How ‘1883,’ ‘The Gilded Age’ Production Designers Went Back in Time

‘Bridgerton’ and ‘Ghosts’ also brought historical eras to contemporary screens with the help of inventive production designers, who re-created locations ranging from Regency-era England to post-Civil War America.

(Photo Courtesy of Cary White)

Production designer Cary White describes Taylor Sheridan’s prequel to Yellowstone as “one of the hardest” series he’d ever worked on, noting the project involved traveling to the various states along the Dutton family’s journey from Texas to Montana on a tight production schedule.

We had triple-digit temperatures in Fort Worth and single-digit temperatures in Montana, and then we had wind storms in West Texas. The physicality of this production was just grueling. ~ Cary White

The production converted two blocks of Fort Worth into Hell’s Half Acre, an area of the city that no longer exists. “At that time, a million and a half Texas cattle were driven through Fort Worth, and Hell’s Half Acre was the area where cowboys went for saloons, dance halls, gambling houses, prostitution,” White says. “It had a wild and woolly flavor that Taylor wanted to re-create.”

He notes that there was a tattoo parlor that had the wrong look but the right location for the Livery Stable needed in the story. “We built the facade over the existing building.”

“The signature of the show is the difference between the old money and the new money,” says production designer Bob Shaw of Julian Fellowes’ drama, set in 1880s New York. “[Those from old money] believed that it was not a good thing to display your wealth ostentatiously, and [those with new money] felt that they wanted to display everything.”

That’s illustrated to great effect with the contrasting looks of the old-money van Rhijn-Brook family and the new-money Russells, who live across from one another on 61st Street off Fifth Avenue. The Russells reside in a newly built marble mansion, while the van Rhijn-Brook family has an older brownstone.

I always say that the key is that the old money was trying to be English and the new money was trying to be French. It’s a bit of a statement: ‘We are very big and whoever you are, you’re smaller.’ So you walk into this room and any person is dwarfed by the scale of the doors and the staircase and the height of the ceiling. ~ Bob Shaw

A notable scene in the series’ first season was one in which the characters witness Thomas Edison’s lighting of the New York Times building. It was shot on location in Monument Square in Troy, New York, which Shaw reports had a large number of houses from the period. The Times building itself was digital and added to the square. Shaw admits that it was loosely modeled after the exterior of the Barnes & Noble along the north side of New York’s Union Square.

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