Every city pushes its seams and expands outward, gobbling up land to satisfy its growing population. So it was with New York City in the 1880's. Manhattan is an island with obvious boundaries. So the initial settlements on its southern tip could only move north. The neighborhoods that started as places for the wealthy to live (around the place that's now the Lower East Side) were a bit boggy and so were abandoned for dryer land up north. After the Civil War the wealthy chose the area around 5th Avenue and the Thirties to build their mansions. This is where the rich live in my novel Masquerade.
I always enjoy basing a house on a real house, and chose the A.T. Stewart mansion that sat on the northwest corner of 5th Avenue and Thirty-fourth. It took over five years to build and when it was finished in 1869 it had cost $1.5 million. In today's money that's about $37.5 million. Pretty much beyond comprehension!
As early as the 1870's, the encroaching commercialization of the area led the social set to move north to Fifth Avenue and the "Fifties" to build their houses. The bigger the better. The upstart Vanderbilt family created mansions that made the Stewart house look like a guest house. Some of these mansions remain--with new uses, but the Stewart mansion was demolished in 1902. Progress, you know.
And what now sits where the Astor brownstone and the old Waldorf-Astoria sat? The Empire State Building.
If you'd like to read more of my Gilded Age novels, try the sequel to Masquerade, called An Unlikely Suitor, and A Bridal Quilt, which is in the novella anthology A Patchwork Christmas. //Nancy Moser