21 July 2010, 2:00 PM – Upper East Side, Manhattan, NY
“Any of us could live here if we had a majority.”
I’d been wanting to visit Gracie Mansion, the residence of the mayor of New York City (except this current mayor/usurper of the public will, who does not live there full- or part-time, but uses it for events) for a while now, as it’s another part of the ridiculously large Historic House Trust, a confederation of historic house museums across the city. (So far I’ve been to two – Gracie and Rufus King Manor in Jamaica.) So when a free Wednesday for a tour came around, I jumped at the chance to take a tour.
The current Gracie Mansion dates back to 1799 under the ownership of merchant Archibald Gracie – the site goes back to the pre-Revolutionary War era (in fact, it was commandeered as a fort by General Washington), using it as a second house until it was taken by New York State after Gracie’s death in 1823 (he was found to have not paid taxes).
The house languished for a bit, had a few more tenants, and then went under the purview of the City, which used it as a comfort station for the surrounding Carl Schurz Park, an ice-cream stand, and the first home of the Museum of the City of New York. Finally, in 1942, city planning giant Robert Moses (who’s another blog post or two in and of himself) made it the residence of the mayor, with Fiorello LaGuardia (for you out-of staters, yes, as in the airport – he was behind that) being the first tenant.
At first, LaGuardia, a common man of the city, was hesitant to living in a mansion – but came to love it, often sitting on the porch and talking with his neighbors. Since then, nine mayors have lived at Gracie Mansion full-time.
My tour guide, Mike, paid a lot more attention to the decorative arts angle of the Federal-style mansion than I would have, pointing out every painting and chandelier and breakaway cabinet. It’s his prerogative, I know, but I’m more interested in the historical stories – like how the wife of Mayor David Dinkins used to wave at the tours that came in on Wednesdays and had weekend breakfasts in the newer Susan Wagner wing of the Mansion with her grandchildren. But he was a Mets fan, enjoying my homemade “I Like Ike” button for Ike Davis, so I give him a pass.
The lock was, as the Key to the City handbook described, the closet in the second-floor master bedroom. I was with about seven other Keyholders, so I didn’t unlock this one myself – but what was inside was pretty cool: a picture of Archibald Gracie and a check that he wrote for the property. It wasn’t my favorite part of the house (that goes to the five-paneled screen with the panels showing the seals and landmarks of each of the five boroughs), but it was a pretty cool place to see.
If only a man of the people actually lived there.
After my brief (or not so brief, as the case may be) adventure in Randall’s Island, my journey continued on the state mainland, with Postnet in the Bronx.