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.
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.
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.
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).
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.