MARVELOUS MARCH MAGIC
In the 1980s, Brothers Daniel and David Antonovich created the first singing TV commercial about fur, "Ah ... Antonovich! A fur just for me!" They broke the fur singing mold after that one. If you're having a hard time visualizing, imagine this: Easy-Spirit-Pumps-wearing, high-powered businesswoman, basketball dribbler by day, Antonovich fur wearer by night. With feathered hair and lots of blush. Other claims to fame of the Antonovich brothers include being the first to keep their fur showrooms open on Sundays. We all know that fur and the Lord's day didn't mix before the 70s. Note - I am not advocating fur wearing. Now's a good time to tell you to visit www.peta.com or www.theanimalrescuesite.com.
What Manhattan subway station is adorned with beaver emblems? Hint - it's not old Times Square. It's Astor Place. John Jacob Astor made his fortune in the beaver fur trade. Born in Waldorf, Germany in 1763, Astor was America's first multimillionaire. He died at age 85, the richest man in the world, owning one fifteenth of America's wealth. His $20 million estate would be worth $78 billion in today's dollars. The Olsen twins were recently valued at $300 million. And Mel Gibson supposedly spent $25 million of his own money to make his new Passion flick. We can certainly attest to his devout Christian beliefs, especially after watching his extremely religious movie, "What Women Want." Astor is said to be the 4th richest American in U.S. history. Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, is number five on the list. Only John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Cornelius Vanderbilt had larger estates than Astor.
Astor came to NYC at age 21, by way of London, where he worked for a relative's flute business. He invested his life savings into a small inventory of flutes, which he sold while hawking baked goods on the city streets for a local baker. He left the bakery business to join a fur dealer, and by 1785 opened a small shop to sell flutes and animal pelts. A logical combo.
His American Fur Company created the first American monopoly on the fur trade in the Western territories of the U.S. After the Lewis and Clark explorations of the Pacific Northwest, Astor commissioned two expeditions, one of which established a fur trading post at Fort Astor, which today is known as the city of Astoria, Oregon. Astoria, Oregon is famous for being the home of the following movies: Kindergarten Cop, Goonies, Short Circuit, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, and Free Willy parts one AND two.
As the popularity of fur was dying, he went into real estate. He bought the estate of Aaron Burr right after his famous duel with Alexander Hamilton when Burr needed cash to leave town in a hurry. He purchased the country estate of U.S. Vice President George Clinton (not of funk fame, though I'd love to see how the funk master would run the country), for $75,000. Astor divided this land on what is now Greenwich Village into 243 lots and rented them out.
Between 1835 and 1848, Astor invested more than $830,000 in Manhattan real estate, making him the largest landowner in the city of New York. During the financial panic of 1837 when real estate owners were dumping properties, Astor bought everything he could get his paws on. Note, one dollar in 1830 is equivalent to roughly $3,900 of today's dollars. He made his millions by purchasing land at low prices and waiting for urban growth to drive up the value of his properties.
Astor funded The $400,000 Astor Library, which was not completed until six years after he died. In 1895, the Astor Library merged with the Lenox library to form the New York Public Library. In 1911, the NYPL moved to its current home on Fifth Avenue and 42nd street. The lions guarding the NYPL were originally named Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, then became known as Lord Astor and Lady Lenox. Mayor LaGuardia later named them Patience and Fortitude, which they will answer to today. If you give them candy. The Astor Library served as headquarters of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society from 1921-1965 and is now home to the Joseph Papp Public Theater, where Papp originally staged the musicals "Hair" and "A Chorus Line."
In 1890 Astor's great grandson William Waldorf Astor decided to tear down the family mansion on Fifth Avenue and 33rd Street to build the largest and fanciest hotel in the world. The Waldorf Hotel opened in 1893 and inspired William's cousin, John Jacob Astor IV, who owned the other half of the block, to demolish his house and build an adjacent connected hotel. The Astor was combined with the Waldorf in 1897 to form the Waldorf-Astoria. Both hotels were designed by Henry J. Hardenbergh, who built the Dakota and the Plaza Hotel, among many other opulent buildings.
The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel was demolished in 1929 to make way for the construction of the Empire State Building. Two years later, the new Waldorf=Astoria, occupying a full city block and then the largest hotel in the world, opened on Park Avenue at 50th Street. This 42 story Art Deco landmark has been a permanent residence of President Hoover, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Frank Sinatra, and Cole Porter.
The Waldorf Salad was created at the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel in the 1890s.
The Bronx, a cocktail made of gin, sweet and dry vermouths, and orange juice, was created at the Waldorf=Astoria in the early 1900s.