For 75 years, it's been Manhattan's richest apartment building, and one of the most lusted-after addresses in the world. One apartment had 37 rooms, 14 bathrooms, 43 closets, 11 working fireplaces, a private elevator, and his-and-hers saunas; another at one time had a live-in service staff of 16. To this day, it is steeped in the kind of luxury most of us could only imagine. The last great building to go up along New York's Gold Coast, construction on 740 Park finished in 1930. Once finished, 740 became a magnet for the richest, oldest families in the country. Nowadays, it is bursting with new money, people whose fortunes, though freshly-made, are large enough to buy their way in. At its core this book is a social history of the American rich, but it's also filled with meaty, startling, often tragic stories of the people who lived behind 740's walls.--From publisher description.
The first people to move in were not really the cream of the old NY social crop, however, but men who themselves had made a fortune, or whose fathers' had. Still, they revered the old ways and did not flaunt their wealth excessively. The huge building at 740 Park actually had two entrances, and two addresses. Many of the least ostentatious tenants preferred the 71 Seventy-First Street address. Park Avenue was thought to be "too Jewish." It was fascinating to watch the population of the building change as the years went by. When the UN was built, foreign countries rented space for their representatives and for entertaining. "Black Jack" Bouvier and his sourpuss wife, Janet, were given an apartment by her father, T.A. Lee, who paid the rent for years. Captains of industry were gradually replaced by vulture capitalists real estate moguls and venture capitalists. Philanthropists were replaced by hedge fund managers. A huge number of these high flyers crashed and burned. Many died young, leaving their rich widows behind. If nothing else, this book is a testament to life's uncertainties.
As with many non-fiction books, the author sometimes steps over the line separating fascinating from stultifying detail. There are a few too many paragraphs devoted to how tenant X is connected by family or employment to tenant Y, but I thought that a small flaw compared to the wonderful social history of wealth in 20th C New York.