William K. Vanderbilt Mansion - New York City
660 Fifth Avenue

Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt Residence

660 Fifth Avenue at 52nd Street
New York, N.Y. 10103


Belmont, Alva Erskine Smith Vanderbilt (17 Jan. 1853-26 Jan. 1933), social leader and suffragist, was born Alva Erskine Smith in Mobile, Alabama, the daughter of Murray Forbes Smith, a cotton merchant, and Phoebe Ann Desha. As a child, Alva summered with her parents in Newport, Rhode Island, and accompanied them on European vacations. In 1857 the Smiths moved to New York City, where they settled in Madison Square. Murray Smith later went to Liverpool, England, to conduct his business, and Alva, her mother, and her sisters moved to Paris. Alva attended a private boarding school in Neilly, France, for one year.

After the Civil War, the family returned to New York, where Phoebe Smith died in 1869. As Murray Smith suffered repeated losses in his business dealings, his health, too, began to fail. He died shortly after Alva's marriage to railroad heir William Kissam Vanderbilt, which took place in Calvary Church in New York on 20 April 1875. Alva and William had three children; she arranged the marriage of the eldest, Consuelo, to the English ninth Duke of Marlborough.

Alva Vanderbilt was noted for her energy, intelligence, strong opinions, and willingness to challenge convention. After her marriage, she achieved fame for her conduct as one of the richest socialites of the Gilded Age. Her renowned fancy-dress ball in March 1883 drew wide public attention and garnered social acceptance for the Vanderbilts. Together with Richard Morris Hunt, she was responsible for the design and construction of some of the period's landmark architecture and interior design, including three Vanderbilt mansions: 660 Fifth Avenue in New York, Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island, and "Idle Hour" at Oakdale, Long Island. Her involvement in architecture continued to the end of her life and included renovations to Belcourt Castle in Newport and the fifteenth-century French Chateau d'Augerville-la Riviere.

In 1895 Alva Vanderbilt successfully sued William for divorce, an act that was considered scandalous because of her social standing. On 11 January 1896 she married Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, the son of financier August Belmont, in a civil ceremony in New York City. The marriage was a happy one and lasted until Oliver's death in 1908.

Alva Belmont suffered a stroke in the spring of 1932 that left her partially paralyzed, and she died in Paris of bronchial and heart ailments the following January. A large contingent of suffragists honored her at her funeral in St. Thomas Episcopal Church in New York. She was buried next to Oliver Belmont in Woodlawn Cemetery, New York.


Designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt and built in 1883, this Fifth Avenue chateau/mansion was demolished in 1926. Some of the most prominent mansions were built for the members of the wealthy Vanderbilt family including the New York City home of William K. Vanderbilt which was called 5th Avenue's Hunting Lodge and was built from 1877-81. While it is no longer standing, the mansion was located at 660 Fifth Avenue and was constructed in a single style from the past--the elite, royal chateau style. The home was vertically oriented with classical detailing and placed on a major tract of land for an urban dwelling. While the mansion shows great wealth and grandeur from the outside, it is an impressive example of wealth on the inside too. Hunt makes certain that the Vanderbilt home is decorated in every spot with dominating ornament. 

Leon Marcotte also worked for William K. and Alva Vanderbilt whose extraordinary French-style townhouse (designed by Richard Morris Hunt) was just up the street at 660 Fifth Avenue. The interiors of this house were among the most ambitious and sophisticated of the period. Mrs. Vanderbilt hired the most prominent decorators to furnish the rooms, including Herter Brothers and Jules Allard et Fils who created a Regence salon. The billiard room, decorated in the Moorish style, is the most exotic interior designed by Marcotte (figs. 35, 36). The room had a geometric frieze, recesses with Islamic-inspired serrated arches, walls covered with complex floral tiles and a geometric frieze, and a ceiling with three spiderweb blocks and a geometric border on either side.

The founder of the Vanderbilt fortune, Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt, was from an old Dutch family like Mrs. Astor's but had never mixed in the social set she was accustomed to. The Commodore was an uncouth man with a habit of chewing tobacco and missing the spittoon, and he had a vocabulary of swear words that had to be heard to be believed. The Commodore had no interest in Society at all and neither did his wife, who was a quiet, brow-beaten woman. His son, William Vanderbilt was a hard working man with good manners, but Society shunned him as well. He took his snubbing in stride - William Vanderbilt did not burn with the urge to be a social creature. But William Vanderbilt's children were different. By then, the Vanderbilts were the richest family in the United States and the younger Vanderbilts wanted to be accepted into Society.

Alva Vanderbilt began her assault on Society by building a new home on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. She hired the architect Richard Morris Hunt and together they designed a white limestone mansion that was modeled after a French Chateau. Both Alva and Hunt were determined that this home would be a showplace and it was. Alva went on to build yet another beautiful home, Marble House at Newport. She divorced William K. Vanderbilt and married another member of Society, Oliver Belmont. Alva then devoted her time toward making a match for her daughter Consuelo who married the Duke of Marborough. Finally, Alva brought her drive, energy and money to the cause of women's sufferage and became a fervent feminist.

Belmont, Alva Ertskin Smith Vanderbilt 
Born in Mobile, Alabama, on January 17, 1853, Alva Smith grew up there and, after the Civil War, in France. She married William K. Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius, in 1875. Although the Vanderbilts were among the very richest people in the world, they were excluded from the "Four Hundred," the cream of New York society, by the arbiters of such matters, Mrs. William B. Astor and Ward McAllister. Vanderbilt undertook an aggressive plan to break in to the club. Richard M. Hunt was commissioned to build a $3,000,000 mansion on Fifth Avenue, a gesture that ended McAllister's resistance; then, in 1883, plans were made for an Olympian masquerade ball for 1,200 persons, by far the most opulent entertainment yet seen by New York. 

W.H and W.K. Vanderbilt Houses - New York City (photo: New York Architecture Images)

left to right: William H. Vanderbilt mansion at 640 Fifth Avenue; William K. Vanderbilt chateau (with turret) at 660 Fifth Avenue; the towers of St. Thomas Church and Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.
Click on image to enlarge.

Inspired by the tranquil setting, Vanderbilt named his estate Idle Hour. It was the stage for gala events, hunting parties and coaching outings. Throughout the year, the family traveled among their mansions at 660 Fifth Avenue, New York City, Newport, Rhode Island, and this estate on the banks of the Connetquot River. Idle Hour was the W.K. Vanderbilt country estate, a summer and holiday residence. Staff was employed all year long to maintain the grounds and interiors.

http://www.dowling.edu/about/idlehour/intro2.shtm : The original wooden Tudor style mansion was built in 1878. Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, it was three stories with 60 rooms. The style was in keeping with the neighboring Bayard Cutting estate across the Connetquot River. During their years together, Alva and William K. had three children, Consuelo, William Kissam, Jr., and Harold. While family photographs reflect many cheerful days at Idle Hour, the marriage of William K. and Alva was not a happy one. In 1894, they separated and eventually divorced. Willie K. kept Idle Hour in the divorce settlement and Alva took Marble House in Newport. She married equestrian Oliver H. P. Belmont, a frequent visitor to Idle Hour in earlier years. In 1903, William K. married Mrs. Ann Harriman Rutherford Sands.

www.answers.com : The second son of William Henry Vanderbilt, from whom he inherited $60 million, he was for a time active in the management of the family railroads, though not much after 1903. His sons William Kissam Vanderbilt II (1878-1944) and Harold Stirling Vanderbilt (1884-1970) were the last to be active in the railroads, the latter losing a proxy battle for the New York Central Railroad in the 1950s.

William K. Vanderbilt's first wife was Alva Erskine Smith (1853-1933), who he married in 1875. Born in 1853 to a slave-owning Alabama family, she was the mother of his children and was instrumental in forcing their daughter Consuelo (1877-1964) to marry the 9th Duke of Marlborough in 1895. Not long after this the Vanderbilts divorced, William K. later marrying Anne Harriman Rutherford Sands and Alva marrying Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont.

After the death of his brother Cornelius Vanderbilt II in 1899 he was generally regarded as head of the Vanderbilt family.

Like other members of his wealthy family, he built magnificent Vanderbilt houses. His homes included Idle Hour (1900) on Long Island, New York and Marble House (1892), designed by Richard Morris Hunt--who also designed his 660 Fifth Avenue mansion in Manhattan (1883)--in Newport.



Aeolian Company
New York City – Opus 1013 (1906
Electro-pneumatic action
2 manuals, 13 ranks

The Aeolian organ was installed in the Salon on the Second Floor, centered on the South side.

Manuale I and II – 61 notes, enclosed (4" wind pressure)
  Principale Grande
[Open Diapason]
  Flauto Primo
  Flauto Lotano
[Rohr Flute]
  Viole Pomposa
[Viole d'Orchestre]
  Viola d'Amore
  Voce Angelica [TC]
[Vox Celeste]
  Viol Sordino [Aeoline]
  Violino Ottava [Violina]
  Clarinetto [Clarinet]
  Oboe di Caccia [Orchestral Oboe]
Pedale – 30 notes (4" wind pressure) 
  Contra Basso
  Flauto Grande
[borrow from Bourdon]
    Manuale II to Manuale I 8' 4'    
    Manuale II Ottava, Sotto-Ottava, Unison Release    
    Manuale I Ottava, Sotto-Ottava, Unison Release    
    Manuale I and II to Pedale    
    Pedale Release    
    Special 116-note scale and Regular 58-note scale Music  
Combination Pistons
    Manuale I and II: Piano, Mezzo, Forte, Release  
    Balanced Crescendo Pedal      
    Balanced Swell Pedal      






New York Architecture Images website: http://www.nyc-architecture.com
     Smith, Rollin. The Aeolian Pipe Organ and its Music. Richmond: The Organ Historical Society, 1998. 

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