Tag Archives: Bill de Blasio

Here’s how to view the new display ‘New York 1942’ at Gracie Mansion

Seventy-five years ago, in 1942, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses convinced Mayor Fiorello La Guardia to move his family from their home in East Harlem (Fifth Avenue and 109th Street) to an old mansion in Carl Schurz Park. It was the former home to merchant Archibald Gracie, built in 1799, to look out at the ships of the East River and the turbulent waters of Hell Gate.

Below: Gracie Mansion in 1945. Needless to say, that chainlink fence has been replaced!

Gracie Mansion is known as ‘the little White House’. In truth, it’s yellow now, not white, but it was indeed small and perhaps a bit unsuited for its expanded new purposes. In 1966, thanks to Susan Wagner (Mayor Robert Wagner’s wife), the house was suitably enlarged with a ballroom and two reception rooms. It’s largely because of her and subsequent custodians that the mansion has now struck a perfect balance — an historical home that can vividly represent the City of New York and still comfortably keep a family.

Only one mayor has excused himself from his tradition — Michael Bloomberg — who turned the residence into a house museum, opening up Gracie Mansion to tours and even public events. After all, Bloomberg has a little change in his pocket, shall we say, and his actual home on East 79th Street was close by.

But Mayor Bill De Blasio has chosen to adhere to tradition and move his family into Gracie Mansion. In honor of that revived tradition, Gracie Mansion Conservancy is presenting a series of art installations in the house, celebrating its unique place in American history.

The latest installation New York 1942 presents a wide range of artifacts (59 in all) reflecting life in the city during World War II, a time-warping decor quietly expressing the house’s many historical layers. (An exhibition last year displayed relics from 1799, the year Gracie completed his mansion.)

In the entranceway, you’re met with prints of Norman Rockwell’s striking Four Freedoms, illustrating the accompanying freedoms of speech, worship, want and fear as outlined in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s now-iconic 1941 speech. They seem perfectly at home here and they should consider permanently installing a set here.

Throughout the house are paintings and photographs of every day life from the 1940s —  Gordon Parks photographs, landmarks in watercolors and paints, pictures of skyscrapers and housing projects alike. An old early ’40s television sits in one room; in the next, a modern widescreen presents a jazz band playing Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night In Tunisia.” Perhaps the most delectable artifact is its smallest — a little baseball, signed by the World Champion 1941 New York Yankees.

New York 1942 is curated with a modern eye, bringing out the diverse life of the city in the 40s, a perspective that some might have overlooked then. In particular, don’t overlook the somewhat strange Contoured Playground by Isamu Noguchi, a model for a children’s playground the artist wanted to build when he arrived at an Arizona internment camp in May 1942.

Gracie Mansion had an open house this past Sunday, presenting the installation to hundreds of visitors.   You can check out the installation yourself by booking a free tour to the historic home.  Just visit their website to directly book a spot on the next tour — Tuesdays only for the general public, select Wednesdays for schools — or call 212-676-3060.

I couldn’t take any pictures of the installation inside but I did snag a few from the front lawn!


The mayoral inauguration 100 years ago was quite a headache — “the Most Cheerless Day Ever Known at City Hall”

On Wednesday, January 1, 2014, Bill de Blasio will be inaugurated at City Hall to become the 109th Mayor of New York City, sworn in by President Bill Clinton.  Mayoral inaugurations are never very exciting, but they’re often reflected upon later as setting the tone for an administration, a clue to a possible style of governance.

A fine, athletic example that Mayor-elect de Blasio might consider would be that of William J. Gaynor, who celebrated his inauguration on January 1, 1910, by walking from his home that day in Park Slope, over the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall.  Brooklyn had been a part of Greater New York for only a decade by that point, and Gaynor one of its most esteemed residents.  Nobody doubted Gaynor’s pride that day in his home borough.  (De Blasio is also from Park Slope; his home is about ten minutes away from Gaynor’s residence on Eighth Avenue.)

Below: Mayor-elect Gaynor as he strolled across the bridge to City Hall

Four years later — after Gaynor died in office, from the internal injuries of an assassin’s bullet — New Yorkers elected the reformer John Purroy Mitchel.  He also made a bold statement during his inauguration on January 1, 1914, although one that cast a lingering pall over his subsequent accomplishments.

At right: Mayor-elect Mitchel with interim mayor Adolph Loges Kline, on inauguration day, 1914

Unfortunately for the young mayor-elect, he suffered from intensely painful headaches, and that morning, as he arrived at 9 a.m., Mitchel could barely withstand the pressure.

After greeting a few well-wishers and a brief meeting with reporters, he was sworn in during a private ceremony, made a five minute speech, then escaped into his private office, even as thousands lingered in the hallways and around City Hall for hopes of something — anything in the way of celebration — to occur.

Mitchel was noticeably aggravated and avoided any major announcements (such as the hotly contested job of Police Commissioner).

Early on, the police even dismissed the official receiving line of well-dressed politicians, the phalanx leaving with their hands unshaken.  This was a slight that many would never forget.  “[T]he reception room and corridor outside his office carried all the surging, bustling human exhilaration of Grant’s Tomb,” said the Evening World, who characterized the ceremony as “the most cheerless day ever known in City Hall.”

Many would consider this a hallmark of Mitchel’s style — distant and removed, hardly politic — a demeanor which would eventually label him as an elitist.

From the January 2, 1914, Evening World

For more on Gaynor, Mitchel and the tumultuous politics of 1914, check out our podcast on The Boy Mayor Of New York (Episode #156).