This one might not be so obvious at first, but Mark Daly’s Flags Along the Avenue at 52nd Street prominently depicts the iconic flags outside Cartier on Fifth Avenue. While it is now known as The Cartier Building, which serves as their flagship, that wasn’t why it was originally built.
Back in late 1800s, this part of Fifth Ave was relatively undeveloped. Around that time, the Vanderbilts started aggressively acquiring property in the area to control and preserve the neighborhood’s character. They even purchased a hotel and demolished it to get rid of commercial properties in their “pocket of exclusivity” – there were several extravagant homes nearby.
The Vanderbilts acquired this plot and sold it to Morton Plant, who they deemed worthy and had a bit in common with… they both inherited millions from their fathers who made their fortunes developing railroads – Vanderbilt with NY railroads and Plant in the south, across Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. But there was one condition… Plant had to promise to keep it a residential property for at least 25 years.
Plant agreed and quickly got to work on his mansion… it was completed in 1905, and the Plants became intertwined with high society in NYC. Tragically, his wife fell ill with typhoid in 1913 and died – half of her obituary was dedicated to Morton’s yacht that had just won the Astor Cup… if that gives you an idea of this guy. Nine months later, the New York Times announced he would be remarried… the bride-to-be was granted a divorce by her husband the month prior – it is rumored Plant paid him $8m to agree to the divorce.
By the time his new wife moved in, shops had begun opening in the area, so they decided they’d head uptown. But in the meantime, she became a regular at Cartier and would admire a particular $1m pearl necklace. Legend has it, one night she struck up a conversation with Pierre Cartier, and he mentioned they were on the hunt for a worthy location for their business headquarters… although there is no official reporting, it appears Cartier paid the Plants just $100 plus two pearl necklaces in exchange for the building.
Morton died a couple years later, but when his wife passed in 1956, their 86th street home was emptied and demolished with the contents auctioned – among the items, a pair of remarkable pearl necklaces by Cartier. At the 1957 auction, the pair of necklaces made just $165K… I guess Cartier got the better end of the deal, as the property is now worth more than $120 million! The necklaces have not resurfaced since the auction more than 60 years ago.