Fifth Avenue is one of the wealthiest, most beautiful stretches of NYC. Nestled on the eastern side of Central Park, it's a gorgeous array of beautiful apartment buildings, museums, houses of worship, department stores, and much, much more. It stretches nearly the entire length of Manhattan, ending majestically at Washington Square Park. Like its more populist sibling Broadway, it one of the great thoroughfares of NYC.
And 5th Avenue used to be even more grand.
Back in the 19th century, before Manhattan became a city of big buildings, 5th Avenue contained a huge number of mansions (in fact, it was nothing but mansions). They were built by the richest families in America, monuments to their great wealth and achievements, radiating power. Intricately designed, breathtaking in their beauteous construction, they were the ultimate symbols of the Gilded Age.
But like the Gilded Age, many of them were short lived. Their size and expense were too much even for the robber barons to maintain, and many of them were destroyed (those that still exist are either museums, like the Frick, or serve some other function).
One such example was the Vanderbilt mansion that used to exist where Bergdorf's does now. It's a fascinating saga of wealth run amok and example of people with (at the time) unlimited wealth and power who lived and spent like the good times would never end -- until they did. It's an apocryphal story for today.
If you want to learn more about the vanished mansions of Fifth Avenue, check out this fascinating link. And read my previous post about the history of mansions in NYC.