Friday, June 6, 2014

The Gilded Age

Italianate, 1852 / Second Empire French, Richard Morris Hunt, 1873. William Shepard Wetmore, China trade, d.1862.

The C.H. Baldwin Residence. American Shingle Style, Potter and Robinson, 1878. Admiral Charles H. Baldwin, d.1888.

I just visited Newport and boy are the houses there amazing.  It's funny to eschew the capitalist obsession with wealth accumulation and yet still be enchanted by the palaces of kings and queens in England or the historic houses of America's tycoons. But it really is easy to enjoy the architectural splendors of earlier times.

Chateau-Nooga. Queen Anne Revival, George Browne Post, 1881. C.C. Baldwin, railroads, d. 1897.

"Vinland" Mansion. Romanesque Revival Style, Peabody & Stearns, 1882. Catherine Lorillard Wolfe, real estate and philanthropy, d.1887.

Isaac Bell House. American Shingle Style, McKim, Mead & White, 1883. Isaac Bell Jr., cotton broker, d. 1889

In Newport, the homes -- true mansions -- were built during the Gilded Age by those who earned their fortunes in banking, manufacturing, oil, railroads, steel, and other burgeoning industries.
Without exception, these great homes from America's Gilded Age are wonderful and unique windows into a time of unprecedented change and creativity in American culture. A time when the explosive growth in technology made some wealthy and promised a utopia where individuals could develop to their highest and best purpose. A time when, for many Americans, all of human history seemed to point to America and its destiny to bring Western culture to its ultimate expression. 1

De La Salle / The William Weld House.
Queen Anne-Romanesque, Dudley Newton, 1884. William Gordon Weld II, merchant and advocate for education, d.1896.

Knight Cottage "Mary Bruen House" American Shingle Style, William Ralph Emerson, 1883. Mary Bruen, widow of a Reverend, d.1886.

Osgood-Pell House. Romanesque Revival, Harding & Dinkelberg, 1887. William H. Osgood, zinc fortune, d.1896.

The Gilded Age produced tremendous economic inequality, in part, because taxes weren't levied on income. Today, we are very much in a "Second Gilded Age" -- one where income inequality exists, in part, because earnings from 'gambling' on the stock market are not taxed as income. 2

I certainly appreciate folks such as Bill and Linda Gates for their tremendous charity and commitment to philanthropy. And Warren Buffet, who sits at #2 right after the Gateses on the list of 400 richest Americans, has professed that “the proceeds from all Berkshire shares I still own at death are to be used for philanthropic purposes.” There are likely many others with a strong philanthropic focus but how many of these new billionaires will leave behind something to rival the design traditions of the late-19th century? How many will only embrace the effective altruism movement and not see value in arts and culture?

It's not that I want rich people running around building crappy McMansions, but there is something to be said for leaving things behind, physical things of aesthetic and cultural value, that can represent the hopes and aspirations, dreams and dreads, of an era. So let us then admire and be uplifted by the architectural marvels of the past of: Beaux Arts, Châteauesque, Classical Revival, Italian Renaissance, Queen Anne, Shingle Style, and Tudor Revival.

Ochre Court.  Châteauesque, Richard Morris Hunt, 1892.  Ogden Goelet, banking / real estate, d. 1897

Rough Point. English Manor Style, Peabody & Stearns, 1892. Frederick William Vanderbilt, railroads, d.1938.

The Breakers. Italian Renaissance Style, Richard Morris Hunt, 1895. Cornelius Vanderbilt II, railroads, d.1899

The ElmsBeaux-Arts style, Horace Trumbauer, 1901. Edward Julius Berwind, coal baron, d.1938.