Tag Archives: Gracie Mansion

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!


House party: A weekend of NYC’s most historic homes

Above: the Morris-Jumel Mansion (Postcard courtesy NYPL)

If we piqued your interest in last week’s episode on Gracie Mansion, this weekend is an excellent opportunity to check it out along with a couple dozen of the oldest and most famous homes in the New York City area.

The Historic House Festival is a weekend long welcome mat to how the other half used to live, with events planned in all five boroughs.

We’ve mentioned most of these places on this blog and on prior podcasts, and now’s your chance to check to them out for free.

Check out the official Historic House Trust website for events and times.

The special nighttime tour of Gracie Mansion is TONIGHT (Friday, Sept, 24) Make your reservation by contacting DToole@cityhall.nyc.gov.

If you can’t make that one, there are lots of other locations to recommend, including wine tasting at the Morris-Jumel Mansion and an old-time baseball game (played with 19th century rules) next to the Revolutionary War era Old Stone House.

A great many of these homes made my list A History of New York In 100 Buildings. Read up on the following homes, then go check them out for free this weekend. On top of the aforementioned houses, there’s also the Merchant’s House in Manhattan (home to a ghost), the Wyckoff Farmhouse in Brooklyn, the John Bowne House in Queens, the Voorlezer’s House (part of old Richmondtown) and the Conference House in Staten Island, and the Van Cortlandt House Museum in the Bronx.

Behold, the Wheatons and the Quackenbushes!

Above is the only photograph I can find of Gracie Mansion that features members of both the Wheaton and the Quackenbush families, who took over the manor in the late 19th century. It’s from a book which I had to scan, and the original is courtesy New York Historical Society, so I apologize for the quality of the image. But even slightly obscured, it’s an amazing picture.

Taken in 1890, the house doesn’t look like it’s in such a bad state. Neither Lambert S. Quackenbush nor (Alice) Hermione Quackenbush appear in this photo, but other members of the Wheaton and Quackenbush clan are here. The girl standing next to the seated woman is Amalie Hermoine Quackenbush, daughter of Lambert and Hermione.

I find the strange composition of this picture very compelling, how they’re spread out over the front yard of the mansion (which was, by tradition, called Gracie or Gracie’s Mansion, even at this time), how the young girl in the foreground holds a hoop, how another daughter of Lambert’s, Jenny, stands far in the background by a tree.

Image from ‘New York City’s Gracie Mansion: A History of the Mayor’s House’ by Mary Black

Gracie Mansion: How a bucolic summer home survived a couple wars, a society feud and a few live-in mayors

Photo by the Wurts Brothers, date unknown. Courtesy NYPL

Archibald Gracie admired the extraordinary vistas at Horn’s Hook — overlooking the East River and the churning waters of Hell’s Gate — and decided to build a house here. Little did he know what an extraordinary journey this comfy little Federal home would take over the next two hundred years.

After seeing a lamentable period as a refreshment stand and a place for sewing classes, Gracie Mansion became the first home for the Museum of the City of New York. Then, one day, Robert Moses came along and fell in love with it. Find out how the waterfront mansion became New York City’s defacto White House for over 70 years. And why our current mayor chose NOT to live here.

You can tune into it below, download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, or get it straight from our satellite site.

Or listen to it here:
The Bowery Boys: Gracie Mansion

An illustration from May 1808, looking across the waters at Gracie’s mansion, newly built, and other country homes along the shorefront. In between them sits Hell’s Gate, the treacherous confluence of waters that often sank vessels and made travel quite difficult. (Courtesy LOC)

The land around the Gracie property was whittled away during the 19th century, and what remained was turned into Carl Schurz Park. The mansion, however, sat in disrepair and hardly of much use outside of storage and a basement refreshment stand. (Courtesy NYPL)

How it looked in 1942, before the mayors moved in…

William O’Dwyer‘s new wife Sloan Simpson readies the Gracie Mansion living room for an event, or at least poses for a photo op. O’Dwyer was the second of nine mayors to live at Gracie.
Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt, May 1950 (courtesy Life images)

Certainly looks homey from here! A Federalist home is not complete without John Lindsay, G E chairman Gerald Phillippe, and Gov. Nelson Rockefeller sitting on the lawn. John’s son ride by without notice. Photo by John Dominis, May 1968 (courtesy Life images)

The front of Gracie Mansion today, although most guests use the side entrance. Gracie’s still faces into lovely vista overlooking the East River, but it mostly obscured today by trees.

Visit NYC.GOV’s website about Gracie Mansion to inquire about tours for individuals or small groups. If you have more than 25 people, you can actually have tea at Gracie Mansion. May King Van Rensselaer would have been proud. Our current mayor, by the way, lives here.