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Mrs. Astor's House The wife of real estate heir William Backhouse Astor, Jr., Caroline Schermerhorn Astor dominated fashionable New York society for years. In 1893, ground was broken for her new mansion, the grandest Fifth Avenue had ever seen.

Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, the home was in a French Renaissance style, but more classically Italianate than the Vanderbilts' Gothic chateau. Its proportions were immense,its accoutrements extravangant. The ballroom doubled as an art gallery and could accommodate some 1,200 guests. The ceiling of the entrance hall featured several half-length nude female figures. The reception room boasted a peacock-tail rug. Mrs. Astor's home quickly became the most celebrated private residence in the United States, engendering national curiosity and pride.

Photo courtesy of The Museum of the City of New York

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