|The cast iron conservatory faces Madison Avenue and no fewer than five balconies grace the mansion. The two harmonious houses to the rear appear, at a glance, as part of the Marquand residence. photo collection of the Museum of the City of New York|
William Henry Vanderbilt’s bride, Alva Erskine Smith, had a love affair with things French. In 1878 when the rest of the Vanderbilt family lined Fifth Avenue with dour, if sumptuous, brownstone mansions, she began working with architect Richard Morris Hunt on a French Renaissance chateau in gleaming white limestone. The house, known as the Petite Chateau at No. 660 Fifth Avenue, would break the brownstone grip on New York’s millionaires forever.
As the mansion was still under construction in 1881, Hunt was busily working on another show-stopper—the Henry G. Marquand residence. The 63-year old Marquand had retired from the jewelry business in 1839 and at the end of the Civil War entered the railroad and banking industries. Now fabulously wealthy, he needed a home large enough not only to reflect his social station, but more importantly to accommodate his extensive art collection.
Eschewing the more obvious Fifth Avenue, Marquand purchased land on the corner of Madison Avenue and 68th Street large enough for his own mansion and two smaller, upscale residences. His choice of architect was expected—not only was Hunt a personal friend; he had already designed three other projects for Marquand, including Linden Gate, his summer cottage in Newport.
Construction took three years and although the house was finished in 1884, it would be several more years before the interiors were completed. Marquand’s mansion, which cost $1 million, faced 68th Street with the two smaller houses opening on to Madison Avenue. Hunt turned to the “French transitional” style, melding elements of Renaissance and Gothic into his brick and sandstone creations. The three residences blended into a unified whole with picturesque balconies, gables, cresting and multi-level mansards. By raising the height of the Madison Avenue houses slightly above the Marquand mansion, Hunt visually eliminated the steep grade of the avenue.
|American Architect and Builders' Guide published a hand-colored sketch on June 26, 1886 (copyright expired)|
Visitors entered into a massive central hall that rose four stories to a glass ceiling. A split staircase led to the upper floors and galleries. The mansion was decorated in the height of Late Victorian fashion, heavily influenced by the current Aesthetic Movement. Marquand hired the most esteemed artists and decorators of the day—Frederick Leighton, Louis Comfort Tiffany, John La Farge and Lawrence Alma-Tadema—to design the furniture and interiors.
|The elaborately-carved overmantel in the soaring main hall -- "Stately Homes in America" 1903 (copyright expired)|
The artisans created lush themed rooms: a Pompeian, Moorish, Japanese, and a Spanish style room. Perhaps the most important was the Grecian-themed room which served as the music room. British artist Alma-Tadema, well known for his paintings of ancient Greece and Rome, designed the suite of Grecian furniture. The furniture, of ebony, cedar, sandalwood and ebonized mahogany was inlaid with ivory, mother-of-pearl and brass. It sat in a room with marble fluted pilasters upholding a beamed ceiling with painted scenes by Sir Frederick Leighton, the president of the Royal Academy.
Leighton worked on the ceiling, which included seven life-size figures, in London. In a letter to Marquand he explained that the figures would be “more or less isolated and very firm in outline and should have no pictorial background…they should be of full rich tone on a gold ground—the effect would be rather that of the old mosaics and I think very telling.”
The focal point for the room was the Steinway grand piano, also designed by Lawrence Alma-Tadema. The cabinet took longer to execute than the entire suite of furniture—it was constructed in 1883 and the decorating, done in London, was completed in 1887. The inside of the keyboard cover was painted by Sr. Edward Poynter with “The Wandering Ministrels.”
The Japanese room took several years to finish and the decorative work cost Marquand $150,000. Asian cabinets filled with Japanese and Chinese items—porcelains, ivory carvings, pottery and lacquered pieces—sat against custom embroidered silk wall coverings. The firm of Robert Ellin & John W. Kitson masterfully carved the ceiling, overmantel, doors and frames and cabinets. Stained glass by La Farge illuminated a small niche beside the fireplace.
Next to the expansive conservatory that faced Madison Avenue was the Moorish Smoking Room where, after dinners, gentlemen guests would join their host while the women retired to a more feminine sitting room. Here John La Farge had carved an elaborate over-door panel in alabaster, inset with brilliantly colored glass “in rich Persian style.” Spanish lusterware tiles from one of Philip II’s palaces were were set in the ceiling and frieze, and colored plaster in relief mimicked the walls of the Alhambra. Louis C. Tiffany, who did the mosaics and glass for the central hall, was most likely involved in the decoration of the Moorish room as well.
|The fireplace in the Moorish Smoking Room. Note the ornate ceiling -- "Stately Homes in America" 1903 (copyright expired)|
Illuminating the landing of the staircase to the third floor were stained glass windows by Eugene Stanislas Oudinot, portraying Michelangelo and da Vinci. The same artists decorated the third floor bedrooms, painting the friezes and ceilings; including one in the Byzantine style.
|The "Byzantine" bedroom -- "Stately Homes in America" 1903 (copyright expired)|
|Below the living area cooks worked in an up-to-the-minute kitchen -- "Plumbing Problems" 1892 (copyright expired)|
"It is a fine and imposing mansion, at 816 Madison avenue, and adjoins the magnificent residence of Banker Henry G. Marquand…who will become the ex-President’s landlord.” Cleveland opted to rent the house for two years rather than buy it outright. Marquand thought, perhaps, that the price was a consideration.
“I am anxious that Mr. Cleveland should be perfectly satisfied with the house, and would like to have him become a purchaser,” he told the press. “It’s a pretty expensive house, though, and perhaps he hasn’t the means to purchase it now.”
Marquand’s daughter occupied the second house. The Evening World remarked on the architect’s adept designing of the three houses as a whole. “The adjoining building, No. 814, which is occupied by Mr. Marquand’s daughter is very similar in appearance without being an exact duplication, and the two together at first glance appear to be only an extension on Madison avenue of the Marquand mansion, so completely does the style of the three correspond.”
The World felt that Cleveland could probably finagle a price of $100,000 for the house (about $2.3 million today), adding “Taking it all in all it is one of the handsomest houses in upper Madison avenue.”
|Marquand posed for a portrait by John Singer Sergeant -- Libraray of Congress.|
On February 26, 1902 at 7:00 am, Henry Gurdon Marquand died in the house from a severe cold. His passing prompted the New-York Tribune to say “The death of Henry G. Marquand leaves a vacancy in the citizenship of New-York which will not soon or easily be filled.”
The following day The New York Times said of him, “While many capitalists buy beautiful things, only to hoard them for their own pleasure and that of the narrow circle of their friends, either because they have no regard for the rest of the world or because they shrink from the trouble and expense of allowing their treasure to be seen by the public, Mr. Marquand had the higher civic conscience which dictates that such things should be seen of the people.”
His death also brought another issue to the forefront. The Times mentioned “The death of Mr. Marquand naturally occasions much speculation as to the disposition of his private gallery.” The millionaire’s personal collection was one of the most prized in the world.
|photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York|
The estate purchased the property for $500,000 and the magnificent house sat vacant for seven years. The New York Times mused in 1912 “When Mr. Marquand was alive the house was celebrated as containing one of the finest and most expensive private collections of paintings, objects of art, and decorations in the city.” Now, on March 23, it reported “The famous Marquand house…has been sold and will be torn down early in April, to make room for a big apartment house.”
On May 22 architect Herbert Lucas headed a syndicate that acquired the adjoining houses at Nos. 814 and 816 Madison, both sold by daughters of Marquand. The houses would follow the Marquand mansion under the wrecking ball to make way for the apartment building.
In October The Sun lamented the loss. Saying that the property which “formed three residences under one roof has disappeared…to make way for a towering apartment house,” it reminded readers of the glories lost. “The traditions about the cost of this pile of buildings are well known. The famous Chinese room alone is said to have represented an expenditure of $400,000. Carved mantels of exquisite design, pillars and balustrades of rare woods and great slabs of imported marble have been pried loose and tumbled down to a common heap of rubbish.”
In place of the magnificent structure--whose rooms were designed by the foremost artists and designers of the day and filled with priceless paintings and artwork—the 12-story apartment building still stands . It is an attractive, well-designed early 20th century structure that, unfortunately, cannot hold a candle to the building it replaced.
|photo by Alice Lum|