Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Gracie Mansion (88th Street and East End)

So I braved what was another ridiculous snow storm in NYC today to go to my appointment tour of Gracie Mansion (  Apparently the others who were supposed to get the tour at the same time canceled (so much for hearty New Yorkers) so I had a private tour!  Note that in order to get a tour of the home, you have to call 311 and be persistent until you get connected to the Gracie Mansion Conservancy where you can leave a message and hope for a call back (not the best system in this day and age of electronic communication, but what can you do?) and confirmation of your tour request.

Many who live in the neighborhood might be curious about this beautifully-situated yellow "mansion" (house by today's standards) next to the Carl Shurtz Park (pictured right) and the East River.  It is open to New York City events, for public tours ($7 for adults and free for students), and group high teas (in the Susan E. Wagner Wing Ballroom, which was added in 1966 by the then-current Mayor Robert Wagner's wife).

The home has a long history from its construction in 1799 when Archibald Gracie (a shipping magnate) built the home on some 11 acres for his family's country home (NYC then really stopped at what is now lower Manhattan and he could take a ship along the East River and get to this summer home in about half an hour).  The Gracies were one of the most prominent families in NYC and hosted luminaries like Alexander Hamilton and Washington Irving at the home. Gracie lost the home when he traveled to Europe seeking reparations from the Spanish government for some of his ships that had been commandeered in the War of 1812, and his eldest son lost the home related to some failed cotton speculations. Two other private owners lived in the home, but then it passed to the City, where it fell into disrepair when the City really didn't know what to do with the home (at one point it was used as a comfort station).  Finally, with the urging of "Master Builder" Robert Moses (who was building what is now FDR Drive under the Gracie Mansion lawn so as not to disturb the home's spectacular views), Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia set aside as the residence for New York City mayors in 1942 (although Mayor Bloomberg chooses not to live there, and thereby improving public viewing and access, thereby labeling it the People's House in 2002).

Gracie Mansion is appointed with period furniture (see photo at right of the convex mirror with eagle and ball and chain hanging opposite the main chandelier in the Susan Wagner Ballroom), floor coverings, wall coverings (including Jean Zuber wallpapers), and a beautifully painted compass rose motif faux marble painted floor (part of the renovations selected by Mayor Ed Koch) in the foyer, which was part of an expansion Gracie did to realign the entrance to the views of Hell Gate.  Some of the furniture is reproduction, some are antiques owned and maintained by the Conservancy, and others are on loan from other museums or historical societies.  If you are a fan of historical interiors or the Federalist style of architecture, take the time to visit this quaint home and get a personalized tour.  It's quite a treat in this hustle and bustle city to take a step back in time.

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