THE NEW ASTOR MANSION
COLONEL JOHN JACOB ASTOR'S NEW YORK HOUSE AS RECENTLY REMODELED
BY WALTER E. PATTERSON ***Published 1910***
THAT section of Fifth Avenue, New York, known as Millionaires' Row used to extend from Fiftieth Street to the Plaza, and contained the Vanderbilt mansions, the stone castle of the late Collis P. Huntington, and many other famous houses. But in recent years commerce has pushed the residence section farther north, and now it may be said that the avenue from the Plaza northward along Central Park to Ninety-Third Street has become the real Millionaires' Row.
Here are the mansions of John Jacob Astor, of Elbridge Gerry, of George Gould, of Andrew Carnegie, of the late William C. Whitney - now occupied by Harry Payne Whitney, his son - of Senator Clark, of Henry Phipps, of Thomas F. Ryan, of Jacob H. Schiff, of E. J. Berwind, of D. G. Reid, of Archer Huntington, of James B. Duke, and many more besides.
The interior of the Whitney house at Sixty-Seventh Street was entirely designed by Stanford White, and it is constructed and furnished with the spoils of European palaces and chateaux, selected and recombined by the architect. The wrought iron entrance gates were brought from the Palazzo Doria in Genoa. The ceiling of the entrance hall came from the chateau of the Vicomte de Sauze, in southern France. The great fireplace was brought intact from another French chateau, and dates from the time of Henry II. In the library, the bookcases are built out of a set of carved choir-stalls from a church in Naples. Almost every bit of floor and ceiling in the lower portions of the house is thus constructed out of antiques, while the wall spaces are covered with ancient paintings or tapestries, and the antique furniture was purchased at great price to match.
|THE COURT, OR WINTER GARDEN, IN THE ASTOR MANSION - THIS IS THE SPACIOUS RECEPTION COURT ON THE FIRST FLOOR, ROOFED WITH A GLASS DOME|
Externally the Astor mansion, which stands at the corner of Sixty-Fifth Street and Fifth Avenue, is a typical French chateau of the period of Francis I, and like all chateaux, it should, for its proper effect, be set not on a city street but amid acres of formal gardens to complete the design. Originally it was built, within, as two houses. Colonel Astor's mother, the late Mrs. William Astor so long the arbiter of New York society, occupying the northern half, her son the southern. A large grilled entrance at the front, however, serving for both wings, gave it the aspect of a single house.
After his mother's death, Colonel Astor decided to convert the whole structure into a unit, and in the process the architects have practically made a new design of the lower story, though the upper story, built around a central court, remains unchanged. The alterations are said to have cost not less than half a million dollars.
Removing the dividing wall between the two wings of the house, and pushing back the stairs to the extreme corner, so that they ascend cleverly concealed in the rear wall, the architects have converted the entire square space on the first floor, under the open court above, into a great reception court, roofed with a glass dome and flanked by a loggia. A great fountain of gray Sienna marble is now being carved to place in the center. This fountain alone will be as large as an ordinary room.
|ANOTHER VIEW OF THE COURT IN THE ASTOR MANSION, SHOWING THE LOGGIA THAT FLANKS IT - A FOUNTAIN OF GRAY SIENNA MARBLE IS NOW BEING CARVED FOR THE CENTER OF THE COURT|
The furniture, however, in this room consists of real antiques. It was purchased under the advice of the architects, and blends with the style of the court. There is not much of it, and it is made of carved oak, with tapestried upholstery, toning gratefully in with the stately white walls. The inner walls of the loggia are of brown stained wood, and the plaster panels and groined ceiling have been appropriately decorated with designs in warm but unobtrusive colors by James Wall Finn.
|A CORNER OF THE LIBRARY IN THE ASTOR MANSION - THIS ROOM REMAINS AS ORIGINALLY DESIGNED, IN THE STYLE OF LOUIS XII, WITH HEAVY GILT DECORATIONS|
|THE DRAWING-ROOM IN THE ASTOR MANSION - THIS ROOM REMAINS AS ORIGINALLY DESIGNED, WITH FURNITURE AND DECORATIONS IN THE STYLE OF LOUIS XII|
|THE DINING-ROOM IN THE ASTOR MANSION - THIS MAGNIFICENT ROOM, MEASURING FORTY-TWO FEET BY THIRTY-TWO FEET, IS ENTIRELY NEW AND IS TASTEFULLY DECORATED IN AN ITALIAN RENAISSANCE STYLE|
|A CORNER IN THE DINING-ROOM OF THE ASTOR MANSION - THE COLUMNS ARE OF ROSE-TINTED FORMOSA MARBLE; THE FLOOR IS A CHECKERBOARD OF BLACK AND WHITE MARBLE|
Opening out from the dining-room, on the Fifth Avenue front of the house, is another large room, somewhat less formal in character, and substituting a warmer wood paneling for the marble. It has been adapted to blend with the French style of the older portions of the house and the free Renaissance design of the new portions.
|THE PICTURE-GALLERY IN THE ASTOR MANSION - THIS IS ALSO USED AS A BALLROOM, AND HAS SEEN THE SCENE OF MANY NOTABLE SOCIAL FUNCTIONS|
|THE MANTEL IN THE ASTOR PICTURE-GALLERY|
The walls are entirely hung with paintings by Schreyer, Van Marcke, Jules Breton, Corot ("Le Nid"), Dctaille, Troyon, and
others, largely Frenchmen. The quantity of paint in this gallery, at least, is impressive; but there can be but little intimacy in viewing the pictures. Many of them hang high, and the gallery is cold, with its smooth ballroom floor. It does not seem whole-heartedly dedicated to art.
It is, indeed, the newer portions of this house - a house which is the city home of one of America's wealthiest men - that gives most satisfaction to the visitor. Just as the brownstone atrocities which filled our residence streets a generation or two ago are now giving way to a more varied and beautiful type of dwelling, so the slavish adaptation by our architects and builders of the French chateaux, misplaced on a city curb, and by our decorators of the eternal gilt furniture and rococo ornamentation of the period of the Louises, is giving way, in the homes of the very wealthy, to a less showy if no less sumptuous adaptation of Renaissance models.
George Gould's new house, and several others on Fifth Avenue, present a dignified, almost classic, front to the street, and gain their beauty and elegance by their proportions, by the restraint of their ornamentation, and by their fitness to flank a curb. The nun who built the medieval towns of Italy had to meet just these conditions of placing a house on a comparatively narrow street with no grounds to show it off. The French architects of the days of Henri IV or Louis XIV placed their chateaux in the midst of gardens and trees. Naturally, the Italian models are the better to follow in a crowded city like New York.
But within as well as without, a more developed taste turns from the overload of gilt to a cooler and simpler style. Its simplicity is a striking feature of this great white court of the Astor mansion, with its quiet wall paintings under the shadow of the cloister, and the white daylight streaming down through the glass dome, while a few green plants and darkly tapestried chairs - their frames not of gilt, but of stately oak - add a touch of unobtrusive color. There is the same air of simplicity about the dining-room, where ancient tapestries fill in the spaces between the marble lintels and a single portrait hangs against the white marble panel over the fireplace.
The newer idea represents a distinct advance in taste in the houses of our American millionaires. Gilt is the least beautiful of colors, and the blank space the most eloquent of architectural expressions.