Northeast Philly probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think about opulent mansions and elite entertainments of the Gilded Age. But Glen Foerd, Philadelphia’s only extant estate on the Delaware River that’s open to the public, is determined to change that. Beginning this summer, the grand riverfront house and grounds will be the site of “Jazz Age on the Delaware,” an annual celebration of the music, dance, fashions, food, drinks, and lawn games of the Roaring ‘20s–the decade of sustained economic prosperity and new trends in modern culture that followed the Gilded Age.
First built in 1850 for broker and businessman Charles Macalester, Jr., the original three-story Italianate summer residence and 18-acre estate was called Glengarry, after the owner’s ancestral home in Scotland. In 1895, the Macalester property was purchased by multi-millionaire Robert H. Foerderer, who made his fortune in the manufacture of fashionable kidskin leather. He hired architect William McAuley to remodel the house with additions in the Classical Revival style and other resplendent enhancements that included the majestic porte cochère at the main entrance, a formal dining room, a grand cantilevered central staircase with a Haskell pipe organ, leaded-glass skylights, parquet floors, an art gallery on the top storey, and a rathskellar in the basement, all designed to accommodate lavish entertaining and to impress guests with their beauty and sumptuousness.
With the turn-of-the-century architectural alterations came the change of the estate’s name to Glen Foerd, honoring both its history as Glengarry and its new owners the Foerderers. After Robert’s premature death at the age of 43 in 1903, it was maintained by his wife Caroline (d. 1934), and their daughter Florence, an avid supporter of the arts and culture, until her passing in 1971 at age 89. Subsequently the non-profit Glen Foerd Conservation Corporation was formed by a neighborhood coalition to save the historic property from demolition; it continues to operate the well-maintained estate, under a lease from Philadelphia Parks and Recreation.
In keeping with the traditions of the Gilded Age (when Glen Foerd and the conspicuous consumption of wealthy American industrialists were at a peak) and the Roaring ‘20s (when flappers set the style and relished the hedonism and liberation of the new modernism), the conservancy offers special programming that gives visitors the opportunity to tour the house, land, and waterfront, and to experience the luxurious life-styles and parties of past eras. The calendar of upcoming offerings includes a free rain-or-shine “Riverside Concert Series,” a November bird walk, seasonal holiday functions, and site-specific theatrical performances by White Pines Productions’ Bright Invention ensemble, along with the debut of “Jazz Age on the Delaware.”
The premiere event runs from 11 am till 5 pm on August 1st and features vintage music from The Gin Canaries, Red Hot Ramblers with Chelsea Reed, Drew Nugent & The Midnight Society, and Dandy Wellington and His Band, and dance performances by The Old City Sweethearts and The Minsky Sisters. In addition to the hottest acts in old-time entertainment, patrons can enjoy a display of antique automobiles and bicycles, a pie-making contest, Charleston lessons, and an assortment of period-style collectibles for sale by a variety of vendors. VIP tickets include an exclusive Jazz-Age menu, private bar, and table seating in Glen Foerd’s beautiful Riverside Pavilion; general-admission guests are welcome to bring a picnic, to pre-order one through the event website, or to purchase food and beverages on site.
The organizers of “Jazz Age on the Delaware” promise that it will be “the bee’s knees in entertainment,” so step out in your best Roaring ‘20s attire (ribbons will be awarded for the most authentic costumes) and savor the sights, sounds, and stylings of America’s elegant past. And remember: the new ’20s will be roaring in just five years from now! [5001 Grant Ave.] August 1, 2015; jazzageonthedelaware.com.