Elegant New York: The Builders and the Buildings 1885-1915

Overview

The opulent mansions, grand hotels, and ornate buildings constructed by New York's wealthy aristocracy of the late 19th century are documented in this pictorial history.

In the years between the Civil War and the imposition of the income tax, New York witnessed the building of its first great palaces (residential, institutional, corporate) and its grand hotels. A time of great family fortunes and consumption on a grand and conspicuous scale, it was the beginning of the city we ...

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Overview

The opulent mansions, grand hotels, and ornate buildings constructed by New York's wealthy aristocracy of the late 19th century are documented in this pictorial history.

In the years between the Civil War and the imposition of the income tax, New York witnessed the building of its first great palaces (residential, institutional, corporate) and its grand hotels. A time of great family fortunes and consumption on a grand and conspicuous scale, it was the beginning of the city we know today, built by a tightly knit power elite also shaping the entire country: the Morgans, Vanderbilts, Astors, Carnegies. This book is a social history of that extravagant period in terms of what was built, and especially of who the builders were. The book's superb photographs call attention to what is left of New York's Age of Elegance, showing both exteriors and interiors (many of which are not otherwise visible to the public).

Other Details: 250 illustrations 288 pages 8 1/2 x 8 1/2" Published 1985

must have been one of the half dozen richest men in New York," said the newspaper. "He would have been so conspicuously rich that everybody would have known about his fortune, and how it was acquired," and the Times marveled that these two presumable multi-millionaires were not even known to the general reader before they appeared in connection with the sales. A British visitor observed that "to live in New York," meaning Manhattan, "it is well to take the precaution of being a millionaire."

Millionaires, aspirant millionaires, and speculators built a city that still largely survives, despite all that has happened since the Age of Elegance. Some buildings are gone because they outlived their usefulness, others because of the very real-estate values they helped to create. Some of what remains is the subject of this book, with each chapter constructed around neighborhoods and begun with either a building that has been torn down or otherwise mutilated or with a building that was planned but never built at all.

"...a charming guidebook to turn-of-the-century New York." --The New York Times Book Review

"Tauranac's social history is captivating and he always has just the right phrase." --Publisher's Weekly

Author Biography: John Tauranac is the author of The Empire State Building: The Making of a Landmark and Essential New York, and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Travel & Leisure and other publications. As guest curator at the Museum of the City of New York in 1993, he created "Broadway Cavalcade," a show on the history of New York's most famous street. Tauranac was the chief designer of maps for New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority, and made the award-winning subway map of 1979, which is still in use. He has created many other maps, including ones for the Encyclopedia of New York City. A graduate of Columbia and New York universities, Tauranac teaches New York history and architecture at NYU's School of Continuing Education. He lives with his wife, Jane Bevans, and their daughter, Maggie, in Manhattan and West Cornwall, Connecticut.

Christopher Little's photographs have appeared on the covers of more than two hundred and fifty magazines and books. In 1986 he collaborated with Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., on Fallingwater (Abbeville), which the Boston Globe called "the loveliest picture book in years." He is the author and photographer of Architecture and Community: Building in the Islamic World Today; The Rockbound Coast: Travels in Maine; and (with William F. Buckley, Jr.) Atlantic High, a New York Times bestseller. A graduate of Yale, he lives with his wife, Betsy, and daughter, Eliza, in Manhattan and Colebrook, Connecticut.

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Editorial Reviews

Carol E. Rinzler
"The author's graceful prose combines with Christopher Little's superb photographs to create an art book in which to become contentedly lost, even if you've never visited the city." --Carol E. Rinzler, Cosmopolitan, December, 1985
Playbill
"A stunning book, ... (which) lavishly recaptures turn-of-the-century New York when brownstone, limestone and marble were the preferred materials for public buildings and the stately mansions of the Astors and Vanderbilts." - Playbill, September, 1996
USA Today
"This beautiful coffee-table book is a guide to New York's architectural Age of Elegance (1885-1915), when names like Mor_gan, Vanderbilt, Astor and Carnegie ruled New York high society, and Stanford White created the city's architectural landscape." --USA Today, April 5, 1996
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Much of New York City's turn-of-the-century architecture consciously imitated European prototypes. The Woolworth Building, a vaulting Gothic tower, was dubbed the ``cathedral of commerce.'' Henry Frick built his mansion, now a museum, in Louis XV style. Yet the ``age of elegance'' surveyed in this illuminating guidebook also produced original, daring, idiosyncratic buildings. There is the Plaza Hotel, completed in 1907, built on the site of the eight-story brick-and-brownstone hotel of the same name; the patrons of the earlier Plaza were shocked that anyone would raze it. Tauranac, who wrote Essential New York, has teamed with Little, a photographer for Architectural Record, to tell the stories behind 80 buildings, many of them still standing. On this armchair tour you watch Manhattan rise against a backdrop of Tammany Hall corruption, Astor's cornering of Fifth Avenue, Upper West Side speculation and the machinations of Vanderbilts, Carnegies and lesser mortals. Tauranac's social history is captivating and he always has just the right phrase, as when he ponders the Ansonia Hotel, ``a great wedding cake of a building.'' January 20
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780896594586
  • Publisher: Abbeville Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 11/28/1985
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 8.92 (w) x 11.32 (h) x 1.48 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Introduction

The money that created America's Age of Elegance, which only lasted from the 1880s until the coming of World War I, flowed from the Industrial Revolution and belonged to the new industrial aristocracy. It was a time of great family fortunes and of consumption that was on a grand scale and as conspicuous as possible. The few who had it unabashedly flaunted it, and one of the great places to flaunt it was New York City.

The period's architects and their clients were responsible for the city's first great wave of residential, cultural, corporate, and municipal palaces, and they laid the groundwork for the modern city that we know today. The age needed trained architects, and by the 1880s, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia College were producing them. At the same time, the influence of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris was becoming widespread. A rebirth of grandiose academic classicism resulted in the "American Renaissance," which manifested itself in neo-Italian Renaissance palazzi and neo-Loire Valley chateaux, while adherents of the City Beautiful Movement saw to it that neoclassical statuary dotted the cityscape. During the period, new building techniques were making skyscrapers possible and ideas on city planning were being translated into zoning laws whose influence is still being felt.

Much of the city was built, directly or indirectly, by the same tightly knit power elite that was shaping and building the nation's wealth. Morgan, Vanderbilt, Astor, Carnegie, and Pulitzer are names that appear time and again. Less known but nonetheless important are the names of many businessmen who succeeded, like the Fuller Company's Harry S. Black; andeven some who failed, like Peter Banner, who went bankrupt before he could finish his dream apartment house.

It was an era when nothing came cheap, and complaints about the cost of living were as loud then as they are now. At the turn of the twentieth century, when the average unskilled laborer was earning $460 a year, or less than nine dollars a week, a four-room tenement apartment in an immigrant neighborhood rented for fifteen dollars a month. The city was said to be no place to live for the "average" worker who was trying to support a family on $1,000 to $3,000 a year. Monthly rents for a small, middle-class apartment in a decent but unfashionable neighborhood hovered around $600 a year for a four-room apartment. The rents at the first-class Belnord Apartments on Broadway at 86th Street began at $2,100 a year, or about $175 a month. To many New Yorkers who did not consider themselves poor but who nevertheless believed that they should be able to afford sunlight, comfort, and tasteful surroundings with a modicum of luxury, those rents were a staggeringly high price to pay. Ominous predictions were made that there would soon be few New Yorkers who could afford to live anywhere in the city except the very rich--and even they complained. After all, William H. Vanderbilt had only paid $400,000 for a whole Fifth Avenue blockfront between 51st and 52nd streets in 1879, and thirty years later that sum might only buy a few lots on Upper Fifth.

The definition of money and what it could buy was in a state of flux. A millionaire was no longer viewed as someone who had a million dollars but someone whose annual income was a million dollars. Even some houses were built on speculation for half a million dollars. Mrs. Mary J. Kingsland, for instance, bought the building at 1026 Fifth Avenue in 1906 for $510,000, the highest price ever paid for a speculatively built house in the history of the city. A few months later, George C. Clark paid $540,000 for the neighboring six-story, forty foot-wide, white marble townhouse at 1027 Fifth. If the purchasers' names mean little today, they meant equally little then. A generation before, as the New York Times commented, there was probably only one house in the city that had cost so much, and that belonged to department store magnate A. T. Stewart. "Whoever could have afforded such a dwelling must have been one of the half dozen richest men in New York," said the newspaper. "He would have been so conspicuously rich that everybody would have known about his fortune, and how it was acquired," and the Times marveled that these two presumable multi-millionaires were not even known to the general reader before they appeared in connection with the sales. A British visitor observed that "to live in New York," meaning Manhattan, "it is well to take the precaution of being a millionaire."

Millionaires, aspirant millionaires, and speculators built a city that still largely survives, despite all that has happened since the Age of Elegance. Some buildings are gone because they outlived their usefulness, others because of the very real-estate values they helped to create. Some of what remains is the subject of this book, with each chapter constructed around neighborhoods and begun with either a building that has been torn down or otherwise mutilated or with a building that was planned but never built at all.

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Table of Contents

Introduction

Corporate New York

Political New York

Stanford White's Squares

The Murrays' Hill

Vanderbilt's Grand Central Terminal

The Times' Square

The Vanderbilts' Fifth Avenue

The Plaza's Plaza

The Astors' Fifth Avenue

James Lenox's Hill

Carnegie's Hill

The Speculative West Side

Seth Low's West Side

Notes

Selected Bibliography

Acknowledgments

Index

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