Myriad Manhattan Residences of the Vanderbilt Cousins Part 2: The Children of William K. Vanderbilt and Florence Vanderbilt Twombly
The first part of my series on the homes of the children of the eight famed Vanderbilt siblings Ilooked 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. Like their cousins, their Manhattan homes 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.
The Children of William Kissam Vanderbilt
William K Vanderbilt 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 a different route in terms of Manhattan domiciles.
Consuelo Vanderbilt Marlborough Balsan
His daughter Consuelo became THE poster child for gilded Age Society's mania for trading cash for titles when she (coerced 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.
William K Vanderbilt, jr.
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 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 officially 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 until his death in 1944.
Harold Stirling Vanderbilt
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 over Manhattan. 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).
The Children of Florence Vanderbilt Twombly
Florence Adele Vanderbilt, the second eldest sister, was married to 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 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.
Florence Twombly Burden
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 were only able to enjoy their new home for a few years before 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 (in addition to the fortune inherited by her late husband, her mother Florence had gifted $7.5 million to each of her daughters as a hedge against the newly enacted inheritance tax), she purchased a larger, more imposing mansion on the corner of 85th Street at 1028 Fifth Avenue .
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.