Edith Wharton in the News: Real Estate of The Age of Innocence

From the New York Times: A Pair of Bluebloods With Blueprints

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/05/realestate/real-estate-of-edith-wartons-the-age-of-innocence.html?_r=0

Lienau Collection/Avery Architectural Library

Rowhouses built by Rebecca Jones stood on the east side of Fifth Avenue, from 55th to 56th Street, in 1870.

By Published: January 2, 2014

Edith Wharton’s corpulent great-aunt Mary Mason Jones served as one of the most memorable inspirations in literary New York: the model for Mrs. Manson Mingott in Wharton’s novel “The Age of Innocence.”

The row built by her sister Mary Mason Jones two blocks north, looking south from 58th, in 1899. Mary Mason Jones and her house figure prominently in “The Age of Innocence,” a book by the sisters’ great-niece Edith Wharton.

Much of the 1920 book is centered on Mary Jones’s remarkable row of stone houses on Fifth Avenue, from 57th to 58th Street. But almost absent from Wharton’s writings is Mary’s sister Rebecca Jones, who built an equally impressive row just two blocks south.

The father of Rebecca, born in 1801, and Mary, born the year before, was John Mason, a founder of the New York and Harlem Railroad, which first ran in 1832. Rebecca married Isaac Colford Jones Jr., and Mary his cousin, also named Isaac Jones.

Rebecca and Mary early exhibited a taste for domestic proximity, occupying neighboring rowhouses on Chambers Street. No. 122, Mary’s place, supposedly had the first bathtub in New York; Rebecca’s ablutionary activities are not documented.

Later, three Jones families, including Rebecca and Mary’s, occupied three adjoining houses from 732 to 736 Broadway, in which the entertaining rooms could be opened to one another.

It is not clear where the sisters lived after 1854, when a nasty fight over their father’s estate, much of it property in New York City, was resolved. They were awarded two city blocks, each running from Fifth to Park, where streets had just recently been cut through. Rebecca’s domain was between 55th and 56th, Mary’s between 57th and 58th. These are where their architectural aspirations played out shortly after Wharton’s birth in 1862.

Mary started first, her architect, Robert Mook, filing plans in 1867 for what became Marble Row, a sparkling-white series of houses in the Parisian style facing Fifth from 57th to 58th. These houses take up a great deal of real estate in both the book and movie “Age of Innocence.”

Rebecca followed in 1869, when she had her architect, Detlef Lienau, design a similar row of eight houses for the 55th-to-56th-Street block, completed in 1871. These were more chaste than Mary’s, in part because of their olive-colored Ohio stone, but they, too, had the character of something on a Parisian boulevard.

[Read the rest at The New York Times link above]

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