By 1880 single-family houses were rapidly disappearing from the city. On an island that was more crowded every day, the price of land grew quickly, and few could afford to live in a house designed and built for a single family. Tenements, apartment houses, french flats, boarding houses, all of these types of dwellings were being built at breakneck speed in the 1880s.
There were still some single family houses in the city — the wealthy, of course, built elaborate mansions — but on a few streets much older small cottages survived into this period. In the first photo below are such houses, as would have been home to the Stone and Campbell families in The Gilded Hour.
The townhouse seen here was built about twenty years after the events in The Gilded Hour, but it is an excellent example of the type of home the rich built on small lots. From Daytonian in Manhattan:
“In April 1903, R. Livingston Beeckman purchased the old home for $325,000. Apparently undecided on exactly where they wanted to live, the Beeckmans also purchased Harry Payne Whitney’s house at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street a month later. “Mrs. Beeckman will have the present dwelling removed and will erect in its place an American basement residence for her own occupancy,” said The New York Times.
But by October they had made up their minds and The Times reported that Beeckman intended to erect a new six-story house designed by architects Warren & Wetmore on the site of the Andrews home. The house “will cost $60,000,” the newspaper said.
Completed in 1905, the house was a dignified Beaux Arts palace on a small scale. Only two windows wide, it rose three stories to an impressive two-story mansard roof with dormers and projecting bulls eye windows. A short, wide flight of steps led to the doorway and a low stone wall flowed from the entrance to wrap the sidewalk, protecting the basement entrance.”
Compare what might seem at first glance to be a modest townhouse — just two windows wide — with the homes of the working class who could still afford a single family residence: