Professor of History Clifton Hood recently published an article, “The Gilded Age Lives on in Manhattan’s Mansions,” in the Zócalo Public Square online magazine. The article explores the impact of New York City’s upper elites’ changing cultural tastes on the evolution of key architectural and design elements, and the location of their homes throughout the 18th and 19th centuries to present day.
In the article, Hood draws on a series of historic and modern New York City mansions to examine how they reflect the changing tastes and economic shifts within the city. He discusses President Donald Trump’s current New York City residence, noting that it follows the patterns of homes belonging to upper elites during the Gilded Age.
“The four most prominent characteristics of the Trump penthouse – its phenomenal size, ornamental gaudiness, aping of the European royalty and affinity with classical European artistic traditions, and public conspicuousness – are also how earlier generations of upper-class New Yorkers used their homes to display their wealth and power and convey their distinction,” writes Hood.
Hood also references a number of other mansions belonging to some of New York City’s most well-known elites throughout the 1700s and 1800s, examining the evolving patterns and changing locations and neighborhoods of where upper elites tended to settle. From sprawling, secluded estates to “fashionable row houses” and “extravagant corner mansions” along Fifth Avenue, Hood gives an historical timeline and evolution of the characteristics central to their housing choices.
In the 1900s, after the end of the Gilded Age, Hood notes that “the homes of the upper-class New Yorkers have gone in divergent directions,” many moving their private residences out of the city altogether or into apartment buildings as they became more concerned about privacy and security. And by the 1970s, Hood notes that the majority of wealthy New Yorkers no longer modeled their residences on the palaces and manor houses of the European royalty.
The article expands on Hood’s recently published book, In Pursuit of Privilege: A History of New York City’s Upper Class & the Making of a Metropolis. The book has been reviewed in several major publications, including The Times Literary Supplement, and has been in the national spotlight in a number of nationally-syndicated television programs and newspaper articles.