women polo shirts on sale Waldo’s Mysterious Mansion
THE super luxe new Ralph Lauren palazzo, at the southwest corner of Madison Avenue and 72nd Street, is scheduled to open in mid October. But across the street, hidden for months behind a veil of netting, is the old store, a limestone mansion with a mournful past, built in 1898 by an heiress who never lived in it.
Gertrude Rhinelander was born about 1837 into a family that had lived in New York since the 17th century, and in 1876 she married Francis Waldo, a stockbroker who had been ruined in the Panic of 1873. Her lifestyle, however, was never less than genteel; at her death in 1914, The New York Sun said she had inherited $2 million.
Mr. Waldo died in 1878, and in 1882 Mrs. Waldo bought the southeast corner of 72nd Street and Madison Avenue, which despite its horsecar line was dotted with the mansions of those who eschewed the show of Fifth. The Real Estate Record and Guide reported that Mrs. Waldo was going to erect a mansion “quite unique in design.” She did not go ahead, but five years later bought the inside lot on the side street.
Mrs. Waldo still did not build, and lived with her sister, Laura, in a row house across 72nd from the site. According to The Oswego Daily Palladium in 1889, Mrs. Waldo was “a very pretty woman,” and by some accounts she was keeping company with Charles Schieffelin, a lawyer.
Kimball Thompson received design credit in architectural periodicals, but a photograph of the mansion published at or near the end of construction included the notation that it was designed by Alexander Mackintosh, an obscure local practitioner. With delicate, lacy Loire Valley trim, it has so many windows, it looks as if somebody had taken a shotgun to it. There was said to be a top floor ballroom and 2,000 electric lights, but only two bedrooms for servants. The New York Times opined that such a house would require a staff of at least a dozen.
Mrs. Waldo’s overwrought dwelling was completed by 1898. One directory lists her as residing there, but that is probably an error. All other period sources say she remained in her sister’s much more modest row house across the street, and never moved in.
At her death in 1914, The New York Sun described Mrs. Waldo as “of forceful manner and some unusual views” on art,
dress and society, and said that she had vowed to leave the United States several times. Mrs. Waldo was often in court, and not just with Mr. Schieffelin. In 1901 a subcontractor on the house filed a claim against her for $2,600. In 1909, she began an extensive legal battle with a servant, Mary Madden, who complained she was owed $5; there were suits and cross suits for $250, $15,000 and a claim of false arrest.
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Mrs. Waldo resigned from a club in indignation in 1909 when another member criticized her dress. And in 1912 The Sun reported that she was sued for illegally transferring assets to her sister to avoid payment of a debt. The outcome of most of these complaints is hazy.
At the same time, Mrs. Waldo personally collected rents in her twin apartment buildings, the Kaiser and the Rhine, at Second Avenue and 89th Street; in 1904, when a fire broke out, she tried to get through police lines to rescue her tenants; no one was killed.
In 1909 The Times reported that her remarkable house, built and furnished at a cost of $1 million, was in foreclosure, its limestone badly discolored, its great glass dome cracked.
By the 1920s the house was the headquarters of Olivotti Company decorators, with apartments upstairs. Polo Ralph Lauren arrived in the late 1980s, and the building is still a Ralph Lauren store. The company has just treated it to an extensive exterior restoration, simultaneous with the completion of a second store across the street on the site of Consuelo Vanderbilt’s mansion. For the new building, Weddle Gilmore Architects has produced an assured and demure neo Classic design, French in character. At the time of proposal it was challenged by some preservationists as a fake, but as it stands, it is magnificent.
The peculiar story of Mrs. Waldo is not unusual; New York has other private houses that for unexplained reasons were never occupied by their rich owners. But Mrs. Waldo’s case is a particularly sorry one; although she had inherited millions, in 1915 The Times reported that she died in debt for $135,000.