In the first part of my series on the homes of the children of the eight famed Vanderbilt siblings I looked at those owned by the offspring of the eldest brother and sister, Cornelius and Margaret. This second installment will focus on the children of the two next in line chronologically, William Kissam and Florence Adele. The titled marriages, splendid yachts and high profile divorces of their progeny filled the headlines of the day, and like their cousins, they represented the shifting residential trends of New York High Society, as it progressed from the gilded age through the jazz age and into the post-war and jet set eras.
William K Vanderbilt, the second son, was lucky enough to split the lion’s share of his father’s fortune with his older brother Cornelius. His home at 660 Fifth Avenue played a pivotal role in changing the look of the mansions built by New York’s elite, and is in enshrined in the annals of New York’s social history. His three children all took different routes in terms of Manhattan domiciles.His daughter Consuelo became THE poster child for era’s mania for trading cash for titles when she (after being coerced into it by her mother) married the Duke of Marlborough and was packed off to Blenheim Palace in England. After her repatriation to the States during World War 2 with her second husband french aviator Jacques Balsan, she briefly let an apartment at 825 Fifth Avenue.Though she eventually established residences in Southampton and Palm Beach, she never kept a permanent home in the city, preferring the ease of staying in a luxury suite at the Waldorf Astoria when in town. Her younger brother Willie K Jr., lived in his father’s shadow both architecturally and literally speaking, when he and his first wife, the former Virginia Graham Fair, built a Stanford White designed chateau at 666 Fifth Avenue right next door to his father’s in 1906. His tenancy there was relatively short lived. By 1910 he and Birdie had discretely separated and he soon decamped for an apartment at 655 Park Avenue, long before they divorced and the mansion was demolished in the 1920’s. This remained his New York home for brief periods when he was not on his yacht, at his estate in Centerport Long Island or on Fisher Island in Biscayne Bay, which he developed, until his death in 1944. The youngest child Harold Stirling, was a celebrated sportsman, defender of the America’s Cup, and inventor of Contract Bridge. Like his brother, he preferred spending his time on one of his yachts, or his homes in Newport Rhode Island and Florida. Although he was a founding member of the exclusive River House Club (it was one of the more convenient places in town to moor ones yacht) it is unclear if he actually lived in the fabled co-op for any considerable length of time. When the longtime bachelor married Gertrude Conaway in 1933, the ceremony was held in his 12 room apartment at the Barclay Hotel on East 48th street (another luxury hotel built by the family).
Florence Adele, the second eldest sister, married Hamilton McKown Twombly, who left her significantly richer than most of her relatives when he died in 1910 (no small feat). Of their four children, two, a son and daughter, died tragically in their teens.Her oldest surviving daughter Ruth never married, and lived with her mother in various imposing residences in Newport, Madison New Jersey, and New York City her entire life, until the imperious grande dame died in 1952. Although Ruth inherited Florence’s massive New York townhouse at Fifth Avenue and 71st Street, she almost immediately moved to Paris, and seldom stayed there. Ruth still owned the home when she died two years later in 1954.Her younger sister, named Florence Adele after her mother married William Moale Armstead Burden in 1904. The young couple soon occupied a chic townhouse at 5 East 73rd street. They had only enjoyed their new home for a few years when William died in 1909 from a mysterious and prolonged illness. In 1920, perhaps looking for a change of scenery, or perhaps wanting to spend of some of her many millions (both inherited from her late husband AND recently gifted to her by her mother as a hedge against the newly enacted inheritance tax), she purchased a larger, more imposing mansion at 1028 Fifth Avenue on the corner of 85th Street. Whatever her motivation, she only stayed there for five years before selling it. She followed the pattern of many of her cousins, occupying a hotel suite in the St Regis for a time before eventually moving into a large apartment she purchased at 820 Fifth Avenue, which she owned until her death in 1968. Her two earlier homes survive to this day, 5 West 73rd St., converted into cooperative apartments, and 1028 Fifth, now a part of Marymount College’s Manhattan campus.