Such youthful optimism. A handsome, self-assured couple stands on the deck of a grand yacht and points off to what can only be a glorious future. The date is 1939, the scene Washington, D.C., where the socialites Emlen Knight Davies - daughter of America's then-ambassador to Belgium Joseph E. Davies - and her fiancé, Robert Grosjean, of the London office of General Foods, are spending the final days of their engagement.
The yacht, however, might be completely anonymous except that we can see the distinctive filigree of a well-known builder on the bow. That hand-carved gold-leaf design marks it as a Consolidated, built by Bronx, N.Y., company Consolidated Shipbuilding. The couple chose the right boat to be pictured with. In those days of stunning, grand commuter yachts, Consolidated built some of the most stunning and grand, helping to define the age. Even Henry Ford owned a Consolidated.
The builder rose from humble origins with the 1885 merger of the Gas Engine and Power Co. and the Charles Seabury Co. Lying along the North River at Morris Heights, the yard first built steam launches and barges, developing a strong local clientele. Then came the launching of the 81-ton "gas yacht" Corinthia in 1908, and the company was soon offering these modern vessels to a growing cadre of yachtsmen and business moguls. Steam was out.
By the time the commuter-boat craze was in full swing two decades later, Consolidated's two yards (it expanded to City Island, N.Y.) were turning out some of the most sought-after yachts of the day - the 72-foot Jessica, the 62-foot Ragtime, the 136-foot Acania among them - to a virtual Who's Who of wealthy clients.
A world war loomed, however, and when it ended in 1945, the era of the commuter never returned. Instead, Consolidated's wooden fleet slowly gained a new modifier: "vintage." By 1958, the firm ceased building operations, leaving behind a legacy and a fleet of never-to-be-duplicated motoryachts.
This article originally appeared in the August 2010 issue.