In 1855, developer George Higgins bought a plot of land at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, across the street from the Croton Distributing Reservoir. He hired American architect Alexander J. Davis to design a new building, and the result was this 11 unit luxury residential complex with crenelated parapets (like a castle!). Completed in 1856 and advertised as the House of Mansions, the housing complex promised residents views of "the water of the Croton, like an artificial pool, or lake . . . from the upper floors."
|Fifth Avenue looking south from 42nd Street. Image : NYPL or LOC|
As history blogger Daytonian in Manhattan writes, Higgins' plan did not work -- Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street was still considered too rural for most New Yorkers. (The Samuel P. "Sasparilla" Townsend residence had only recently been built at 34th and Fifth, and that's eight blocks south.) The property was bought and sold a few more times, and eventually the Rutgers Female Institute (later, Rutgers Female College) relocated here. A formal dedication ceremony was held on October 24, 1860. The school soon outgrew this location as well, and the property passed through a few more owners.
|Fifth Avenue looking north from 41st Street, .|
By 1884 the Pottier & Stymus Manufacturing Company had purchased the land, demolished the structures, and built a new building on the site. The New York Times called it "extensive and elegant," and described the building as having a brownstone frontage on Fifth Avenue as well as a side entrance on 42nd Street. (I think it's the building in the photo below with the wall sign that reads "American Safe Deposit Bank.")
|Fifth Avenue, looking north toward 42nd Street [1900-1910]. Image: LOC|
The next ten years brought more changes and taller buildings to Fifth Avenue. In 1915 the Oceanic Investment Company announced the construction of a new building to be named after the building's primary tenant, the Astor Trust Company. The Astor Trust Company was set to move from their existing offices on Fifth Avenue and 36th Street and into this building, occupying a 21-year lease upon the building's completion in 1917.
|Astor Trust Company building, NE corner of Fifth Ave. and 42nd Street, 1917. Image: LOC|
The Fifth Avenue Association. Fifty Years on Fifth, 1907-1957.
Lockwood, Charles. Manhattan Moves Uptown: An Illustrated History.