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The American Experience
Gallery: Millionaire's Row

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Twenty-five years earlier it had been nothing more than a rutted dirt road flanked by empty lots and shantytowns. By the middle of the Gilded Age, however, Fifth Avenue above 50th Street had been transformed. Millionaires poured outrageous sums into the palaces bordering the new Central Park. New Yorkers knew that no other city in the world possessed a street as magnificent as the new Fifth Avenue.

The old families of New York society, ensconced in their brownstones, at first deplored the gaudy tastes and public ostentation of the "uncouth" new millionaires. "The Goulds and the Vanderbilts and people of that ilk perfumed the air with the odor of crisp greenbacks," was the snooty report, for example, of The Dramatic Mirror after a theater opening.

Before long, however, even the old families like the Astors headed uptown to build fabulous new homes. Architects Stanford White and Richard Morris Hunt carried European architectural styles to dizzying extremes. A Florentine palazzo nested comfortably beside a French chateau, which confronted a copy of Azay-le-Rideau or perhaps Fontainebleau. Within a matter of blocks, one could take in renaissance, Romanesque and rococo.

Elegant hotels flourished: the New Netherland Hotel, the Plaza, and the sumptuous, fourteen-story Savoy "of an Arabian Nights magnificence within." All stood at the very center of the new "millionaire's colony," which drew sightseers from across New York. Follow the links for a virtual tour of your own.

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