Mansion envy, circa 1912

Mansion on Park Avenue built for copper magnate of the Gilded Age. (beyondthegildedage.com)

Mansion on Park Avenue built for copper magnate of the Gilded Age. (beyondthegildedage.com)

Sen. Huguette Clark and two daughters.

Sen. William Clark and two daughters, including Huguette, on the right.

Frankly, I don’t see anything wrong with the house pictured above (check out the urchins of wealth in Central Park). The mansion at 960 Fifth Ave. and East 77th, in Manhattan, was built in 1910 by Sen. William Clark (D-Mont.), a copper magnate, and commemorated in a poem by Wallace Irwin in 1912. The mansion no longer exists. It was demolished in 1927 and replaced by an apartment building perfectly respectable and difficult to badmouth, certainly not to the extent of its predecessor, which has been described as the most ridiculed building in New York history. I just read for the second time a wonderful novel of fantasy written in 1970 by Jack Finney, Time and Again, about a guy who travels through time back to the New York of 1882. Part of the charm of this book is Finney’s passages of description comparing the Fifth Avenue of about 40 years ago with the avenue before the demolition of so much of its fine old oligarchical architecture. I don’t see anything wrong with 960 Fifth Ave. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Poet Irwin was clearly not of that opinion. So I’m not too keen on the attitude embodied by this piece of extended doggerel, but it sure is a lot of fun! Here it is:

Senator Copper of Tonapah Ditch
Made a clean billion in minin’ and sich
Hiked for Noo York, where his money he blew
Buildin’ a palace of Fift’ Avenoo.

“How” sez the Senator, “can I look proudest?
Build me a house that’ll holler the loudest.”
None of your slab-sided, plain mossyleums!
Gimme the treasures of art ‘an museums!

Build it new-fangled,
Scalloped and angled,
Fine, like a weddin’ cake garnished with pills:
Gents, do your dooty,
Trot out your beauty.
Gimme my money’s worth. I’ll pay the bills.”

Forty-eight architects came to consult,
Drawin’ up plans for a splendid result;
If the old Senator wanted to pay,
They’d give ‘im Art with a capital A.
Every style from the Greeks to the Hindoos,
Dago front porches and Siamese windows,
Japanese cupolas fightin’ with Russian,
Walls Sengambian, Turkish and Prussian;

Pillars Ionic,
Eaves Babylonic,
Doors cut in scallops resemblin’ a shell.
Roof was Egyptian,
Gables caniption.
Whole grand effect when completed was — hell.

When them there architects finished in style,
Forty-nine sculptors waltzed into the pile,
Swinging their chisels in circles and lines,
Carvin’ the stone work in fancy designs.
Some favored animals – tigers and snakes;
Some favored cookery – doughnuts and cakes –
Till the whole mansion was crusted with ornaments,
Cellar to garret with garden adornments,

Lettuce and onions,
Cupids and bunions,
Fowls o’ the air and fish o’ the deep,
Mermaids and dragons,
Horses and wagons —
Isn’t no wonder the neighbors can’t sleep.

Senator Copper, with pard’nable pride,
Showed the grand house where he planned to abide;
Full of emotion, he scarcely could speak;
“Can’t find its like in New York – it’s uneek.

See the variety, size and alignment,
Showin’ the owner has wealth and refinement,
Showin’ he’s one o’ the tonier classes —
Who can’t help seein’ my house when he passes?
Windows that stare at you,
Statoos that swear at you,
Steeples and weather vanes pointin’ aloof;
Nothin’ can beat it —
Just to complete it,
Guess I’ll stick gold leaf all over the roof!

 

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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2 Responses to Mansion envy, circa 1912

  1. Bill Dedman says:

    This house figures prominently in our nonfictoin book “Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune.” This was Huguette’s childhood home. See http://emptymanionsbook.com

    Like

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