The lavish locations featured in the second season of The Gilded Age, which premiered this weekend on HBO, are somehow even more spectacular than the first season. The Gilded Age is a sumptuous period drama set predominantly in New York City, with filming locations all over the East Coast. The Gilded Age was created, produced, and written by Julian Fellowes, who created the smash British hit Downton Abbey, so you’ll recognize some similarities — the drama between “upstairs and downstairs” and plucky outsiders breaking into societies unwilling to change.
Both shows use real-life events as plot points — in Downton Abbey, the sinking of the Titanic sets off the drama. In The Gilded Age, which begins in 1882, a young woman living in Pennsylvania named Marian Brook (played by Louisa Jacobsen) discovers that her father has squandered off his wealth and her inheritance, and she is forced to move in with her wealthy aunts in New York City. Now part of a wealthy family of Dutch descendants named the Van Rhijns, she comes across events that happened in real-life New York. In Season 1, those events included the battle between new and old for a new opera house and the arrival of the Statue of Liberty’s arm and torch in Madison Square Park. There’s also a main plot point inspired somewhat by the real-life drama between Mrs. Astor and Mrs. Alva Vanderbilt.
In Season 2, we meet the cast in 1883. Bertha Russell is still fighting her way to the top of the social hierarchy while George Russell is fighting the growing strength of unions. Across the street, Marian continues to strive for independence and her Aunt Ada surprises all with a new courtship. All of the drama unfolds beneath the oft-disapproving gaze of Aunt Agnes (Christine Baranski). Over in Brooklyn, Peggy finds her voice as an activist through her writing. Season 2 brings with it such historic events as the openings of the Metropolitan Opera House and the Brooklyn Bridge, the rise of labor unions, and Booker T. Washginton’s founding of the Tuskegee Institute.
While Downton Abbey had Highclere Castle as the main setting, The Gilded Age needed to recreate many mansions of the Gilded Age New York set, along with their summer “cottages” in Newport. Although a good number of Gilded Age Fifth Avenue mansions still stand, they are often intermixed with newer construction, so it is hard to recreate that world in New York City today. As such, the filming locations in The Gilded Age are a combination of real-life exteriors and interiors throughout New York State and in Newport, Rhode Island, as well as elaborate sets.
Large-scale period dramas are rarely filmed in the United States, with shows like The Alienist going all the way to Prague to recreate 19th-century New York City. The Gilded Age’s executive producer David Crockett says, “Whereas hundreds of years of history might be around every corner in most European cities, we had to put together a team to blanket New York City and other parts of the Northeast to find the pieces of the 1880s that both still existed and worked for our story. And for things we couldn’t find, we built them – like the full city block of 1880s 61st Street.”
The props were almost as big a feat as securing filming locations in The Gilded Age. Prop master Michael Jortner says, “We worked closely with Julian on certain things, such as composing articles for newspapers and deciding what table settings would be laid out. We went over all the scenes of food preparation with the directors to make sure they had the required level of food to keep everybody moving.” Meanwhile, one important prop came across the country for Season 1, says Jortner: “The printing press in one scene came from a museum in California and we reassembled it on location to get it running. They also had a team to create the props needed: “We acquired a lot, but we also built from scratch. Some items we bought were in disrepair, so we used them as a reference point. The parasols and umbrellas were original, but we had to redo the canopies. All the copper cookware was re-coppered to make it look brand-new. We made all the police badges. Then we were repairing things as we went.”
Below is a list of some of the gorgeous places featured in Season 2 and Season 1 of the show. Beware of spoilers ahead! Learn more about New York City’s Gilded Age mansions on our Fifth Ave Gilded Age Mansions Tour!
Fifth Ave Gilded Age Mansions Tour
22. The Metropolitan Opera House
Bertha Russell stands triumphantly in her center box of the new Metropolitan Opera House at the end of Season 2. To create this grand venue, the production team blended three separate film locations. We explain in Episode 4 locations how the team used shots of the Philadelphia Academy of Music to digitally recreate the opera house. In Episode 8, we see more public areas of the opera house. Scenes on the stairs and in the lobby were shot at the Palace Theater in Albany, New York. Production designer Bob Shaw explained to AwardsDaily that the crew built five opera boxes and the corridors outside on a curved set on a soundstage in Long Island.