Something I never understood about the dining room


May 12, 2009
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Why was the dining room aboard the Olympic class vessels considered more splendid, when the Lusitania boasted a two story room with balconies, plaster, gold leaf, a gigantic ornate dome with oil paintings of cherubs.

Why is it that no one ever admits that the Lusitania's dining room ran rings around the Olympic class dining room in terms of opulence?
 

Arun Vajpey

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Tastes vary but from a purely personal perspective, I did not like the dining room on the Lusitania. It was TOO ornate and above all, that glass dome did not fit in over a dining room in my opinion. The dining rooms on Olympic & Titanic were less ornate but more classy. According to the Titanic book by Eaton & Haas, White Star also considered and abandoned the idea of the dome over the dining room. I think it was a wise decision; the dome fitted much better over the Grand Staircase.

Another impression I got - and people might disagree on this - is that the First Class dining rooms best represented the ethos of the overall decor on the two classes of ships. Lusitania & Mauretania looked slightly backward (meaning traditional for the times) whereas the Olympic class of vessels looked forward.
 
May 12, 2009
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Hmm... The only way I think the Lusitania dining room and lounge was behind times was that the furniture in their 1st Class public rooms was bolted down to the floor.

Aww, come on! I always felt that the dome on the Lusitania was GORGEOUS! As for the Mauretania... Not so much. Also, it sort of fitted in with the ship's style of having EVERY 1st and 2nd class public room boast a skylight or two (or three.) Hmm... On second thought, I do agree that Cunard's obsession with domes and skylights on their two flagship's was a bit too much. Still, I felt it worked very nice for the Lusitania's dining saloon.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Mauretania's furniture was free to move around, wasn't it?
 

Bob Godfrey

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The simple answer is that the public rooms aboard the Olympic Class liners were NOT considered to be anything special - at the time. The elevation of these facilities to biggest, most luxurious, most costly, totally unique and all the other nonsense was all part of the myth-making process which began after the event.
 

Jim Kalafus

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One thing to consider about the dome/ no dome thing....

The French Line got in a swipe at the Olympic-class dining room, with their remark "Low ceilings do not aid the digestion."

Disregarding the image of the dining room we carry from the Cameron film, check out the vintage film on YouTube of a later generation of travelers dancing in a portion of the Olympic's dining/reception room. The ceiling was REALLY low, once people were placed in the image to give proportion and the camera held at eye level. Now, place all 800 or so first class passengers into that room. The effect must have been singularly claustrophobic. The Lusitania's painted plaster (not glass) dome served the purpose of opening the room up. All matters of taste aside, the room could never be described as confining.

>whereas the Olympic class of vessels looked forward.

The only forward looking interiors to appear on any pre-war liner were the art nouveau rooms, quite remarkable ones, at that, on the George Washington. The Olympic/Titanic interiors were the same stylistic melange that the class which was then, and still is, called "White Trash With Money" expected to find in a hotel when they traveled. The Carnival design ethos, only using period piece architecture rather than post-modern. Impressive, but unsophisticated. What the sort of people who owned homes with actual "Regence" interiors (NOT the White Star Line's target audience) scoffed at as "a collision of good money and bad taste" and what someone from Sault St. Marie who had gotten rich selling stove blacking's ambitious daughter would have looked at as "Classy."

Talked about this on another thread, but by 1912 even the White Trash With Money set was no longer building their homes with eclectic period-piece interiors. Senator Clarke had built the ULTIMATE robber baron mansion in NYC a few years back that was supposed to introduce him to High Society, but instead drew so much derision that it changed the way even the newly wealthy chose to display their riches. "Chaste" and "Consistent" were the new goals. "Chaste" is subjective, but the Olympic class could NEVER be called "consistent."
 
May 12, 2009
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So, would you say the interiors on the three flagship Cunarders of the period were even tackier than those on their White Stare Counterparts?
 
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I would, Evgueni, but this is a rather subjective observation. The English Jacobean/William & Mary/Georgian influences utilized in the FC public areas on Olympic Class ships was a bit more....restrained.... than the French and Italian Renaissance-ish style decor found in the FC public areas on the Lusitania, Mauretania, and somewhat on the Aquitania. However, the differences in style among all these ships can seem marginal because they are all a cacophony of styles.
 
May 12, 2009
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But wasn't Mauretania the most conservative one? Most of her 1st Class interiors appear to be simple (though very expensive looking) mahogany paneling. Hmm... To be honest, I'd probably jump overboard from claustrophobia if I traveled on Lady Mary....
 

Bill Sauder

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Discussing how tastefully the Titanic is decorated is like touching the third rail: It's a suicide move because somebody (and possibly everybody) is going get offended.

That being said, Jim K. is right, none of these ships (Lusitania, Titanic, Imperator) were forward looking: They were all trapped in the cul-de-sac of historical revivalism. In 1910, there was enormous discontent with the endless treadmill of revivalism, which had sunk so low that it was parodied as “The Chambermaid's Dream of Heaven: part steamboat, part vestry, part cuckoo clock”￾.

The only ships trying for a new style were the Art Nouveau ships (which was itself a blind alley.) A truly forward thinking ship would be outfitted in the style of Sullivan or Wright. None are, but that's not the clientele these ships were built for. The rich would not warm up to the new styles until after World War I, and then only for mercenary reasons.

Although the prewar ships all rely on bringing back older architectural styles, not all ships were decorated with equal competence: Mewes on Imperator does an outstanding job with the space and resources he has. I think only the Ballin prewar vessels really live up to the old saw about "floating palaces". They are the only ones I’d consider to be “serious architecture.”￾

Millar/Peto both do excellent jobs given the mechanical restrictions on the Lusitania/Mauretania, but their decor consists mostly of judicious compromise. Although Millar’s Lusitania is decorated in a friendlier, sunny style, Peto’s Mauritania shows far more inventive use of space and detail. Together they are excellent studies in the difference between the art of the Interior Decorator (Millar) and the Architect (Peto).

Titanic is, artistically, the weakest in this set for two reasons: First, there is the feeling that décor took a back seat to economics: The dining room should have been taller, but it was cut down to single height so that more cabins could be installed. The furniture, room templates, and moldings were borrowed wholesale from earlier W.S vessels. It is also telling that the beautiful Roman alcove in the Olympic and Britannic’s Reading Room was destroyed to make way for 3 or 4 cabins of dubious value to the revenue stream as a whole. To add insult to injury, no attempt was made to fix the crooked wall that patch left behind.

The second problem is the ship was decorated by business men and carpenters with some horrific gaffs: The long, claustrophobic passage ways adjacent to the Lounge, the awkward entrance to the a la carte Restaurant, a lazy redesign of the Turkish Baths that improved traffic flow to and from the pool but destroyed the room layouts, and the over-reliance of bay windows as the building blocks of every Promenade Deck lounge meant furniture arrangement (and therefore passenger interaction) was the same.

Bob G. also brings up the point that the reputation of Titanic’s opulence has been over-rated. I quite agree. The Titanic Disaster is now a modern morality play, and in order for the “moral of the story”￾ to have the greatest impact, Titanic is usually drawn to resemble ancient Rome as much as possible: Arrogant administrators, corrupt masters, indifference to the masses, flashes of heroism, and in our case, unspeakable opulence. She simply wasn’t all that.

The Titanic was a pleasant environment to spend a few days crossing the Atlantic. She was comfortable, had all sorts of diversions to pass the time, offered excellent food to punctuate the day, and had a reputation that gave you bragging rights when the crossing was over.

Anything more that that is wishful thinking. But then “Distance lends enchantment to the view.”￾
 

Arun Vajpey

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>>>>> The French Line got in a swipe at the Olympic-class dining room, with their remark "Low ceilings do not aid the digestion." <<<<<<

The French Line probably had arrangements for eating frog legs while hanging from the chandeliers.
happy.gif
 

Jim Kalafus

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>The English Jacobean/William & Mary/Georgian influences utilized in the FC public areas on Olympic Class ships was a bit more....restrained....

Hmmm, Jason... I see it as just the opposite! So, I will have to smite you *smite* *smite* *smite* while admitting that these things are subjective.

For myself, the only pre-1938 rooms I WISH I could have seen intact were the two or three first class rooms aboard the George Washington which dared not to be period piece, and the first class lounge aboard the Orizaba:

orizaba_lounge_et_copy4.jpg


Sullivan, Wright, Urban, Purcell and Elmslie, Irving Gill, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, all SHOULD have done liner interiors. I would not have objected to any of the more romantic classicists- Bernard Maybeck, perhaps. Thomas Lamb? Check out this pre-Lusitania clip, from a Theatre World article about good taste vs poor taste in set design. Telling that "poor taste" has Olympic- class lounge design elements in it!

artwork_january_bad_taste_copy5.jpg


This was a transitional era.... and, fortunately, a ghastly time in architectural history was already winding down. Tellingly, the building which killed the "Newport" cycle of architecture wasn't really any worse than the Astor's pile of dreck at 5th and E65, or most of the residences on upper 5th Avenue. But, poor Senator Clarke spent ten years erecting his monument to himself (which only survived for 22 more years!) only to see it laughed at by the public and shredded by the critics. Seldom has an architectural movement had so clearly defined an end, but after the debut of this house all mansions which followed were smaller, externally unadorned, and quite "chaste" internally.

artwork_clarke_residence_copy2.jpg


In a way, this house was a landmark in the modernist movement.... from day 1 "everyone who was anyone" hated it, and the avalanche of chateaux and palazzi stopped. The new way of making a statement was by NOT making a statement. Houses got smaller, ornamentation began to vanish...

The Olympic class ships, and the Ballin trio, seemed aimed at the crowd who looked at the Clarke residence and LIKED it. Their rather....florid...approach had been passe among the REALLY wealthy since the Clarke mansion made its public belly-flop, so the interiors did not even reflect what the rich-and-vulgar desired in their new homes. By 1912 a few of the robber baron chateaux/palazzi had already been demolished (some only ten years old!)in favor of homes that hid whatever wealth dwelt within behind "chaste" exteriors.

BTW- check out the Henry O. Havemeyer residence. A block or two up Fifth Avenue from J.J. and Caroline Astor's atrocious twin house, but a world apart in terms of decor. The ONE Fifth Avenue house that should have been preserved (it wasn't) with a Tiffany interior that defied description in a GOOD way... it shows what the immediate pre-war liners COULD have been but weren't.
 

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