Posts Tagged ‘Mary Mason Jones Marble ROw’

The socialite who built ‘marble row’ and changed the face of Gilded Age Fifth Avenue

February 7, 2022

Born in 1801, Mary Mason Jones was many things: an old-money heiress, a society doyenne, a great aunt to Edith Wharton (we’ll come back to this later), and the first person in New York City to have a bathtub installed in her residence, per Christopher Gray in the New York Times.

Mary Mason Jones

The bathtub went into her marital house on Chambers Street. Jones later moved to a triple mansion on Waverly Place near Broadway, where she and her sisters entertained other Knickerbocker aristocrats inside the longest ballroom in the city.

Jones was also the owner of land at today’s Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. In 1823, her father, the president of Chemical Bank, purchased the land for $10 a lot, according to househistree.com. Far from the city center in the 1820s, the lots Jones inherited were still considered out in the sticks in the 1860s.

But streets had been laid out by then, and Jones was a trendsetter. She could see the way the residential city, then centered at Madison Square and Murray Hill, was marching northward.

So she commissioned a spectacular new mansion for herself (and produced the design before handing things off to architect Robert Mook) at the northeast corner of Fifth and 57th, along with an entire row of similar marble mansions completed in 1871.

Marble Row decorated for the Admiral Dewey reception in 1899

Nicknamed “Marble Row” for their gleaming cream facades in a city awash in brownstone, the mansard-roof row of mansions were “designed in the mode of a French chateau, by definition a large house erected in the country and therefore surrounded by broad, open spaces,” explained Wayne Craven in his book, Gilded Mansions. “As an architectural form, it was transplanted, in America’s Gilded Age, from a rural to an urban setting.”

Marble Row was likely inspired by Jones’ visits to Paris. “In Parisian fashion, the entire block between 57th and 58th Street was treated as a single unit, though there were actually five houses within the block,” stated Craven. After Jones moved into her corner mansion, she rented the remaining four to others in her social circle (no new money showoffs or shoddyites need apply).

Mary Mason Jones’ mansion in 1917-1918, after her death

What was it like living in a marble chateau so far from the hustle and bustle of the city? Edith Wharton can help us imagine Marble Row in its early years.

In her 1920 novel The Age of Innocence, Wharton introduces a character, Mrs. Manson Mingott, who is supposedly based on Jones. “It was her habit to sit in a window of her sitting-room on the ground floor, as if watching calmly for life and fashion to flow northward to her solitary doors,” Wharton wrote. “She seemed in no hurry to have them come, for her patience was equalled by her confidence.”

Marble Row at the turn of the century, with Fifth Avenue built up around it

“She was sure that presently the hoardings, the quarries, the one-storey saloons, the wooden green-houses in ragged gardens, and the rocks from which goats surveyed the scene, would vanish before the advances of residences as stately as her own—perhaps (for she was an impartial woman) even statelier; and that the cobblestones over which the old clattering omnibuses bumped would be replaced by smooth asphalt, such as people have reported seeing in Paris.”

Of course, much of this did happen within the next decade or two. Wealthy New Yorkers built similar marble mansions on Fifth Avenue in the 50s and beyond, turning upper Fifth into the city’s millionaire colony. Meanwhile, Marble Row still maintained its elegance, but boarders and a commercial tenant began moving in.

Mary Mason Jones’ mansion in 1929, before demolition

Jones died in her mansion in 1891. By the 1920s, her corner house was the only part of marble row left, finally bowing to the wrecking ball in 1929 and replaced by an office building, according to Brooklyn Times Union article.

[Top image: National Portrait Gallery; second image: NYPL via househistree.com; third image: NYPL; fourth image: MCNY, X2010.7.2.2097; sixth image: MCNY, X2010.7.2.3751]