New Book ‘An American Renaissance’ Spotlights Gilded Age New York City

That we’ll all have to wait until the next season of HBO’s lavish hit series The Gilded Age to find out if Bertha Russell and Mrs. Astor will indeed strike up an alliance to re-shape New York Society, means we’ll be on the edge of our seats at least until early 2023. But to hold us over, there’s a dazzling new book, An American Renaissance: Beaux-Arts Architecture in New York City (from Images Publishing, with a forward by TGA creator Julian Fellowes), which richly examines the lasting architectural legacy of the era’s big-spending industry titans. 

Author Phillip James Dodd – whose previous works include The Art of Classical Details I & II – takes an intimate look at the sometimes questionable motivations of men such as Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Frick, Astor, and Morgan (along with their high-profile architects) to erect such extravagant structures and at such a great scale as to compete with Europe’s historic masterpieces. The buildings and monuments in the book were constructed between the 1870s and the 1920s, representing a fascinating range of styles and approaches to design. 

While today’s business leaders are wont to construct uninspired warehousing facilities and massive, soulless corporate campuses, many of the industrialists of the late 19th to early 20th Century were intent on defining America’s identity through artful, “statement” architecture – especially true in New York City. From the imposing 110-foot high dome of the Williamsburg Savings Bank – inspired by the famous Duomo in Florence – to the iconic New York Public Library, to the tombs of Woodlawn Cemetery, to the General Grant Memorial (better known as Grant’s Tomb) on Manhattan’s Riverside Drive (perhaps the purest example of Beaux-Arts architecture in the city, with its Doric columns and exquisite plasterwork), the book strikingly illustrates to what degree they succeeded in this pursuit, delivering both detailed history and employing gloriously opulent photography.

Moreover, Dodd will likely even the most jaded New Yorker to set out on a visit to explore these awe-inspiring landmarks, and learn more about the singularly talented men that created them. No invitation necessary. 

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