Edith Wharton spent her life chronicling the excesses and dramas of Gilded Age New York in her novels. But alas, all that is solid melts into air: today Wharton’s childhood home at 14 West 23rd Street is a Starbucks.
As a young woman in the late 19th-centruy, the then Edith Jones lived in what was a stately new brownstone in the fashionable Madison Square neighborhood, according to Ephemeral NY.
In 1934, Wharton remembered her old Manhattan stomping grounds in “A Backward Glance,” writing:
“The little girl and her father walked up Fifth Avenue; the old Fifth Avenue with its double line of low brown-stone houses, of a desperate uniformity of style, broken only—and surprisingly—by two equally unexpected features: the fenced-in plot of ground where the old Miss Kennedys’ cows were pastured, and the truncated Egyptian pyramid which so strangely served as a reservoir for New York’s water supply.”
“The Fifth Avenue of that day was a placid and uneventful thoroughfare along which genteel landaus, broughams, and victorias, and more countrified vehicles of the ‘carryall’ and ‘surrey’ type, moved up and down at decent intervals and a decorous pace,” she added.
But by the 1870s, Wharton’s family had left the home and it was extensively remodeled, with a cast-iron front.
Still, there are a few brownstones on the block that still resemble the façade of Wharton’s famous home. [Ephemeral NY] – Christopher Cameron