While many Gilded Age country escapes have survived the 20th century, the same cannot generally be said of city houses—especially in New York. The grandest mansions by the likes of the Rockefeller and Vanderbilt families were sold and demolished just a few decades after they were completed. High-rise office buildings or fancy department stores now occupy their old plots of land.
That’s why intact city mansions—like this one at 854 Fifth Avenue—are so rare (and expensive). Completed by the firm of Warren & Wetmore, the architectural force behind Grand Central Terminal, the mansion was originally built for R. Livingston Beeckman. Beeckman would later go on to become the Governor of Rhode Island.
The house then sold to Emily White née Vanderbilt, who purchased the house when she and her husband, Henry White—a former ambassador to Germany—were selling one of the grand Vanderbilt mansions on 5th Avenue and East 51st Street. The house most recently served as the office for Serbia’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.
The interiors are shockingly opulent, and derived inspiration from France—specifically, the style of Louis XV. The grand central hall and staircase is, reportedly, an architectural nod to Versailles, and the delicate wall decorations hark back to Classical Roman frescoes.
The enormous Gilded Age mansion at 854 Fifth Avenue, coming in at 20,000 square feet, is the biggest home for sale in New York City right now. It’s currently owned by the Serbian Permanent Mission to the UN, and it’s asking a whopping $50 million.
Patrycja Makowska likes to give enigmatic names to the extraordinarily beautiful photographs she shoots of crumbling palaces.But that’s not where the enigma of her work ends.Despite creating alluring images of abandoned buildings, she’s determined to keep their locations a mystery.”Places reflect our soul, tell the forgotten story of love, disaster, war, as well as ordinary life,” Makowska, a former history teacher from Poland, tells CNN as she tries to explain her shroud of secrecy.”Everything passes, even the power of past times is often forgotten. And that’s why I don’t give any addresses, because often these places are destroyed and devastated, it’s better for them to have been forgotten.”Not, however, forgotten by Makowska’s cameras.She uses old analog Russian photo equipment and lenses, plus some more modern Canon and Nikon equipment to create images that pay homage to the original grandeur of these baroque structures.With otherworldly titles such as “Ethereal Dreams” and “Lost Under the Surface,” her photographs have an unrealistic quality more closely associated with paintings — but the incredible detail on display would take more than a lifetime’s worth of brushstrokes to recreate. 4
Sitting atop a Virginia hill is what seems to be an Italianate palace plucked right from Europe and dropped down in the states, but this lovely mansion is actually an original construction, created as a token of love and devotion between a husband and wife.
The estate that would come to be known as Swannanoa was first built in 1912 by railroad millionaire James H. Dooley. He purchased 1,000 acres of land to build his grand manse and styled it after the historic buildings of Rome. The tall facade features two tower-like structures attached to the front, decked out in elaborate columns and moulding. Word was that Dooley had built the ornate mansion to honor his wife, Sallie O. May and this would seem to be evident in the ten-foot Tiffany & Co. stained-glass image of her that was installed above the main stairs.
In addition to the main, 52-room house, the grounds were dotted with fountains, gardens, towers, and staff housing. Once completed, it served as a Virginia summer home for the couple while they were alive. (The Dooleys’ principal residence was Maymont in Richmond, which still survives today along with its vast acreage that contains a dairy, a zoo, Japanese and other extensive gardens.)
When they passed away, the house fell into disrepair for a time until it the grounds became a country club, during which time, Calvin Coolidge dined there. Later, it was leased in 1948 by Walter and Lao Russell, who were scientists, cosmologists, spiritualists, artists and, luckily, renovators who were looking for a spiritual and beautiful place. They established the University of Science and Philosophy at Swannanoa and used the house as a museum and repository for all of Walter Russell’s writings, books, art works, and scientific charts. Walter Russell died in 1963, but his much younger wife continued living there until her death in 1988. The house fell into disrepair, and became the lovely historic site it is today.
Currently, the mansion and grounds are protected as a historic landmark, and are mainly used for weddings and fancy private events. The main mansion house looks as glorious as it ever did, making it the perfect place for love to bloom, just like it did when the mansion was built.
In 1895, Bedford County in Pennsylvania built its jail. It was a large brick building with archways, oak doors, and even a tower, and looked more like a mansion than a prison.
That is, until you went inside and saw the rows of cells with iron-barred doors. The jail was used for over a hundred years, but finally, it was shuttered.
So what becomes of a jail when it’s no longer a jail? Well, it goes on the market.
That’s what happens to any bizarre building when it’s time for a change. And compared to the tiny, isolated castle for sale in Washington state, a historic prison doesn’t actually seem so strange.
The owners of the building, currently a hand-weaving studio, are putting the “house” in “jailhouse” and selling the stately brick structure, barred cells and all.
That means that you can snap up this historical landmark for $489,000 and turn it into, well, anything you’d like!
But although most of the cells are still in place, we advise against locking anyone up. Since it’s so large, the prison is being marketed as a potential commercial property, too. Check it out, and see if you get the urge to be a jailbird!
For as long as I can remember, this strange and beautiful house above the sea has fascinated me — and this may be the last time I ever see it. Scheduled for complete demolition in a matter of months, it might not be the most ostentatious of old buildings, but it captured my childhood imagination. For anyone growing up in the Santa Barbara foothills, the 111 year-old “Franceschi House” became the stuff of legend; a mansion haunted by Italian ghosts one day, and cursed by Native American spirits the next. So today I thought I might try to tell its true story before it disappears forever…
It’s located at 1502 Franceschi Road, amidst dozens of acres of land overrun by the exotic plants once tamed by its master, the late botanist Dr. Francesco Franceschi.
FRANCESCHI’S WIFE AND GRANCHILD (RIGHT)
He was a founding member of the Italian Botanical Society in 1878, and was certainly no stranger to toying around with plants. He became an expert on succulents and palms, and is credited with introducing species such as the bamboo and eucalyptus into Italy.
After emigrating with his wife and children from Florence at the end of the 19th century, he built a house on 40 acres of virgin “Riviera” land in Santa Barbara. It was the perfect blank canvas for a botanist looking to start over. He named it, “Montarioso.”
“Any garden designer in the region today owes a debt to Franceschi,” says historian Susan Chamberlin, his obsession with plants brought over 200 new species — from floss silk trees, to blue trumpet vines — to the otherwise lonely hill, and changed the region’s landscape for ever.
Stroll around the home today, and it’s clear the plants aren’t going anywhere without a fight — even if the building is crumbling.
You have to watch your step as your explore the terraces, and try to imagine what it must have been like to uncork a bottle of champagne at 800 ft above sea level for your guests. Today the lookouts are collapsing, the bridges leading nowhere…
Francesci worked closely with a landscaping artist Charles Frederick Eaton, whose neighbouring estate, “Riso Rivo”, became yet another botanical nursery for plant experiments. Only the surviving photos of Eaton’s indoor jungle can give us an idea of the similar opulence Montarioso must’ve known in its heyday…
Franceschi came from a very (very) well-to-do family in Florence — hence, the ability to breathe life into his fantasy landscapes. In his youth, he transformed their Florentine summer estate into a botanical garden, and after planting his flag in California, craved another adventure. This time he left for Libya, where he planted the very first of its now iconic eucalyptus trees.
FRANCESCI WITH HIS WIFE
Montarioso was passed-on to an admirer of his work, a wealthy American philanthropist and social reformer named Adam Freeman. “It is my ambition,” Freeman told the Santa Barbara Morning Press in 1927, “to have this estate turned into a public pleasure resort, large enough so that the people of today may learn again the art of walking and the delight it brings.”
Here’s what it looked like under his safekeeping:
And what the home looks like today:
Stepping inside the house now is not encouraged (or permitted), but a local historical society slipped in a while ago to capture what’s left of the interiors…
It’s no wonder the neighbourhood’s kids were always so afraid of the place — every inch is covered with dark wood paneling and creaky banisters. There’s even an abandoned pump reed organ, which looks like it was custom made to match the rest of the house.
But the weirdest thing about the decor is inarguably the giant medallions on the outside, which Freeman embellished almost obsessively to commemorate, well, whatever he saw fit. That meant everything from wild horses, to Tolstoy, to a female prisoner reformer…
His cursive handwriting and love for Montarioso has been immortalised on the site, whose driveway reads, El temblor me dio estas piedros, “The earthquake gave me this rock.”
It’s a nod to the city’s Spanish heritage, and to the house’s survival of the 1925 earthquake that crushed the city’s historic centre.
In 1931, Freeman donated the estate to Santa Barbara with the highest of hopes — but tricky city politics found a way to put the project on the back burner…for 37 years. Its bulldozing was announced in February of 2017, along with potential plans to replace the house with a $3 million dollar “interpretive pavilion”.
“So much effort went into planning to restore it,” the city’s Associate Planner, Nicole Hernandez, told me, “it just never actually happened.” Hernandez worked tirelessly to save it, but the cost was estimated at $6 million.
“I wonder if this isn’t a move on someone’s part to get a serious backer’s attention,” said one city employee who wishes to remain anonymous; “when you ‘confirm’ you’re going to ‘destroy’ something…well, it might finally get the right person’s attention.”
At present, Franceschi House remains in-limbo, straddling a 113-year-old legacy with one hand, and waving what feels like a perpetual goodbye with the other.
For several years now, we’ve seen abandoned hospitals, schools, shipyards, warehouses, and are continually struck by each site’s eerie, quiet beauty. The abandoned Bennett School for Girls, once called Bennett College up until the 1970s, is another one of those sites, but is perhaps one of the creepiest places we’ve seen so far. The mere silhouette it strikes against the sky brings to mind a cross between a Gothic murder mystery mansion and and a haunted castle.
Once a luxury hotel and lodge for the elite, then an all-women’s preparatory school that fell on hard times with the rise of co-ed education, and now a gently aging and dilapidated structure in Millbrook, New York, one of the most affluent towns in the country, the Bennett School for girls is now frequented only by urban explorers and photographers. Its rooms and halls, stripped for artifacts by the Millbrook Free Library, are empty, but hints of or former splendor remain.
The main building, called Halcyon Hall, was built in 1890 with plans for a luxury hotel, a personal project taken on by wealthy New York publisher H.J. Davidson Jr. The hotel was to be part lodgings, part museum, collecting books and artifacts from around the world. Opacity.us, an urban exploration site, characterized the original building as a retreat, meant for the wealthy to hide away and curl up among the Hall’s cozy rooms and nooks with a good book. The James E. Ware designed building, which included 200 rooms in 5 stories, was built using dark wood panels and stone typical of the Queen Anne style the building evoked.
Unfortunately, the hotel never caught on. In 1901, Halcyon Hall closed due to lack of interest and spiraling debt. It was in 1907 that May F. Bennett, a schoolteacher from Irvington, New York, moved her school for girls into the building and grounds. The Bennett School for Girls enrolled around 120 students at a time. Girls there studied for 6 years, four in high school and 2 additional years serving as higher study. During this time, The Bennett School added to the campus a chapel, stables, dormitory, and outdoor theatre. In the early 20th century, the school did away with its high school classes and became a junior college, becoming officially known as Bennett College.
The transition to junior college brought even more changes to the campus, including the construction of Gage Hall, which still stands today, and the stucco Alumnae Hall, a dormitory. A library was built adjacent to Gage Hall in 1956.
In the 1970s, the college struggled to stay relevant with the advent of widespread coed colleges. It brought on itself a mountain of debt from attempting to convert the school into a four year college. Bennett College attempted to merge with the nearby Briarcliffe Manor, but negotiations failed and the school went bankrupt in 1977. The building was closed and its furniture, books, equipment, and other artifacts were moved to the town’s library. It has been empty ever since.
In 1993, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, in 2014, the entire complex was slated for demolition, despite many community protests. The grounds will be split into 8 parcels, with the original Halcyon Hall razed and many of its auxiliary buildings repurposed by other interested buyers. There is no estimate as of now to how long the former Bennett College will remain standing, but its demolition will be a sad occurrence. Though falling apart, the building, with its intact wood paneling and impressive facade, was truly a sight to see.
The home, fondly called Bon Haven by the locals, has been a landmark in Spartanburg since its construction in 1884.
No one has lived here since 1995, when the last family member to occupy the home passed away.
A peek through extensive landscaping reveals the abandoned mansion, partially taken over by nature.
The mansion was overseen by John B. Cleveland, who played a significant role in the early development of the city and is often referred to as its “first citizen.”
Cleveland also served as the president of the Spartanburg Historical Society – an irony since his majestic home, one of the most historically significant buildings in the area, is about to become a mere memory.
In February, the city officially granted the owner permission to demolish the building.
The high cost of restoration and the structural damage that 20 years of abandonment had left on the building were the main reasons why the demolition is pushing through. The home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but sadly that does not protect it from getting demolished.
Just a few miles outside the overdeveloped metropolis of New York City, a crumbling relic of an era gone by remains untouched for forty years.
This 57-room mansion is entirely abandoned – but eerie traces of its past linger on.
A vast shoe collection, creepy toy dolls, and even a child’s stroller lie forgotten, frozen in time.
In a series of haunting images, photographer Bryan Sansivero has documented the mansion as it is now.
Built in the late 1930s, and last inhabited in the 1970s, the neglect is allegedly down to an owner who would buy lavish mansions and inexplicably leave them to rot.
Sitting on six acres of land, the house comes equipped with a bowling alley, indoor tennis court, two bars and a library – it is a realtor’s dream property.
And while the building itself is in need of repairs, the collections within it remain untouched.
This 57-room mansion, located just a few miles outside New York City, has been photographed in a series of haunting images by Brian Sansivero
Amazingly, even a vast shoe collection remains. The now-vintage women’s heels suggest the lady of the manor had style
A flurry of snow – that has presumably come in through an open window – shows how vulnerable to the elements this building now is
Eerie: An abandoned stroller sits near one of the many staircases, giving the home the feeling that it has been frozen in time
The peeling, stained wallpaper suggest that the building is in serious need of repair, and is at odds with the neatly arranged furniture
This elegant cabinet, complete with gold relief, would have been an impressive center-piece in the grand hallway
Dusty tomes still line the shelves of this oak-paneled study, while the faded settee may have been used as a reading space
All in a line: These mismatched chairs – all in a state of disrepair – may have once been used for entertaining guests
Grand entrance: The overgrown shrubbery and unkempt trees correspond to the mansion’s disheveled interior
But the double-staircase that frames a large plant pot give the entrance way an elegant symmetry that would have left an striking first impression
Dust sheets cover part of the floor in the large hallway and an abandoned ladder suggest that the last owners may have been in the process of decorating when they suddenly abandoned the building for an unknown reason
Although much of the furniture looks fairly dated, a television set and stereo give a nod to the last owners, who inhabited the place in the 1970s
An old organ, almost entirely fallen apart, is one of the many instruments that litters this abandoned New York home
Personal touches such as the fake flowers seen in several rooms breathe some life into the otherwise deserted rooms
The mansion was built in the 1930s and the neglect is allegedly down to an owner who would buy lavish mansions and leave them to rot
While the plumbing system will be long since defunct, a miniature picture and small pot plant show the bathroom as it once was
With high ceilings and huge french windows, this grand picture gallery clearly gets a lot of light, adding to its spaciousness
The lack of modern central heating is confirmed by the wood that still sits in the fireplace of this annex room
Another angle: The study is pictured here from a different viewpoint and shows an open suitcase and – bizarrely – one abandoned shoe
The photograph on top of this lady’s dresser may well be that of the owner or his wife and allows the viewer a better sense of the family that once lived here
Perfect symmetry: Two grand pianos perfectly frame the huge bay window of what appears to be the ballroom
While some rooms have stayed ordered, this cluttered hallway of broken furniture shows that the home hasn’t been cared for in a long time
The peeling room divider has an oriental design and may have once been used in a bedroom as a modesty panel
Graffiti lines many of the walls indicating that there have been many unwanted visitors since the owners last occupied the space over 40 years ago
This huge indoor tennis court would have once been a focal point of the property: Now it is a graveyard for old furniture
The sprawling mansion sits in six acres of land, meaning there is more than enough room for additional luxuries like the tennis court above
The Grey Gardens estate was home to two very special women both named Edie Beale. The mother and daughter were kept isolated in a derelict mansion even though they were related to one of the most famous women in America.
The Beales were the aunt and cousin of Jackie Kennedy, wife of President John F. Kennedy. While the Onassis family was known for their immense wealth, the two women who were living in the Grey Gardens mansion didn’t seem to have a dime to their name.
“Big Edie,” the mother, was left by her husband in 1931. He didn’t pay her alimony, only child support for “Little Edie” and her brothers. They didn’t get a proper divorce, and because she was extremely Catholic, Big Edie never felt like she could remarry. She ended up moving into the Grey Gardens mansion in East Hampton, a property she was able to keep in the divorce, but without an income it was hard to keep it in good condition.
The former socialite went from the New York Elite, to hiding away in her broken-down mansion all alone. That was until her daughter, Little Edie, moved in with her. Little Edie had been having trouble finding a husband herself, so she decided it was more beneficial to live with her mother.
The problem was, neither of them had the money to maintain the home. A health inspection revealed that the home was infested with raccoons, cats, and the fleas that they brought in with them. They faced eviction if they couldn’t get it cleaned up, but luckily Jackie Onassis used her wealth to help out. She gave them $32,000 to get the house cleaned up. Over 1,000 bags of trash were pulled from the house, but after a few years when a documentary crew came to check in on them, they realized that it had already turned back into a mess.
Years later, after Big Edie passed, Little Edie sold the mansion for $225,000 on the stipulation that it be restored to its former glory. The woman who bought it, Sally Quinn, was able to renovate the home and sell it for a huge profit. She sold it for $15.5 million, despite revealing that they have been experiencing paranormal activity.
Photos from the inside of the house reveal what some of the rooms look like, and while it was a 28 room mansion, there are very few people who could have handled it as it was. But now it looks a whole lot nicer…
The house was completely remodeled and looks stunning now. Quinn revealed that while they were renovating, a former neighbor of the Beales came to see them and had a message from Big Edie herself.
Apparently the neighbor told her, “I talked to Big Edie the other day. She wanted me to tell you how pleased she is that you have bought Grey Gardens. She wants you to know that she believes you will make the house as beautiful as it once was, and that she will be watching over you to make sure that everything goes perfectly and that this will be a warm and loving and happy house.”