The Dakota in New York is America’s first luxury apartment building, designed by the architect Theodore Camden. In 1884, a woman working at a hotel named Sara Smythe earns Theo’s respect and admiration, and he hires her to be the managerette of his new apartments, set to rival New York’s famous Fifth Avenue. But their story ends in tragedy, with Sara in prison for his murder, and Theo before beginning what should have been a brilliant, successful career. One hundred years later, Bailey, an interior designer and recovering drug addict finds herself renovating the apartment of the great-granddaughter of Theo Camden. Her own grandfather was raised by Theo’s widow, but their connection remains a mystery, except for a enigmatic drawing from Theo to Sara which hangs in her childhood home in New Jersey. Bailey literally unpacks her family’s repeatedly tragic past and tries to salvage as much of the apartment’s originality as possible, as well as trying not to relapse in this brilliant, engrossing story about family tragedies and the lost Gilded Age.
Other books by Fiona Davis include The Dollhouse, about New York City’s Barbizon Hotel for Women set in the 1950s, and the The Masterpiece about a lost art school inside New York’s Grand Central Station.
Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman tells the true story of the odd heiress Huguette Clark, who owned an empty mansion on New York’s Fifth Avenue, and others as well, dying in a hospital bed where she didn’t need to be.
Based on a real American scandal about children misplaced as orphans and a contrast of present and past histories, Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate is another riveting historical fiction novel.
A Gentleman in Moscow is about a man who is sentenced to live in the attic of a luxury hotel in the midst 1920s Russia and impending war.
One of the elegant desserts served at The Dakota was “Washington Pie,” which is actually a layered vanilla cake with raspberry or apricot preserves between the layers of cake. It is topped with sifted powdered sugar. This is a miniature version of it, to be served at tea time in the afternoon, with a pot of hot black or herbal tea.
“Washington Pie” Tea Cakes (Raspberry Sponge Cakes)
- granulated sugar
- salted butter
- all purpose flour
- baking powder
- baking soda
- sour cream, at room temperature
- whole milk, at room temperature
- large eggs, at room temperature
- vanilla extract
- raspberry jam, or strawberry or apricot, if preferred
- powdered sugar
- For the full recipe and instructions, visit https://owlcation.com/humanities/The-Address-Book-Discussion-and-Recipe.
- Why was the “idea of sharing common space and amenities with others, as the French do, considered gauche” by people at the time of the Dakota being built? What could be some of the benefits to living that way, especially for lonely people like the elderly, or even for small children?
- For further discussion questions, visit https://owlcation.com/humanities/The-Address-Book-Discussion-and-Recipe.