The Golden Roar of the Gilded Age: 817 Fifth Avenue

Introduction

In light of the new price on my listing at 817 Fifth Avenue, I thought it appropriate to publish the next installation detailing the background of the residence that spurred this exploration into the history surrounding the many illustrious properties on the prime Upper East Side. This article covers what stood before one of the few condominiums on the lower stretch of Fifth Avenue and the family that used to live there. I hope you find it an enjoyable read!

Background

Notable family after family made their way uptown in the second half of the 1800s, and property values boomed as if to trumpet their arrival. Big names like Vanderbilt and Astor raised flamboyant limestone family manors along Fifth Avenue, while other old families with histories extending as far back as the American Revolution embarked to stake their claims as well. Demand was soaring, and the city's landscape was rapidly changing as Central Park opened its gates to the public in the winter of 1859 and what is now Midtown grew into a commercial nexus.

The Developers Arrive

Just as they do today, developers heard the golden roar of the new neighborhood developing above 57th Street and began buying up property, building homes for the super-rich on what would later become New York City's "Gold Coast." One such developer was Charles T. Barney, president of the Knickerbocker Trust Company (and major contributor to the Panic of 1907) with a family line traceable to some of the first settlers in the New World.

Riding the wave of opportunity unleashed on the young Upper East Side, Barney acquired a parcel of land on the southeastern corner of Fifth Avenue and 63rd Street. Here he commissioned the construction of the mansion pictured below, a deviation from the limestone-clad Beaux-Arts architecture preferred by many of the newly rich in Manhattan.

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Completed in 1885, Barney's mansion was listed for sale and acquired by a colonel with a penchant for yachting, Clarence Ashley Postley. With an enduring family history that matched that of Barney, Postley could trace his roots back to some of the oldest families in Virginia of the pre-Revolutionary period. Notably, his great-grandfather served as an officer in the Revolutionary War against the British, and since then men of the family had all held rank in the military, Clarence being no exception.

Colonel Postley's Mansion

Colonel Postley adored the red brick mansion which initially stood in contrast to the brownstones on 63rd Street and later the Progress Club's large Roman palazzo across the street at 820 Fifth Avenue. His new residence at 817 Fifth Avenue had cost him $100,000 (roughly $2.6 million by today's standards), but like many of his contemporaries, Postley wanted more space and decided to branch out.

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Absorbing the plot next door on 63rd Street, Postley commissioned an addition to his home that would weave perfectly into the fabric of the original facade, preserving the style of Barney's initial construction.

The Colonel's newly completed private mansion commanded the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 63rd Street, its turret overlooking Central Park and likely providing views very similar to those of my listing on the 5th Floor today!

Owing to his military heritage, the Postley home at 817 Fifth Avenue also featured a very extensive private library which by no surprise contained mostly literature on the military history of the United States. This address would serve as the headquarters of one of New York City's most active men at the time—Colonel Postley boasted membership in the Union League, University, Manhattan, Racquet, Riding, Players, United Service and New York Athletic clubs. As if his social calendar weren't full enough, the Colonel also belonged to nearly every major yacht club in New York, his name frequently appearing in the New York Times after winning (or losing) a race aboard his yacht, the Colonia (pictured below).

The Colonel's newly completed private mansion commanded the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 63rd Street, its turret overlooking Central Park and likely providing views very similar to those of my listing on the 5th Floor today!

Owing to his military heritage, the Postley home at 817 Fifth Avenue also featured a very extensive private library which by no surprise contained mostly literature on the military history of the United States. This address would serve as the headquarters of one of New York City's most active men at the time—Colonel Postley boasted membership in the Union League, University, Manhattan, Racquet, Riding, Players, United Service and New York Athletic clubs. As if his social calendar weren't full enough, the Colonel also belonged to nearly every major yacht club in New York, his name frequently appearing in the New York Times after winning (or losing) a race aboard his yacht, the Colonia (pictured below).

Clarence Ashley Postley's schooner Colonia in 1897 in  Larchmont Yacht Club's fall regatta.

 

The Fate of Postley & His 817 Fifth Avenue

Sadly, the Colonel died of a heart attack at his home in 1908 after returning from a long, three-year sojourn in Europe. His wife Margaret kept the mansion, but decided to return to Europe after her husband's death. During that time, the family mansion at 817 Fifth Avenue would be leased to Raymond Hoagland, the son of Joseph C. Hoagland, the founder of the Royal Baking Powder Company which was one of the largest baking powder companies in United States at the time.

After Margaret died in 1915, the family mansion was sold and demolished thereafter, and in 1925 George B. Post & Sons raised their 15-story Italianate building in its place. As the Gilded Age lost its luster, the mansions that dominated the period began to give way to apartment buildings like those we know today, and brick by brick the Upper East Side built on (and literally over) its prestigious reputation.

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I hope you enjoyed the read, and should you want to view my other articles, here they are for you below:

 

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