The Gertrude Rhinelander Waldo Mansion
Backstory and Context
One of the most extravagant of New York's Gilded Age mansions was never actually inhabited by the woman who commissioned it. The Gertrude Rhinelander Waldo mansion on Madison Avenue was the work of the wealthy heiress whose name it bears, but Mrs. Waldo apparently only entered the home a few times. As a result, the home sat empty for a number of years and developed a mysterious reputation to rival that of its eccentric owner.
Gertrude Rhinelander was born into a wealthy family of large landowners. The Rhinelander name could have been found on properties throughout the city. She married stockbroker Francis "Frank" Waldo, who died just two years after their 1876 marriage. After the death of her husband as well as her uncle, Waldo came into a sizable inheritance, most of it in the form of real estate. In 1882, she purchased the large lot at the corner of East 72nd and Madison Avenue.
Starting with the Vanderbilt mansion in 1883, a trend emerged wealthy New Yorkers of building elaborate, European-inspired residences in place of brownstones. She hired the architectural firm of Kimball & Thompson to build a 16th century French Renaissance Chateau which would become one of the largest residences in the city.
During the home's construction, Waldo traveled across Europe, buying works of art and sculpture to fill the home. They were shipped home in large crates, which began filling the yet-to-be-finished residence. While the home was being built, Waldo moved in with her unmarried sister, who also lived on East 72nd Street, within view of the emerging mansion.For reasons that are unknown, Waldo continued living with her sister, even after the mansion was complete. Apparently she only entered the home a few times, and though she had opportunities to sell it, she always refused. Over time, the roof began to leak, and its extravagant contents were looted on several occasions. When Waldo died in 1914, the massive home narrowly escaped demolition.
In the years following Waldo's death, the mansion's ground floor became home to several retail outlets and the upper floors were converted into apartments. The photographer Edgar de Evia lived in one part of the mansion for 15 years. The big turning point for the mansion came in the 1980s when it was purchased by designer Ralph Lauren for use as his flagship store. The designer revived the mansion's former glory, sparing no expense. The total cost of the refurbishment was reported to be $14-15 million. The mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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Owens, Mitchell . A Grand Gesture , Architectural Digest . February 1st 2011. Accessed July 25th 2020. https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/ralph-lauren-grand-gesture-article.
Gertrude Rhinelander Waldo House , Alchetron. August 27th 2018. Accessed July 25th 2020. https://alchetron.com/Gertrude-Rhinelander-Waldo-House.