A few weeks ago the New York Post reported that the six-story Beaux Arts mansion at 854 Fifth Avenue that had belonged to the granddaughter of railroad baron Cornelius Vanderbilt and which most recently housed Serbia’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations was about to hit the market for $50 million. Built in 1905 for stockbroker and future governor of Rhode Island R. Livingston Beeckman and designed by the same firm that designed Grand Central Station, the building is virtually unchanged, including hand-carved balustrades of white marble, ceiling frescoes of angels and clouds and an original working stove. The opulent abode includes two elevators, eight bathrooms and 32 rooms in total. Now officially listed for sale, the storied Upper East Side manse reportedly already has six potential buyers.
Mansions dating from the post-Civil War era of American opulence at the end of the 1800s often referred to as the Gilded Age were built by the nation’s high-flying industrialists and financiers with names like Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and Carnegie to resemble the chateaux of France.
The single-family home at 854 Fifth Avenue was built for $60,000. Its next owner was George Grant Mason, who bought it for $725,000 in 1912–a record for Manhattan at the time. Emily Thorn Vanderbilt Sloane White and her husband, Henry White, purchased it for $450,000 in 1925. The Vanderbilt heiress added her own touches including ceiling frescoes comprised of gilded cherubs which remain intact along with furniture and paintings.
The property was landmarked in 1966; the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission called it a “superb example of the French classic style of Louis XV.” The home is said to be the first in Manhattan to feature electric elevators in the front and back; children were told to use them sparingly because each ride cost 25 cents.
The home’s next life was no less interesting: After the heiress died in 1946 it was purchased for $350 million by the nation of Yugoslavia and served for decades as the nation’s U.N. mission. It still contains remnants of the Cold War, including a secret metal-padded room–known as a Faraday Cage–that allowed officials to meet without the fear of being wiretapped, and bullet-proof windows facing Central Park. After years of legal red tape, the five states that emerged from the former Communist republic–Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia–were finally able to reach an agreement to sell the mansion.
Though most of the city’s remaining Gilded Age estates were demolished or turned into museums, this testament to outrageous fortune spanning 20,000 square feet on nine floors awaits a new owner after 70 years. The identites of the building’s current suitors haven’t been revealed, though they’re reportedly “all extremely high-net-worth individuals of different backgrounds” hoping to use the property as a single-family residence.
- A Guide to the Gilded Age Mansions of 5th Avenue’s Millionaire Row – Part I
- A Guide to the Gilded Age Mansions of 5th Avenue’s Millionaire Row – Part II
- A $5M price chop for the former Upper West Side mansion of Charles Schwab
- $14M Gilded Age Mansion in Murray Hill Was the Home of J.P. Morgan’s Attorney
Images courtesy of Douglas Elliman.
Neighborhoods : Upper East Side