The Menace of Privilege

Chapter 5:
How our Princes Live

Henry George Jr.


Do not those whom we may call Princes of Privilege live with much of the circumstance of princely wealth? It may be answered that their sumptuous style of living outdoes that of many princes born to the purple, making startlingly apparent to the stranger the wide breach existing between them and great multitudes in the Republic who are beset by want or the fear of it.

Take, for example, the New York residence of the late Mr. William C. Whitney. This noble pile of brownstone stands at the corner of Sixty-eighth Street and Fifth Avenue, opposite Central Park. It was sold after Mr. Whitney's death to Mr. James Henry Smith for $2,000,000, which was thought to be a very low price, considering the large sums Mr. Whitney had first and last spent upon it. Beginning with its bronze entrance gates, which came from the Doria Palace at Rome, it is declared by connoisseurs to be a better object-lesson for a student of Italian decoration than any museum in America, and in some ways a better specimen of a palace of the days of Alexander VI and Leonardo than can be found in Italy. One of the many masterpieces that graced the walls of this superb residence during Mr. Whitney's lifetime was a vanDyke portrait for which, it was reported, $120,000 had been paid.

A little north of the Whitney house on Fifth Avenue a still larger palace is being completed. It is the residence of Mr. William A. Clark, the Montana and Arizona copper king, who is also United States Senator from Montana. The ambition of Senator Clark respecting his house may be measured by the cornerstone, which weighs sixteen tons. This stone had to be brought from the quarry in a specially built railroad car. A single mantelpiece is expected to cost #100,000. Impatient at delay in getting bronze fittings and ornaments, a famous foundry was purchased and enlarged specially to meet the needs of this splendid house, which also is to contain a theater capable of seating five hundred persons.

We might describe palace after palace of our Princes of Privilege that for a couple of miles stud Fifth Avenue as thickly as the sumptuous residences of the nobles graced the undulations of the Palatine Hill in Rome before the imperial regime made it the sole abode of the Emperors.

Yet magnificent residences are not confined to Fifth Avenue by any means. We find, for instance, the splendid habitation of Mr. Charles M. Schwab, the steel and shipyard prince, rising in the center of a square block at Seventy-third Street and Riverside Drive. The exterior of this building is of the French chateau mixed Gothic and Renaissance style preceding 1550. It is modeled after the celebrated chateaux of Chenonceaux, Blois and Azay-le-Ridau. When completely finished, this residence of an American citizen, who twenty-five years ago started with nothing, may cost not far from $7,000,000.

So might we pass these palaces in review. If different in detail, they bear common testimony to splendor and vast wealth. They represent all that architectural and mechanical genius and decorative art of our time can supply. More than that, the treasures of ancient European palaces have been laid under contribution for marbles, brasses, bronzes, carved woods, tapestries, paintings and an infinite variety of lesser ornaments.

From New York we might turn to many other cities of the country and find palatial abodes of Princes of Privilege. Nor would this include all. It is not in the cities alone that we may behold a style of living undreamed of by the founders of the Republic, in marked contrast to the homes of the body of the citizens, and outrivaling as a whole the coroneted aristocracy of any country in the world. We have out-of-town houses and country seats more sumptuous than Roman rural villas in the proudest days of the imperial despotism, more splendid than the feudal abodes in the full flower of the old nobility of France.

For a century the eastern end of Long Island lay thinly dotted with sleepy little rustic villages. The last ten or fifteen years have seen a striking change. Long stretches of both the north and south shores have been acquired by rich owners, who have erected magnificent country seats, surrounding them by woods and landscape gardens.

One of these seats is "Harbor Hill," at Roslyn, on the north shore. It is the out-of-town home of Mr. Clarence H. Mackay, son and heir of the late Mr. John W. Mackay. Following the ancient propensity of the very rich to exhibit their affluence in the name of charity, Mrs. Mackay not long since opened her stately house for a benevolent bazaar. A multitude attended. The inquisitive peered at the fine building and its rare and costly fittings much as tourists in Europe visit and inspect the present and past abodes of royalty. In the half-million dollar drawing-room they may have beheld the much talked of Zarn portrait of the young and comely mistress of the mansion, who, because she for a time had a fancy to use violet notepaper in her large social correspondence, was shocked at the contrast of red two-cent postage stamps, and hence used only three-cent stamps, which are of harmonious violet hue.

A home of similar princely order, but of far different architectural style, is that of Mr. and Mrs. Howard Gould on the north shore of Sands Point. It is called "Castlegould." It suggests the twelfth century Kilkenny Castle in Ireland, but will be, when finished, much larger and furnished beyond all comparison. The two hundred servants of this great establishment have the anomalous American distinction of wearing livery.

From Long Island we might pass to Yonkers, a few miles north of New York, and get a glimpse of Mr. William Rockefeller's house and estate; to North Carolina, to see Mr. George W. Vanderbilt's mountain palace, "Biltmore"; to Newport with its splendid mansions; to Lenox and Tuxedo with their million-dollar "cottages." But perhaps more interesting than any of these is Mr. George J. Gould's "Georgian Court," at Lakewood, N.J.

"Georgian Court" is like a French chateau of the ancient regime set down in pine woods. Before the building is a high, ornate iron fence and a beautiful lawn, which together set off the imposing facade to perfection. Beyond the chateau is a huge casino for indoor sports. Grouped picturesquely about are other dependent buildings and open tennis and polo grounds.

This "out-of-town house" contains a private theater, replete with the fittings of the finest public theaters, and an inclosed swimming pool. It also contains more than one hundred and ten sleeping suites. One of the noblest art treasures of the mansion is the MacMonnies fountain, with its great white marble basin and bronze and marble group, the whole let into a beautiful, velvet-like lawn.

The interior of the house is the acme of luxury. Bronzes, brasses, marbles, tapestries, mosaics, rugs, glorious natural woods, paint that rivals ivory, ceiling canvases by Italian masters and miniatures studded with precious stones, -- these and a thousand other things greet the eye in a profusion of richness. They stun the mind when it realizes that this is not the palace of an Oriental monarch or of a sultan of the Arabian Nights' Tales, but the abode of an American citizen.

Perhaps the most dazzling feature of "Georgian Court" is the Golden Corridor. As much as double or treble the yearly wages of the average anthracite coal miner in Pennsylvania appears to be laid in gold leaf on a single door.

Another type of the palatial country house is that of Mr. Matheson in the little Pennsylvania town of Ambler, where the great mansion is surrounded by a swarm of smaller buildings. There also arises, in a picturesque position, a beautiful Protestant Episcopal church, with a magnificent array of stained-glass windows. Every stone and beam and nail in this house of worship was paid for by the lord of the manor.

Yet a different example of princely habitation is the hunting lodge of Mr. William Rockefeller, in the Adirondack Mountains, in the northern part of New York State. Mr. Rockefeller has a hunting estate of 53,000 acres in this region. He has, with the aid of a number of game-keepers and after several protracted suits in the courts, twice going to the Appellate division of the Supreme Court, excluded the old-time dwellers in those mountains from the exercise of what they considered their prescriptive rights of hunting and fishing on lands and in streams now constituting parts of his great preserves.

There are various other large private game parks in the Adirondacks, the most extensive of which is the 70,000-acre Whitney estate for moose, elk and buffalo, as well as for pheasants, grouse and partridges. This private game preserve, exceeding a hundred square miles in area, is about five times the extent of Manhattan Island.

Or if the desire is to travel, witness the luxury by land and sea! Most of the very rich have their private cars. Mr. W. K. Vanderbilt spent $50,000 on his. Of the large American yachting fleet there are several boats which have cost, individually, from one half to three quarters of a million to build, and probably cost more than $5,000 a month to run. A yachting expert estimates that there has been an expenditure of $44,000,000 in yachts in this country, while approximately $8,000,000 is spent annually in running them.