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The magnificent De Lamar Mansion at Madison Ave and 37th Street is undoubtedly one of the outstanding examples of New York Beaux-Arts residential architecture. The Building, which today houses the Polish Consulate General in New York, was completed over a century ago for Captain Joseph Raphael De Lamar, one of the wealthiest New Yorkers at the turn of the century. The De Lamar Mansion commemorates its extraordinary owner, a Dutch sailor who became a self-made American millionaire and decided to build “… the finest dwelling in the city and the costliest one on Murray Hill.” It is also one of the masterpieces designed by Charles Pierrpont Henry Gilbert, a prominent New York architect of prestigious Beaux-Arts mansions within the city. Moreover, the De Lamar Mansion reflects the style of the New York Glided Age, the pre-World War I era of growing wealth in the United States, which led to New York becoming the new center of world culture. At that time men who had made great fortunes after the Civil War arrived in New York and fought for prestige by investing in luxury houses and art collections. Personal competition between the wealthiest bourgeoisie of the time resulted in architecture that bore testimony to the growing prosperity and the numerous works of art brought to the city from all over the world. The De Lamar Mansion is a spectacular example of this phenomenon. Together with the famous, neighboring Morgan Library, it embellishes the prestigious district of Murray Hill, where wealthy New Yorkers erected their costly residences.
One hundred years later and now surrounded by a crown of skyscrapers, the De Lamar Mansion recalls the New York’s splendid history and its spectacular urban growth. It is also an important project by Charles Pierrpont Henry Gilbert (1863-1952), a very intriguing but now little-known New York architect. According to Robert A.M. Stern: “For far too long the achievements of American architects, particularly those active in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, have been overlooked and undervalued.” These words essentially evoke the memory of C.P.H Gilbert, who is often confused with Cass Gilbert and whose buildings were put into oblivion for many decades. Operating mainly in New York and working for the local gentry, this Beaux-Arts architect created many spectacular mansions and country residences. His buildings refer to the moment in the history of American architecture when it began to achieve its own autonomy. The patiently carved decorations of C.P.H. Gilbert’s houses demonstrate the high artistic level of the American architecture at the turn of the centuries and reflects his wealthy clients’ taste and aesthetic needs.
Last but not least, the enormous density of the area in which the De Lamar Mansion is situated today is illustrative of the problems involved in their preservation. Although since 1975 the building has been registered as a landmark, it has been preserved only because of the efforts of its contemporary host, the Consulate General of Poland. The magnificent example of New York’s heritage has survived due to the restoration it underwent in 1970s and 1990s. While many of the New York’s Glided Age masterpieces were replaced by modern, much bigger constructions, the De Lamar Mansion can still be admired in its almost original shape owing to the patient work of Polish preservationists.