The Gilded Age: a tale of today, once again

Since the recession, economists, social activists, even the New York Times, have argued that America is experiencing a return to the Gilded Age. They point to the increased economic inequality and to the rise of conspicuous consumption among the very wealthy – e.g., 24ct gold iPads.

Now, real estate developers have joined that chorus, but for different reasons.

Greystone on Hudson, a 100-acre, 21-house gated community in Tarry Town, is “inspired by Gilded Age mansions,” Andy Todd, the project’s developer told Luxury Listings NYC on a brisk morning tour of the site.

Located 13 miles north of the city, Greystone on Hudson is nestled into the dramatic hills that rise high above the Hudson River. A century ago, industrialists like the Rockefellers, the Astors and the Morgans spent their spoils building castle-like, sprawling country homes in the area. It was nicknamed “Millionaire’s Row.” A few of those estates still stand today, offering what the marketing team called “stunning castle views.” Check out Long Island’s Gold Coast for more of those.

The gated estates are replacing what was the site of Greyston Castle, the home of Josiah Macy, Rockefeller’s business partner in Standard Oil. That house was destroyed in a fire in the 1970s – Woolworth also had bad luck with fire.

Driving into the development you are greeted with the flicker of gas lanterns. “They wouldn’t have had electricity in the 1870s,” Todd said. But don’t worry, not only do the homes have electricity, they have all the latest domestic technologies.

You pass by the same wrought iron carriage gate that was used at the original house. Many of the same towering trees planted more than a century ago line the drive. The rare Manhattan Schist that comprises the wall at the property’s entrance was pillowed and quarried at the property. “We have 10 masons on site,” Todd said. “It’s part of what gives us that Old World feel.” Workers – presumably with large Walrus moustaches, flat caps and Irish accents — chiseling away at boulders in the middle of a forest does have very 19th century ring to it.

Two of the development’s houses have sold, but only one of the houses is complete — a 17,000-square-foot, 36-room gambrel-style mansion. It spent just nine days on the market before selling for $9 million, making it the most expensive home sale in Westchester County thus far in 2015. “It wasn’t even on the market really,” Douglas Elliman broker and “Million Dollar Listing New York” star, Fredrik Eklund said. Eklund is marketing the development (below is an Instagram picture Eklund took during our tour).

When you sell a $25M house. #weeee #dinasourhands Love from Fredzilla ❤️

A photo posted by Fredrik Eklund (@fredrikeklundny) on

The home sold to a “top executive with a Fortune 500 company who is moving within the county,” Todd said at the time of the sale. Already, a large Green Bay Packer’s flag is flying from the home; it looks like the new owner, an avid sports fan and car collector, has moved in.

The mansions are fully customizable, and range in price from $5 million to $25 million for the largest, 26,000-square-foot home. Amenities include indoor basketball courts, swimming pools, home theaters, wine cellars, and anything else your heart fancies, Todd assured.

“There is three miles of iron fencing surrounding the property, so there are no privacy issues for these wealthy buyers, high-net-worth individuals and fortune 500 company presidents,” Eklund said from the back of our SUV as we circled the development. “It’s like living in a doorman building.”

“These buyers are used to having the amenities of condos in the city, but they want mansion estates. Here you get the best of both worlds,” he added.

Todd says that he is seeing interest from people “all over the board,” naming celebrities, businessmen and Wall Street bankers, specifically. “But, you know not everyone can afford at this level,” he said. Eklund added that he thinks buyers who have a family or who are planning to have a family are most attracted to the development.

“The whole idea of Greystone is that there were all these castles built here in the Gilded Age, and everything that we are doing is meant to respect that history,” Todd said.

A Gilded Age for whom?

As a metaphor, the Gilded Age – a term coined in a satire by Mark Twain – was meant to describe an era of social turmoil in post-Civil War America where serious social issues, like poverty, child labor, corruption and industrialization were hidden behind the gold gilding enjoyed solely by the ruling class.

Today, the term evokes different things for different people. At the bottom of the social rung, everyone is just a temporarily embarrassed millionaire, as the saying goes. The reality is of course that the Gilded Age means exclusion from the good life. But at the top – where people can afford to buy homes like the ones at Greystone — it means splendor. Up there it is hard to even remember that “the Gilded Age” is a loaded term.