Get us in your inbox

Search
Cooper Hewitt
Photograph: courtesy @Epicsunwarrior, Ajay Suresh, Wikimedia Commons

13 places you can still experience the Gilded Age in NYC

The opulence and splendor of the Gilded Age can easily be found across the city if you know where to look!

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver
Advertising

The opulence and grandiosity of NYC's palatial homes and buildings from the city's Gilded Age (1870-1900) are once again getting the attention they were built to elicit.

HBO's newest television series The Gilded Age just premiered in January, whisking viewers' imaginations back to old New York, when monied residents displayed their wealth ostentatiously and turned down their noses at anyone who wasn't their type of rich. This is the main push of the show, which pits "new money" families against "old money" families in the most public displays imaginable. 

For those who don't know, "Gilded Age" is a phrase coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner, who wrote the 1873 novel The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. The book described the era as one masked by a thin gold gilding while being full of corruption and major societal problems.

The Gilded Age show begins in 1882 with Marian Brook moving from rural Pennsylvania to NYC after the death of her father to live with her old-money aunts, Agnes van Rhijn and Ada Brook. On the way, she makes fast friends with Peggy Scott, a Black writer looking for a fresh start. It quickly becomes apparent that there's a social war going on between one of her aunts and her rich neighbors—a ruthless railroad tycoon and his ambitious wife, George and Bertha Russell.

As The Gilded Age captures viewers' attention, showing what Old New York once looked like and the grand homes the lucky few inhabited, we took a look at a handful of homes, buildings and other landmarks that still remain from the Gilded Age that you can see for yourself whether on a stroll or on a Gilded Age tour from Context Travel.

A lot of NYC buildings from this era are still around, especially on the Upper East Side, but if you know the architectural elements to look for, it can become a fun game you can play walking through the streets of the city.

Scroll down to read all about 13 of them before you head out.

  • Hotels
  • Spa hotels
  • Midtown West
  • price 4 of 4

Although it didn't see its first booking until 1907, the Plaza Hotel as we know it today began its construction in 1883. Since then, it has been known for its luxury. From chair legs and mirror frames to the bathrooms of each guest room and suite, the details are gilded with 24-carat gold plating. It’s classy and opulent and still reminiscent of the Gilded Age. Throughout the years and after many renovations, the National Historic Landmark’s guest list has been a who’s who of celebs, from the Beatles to Christian Dior, and the backdrop for many cultural works like The Great Gatsby and Eloise at the Plaza.

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Lenox Hill
  • price 2 of 4

The opulent residence that houses a private collection of great masters (from the 14th through the 19th centuries) was originally built for industrialist Henry Clay Frick between 1849 and 1919. The firm of Carrère & Hastings designed the structure in an 18th-century European style, with a beautiful interior court and reflecting pool. The permanent collections include world-class paintings, sculptures and furniture by the likes of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Renoir and French cabinetmaker Jean-Henri Riesener.

NOTE: The Frick Collection is currently housed at the Frick Madison, the former Met Breuer and Whitney Museum Building at 945 Madison Avenue, while the mansion undergoes a major renovation. You can still see the mansion from the outside.

Advertising
  • Music
  • Upper East Side

Set on Millionaire's Row, this ornate French Gothic mansion was built in 1897 by architect Charles Pierrepont Henry Gilbert for banker/railroad investor Isaac D. Fletcher and his family. The limestone facade features gargoyles, a massive entry, drip moldings, a tall mansard roof with many points. According to 6sqft.com, it also has a winged monster on the chimney, a pair of dolphins on the entrance railings, and heads on the second-floor windows. It's probably still one of the most ornate homes on the Upper East Side. Over the years, it switched hands between Fletcher, Harry F. Sinclair and the descendants of Peter Stuyvesant. Today it houses the Ukrainian Institute of America, a nonprofit organization that promotes the art, music and literature of Ukraine and the Ukrainian diaspora.

  • Hotels
  • Boutique hotels
  • Midtown East
  • price 4 of 4

This elegant hotel in midtown Manhattan is at the height of extravagance, even by New York standards. Originally founded by John Jacob Astor, this distinguished 238-room hotel has treated guests like Salvador Dali (with his wife and pet ocelot) to the finest amenities since 1904, and it continues to do so today. Personalized experiences from restaurant reservations to theater shows are arranged by onsite assistants and the St. Regis’ signature 24-hour butler service ensures every request, no matter how big or small, is fulfilled to every guest’s satisfaction. There’s plenty to experience, even without stepping foot onto the city streets, like the majestic wood-paneled library, traditional afternoon tea in the stunning Astor Court dining room and the iconic mural in the King Cole Bar—best examined with a signature “Red Snapper” Bloody Mary in hand.

Right now, the hotel has a "Gilded Age" package that books you in one of the hotel’s Grand Suites and gives you access to a special Gilded Age menu at Astor Court inspired by dishes featured on historic dinner menus from the hotel’s archives, monogrammed Dear Annabelle stationery to keep up with one’s correspondence, signature St. Regis Butler Service and a bottle of Champagne. The Gilded Age package can be booked by calling 212-753-4500 or visiting stregisnewyork.com. The
starting price is $5,200 per night.

Advertising
  • Attractions
  • Religious buildings and sites
  • Greenwich Village

Founded by Baptist preacher Edward Judson in 1890, this place of worship features beautiful stained glass and old-world architecture. In addition to its religious programs, the institution has long been associated with the arts—poets, avant-garde dancers and theater performers still show work there today.

  • Things to do
  • Schools and universities
  • Upper East Side
  • price 2 of 4

This museum is located in the landmarked Andrew Carnegie 64-room mansion built from 1899 to 1902, designed by the architectural firm of Babb, Cook & Willard in the style of a Georgian country house. According to Cooper Hewitt, when Carnegie purchased the land for the house in 1898, he purposely bought property far north of where his peers were living. Because it was such an open area at the time, Carnegie was able to build a large garden—one of the few private enclosed green spaces in Manhattan—that still is there today. Cooper Hewitt, which was founded in 1897 by the Hewitt sisters, granddaughters of industrialist Peter Cooper, moved to the mansion in 1976.

Advertising
  • Attractions
  • Public spaces
  • Prospect Heights

This elegant intersection of streets at the main entrance of Brooklyn's Prospect Park is anchored by the Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Arch, which was completed in 1892 and features reliefs of presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. Park designer Calvert Vaux (1824–1895) considered it a vital design element, NYC Parks says. The Plaza was one of the first features of Prospect Park to be built.

  • Attractions
  • Libraries, archives and foundations
  • Greenwich Village

This NYPL branch was originally a courthouse and prison designed by—you guessed it—architects Frederick Clark Withers and Calvert Vaux (behind the design of Central and Prospect Parks), in a Victorian Gothic style during the years 1875-1877. While it was expensive to build, it was voted one of the ten most beautiful buildings in America by a poll of architects in the 1880s even though it was a civil court (on the second floor, where the Adult Reading Room is now) and a police court (now the first-floor Children's Room). The beautiful brick-arched basement (now the Reference Room) was used as a holding area for prisoners on their way to jail or trial. Its tower was once the firewatcher's balcony with a bell that summoned volunteer firemen. It still hangs in the tower. You can read more about its history here.

Advertising
  • Music
  • Classical and opera
  • Lenox Hill

The Metropolitan Club was one of several exclusive clubs for power brokers and industry leaders (men only). After it was formed in 1891 with J.P. Morgan as its president, it built a clubhouse on 60th Street along Millionaire's Row in 1893 designed by Stanford White, according to Ephemeral New York. You can't miss it—the white marble building is an Italian Renaissance Revival and has a massive gated courtyard. The club still exists and functions here, but women are now allowed to become members.

  • Attractions
  • Libraries, archives and foundations
  • East Village

This library, designed by famous architects McKim, Mead and White and funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, first opened in 1887 as the Fifth Street Branch of the Aguilar Free Library. It is one of 20 Carnegie branch libraries built in Manhattan and one of 67 throughout the whole city. Its three stories have 16-foot ceilings, arched windows and an arched entryway—features common with the Beaux-Arts style, according to hdc.org. The Tompkins Square Branch of the NYPL has been serving residents of the Lower East Side since 1904.

Advertising
Central Park's East Drive
  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Central Park

Central Park in its entirety is a product of the Gilded Age. Starting in 1858, the park was created to address the recreational needs of the rapidly growing city, according to the Central Park Conservancy. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed it, including its East Drive. According to a New York Post interview with Esther Craine, the creator of Ephemeral New York, the East Drive was where rich New Yorkers paraded around in their carriages. "These were so expensive, only 5 percent of people could afford them," she told the Post. "Every day between 4 and 5 p.m., they had this carriage parade. All the rich people would leave work and have their coachman drive them around from 59th Street to the mall and back. It was like this rich person’s showcase: You had crowds of poor New Yorkers just watching. It was kind of the beginning of our celebrity culture. It reminds me of the way we gawk at and hate-watch celebrities today.” Of course, it's still there today and saw the transition from carriages to cars over the years. But recently, vehicle traffic has been banned from it.

  • Things to do
  • Event spaces
  • Lenox Hill

Opened in 1881 at 640 Park Avenue this medieval-style building houses the Seventh Regiment, also known as the “Silk Stocking” or “Blue-Bloods” regiment, according to PBS. The regiment was created to defend against riots and protests and has the largest drill hall to operate in at 200 by 300 feet and 80 feet high. It still contains 16-period rooms designed by such luminaries as Louis Comfort Tiffany and the Herter Brothers. The Armory has been transformed into one of the city's premier alternative spaces for showing art; the beauty of this historical setting allows for interesting visual contrast with the series of contemporary projects commissioned by the nonprofit arts organization.

 

Advertising
  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Manhattan

A true feat of 19th-century engineering, this 1.3-mile long steel-wire suspension bridge was designed by famed civil engineer John A. Roebling in 1869 (who, subsequently, would be the first of over 20 deaths caused by the construction of the bridge after a tragic accident involving a docking ferry). When the bridge officially opened 14 years later on May 24, 1883 it was the world's largest suspension bridge and immediately became a sensation as over 150,000 people crossed the bridge on that day alone. Looking up at the Gothic towers made of granite, limestone and Rosedale cement, formerly the tallest structures in the Western Hemisphere, it’s easy to understand why the landmark became the subject of countless paintings and photographs.

 

Recommended
    You may also like
      Advertising