Wave Hill

Edification value  
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  
Time spent 114 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Rather than the grounds or the view I decided to limit myself to the “Call and Response” exhibit.  Steven Millar’s “Many-Eyed Object,” 2017, is wood and glass, constructed and organic, and all about changing vistas and views.  

Wave Hill, Riverdale, the Bronx
Steven Millar, “Many-Eyed Object,” 2017

In that, it neatly summarizes Wave Hill as a whole.

For the first time since I started this project, I feel the need for absolution.

“Forgive me, City, for I have sinned.”

“My son, how long has it been since your last confession?”

“Well, Bloomberg was in office, so it’s been a while…”

“What did you do?”

“It’s not a sin of commission, but a sin of omission.  I confess that it has been twenty-three years since I last paid a visit to Wave Hill.”

What the Heck is Wave Hill?

Wave Hill, Riverdale, the Bronx

Wave Hill is difficult to describe.  

I mean, partly it’s easy:

Two fancy old mansions and associated outbuildings and landscaping across 28 acres of surrounding land, on a bluff in Riverdale in the Bronx, overlooking the Hudson and the majestic cliffs of the Palisades in New Jersey, now used as a venue for contemporary art.

So it’s a hybrid art museum, botanic garden, and historic home.  Cut and dried.

And yet, somehow Wave Hill is so much more than the sum of its parts.  It’s magical.  Transporting.  Like you temporarily get to be in a version of reality that’s just a little more perfect than the one you normally live in.

Much of that’s due to its location.  Wave Hill is not the easiest place to get to without a car (it does have a parking lot, FYI). It’s far in the Bronx, and far from the closest subway (though it has free shuttle buses from the subway and from the Riverdale Metro North station).  However you get there, surrounded by the greenest, most sedate part of Riverdale, you definitely feel like you’ve left New York far behind.

Wave Hill, Riverdale, the Bronx

The Houses

Wave Hill’s complex today consists of two houses:  Glyndor and the eponymous Wave Hill House.  Both serve as art spaces today, like any number of other New York mansions-turned-institutions, including the Andrew Carnegie Mansion (now the Cooper-Hewitt), the Warburg Mansion (now the Jewish Museum) or the Gilbert-Fletcher House (the Ukrainian Institute).

The current Glyndor House is Georgian Revival and dates to 1926 — the original, 19th century Glyndor was struck by lightning and severely damaged that year.  Glyndor replaced an even earlier home in the location with the evocative name Nonesuch.

The ground floor of Glyndor today, including a beautiful sunroom, hosts temporary art exhibits.

Wave Hill, Riverdale, the Bronx
Glyndor House

Wave Hill House was mostly completed in 1843.  It started out as a Greek Revival house of fieldstone, though subsequent additions make it a bit of an architectural hodgepodge.  But in a charming, comfy way.  The House has a fascinating history of interesting people visiting or staying there, including the family of Theodore “Teedie” (his childhood nickname) Roosevelt, who spent two summers there when he was a kid.  It also played host to Mark Twain and his family.  

Today Wave Hill uses Wave Hill House as gallery space, an event center, a kids’ arts center, and it boasts a pretty good cafe as well, with outdoor seating on the back patio.

Wave Hill, Riverdale, the Bronx
Wave Hill House

Other buildings include an ecology classroom (open for school groups only), a visitor center and terrific gift shop, and several greenhouses (about which a bit more in a moment).

Wave Hill, Riverdale, the Bronx

The Nature

Wave Hill, Riverdale, the BronxWave Hill has a mix of formal gardens and wilder areas to explore, with “nature trails.”  Which I put in quotes only because you’re never really far from the civilized parts of the property.  No matter: they are very beautiful and peaceful just the same. Gazebos, an aquatic garden, climbing ivy, a zillion flowers in the spring, and hordes of trees for shady reading in the summer.

A greenhouse holds succulents, cacti, potted citrus trees, and some tropical vegetation to explore, if the weather outside is frightful.  Just tiny tastes of each; Wave Hill won’t replace the New York Botanical Garden or the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Wave Hill, Riverdale, the Bronx

Wave Hill packs a surprisingly rich variety of settings into a not-terribly-large space. Whether you like your nature thoroughly tamed, with Adirondack chairs on a manicured lawn, or somewhat less orderly, you will find something to please you.

Wave Hill, Riverdale, the Bronx

The Art

When I visited, Wave Hill House hosted works by two artists, abstractions by Beth Ganz and really interesting, organic pieces painted on birch bark by Mona Kamal.  The cafe, a relatively new addition to the property, has invaded some of the exhibition space in a way that I’m not sure I like. That’s my only criticism of Wave Hill: the institution needs to consider its priorities between dining and art-ing in there.

Wave Hill, Riverdale, the Bronx
Mona Kamal, “Birch Bark Drawings,” 2016

Glyndor House hosted an exhibit called “Call and Response,” around fifty pieces by artists who had previously done residencies at Wave Hill, what the place calls “Sunroom Projects.”  Unsurprisingly given the setting, many of the pieces showed a heavy influence of nature.  Much of it was both beautiful and interesting, although the show did include a laughable attempt at augmented reality (AR) art.  Not disparaging AR as an artistic medium in general, but if you’re going to do it, use a decent app.

Wave Hill, Riverdale, the Bronx

Glyndor House contains five main spaces for art, all bright and airy, with windows that connect to the grounds outside.  The curators use the space well, and the current show extends beyond the galleries to fill halls, stairwells, and some spots around the exterior of the house too.

My Bottom Line on Wave Hill

For too long Wave Hill has been one of those places I always intended to visit and never did. I took it for granted. But it is a unique, incomparable treasure of the city.  If you love history, nature, or art, it’s got something for you.  Any visitor to New York should try to fit it into their schedule, and as for residents, there is no excuse, save perhaps for inclement weather.

What’s the penance for going two decades without a visit to Wave Hill? If I were the City hearing my confession I’d impose something like: “Go at least once a season for the next year, take friends when you do, and tell people how outstanding it is.” 

I will go and sin no more.  At least, not this particular sin.

Wave Hill, Riverdale, the Bronx

For Reference:

Address 675 West 252nd Street, but entrance is at West 249th Street and Independence Avenue, Riverdale, the Bronx
Website wavehill.org
Cost  General Admission:  A bargain at $8.