Mirror for Gotham: New York as Seen by Contemporaries from Dutch Days to the Present

By Bayrd Still | Go to book overview

9. THE GOLDEN GENERATION (1900-1930)

THE TWENTIETH CENTURY brought a new New York and an acclaim from commentators such as the city had not known since the ebullient decade before the Civil War when the bustling vigor of its streets and wharves had led to predictions that it would one day outclass every other city on the globe. By the turn of the twentieth century, New York, with its "thousand and one mechanical conveniences," was already displaying a standard of living which Old World capitals could not match; its contribution during World War I predisposed many Europeans at least temporarily in its favor; and in the golden decade which preceded 1929 its ever increasing height, wealth, and physical magnitude lent it a titanic quality with which even basically critical observers were impressed. " New York gives the sensation of a city of giants, more than any other city, even London," wrote a French engineer, as early as 1905; and in the succeeding quarter- century the stunning size of the city and the magnificence at least of some parts of it won it general, if sometimes grudging, praise. 1

It was its skyscraper architecture which more than anything else induced this reaction to New York. At the opening of the century, the new "steel-cage" structures stood out in contrasting isolation above the generally horizontal mass of the metropolis--as Henry James wrote, like "extravagant pins in a cushion already overplanted." But by the late twenties the whole city was "being lifted up" to match the "Himalayan" pinnacles of 1898. The skyscrapers had not only swept uptown, but in height were achieving elevations at which, according to one French traveler, "Europeans seek only the stars." "Skyscrapers are the first thing which a foreigner sees when he comes to America," wrote the editor of the Frankfurter Zeitung, after visiting New York in the mid-twenties. "The dizzy loftiness of the Manhattan skyline" looms "like a citadel raised on high by the cyclops." Even when, in some quarters, wartime affinities had given way to "surly admiration," as a French journalist wrote of his compatriots' reaction to America at the turn of the thirties, European visitors ad

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Mirror for Gotham: New York as Seen by Contemporaries from Dutch Days to the Present
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Illustrations xiii
  • Excerpts from Contemporary Descriptions xv
  • 1. When New York Was New Amsterdam 3
  • 2. New W York Under British Rule 15
  • 3. Resistance, Revolution, and Reconstruction (1765-1789) 37
  • 4. New York in the Early National Period 54
  • 6. a Bustling City (1845-1860) 125
  • 7. New York in the Sixties 167
  • 8. the Emergence of the Modern City (1870-1900) 205
  • 9. the Golden Generation (1900-1930) 257
  • 10. the Maturing Metropolis: World Capital 300
  • Notes 341
  • Bibliography 373
  • Index 401
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