The New Gilded Age

Twenty-two-year-old Elvis Presley paid $102,500 for a home in Memphis for his parents and himself. That was in 1957. The purchase price was equivalent to about $915,000 in 2018. Today, Graceland is the second-most-visited house in the country. (First is the White House.) At 10,000 square feet and less than a million dollars, though, Elvis’s estate is almost laughable in the hierarchy of grandiose residences. In Los Angeles’s Bel Air neighborhood, anything less than 30,000 square feet cannot be taken seriously. And a million dollars? Hard Rock Café co-founder Peter Morton recently sold his Malibu home for $110 million.

Currently on the market in L.A. is “The One,” a new home built on spec, situated on a hilltop with a panoramic view of the city (where 58,000 homeless people reside) and the Pacific Ocean. The master bedroom alone, at 5,500 square feet with its own kitchen and pool, is more than half the size of the Graceland mansion. Asking price: $500 million.

Mark Twain gave us the term “Gilded Age” in his satirical novel published in 1873. “The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today,” described an America riddled with corruption and greed and grinding poverty, but gilded with a thin surface of glittering wealth. For a refresher course on the Gilded Age, you can check out PBS’s “American Experience.”

The Great War – WWI – put an end to the first Gilded Age.

The 21st century is seeing a return to those days. Once again, it is not enough to be merely wealthy. One must ostentatiously display for others to see. As Lyle Lovett said, “If you make all that money / Make damn sure it shows.” If you’re not yet ready to purchase a residence for eight or nine figures, you can still show off when you dine. The Ainsworth, a restaurant with several locations in the New York area, offers chicken wings covered with 24-karat gold. They have joined the ranks of eating places with silly offerings at sillier prices so patrons can demonstrate their excess of disposable income. Not to worry, though; gold is inert and passes through the body, presumably with no ill effects.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.