Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Mansions of NYC

In a city of 8-plus million people, New Yorkers live in every imaginable kind of home: single rooms, basements, attics, townhouses, penthouses, apartments, regular houses, libraries -- one friend told me his sister even lived in a boiler room. Most of us are struggling either to pay the rent or beat it. Even those of us lucky enough to be owners gotta cough up a mortgage payment each month.

Oy vey.

But there are those few -- very few -- New Yorkers who are lucky enough to live in mansions. Not apartments or homes but actual mansions! Back in the day, millionaires and billionaires in NYC would build huge stand alone mansions for themselves uptown. If you ever saw the movie Gangs of New York, there's a scene where the characters escape Five Points, go uptown, and rob a mansion. Many of these mansions were built in the mid-to-late nineteenth century and were torn down over time (the building I grew up in used to be the sight of such a mansion). Some survived and were taken over by businesses or non-profit organizations or museums (like the Frick
) or schools (one of the schools I went to as a kid used to be an old family mansion).

This slide show of Gilded Age mansions will blow your mind and there's currently an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York about them as well.

Today there are almost no stand alone mansions left in NYC. Even Mayor Mike's mansion is next to a school and an apartment building. In fact, as far as I know, there are one three fully-detached mansions left in NYC where people actually live: the Steinway mansion in Astoria, Gracie mansion, and the Schinasi mansion.

The Steinway mansion is a beautiful home but its located in an industrial wasteland. The owner died a few years ago and, beautiful as it is, its cost and location make it almost uninhabitable.

Gracie Mansion, of course, is the residence for the mayor of NYC and has been vacant ever
since Bloomberg became mayor since he has his own (although De Blasio might move there).

The only fully detached, privately-owned mansion in Manhattan is the Schnasi m
ansion. Interestingly enough, it's not located on Fifth Avenue or Park Avenue or somewhere like that. It's on Riverside Drive, nestled up on 107th street (near where yours truly grew up actually). It was built about a hundred years ago and has been sold and re-sold and left vacant over the decades. For years I would walk by it and wonder if anyone was living there. Recently it was on the market for $31 million but, allegedly, found a buyer for around $15. That's a pretty good deal for the only fully detached mansion in NYC. 
If you're interested in the historic mansions of the Gilded Age that still populate our city in one form another, this very cool web site is worth checking out. It's a reminder and legacy of another time, a living history of NYC in stone and granite. 

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