the most impressive of the many Vanderbilt mansions that formed a sort of "Vanderbilt Row" on Fifth Avenue south of 59th Street. This was the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II (grandson of the famous Commodore); at upward of 130 rooms, it remains the largest private residence ever constructed in New York City. The house was built in two phases by George B. Post (architect of the New York Stock Exchange) and Richard Morris Hunt (one of the greatest Beaux Arts architects who also built The Breakers, Vanderbilt's "cottage" in Newport). Sumptuously decorated by artists like John La Farge and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the house was a showcase for Vanderbilt's wealth and taste, but he only enjoyed it for six years before dying. The house itself only lasted until 1927, when it was torn down for the construction of Bergdorf Goodman.

This card was mailed December 26, 1906, as a thank-you for a Christmas present. To maximize space, the sender wrote it like it was a telegram:
Dear Fannie. Thanks very much for my present, was so nice. Am real pleased. Have got through in the office. Am home. Come down if you can. Emily is here. Love from us all. Let me know if you come.
A few tantalizing remnants of the Vanderbilt house remain, including the entrance gates, which were repurposed for the Conservatory Garden in Central Park and the fireplace mantel, by Saint-Gaudens, now in the Met.

Explore more NYC history in

If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

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