Wednesday, October 17, 2018

DAY 97: The House on Madison Square

The mansion Leonard Jerome built at the corners of Madison Avenue and East 26th Street, opposite Madison Square, is long since gone, now. It was a brash and ultra-modern pleasure dome on the hinterland of respectable New York when Leonard spent several millions dollars constructing it, beginning around 1859. 

Respectable New York preferred Fifth Avenue to Madison Square, which had only recently been reclaimed from vagrants, houses of prostitution, and a circus. East 26th Street was ridiculously far north,  in any case. Leonard built his stables first--opulent open boxes for his prized race horses, carriage horses, polo ponies and the Lippizaner he brought back from his tenure as American Consul in Trieste; quarters for the grooms and coachmen on the second floor; and what became his ballroom on the third. The neighboring carriage house had room for twenty vehicles, including the sleigh that Jennie remembered gliding across the snow-packed streets of New York in January, bells on the harness merrily ringing.

Rising six storeys above the street, with a mansard roof, a breakfast room that could seat seventy guests, a ballroom above the mahogany-paneled stables, and a private opera house that seated six hundred, the Jerome mansion is notable for having been only briefly a family home. When Clara Jerome left America forever in 1867, Leonard moved into rented lodgings and leased the house to others. For the next century, it was a gentlemen's clubhouse: for the Union League, University Club, Turf Club, and Manhattan Club. 

In 1869, the Union League, of which Leonard was a founding member, voted to found the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the house he'd created.

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