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Ralph Lauren recently pushed the Upper East Side's Rhinelander Mansion into the spotlight by turning it into a menswear flagship, but the 112-year-old building has been impressing New Yorkers ever since it was built by high-maintenance heiress Gertrude Waldo.
According to a recent profile in the New York Times, Mrs. Waldo, born Gertrude Rhinelander, was exactly the sort of crazy that makes for good stories. Known as "a very pretty woman" (per the Oswego Daily Palladium in 1889), Mrs. Waldo became a widow early and eventually took up with a lawyer who was separated from his wife. The relationship lasted until she sued him for stealing $12,000. When her boyfriend counterclaimed that Mrs. Waldo had asked him to invest the money because they were planning to marry, she responded that "marrying a divorced man would have been 'too dreadful' to contemplate."
At one point. Waldo wound up in an ongoing legal battle with a servant who claimed she'd been stiffed $5; damages rose to $15,000 before all the suits and countersuits were finished. She was also known for quitting a social club when another member talked smack about her dress.
But the oddest thing about Mrs. Waldo might be the fact that despite sinking so much time and money into building the Rhinelander mansion, she never lived there, opting instead to room with her sister across the street. She wasn't even able to maintain the building: In 1909 it went into foreclosure. And like a tragic Edith Wharton character, she died deep in debt.
Would she have liked the Ralph Lauren store? Hard to say, given her strong and often surprising opinions. She might have thought Ralph was a new-money imposter. Then again, a woman who throws a hissy fit and quits a club for good because someone criticizes her outfit is probably a woman who would appreciate shopping her way down modern-day Madison Avenue.
· A Masculine Makeover for Ralph Lauren's Rhinelander Mansion [Racked NT]
· From a Mysterious Mansion to a Ralph Lauren Store [NYT]