Beaux Arts Ball History

The prestigious tradition of the Beaux Arts Ball finds its roots in France where the first elaborate costume ball was held during the early decades of the seventeenth century. Presided over by the King and Queen of France, these exclusive balls were so brilliantly staged and so elaborately decorated that they soon received international acclaim.

In the nineteenth century, a number of young Americans went abroad to study at the leading French school of architecture, L'Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. The first American to graduate from this school was Richard Morris Hunt who formed the Beaux Arts Society in 1857 to perpetuate the principles he learned there. He and other graduates of L'Ecole des Beaux Arts formed the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects, which was incorporated in January, 1894. Hunt and others began introducing to America a new style of architecture known as the Beaux Arts style which had been exuberantly displayed in Chicago at the Columbian Exposition in 1893. This architectural style became the symbol of the City Beautiful Movement, which swept the country in the early 1900s. This era has been described as one of palatial urbanism and included grand designs for parks, plazas, avenues, and boulevards. Hunt, who became the favorite architect for America's rich and powerful designed The Breakers, built for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, and Mable House, built for William K. Vanderbilt, which are both in Newport, Rhode Island. Buildings in the Beaux Arts style are characterized by dynamic shifts in scale and form, domed central portions, facades that project and recede, and application of classical ornament. The buildings are often arranged in complexes whose formal symmetry includes walks, gardens, fountains, and sculpture.

Under the auspices of the Society of Beaux Arts Architects, Inc., these talented and dedicated architects, which included Hunt, Murchenson, Bosworth, Levy, Greenly and Warren, began holding informal "classes" at the old Lafayette Hotel on lower Fifth Avenue in New York City in order to share their knowledge with those who wished to learn. They introduced competition as the means to obtaining a commission, which is the method widely used to this day. They freely gave of their time to instruct and inspire their students. This band of talented artists selflessly gave of their energy and skills without remuneration and their students were, in turn, stimulated by the original ideas and fiery discussions of their teachers. The apprentices of these famous architects, many of whom have become prominent architects in their own right, worked hard to preserve the spirit of competition in an atmosphere of progress, imaginative thinking, and hard work. These are still the principles of our Society.

In 1907, the Society of Beaux Arts Architects, Inc. ran its first costume charity Beaux Arts Ball in order to raise funds to finance the educational work of the Society. The Beaux Arts Ball immediately became the most important event in New York's social season attended by New York's high society and the most notable of talented artists, writers, and actors who came together for balls run at the old Waldorf and the Seventh Regiment Armory. Traphagen students brilliantly collaborated by designing costumes. One famous lady is reputed to have spent one million dollars on a diamond-strewn gown. Spectacular sets were built. The Beaux Arts Ball at the Astor featured a special glass spiral staircase for the models. There were breathtaking costume parades and pageants. Skits were written by famous authors and enacted by the country's best-known thespians. Prizes and awards were presented for costumes, models, and to those achieving recognition in the various "divisions of the arts." The Beaux Arts Ball is still presided over by a King, Queen, Prince and Princess who are coronated at the Ball and serve in their capacities for one year. The Beaux Arts Society is alone responsible for continuing the unbroken tradition of sponsoring the only authentic Beaux Arts Ball in the country.