greatest legacy may be Carnegie Hall, the nirvana of most musicians,
on the southeast corner of 57th Street and Seventh Avenue, but
his former mansion at 2 East 91st Street is the lynchpin of the
very desirable Carnegie Hill neighborhood on the Upper East Side.
Set in a very large garden surrounded by a tall, handsome fence
with big granite pillars, the Carnegie property takes up almost
half the block bounded by Fifth and Madison Avenues and 90th and
The house itself is huge
but rather dawdy, a brown-brick Beaux Arts-style pile with a very
large and handsomely wood-paneled central hall and grand staircase.
At the east end of the building is a lovely high conservatory
and the balustraded balcony at the entrance from the house to
the garden is especially nice.
The building was designed
by Babb, Cook & Willard and completed in 1902.
In his fine book, "Touring
the Upper East Side, Walks in Five Historic Districts" (The
New York Landmarks Conservancy, 1995), Andrew S. Dolkart provides
the following apt commentary:
"Shortly after Andrew
Carnegie purchased this property in 1898 he is quoted as having
uttered the somewhat curious statement concerning his plan to
build 'the most modest, plainest and most roomy house in New York.'
At 64 rooms, the house was certainly roomy, befitting one of America's
wealthiest men. Carnegie had made his fortune in steel, retiring
in 1901 with a net worth of approximately $300 million. The Fifth
Avenue house was planned as Carnegie's retirement home. Here he
could amuse himself in his garden, laid out by Schermerhorn &
Foulks (the plan is largely intact and includes, at the east end,
what the original plans refer to as a 'rockery') and could meet
with those involved in his favorite charitable endeavors.It was
the the use of simple brickwork, on an avenue lined with grand
marble and limestone palaces, that lends this large dwelling its
'modest' and 'plain' appearance. Following Louise Carnegie's death
in 1946, the house was used by the Columbia University School
of Social Work and in 1968 became the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. The
Cooper-Hewitt's extensive collection of objects relating to all
aspects of design was established at the Cooper Union in 1897
by Sarah and Eleanor Hewitt and closed in 1963, only to be saved
by the Smithsonian Institution which accepted the donation of
the collection.The Carnegie Corporation donated the house to the
Smithsonian and architect Hugh Hardy designed the sensitive museum
conversion completed in 1976."
The Cooper-Hewitt Museum's
name was eventually changed to the National Design Museum and
it has held a great many excellent exhibitions over the years.
In his excellent book, "Elegant
New York, The Builders and Their Buildings, 1885-1915" (Abbeville
Press, 1985), John Tauranac provides the following commentary:
"The Carnegie House
has three below-ground levels with all the floor and walls covered
in tile and with enough mechanical equipment for a grand hotel....The
coal bin held 200 tons of coal and was linked ot the furnace by
a minature railroad track upon which a small coal car operated.
When the furnace ran low the coal bin automatically dumped a quarter
ton of coal into the car, which made its way to the furnace to
deposit its load. The wine cellar had terra-cotta walls honeycombed
with small openings, each the perfect size for one bottle. And
instead of of speaking tubes througut the house there were twenty
On 91st Street, Carnegie's home quickly inspired others to build
very impressive, albeit smaller, smaller mansions. Otto Kahn,
for example, built a sumptuous Italian Renaissance-palazzo style
townhouse at 2 East 91st Street that is not the Convent of the
Sacred Heart School. Henry Phipps, a partner of Carnegie's, built
an impressive mansion at 2 East 87th Street that eventually was
replaced by an apartment building.
The property is at the highest point on Fifth Avenue on the Upper
East Side and its garden is opposite Engineer's Gate, an entrance
to the runway around the Central Park reservoir and an exit from
the park's north drive at 90th Street.
The garden is opposite the impressive limestone Episcopal Church
of the Heavenly Rest on 90th Street and the museum is just to
the west of the Spence School on 91st Street.
The museum has a very nice gift shop and bookstore as well as
a small café that opens onto the garden where there are
chairs and tables.
The museum raised its
profile a bit around 2017 when it illuminated the indented rustication
of its north and south fence columns on Fifth Avenue.
The Carnegie Hill neighborhood generally refers to the area between
86th and 96th Streets and Fifth and Lexington Avenues and since
the 1980s it has become one of the most desirable residential
neighborhoods in the city because of its many private schools
and cultural and religious properties.