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Here's part of a New York Times article by CHRISTOPHER GRAY about Edith Wharton, her great-aunts, the houses they resided in, and the books they inspired:
Edith Wharton's corpulent great-aunt Mary Mason Jones served as one of the most memorable inspirations in literary New York: the model for Mrs. Manson Mingott in Wharton’s novel “The Age of Innocence.”
Much of the 1920 book is centered on Mary Jones’s remarkable row of stone houses on Fifth Avenue, from 57th to 58th Street. But almost absent from Wharton’s writings is Mary’s sister Rebecca Jones, who built an equally impressive row just two blocks south.
. . . Mary started first, her architect, Robert Mook, filing plans in 1867 for what became Marble Row, a sparkling-white series of houses in the Parisian style facing Fifth from 57th to 58th. These houses take up a great deal of real estate in both the book and movie “Age of Innocence.”
Rebecca followed in 1869, when she had her architect, Detlef Lienau, design a similar row of eight houses for the 55th-to-56th-Street block, completed in 1871. These were more chaste than Mary’s, in part because of their olive-colored Ohio stone, but they, too, had the character of something on a Parisian boulevard.
Both rows were a departure from the lugubrious brownstone that Wharton denounced, along with contemporary New York and “its untended streets and the narrow houses so lacking in external dignity” compared to Rome and Paris, as she wrote in her 1934 memoir “A Backward Glance.”
. . . Rebecca was every bit as busy as her sister holding court uptown. The Daily Graphic described her 1873 invitation to the city’s debutantes for a “rose-bud party,” apparently an innovation, at her house on the 55th Street corner, No. 705. The guests were to meet “a select company of gentlemen,” and each young woman was to receive a bouquet of rosebuds.
Rebecca was “quite celebrated in social circles for the elegance and novelty of her entertainments,” The Evening Telegram said in 1874. Two years later, the paper described Rebecca and Mary as “at the head of the ultra fashionable Saratoga clique.”
Rowhouses built by Rebecca Jones stood on the east side of Fifth Avenue, from 55th to 56th Street, in 1870. Link