Posts Tagged ‘New York City in the gilded age’

The Gilded Age excess of Manhattan’s first mall

June 6, 2016

Did the modern shopping mall get its start thanks to this Beaux Arts beauty?

Well, maybe. This pioneering temple of commerce stood at Fifth Avenue and 46th Street for just a decade, from 1901 to 1911.

Windsorarcade1905

But what a building the Windsor Arcade was, a three-story gem that epitomized Gilded Age excess, from the sculptures and columns decorating the facade to the carriage drive leading to the center courtyard to the ornate details inside its shops.

Windsorarcade19052An arcade was a place that contained several stores, and the Windsor Arcade is thought to be the first modern-style shopping mall in New York City, writes Marcia Reiss in Lost New York.

“Considered one of the most beautiful retail buildings ever constructed in the city, it was modeled on the enclosed streets of small shops in London and Paris,” states Reiss.

The Windsor was “the only modern arcade in the city; this enterprise is not a department store but a gathering together under one roof of leading retail merchants in their respective lines,” according to one magazine in 1907.

Windsorhotel1898Among the stores inside were Steinway & Sons Pianos, art galleries, a milliner, china and glass sellers, and a photo portrait studio—all catering to the city’s well-off, who took part in the relatively new indulgence of shopping for fun and pleasure.

For such an ostentatious commercial venture, however, the Windsor Arcade has a tragic past.

It rose from the ashes of the Windsor Hotel (above left, in 1898), the site of a horrific fire on March 17, 1899 that killed dozens of people, many who had gathered in front of the opulent hotel to watch the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Windsorarcade1902

By 1911, the city’s first mall was on its way out, replaced by office buildings by the 1920s.

The owner had only put up the arcade as kind of a place holder until he had a more profitable use for the property, which happened to be in a very fashionable stretch of the city.

[Top photo: 1905, MCNY; second photo: 1905, MCNY; third photo: Windsor Hotel, 1898, MCNY; fourth photo: 1902, MCNY]

The legendary appetite of Diamond Jim Brady

June 9, 2014

DiamondjimbradyheadshotNew York in the late 19th century was filled with gluttonous characters. But James Buchanan “Diamond Jim” Brady may have topped them all.

Born on Cedar Street the son of a saloon owner, Brady made millions selling railroad supplies.

By the 1880s, that allowed him to indulge in his passion for glittery jewels, beautiful women (his longtime ladyfriend was A-list actress Lillian Russell), and food.

 The chronicles of his consumption are legendary. “I have seen him eat a pound of candy in five minutes,” a friend is quoted saying in his obituary. [Below, at Delmonico’s, second from right]

Diamondjim1905delmonicos

“A typical lunch consisted of two lobsters, deviled crabs, clams, oysters, and beef,” wrote H. Paul Jeffers, in his book Diamond Jim Brady: Prince of the Gilded Age. “He finished with several whole pies.”

NYT2008122315471033CDinner included “a couple dozen oysters, six crabs, and bowls of green turtle soup. The main course was likely to be two whole ducks, six or seven lobsters, a sirloin steak, two servings of terrapin, and a variety of vegetables. . . . Because Jim did not partake in alcohol, all this was washed down with carafe after carafe of orange juice.”

Restaurant owner George Rector, who ran one of the fashionable “lobster palaces” of Times Square, reportedly said Brady was “the best 25 customers I ever had.”

“When he pointed at a platter of French pastries, he didn’t mean any special pastry, he meant the platter,” William Grimes quoted Rector saying in Grimes’ book Appetite City.

NY3DBoxCould Brady, admittedly a very large man who held court night after night in the city’s poshest eateries with groups of friends and celebrities, really have wolfed down all this food?

Grimes poses the possibility that the myth played into the sense of excess and extravagance that characterized the Gilded Age.

“[Brady’s gluttony] symbolized the outsized appetites of a gaudy, grasping, exuberant America, where income went untaxed and a robust mass media panted after images of the rich at play.”

Read more about Diamond Jim Brady in New York City in 3D in the Gilded Age.

[Photos: second: MCNY photo collection, 1905]

A new book by Ephemeral New York!

May 12, 2014

NY3dBookIntCoverAs longtime readers know, Ephemeral New York has been chronicling the city’s past since 2008.

I’ve enjoying researching and writing every post, and I’m so grateful for all the insightful comments and kind words from readers along the way.

On June 3, I’ll have something new to offer: a book. Titled New York City in the Gilded Age, it delves into one of the most dynamic periods in New York City history.

This is the era of gaslights, horse cars, and elevated railroads; of posh Fifth Avenue mansions and crowded tenements; of an explosion in population and industry as well as deep political corruption. It parallels our contemporary city, with its incredible growth amid a widening gap between the rich and poor.

 NY3DBoxNew York City in the Gilded Age features hundreds of exceptional, rarely seen photos and images from the archives of the wonderful New-York Historical Society. It’s packaged with 50 stereographs and a stereoscope viewer, providing a truly 3D look at the city in the late 19th century.

Over the next weeks, I’ll be featuring content and photos from New York City in the Gilded Age. I hope everyone enjoys this closer look at the people and events of this era.

Published by Black Dog & Leventhal in partnership with the New-York Historical Society, the book will be available at Barnes & Noble, the Strand, and many other stores on June 3 (and Amazon and Indiebound right now).

 Thank you again to everyone who has enjoyed Ephemeral New York over the years—it’s truly been a pleasure to produce this site.

Rainy, moody afternoons on Madison Square

January 26, 2010

At left, Italian-American painter Alessandro Guaccimanni depicts well-dressed men and women, colorful flowers, and a rain-slicked street beside Madison Square Park in 1893.

Madison Square was ultrafashionable in Gilded Age New York City. The best-known structure on the Square was Madison Square Garden; the Flatiron Building won’t be constructed for another nine years.

This second painting depicts Fifth Avenue and 24th Street circa 1894.

Who was Guaccimanni, and what was his fascination with Madison Square? His paintings are haunting and moody, but there’s no biographical info on him to be found.