Be it ever so palatial, there’s no place like home — If you’re a billionairess like this lady

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1107 Fifth Avenue on which originally stood a mansion owned by Marjorie Merriweather Post, and containing the first penthouse on Fifth Avenue built in three stories for the Post heiress. Photo: JH.

Monday, January 24, 2022. Snowing lightly with temps in the low 30s as I write this on Sunday night. Although no big snow in the forecast.

1107 Fifth Avenue (on the corner of 92nd and Fifth), built in 1925, was conceived as the first luxury rental building to offer original tenants the chance to customize their apartments.

Real Estate (high end) is the daily news in New York these days, with people spending even hundred of millions on private residences in very tall buildings. Way outside the pockets of most of us, it astounds to read about these properties. The grandeur of prices is really nothing new. However, way back when, in the 1920s, Fifth Avenue was entirely private houses of the very rich, with only a couple of apartment houses.

As the city grew and as did the wealth these houses began to be replaced by the apartment house. One of them belonged to a famous American heiress who had several residences, and in 1925 a real estate developer made an offer to a rich heiress to sell her house. She didn’t need the money, and she already had several residences so to sweeten the deal they offered to not only pay her asking price but to build on the top of the building the first penthouse on Fifth Avenue. And it was to be, and remains to this day, no ordinary penthouse …

Marjorie Merriweather Post, known to the world in her day as the Post Toasties heiress, had a penchant for a grand lifestyle. When one of her husbands — Joe Davies — was made U. S. Ambassador to Russia, she traveled there on her yacht, the 350-foot Sea Cloud with its four masts and eight staterooms, taking to Moscow even a year’s supply of drinking water. While at home in the United States, Mrs. Post traveled by private railroad car, sending her Rolls Royce ahead to meet her.

Marjorie Merriweather Post and her husband Ambassador Joseph E. Davies (center) with Carlton Skinner at a presentation of a Naval Reserve Pennant on board the Sea Cloud.
The Sea Cloud, originally christened the HUSSAR, was largest private sailing yacht ever built at that time . It was commissioned by E. F. Hutton and designed by Mrs. Post, with its then black hull, completely according to her liking. A day after their divorce, Hutton signed over the HUSSAR to his ex-wife, whereby Mrs. Post had the yacht registered under a new name: the Sea Cloud.

Mrs. Post had several residences, all of them splendid, as was her wont. There was Hillwood, her huge and lavishly furnished mansion outside Washington, D.C. There was the 115 room, 17.7 acre estate in Palm Beach now owned by Donald Trump. There  was a huge cottage (known as camps in the neck of the woods) on her own private island in the Adirondacks. There was a baronial estate on the North Shore of Long Island, and, of course, a place in town.

Mrs. Post liked Big. The house in town was grander than any other of it kind, and its origins also reveal the intriguing shrewdness of the fair-skinned red-haired, attractive, yet outspoken and spirited Mrs. Post. Mrs. Post originally lived in town in a house on the corner of 92nd Street and Fifth Avenue. It was built when Fifth Avenue was known locally as Millionaires Row – forty blocks of private mansions. Fifth Avenue from the mid-60s on up was a nice quiet location jut far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the city moving northward.

The rear of the Post mansion, built originally by Horace Trumbauer for Townsend Burden, on the corner of Fifth and 92nd, next to what was then an empty lot owned by Andrew Carnegie who lived across the street. It was sold to financier Otto Kahn who built his great Italian palazzo Renaissance mansion modeled after the Palazzo della Cancelleria of the Papal Chancellery in Rome.
The Otto Kahn mansion today (The Convent of the Sacred Heart purchased the mansion in 1934).

However, progress ensued, and apartment building was moving north, making way for more private residences, until Mrs. Post (who was Mrs. E.F. Hutton at the time), was growing sick of the smell of gasoline fumes, and impatient with the every-increasing traffic noise. Fortuitously, at just about that time, real estate developer George Fuller was looking to buy the property, tear it down and put up a 14-story customized cooperative apartment house.

Besides the sale of the land, George A Fuller Company agreed to build a new home for Mrs. Post at the pinnacle of the building. It would be a 54-room triplex with a 44-foot-by-44-foot entrance foyer, cold-storage rooms for flowers, and for furs, a wine room, an array of rooms for Mrs. Post’s parents, outdoor sleeping porches (this was pre-air conditioning), and a sprawling terrace play areas for the children (one of Mrs. Post’s daughters was the actress Dina Merrill).

Mrs. Post’s private ground floor lobby accessed via the the triple arched driveway on 92nd street.
The private elevator off the private lobby.
The foyer in the Post penthouse. The door to the left of the staircase led to the private elevator.
The foyer also served as a ballroom that was cleared out during large parties.
The massive drawing room in the Post penthouse, drawing light from the north and west.
The library. The paneling from this room was removed from the Burden house, stored, and then reinstalled in the new penthouse.
A portrait of Mrs. Post with two of her daughters and two of the many dogs she owned (and loved) throughout her life.
The south-facing dining room. The fireplace mantel was reinstalled from the Burden House.
The breakfast room. The bronze metalwork was removed from the penthouse in 1941 and reinstalled at the Hillwood Museum (right) where it’s been since 1957.
The second floor (on floor 13) landing looking towards the self contained guest suite.
Mrs. Post’s bedroom had east, south and west exposures and a terrace overlooking the Park.
Mrs. Post’s dressing room was equipped with multiple phone lines.
The playroom for the three Post daughters. French doors led to a landscaped roof terrace that at one time functioned as a playground.

In addition, not only would Mrs. Post have the solitude of her penthouse way up in the clouds, away from the detritus of the automobiles and their passengers, but she would also secure the comfort of capitalizing on the considerably appreciated value of her property. She sold her townhouse and signed a lease for 15 years: a triplex for $75,000 a year, a veritable steal. To give one a better sense of the sheer site and magnitude of this apartment, once the Huttons’ lease ended, the apartment was divided up equally into nine separate apartments, all quite grand and roomy, to say the least. Mrs. Post’s imprimatur lives on.

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