Gracie Mansion

Edification value
Entertainment value
Should you go?
Time spent 76 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The name “Margaret” scratched in the glass of the library window.  Back in the 1960s, Margaret Lindsay, daughter of Mayor John Lindsay, decided to test whether her mom’s diamond ring was really a diamond.  Caroline Giuliani scratched her name in one of the windows, too.  Copycat. But I like that in an official house filled with history and art, they’ve allowed those little human touches to remain.

Visiting Gracie Mansion for this project made me realize I knew nothing about Gracie Mansion, beyond the name.

Gracie Mansion is both older and newer than I thought.  Older, in that I didn’t  realize that the original house was built in 1799, in the classic Federal style I’m coming to know well.  Newer in that it only became the official mayor’s residence of the city in 1942.  La Guardia was the first mayor to live there; prior to that it served several roles, including as the home of the Museum of the City of New York.

The Mayor’s front door
Just inside the front door of Gracie Mansion. The ballroom is through the doors at the top of the stairs. No photos from here on, sorry.

The Executive Director of the Gracie Mansion Conservancy, who was one of the leaders of our tour, described the situation as “Robert Moses wanted to be the mayor’s landlord.”  (He was head of the Parks Commission at the time.) And it became so. 

I also didn’t know exactly where Gracie Mansion is.  I always assumed it was in the East 50s or so.  More central.  Actually it’s in Carl Schurz Park, high in the East 80s, making it really far from everywhere in the city I tend to go.  And a beneficiary of the  Second Avenue subway.

Doing the math, this year is the 75th anniversary of the house becoming the mayor’s residence, and so they’ve decorated the public spaces with a great variety of art that hearkens back to the city in 1942, a time of war and jazz, fear and excitement.  Weegee photos, a Noguchi scuplture, a 1941 signed Yankees champion baseball, Joe DiMaggio prominently in front…

The house has evolved substantially from its original form, with additions true to the Federal style in the mid 1960s (which apparently was fairly scandalous in a time of architectural modernism, but I can’t imagine a modernist wing stuck on the old house).

As with all buildings over a certain vintage in the city, there is a Hamilton connection, although ironically it’s a recent one.  When they built the 1966 addition, they located and installed the mantelpiece from the Bayard Mansion in the new ballroom.  Thus Hamilton died post-duel in front of the ballroom’s  fireplace.  According to Curbed, there’s a chance that Gracie Mansion and Hamilton Grange were designed by the same architect, too.

Spectacular views from Carl Schurz Park

The tour was excellent, the art on display evocative and well chosen.  We got a little rushed, as there was an event going on with the Onassis Foundation that evening in honor of Greek Independence Day, and so we got chased out of the last few rooms.  Sadly the mayor did not crash our tour.  Still, I appreciated the overview of the history of the building and its evolution, and learned a bit I didn’t already know about LaGuardia and some of the other mayors who lived there.  All of the 14 or so people on my tour were New Yorkers, and I strongly encourage everyone who lives here to visit.

For Reference:

Address E 88th St & East End Ave, Manhattan
Cost Free but tours are limited and advanced reservations required
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