America’s Gilded Age: Mansions of Gotham, Part I
Bonita Billman, instructor in art history, Georgetown University
It was called the Gilded Age in America—a time of dazzling architecture, extravagant clothes, fabulous art, and lots and lots of money. In the years after the Civil War—roughly 1870-1910—American industry boomed and fortunes were made. So-called captains of industry and robber barons were the era’s Masters of the Universe. The nouveaux riches built homes and vacation cottages, became avid consumers of expensive clothes and art, and indulged in leisure-time activities as never before. We will explore the gilded domestic architecture in Manhattan and Newport.
As Manhattan progressed northward, domestic architecture moved at the forward edge. The march up socially prestigious Fifth Avenue was marked by new mansions for the cultural elite. The Astors, Vanderbilts Whitneys, and others cemented their social status by commissioning lavish mansions modeled on European palaces. Designed by eminent architects like Richard Morris Hunt and Stanford White of McKim, Mead and White, these Gilded Age mansions were full of art treasures and goods harvested in Europe. Most of these homes were demolished within decades of their construction; the remaking of Gotham being relentless. This talk will be a brief look at some of the most distinguished mansions (inside and outside) built c1880-1906 for the most distinguished plutocratic families in New York City.
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