The Vanderbilt Mausoleum is an extraordinary monument to America’s Gilded Age. Built by the country’s wealthiest family of the time and combining the talents of two of America’s greatest designers—Richard Morris Hunt and Frederick Law Olmsted—it was hailed as “the most magnificent tomb of any private individual” and “the most costly mausoleum in America” following its 1886 completion. Planned by William H. Vanderbilt, it was completed, following his death, by his son George W. Vanderbilt. William was the son of “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt, the Staten Island native who had amassed America’s largest fortune through his steamboat and railroad lines, which played a major role in the development of New York City and State.
An imposing structure of gray Quincy granite, its location within a large family cemetery was especially rare and prestigious at a time when most ultra-wealthy New Yorkers were interred in suburban public cemeteries. Hunt’s design is primarily Romanesque Revival in style, featuring three arched doorways, keyhole openings, and luxurious but restrained carved tympana and diaperwork reflecting William’s direction that the mausoleum not be too “showy.”
The country’s most celebrated landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted designed the mausoleum grounds, although most of the original Olmsted plantings have been lost or replaced. One of the earliest collaborations between Hunt and Olmsted, the mausoleum was their first joint effort for the Vanderbilt family. The designation includes four landscape features: the broad terrace in front of the mausoleum, designed by Hunt and Olmsted; the hillock surrounding the mausoleum, which originally covered its roof; the stone entrance arch and adjoining walls at the plot’s entrance; and the winding pathway connecting the entrance arch with the terrace.
STATUS Designated Individual Landmark
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Doreen Gallo: DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance
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Fern Luskin: Lamartine Place Historic District; Friends of Lamartine Place & Gibbons Underground Railroad Site
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Zella Jones: NoHo Historic District; NoHo East; and NoHo Extension
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Erika Petersen: West End Preservation Society