Virginia Fair Vanderbilt
|Virginia Fair Vanderbilt|
San Francisco, California
Manhattan, New York
Born in San Francisco, California, she was known throughout her life as "Birdie". Her father, James Graham Fair, was an Irish immigrant who made a fortune from mining the Comstock Lode and the Big Bonanza mine in Virginia City and Carson City, Nevada respectively. The United States Senator from Nevada from 1881 to 1887, James Graham Fair died in 1894, leaving his daughter a fortune. In 1899, she and her sister "Tessie" built the Rosecliff mansion in Newport, Rhode Island.
On March 26, 1899, Virginia Graham Fair married William Kissam Vanderbilt II (1878–1944), renowned sportsman and president of the New York Central Railroad Company. They settled in a mansion at 666 Fifth Avenue In New York City and had three children: Muriel (1902–1982), Consuelo (1903–1994) and William Kissam III (1907–1933). The couple separated around 1909 but because she was a devout Roman Catholic and they had been married by the Church, they did not formally divorce until 1927 when her husband wanted to remarry.
After their separation, she continued to use the Vanderbilt name but also did much under her maiden name. She began dividing her time between homes in Manhattan, Jericho, Long Island and in her native California. Her mansion at 60 East 93rd Street became the Permanent Mission of Romania to the United Nations then part of the Lycée Français de New York until 2000 when it was sold to be converted back to a private residence.
In 1902, she and sister, Theresa "Tessie" Alice (Fair) Oelrichs, began construction of the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco but sold their interests in 1906, days before the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. However, following the death of her husband, Tessie Fair-Oelrichs repurchased the property in 1908, retaining ownership until 1924. In 1910, Birdie Vanderbilt set up the Virginia Fair Legacy Fund that rebuilt and endowed the Holy Family Day Home, a Roman Catholic school residence for children in San Francisco that had been damaged by the 1906 earthquake.
Birdie Vanderbilt also spent considerable time in Paris, France where tragedy struck in 1902 when her brother Charles and his wife were killed in an automobile accident. In 1920 her estranged husband, who also maintained a home in the Parisian suburb of Passy, inherited the Haras du Quesnay Thoroughbred breeding farm and racing stable near Deauville in France's famous horse region of Lower Normandy. Interested in horse racing herself, Birdie Vanderbilt established her own racing stable in the United States. Named Fair Stable, she met with great success with the Thoroughbred Sarazen who earned back-to-back U.S. Horse of the Year honors in 1924 and 1925 and would be inducted into the United States' National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
In 1933, tragedy struck her family again when her 26-year-old son, William Kissam Vanderbilt III, was killed in an automobile accident in South Carolina while driving home to New York City from his father's Florida estate. Virginia Fair Vanderbilt never fully recovered from the loss of her son and died two years later in Manhattan from pneumonia.
Virginia (Birdie) Graham Fair, wading in the water at Bailey's Beach