Sunday, January 4, 2015

Touring Gracie Mansion in New York City: Then and Now

A lot has changed since I visited Gracie Mansion just before Mayor Bill De Blasio took office. For one thing, there are no public tours on the schedule and when they'll return is anyone's guess. (They apparently have been suspended indefinitely.)

But, perhaps more importantly, New York  City's new mayor has taken to making some major design and architectural changes in and around this two-story landmark mansion that dates from the 18th century. Ringing part of the property now is a 10-foot-high
fence to improve the De Blasio family's security and privacy, presumably. (And that's in addition to the six-foot-tall wall that already surrounded the house.)

The first three images below represent the public spaces on the first floor. The fourth is the exterior beyond the barriers. The fifth shows the new security fence. And the last two are the newly-designed rooms on the family's second floor.

Photo credit: William Waldron

Photo credit: William Waldron.


Photo: Brigitte Stelzer

As far as the interior, on the last of the public tours, when we visited the living quarters on the second floor, I learned that, once a mayor is in residence, this floor becomes off limits. Of course, this mansion overlooking the East River stood vacant for 12 years, during the Bloomberg era. (Mike Bloomberg preferred to reside in his own mansion on East 79th Street.) But he spent millions of his own money, restoring and renovating this sun-filled Federal house where every room comes with a fireplace and is bedecked with a flourish of details. The oldest piece of furniture in the house dated from the 1600s; and a rare, five-leg, 200-year-old settee was found in a hallway. (Who knows if these antiques remain, though typically the public spaces can't be touched.) On the second floor at that time, a sunny suite has one of its two room is lined with floral wallpaper. This is where Nelson Mandela once stayed. A master bedroom was outfitted with an antique four-poster bed where wood pineapple carvings represent hospitality; and a guest bedroom contains faux bamboo (really maple) furniture.

Mayors make their own decisions as to how to decorate the second floor. And the De Blasio family clearly decided on a design path that is in complete contrast to the historic nature of the dwelling he and his family moved into. (Fiorello La Guardia -- one of New York City's airports is named for him -- was the first mayor to reside in Gracie Mansion where a mantle displays a Revolutionary War cannon ball found on the property.)  Interestingly, centuries ago, this part of the city was considered the country. The compass on the floor in an entryway refers to the shipping interests of Gracie, a Scottish fishing merchant. And one wall in the midnight blue room on the first floor is lined with a tall bookcase that comes apart in a half dozen pieces. (In fact, that's how it was moved into the room.)

The De Blasio's decided to go with a contemporary but hardly luxe design ethic, reminiscent of what one might find in a well appointed first apartment of a new university grad. Normally photography of the family quarters is banned but not in this case, most likely because West Elm in Brooklyn supplied the furnishings and are using this as a PR coupe. After seeing the pendant globe lights  and L-shaped purple couch with different colored throw pillows perhaps it's no great loss that the public won't be exploring the second floor.