Location: 105th Street and Fifth Avenue
Artist/Designer: George P. Post
Materials: Wrought iron
Funding: Donated by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt II)
The gate that now adorns the main entrance to Central Park's Conservatory Garden was once part of a 10-foot-high ornamental fence surrounding the Vanderbilt mansion on Fifth Avenue and 58th Street. Cornelius Vanderbilt II, son of the shipping and railroad magnate, wanted a showpiece to compete with the mansions of the Astors and Rockefellers. George P. Post was the architect of the 130-room chateau, completed in 1893 and considered to be the most magnificent private home of its day. The gate and fence were among the finest examples of decorative ironwork in the city.
After Vanderbilt died in 1898, his wife Alice mourned deeply and rarely entertained in her lavish home. The family’s sadness increased in 1915 when a son, Albert, died in the sinking of the Lusitania; another son died 10 years later. In 1927 the mansion was sold to real estate developers and demolished, but a few architectural remnants were preserved. A fireplace designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens can be found in the courtyard of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s American Wing. Two bas-relief sculptures by Karl Bitter depicting singing boys and girls found a new home in the lobby of the Sherry-Netherland Hotel on Fifth Avenue. The gate too was spared.
Conservatory Garden once featured glass greenhouses, built in 1898. The greenhouses, which displayed tropical plants, were demolished in 1934, and a six-acre garden was created. By the 1970s the garden was in disarray. It was fully restored in 1987, and now the meticulously maintained formal garden is one of the crown jewels of Central Park. It couldn’t have a more fitting entrance than the Vanderbilt Gate.
Click on the photo to enlarge