Gloria Vanderbilt at home at Brandeis House

The designer and socialite was an infant in building that now is university's NYC center

Photos/Andrea Fischman

Gloria Vanderbilt and Alumni Association President Allen Alter

Gloria Vanderbilt went home this week – to Brandeis House in New York City.

On Dec. 14, Vanderbilt  -- fashion designer, heiress and socialite -- visited the townhouse at 12 East 77th St. where she lived as an infant for the finale of her book tour for the recently published “The World of Gloria Vanderbilt.”

More than 100 Brandeis alumni attended as Vanderbilt, 86, and author Wendy Goodman spoke and fielded questions. Trustee Allen Alter ’71, president of the Brandeis Alumni Association, served as moderator.

It was Alter, a veteran journalist and senior producer at CBS News, who discovered the Brandeis-Vanderbilt link. He knew that the East Side building that the Spingold family gave to Brandeis was once owned by the Vanderbilts, but wanted to learn more about the connection.

He visited the archives at Brandeis’ Goldfarb Library last fall and found an old photo album titled “Twelve East Seventy-Seventh Street” with the initials RCV on the front cover. After a stop at the Department of Buildings in New York, he confirmed that RCV was Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt, Gloria’s father, and that he had owned the building for a time in the 1920s.

“I wrote a letter to Gloria on Brandeis stationery and asked, ‘Did you know that Brandeis House was once where your parents lived?’ ” Alter recalled. “I heard back the next day. She was tickled pink to hear this and couldn’t wait to come and visit.”

Vanderbilt visited late last fall, stepping into the home where she lived for about a year after her birth in February 1924. Her father had proposed to her mother, Gloria Morgan, in the home’s “club room”  -- now the alumni business center. Brandeis presented her a copy of her father’s photo album.

“She had never been back since she was an infant. She was delighted to be there,” Alter said. “As she was looking through the album, she saw photos of some horse trophies -- the Vanderbilts owned thoroughbreds -- and said, ‘Oh, Anderson (Cooper, her son, a CNN newsman) has those in his apartment.’ ”

The home is prominently mentioned in the first chapter of Vanderbilt’s biography, and she points out that the building now houses the Brandeis’ New York alumni headquarters.

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