Happy Birthday Edith Wharton: The Gilded NoMad

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The Gilded Age Madison Square Park and Fifth Avenue Hotel

Byron Co. Collection/Museum of the City of New York

The NY Times recently had a feature on Edith Wharton’s 150th Birthday (celebrated tomorrow), and the impact the aristocracy had on the area we now know as NoMad New York City. As we discussed in previously in our post on The Fifth Avenue Hotel, the area around Madison Square Park was the center for the social elite in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The neighborhood we now call NoMad was also Edith Wharton’s birthplace, a place and it’s people that she would reference time and time again.

The Times article focuses on the area, but more specifically focuses on the unions between the American aristocracy and the British elite — something made very popular as of late with the PBS series Downton Abby. All of this is of interest to us here, but we are fascinated with the neighborhood itself. More specifically how this once fledgeling neighborhood, now on the verge of a comeback, was THE social epicenter for New York and pretty much the whole of America!

As we celebrate Edith’s 150th birthday, we are reminded of how much she had to do with the neighborhood of NoMad and Madison Square Park New York. She was married right here in NoMad at Trinity Chapel (a chapel of Trinity parish — Trinity Wall Street had eight or ten of these to serve the growing new York community as it moved uptown).  This particular church even became the seat of the bishop of New York for a while. His seat is now at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on 25th Street right next to our Kew Management office building.

During Edith’s time, New York society was centered all around Madison Square Park. Delmonico’s famous restaurant was on 26th and 5th, Sir Winston Churchill’s mother was even living across the park at 26th and Madison with all of the other first families of the city in houses surrounding the park — think of McKim and Mead. Stanford White’s Madison Square Garden sat just right across the street from her house, and New York’s finest hotels and theaters filled Broadway and the side streets from 23rd to 25th.  And as we covered the other week, at the center of it all was The Fifth Avenue Hotel, hosting presidents and foreign dignitaries and the social elite right here in NoMad on 23rd and 5th.

Reading this article it makes us think, NoMad and Madison Square Park are pretty much what they were all those years ago — first class restaurants, a beautiful park, notable residents (mostly movie stars these days), great shopping, creative offices, night life, and the gorgeous buildings that are finally now being restored to the way they once were all those years ago.

So on Edith Wharton’s 150th birthday we look back on all of her fabulous work as an author, and also to the NoMad neighborhood for which lived in so many years ago. A neighborhood that is once again climbing to the familiar heights of cultural relevance, but this time there might just be fewer high profile marriages to English nobility!