Tortoise Strolls

Archive for March 2011

421 E. 61 St. “Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden”

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Up a few steps away from the sidewalk, one of New York’s little jewels lies hidden. It is one of the oldest buildings in the city having been built in 1799 as a carriage house  for Col. William Stephan Smith and his wife Abigail Adams Smith, the daughter of President John Adams. The name Mount Vernon was chosen to commemorate President George Washington’s residence in Virginia also known as Mount Vernon. Just as George Washington’s home overlooked the Potomac River, its New York City counterpart had easy access to the East River. In fact its location was once a country retreat when most of the city’s inhabitants lived below 14th Street and normally did not venture so far uptown unless they were searching for rest and relaxation. Between 1826-1833 this Hotel operated as the Mount Vernon Hotel where visitors would come to enjoy such fascinating past times as swimming in the East River.

After a short span as a hotel, this carriage house was purchased and used as a private residence until 1905 when the Standard Gas Light Company (present day Con Edison) purchased it. After spending a few odd years as an antiques shop, it was purchased by the Colonial Dames of America who undertook a serious renovation. As the New York World’s Fair came to town in 1939 , this carriage house was renamed and opened as a museum called “The Abigail Smith Adams House“.  It became a Historic Landmark in 1967 and in the year 2000 it was renamed “The Mount Vernon House Museum & Garden“.  In a city built around skyscrapers this low-rise structure has a fantastic view. The 59th St. Bridge, recently renamed the “Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge” fills the panorama just across the street.

Written by agnesbstanton

March 30, 2011 at 1:26 pm

11 E. 73rd St. The Pulitzer Mansion

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Joseph Pulitzer was a self-made man who was originally born in Hungary but came to the US as a teenager. He became a famous publisher who owned the New York World as well as the St. Louis Dispatcher. Pulitzer owned a townhouse on 10 E. 55th St. that unfortunately burned down, so he purchased a large plot of land on E. 73rd St. just off of 5th Ave. What he wanted to build was a grand home without too many frills. He hired the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, and in 1903 had his completed, specially soundproofed villa, ready for occupancy. Pulitzer was almost blind at the time and therefore, in compensation, had a very acute sense of sound. He wanted his home completely silent, but as we all know, that is a difficult feat to accomplish in any metropolitan city. What Stanford White, who specifically worked on this project, did was make Pulitzer a very insulated bedroom towards the back garden on the west side of the townhouse. Along with a squash court and even a swimming pool in the basement, Pulitzer’s mansion was a feat onto itself.

Pulitzer only spent a few years in this home before he died in 1911, after which the townhouse sat vacant for a relatively long time before the developer Henry Mandel started the conversion of this mansion into a 17 unit apartment building in the 1930’s. He hired the architect James E. Casale to do the conversions while trying to keep many original details such as the ceiling height in tact. Mandel’s plan ended up being carried out by the Pulitzer heirs as Mandel’s lease on the property fell through. Once the conversion was finished, the Astor Family Estate bought the townhouse in 1937 as an investment property. The trustees sold it in 1952 at which point it was converted into a co-op and has stayed this way ever since. The conversion allowed for Pulitzer’s “silent” bedroom to be given a private entrance through the garden which utilizes a grand entry gate.

Stanford White was inspired by Venetian architecture when he designed the Pulitzer Mansion specifically Palazzo Pesaro from 1682 as well as Palazzo Rezzonico from 1667.

Palazzo Pesaro, Venice, Italy.

Palazzo Pesaro, Venice, Italy. Venice; Pesaro Palace. Brooklyn Museum Archives, Goodyear Archival Collection (S03_06_01_027 image 3323).

The actress Sylvia Sidney once lived in the Pulitzer Mansion as well as the writer Emily Kimbrough who along with Cornelia Otis Skinner, wrote “Our hearts were young and gay”. Even though co-oped these days, this townhouse is a lasting memorial to the great newspaper man who also gave us Columbia University’s School of Journalism.

Written by agnesbstanton

March 19, 2011 at 10:05 am