The Lasting Legacy of Golden Age Architecture – Now on HBO

As Golden age opens, horse-drawn carriages transport European decorative treasures – furniture, tapestries, statues – to the white limestone mansion still under scaffolding that architect Stanford White designed for ruthless railroad magnate George Russell (Morgan Spector ) and his wife Bertha (Carrie Coon) on Fifth Avenue. Their blue-blooded neighbors, Agnes van Rhijn (Christine Baranski) and her sister, Ada Brook (Cynthia Nixon), watch from the living room window of their 1850 brownstone across East 61st Street.

This is about a decade after the start of the American Renaissance, a period of extraordinary growth and innovation from the 1870s through the 1920s, in which true industrialists like the Russells were building private homes and, with patrons and politicians, commanded clubs (The University Club), commercial (The Belvedere Hotel) and civic (Minneapolis Institute of Art) buildings, public roads (the Brooklyn Bridge), monuments (The Farragut Monument) and churches ( Madison Square Presbyterian Church). According to architect Phillip James Dodd, author of A American Renaissance: Beaux-Arts Architecture in New York, a lavish new book with a sneak peek from HBO series creator Julian Fellowes.

Golden age Decorator Bob Shaw says he modeled Van Rhijn’s “plus-size brownstone” on some vintage townhouses on the south side of Gramercy Park. “There was a time when almost all of New York City was brownstone. Edith Wharton – who is no admirer of the old silver look – said it looked like the whole city had been dipped in chocolate.

Photo: Alison Cohen Rosa

Known for its grandeur and sculptural decoration, Beaux-Arts design as interpreted by star architects of the Golden Age – who, like their clients, strove to outdo themselves – is an amalgamation of neoclassical, notably the Neo-Gothic, the French Baroque, the Italian Renaissance and the Romanesque. classic. The name comes from the training in Roman and Greek classicism that some men received at the École des Beaux-Arts. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology imported a French architect for an American program in 1893.) Richard Morris Hunt, the first American graduate of the Parisian school, was the most sought-after architect of the time. An essential designer to the Vanderbilt family responsible for their Biltmore and Breakers estates, Hunt is also known for the stately entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Also in demand was Hunt’s protege George Post, who had studied engineering and designed the Williamsburgh Savings Bank and the New York Stock Exchange.

Charles McKim, the senior partner of McKim, Mead & White – the nation’s first modern architectural firm and a training ground for many other influential architects – attended the School a dozen years after Hunt. The Pierpont Morgan and Boston public libraries, as well as the Harvard Club are among his creations.