A Look At New York’s Gracie Mansion

History Of New York's Gracie Mansion

Feature Photo: Jim.henderson, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Strictly speaking, Gracie Mansion is the Archibald Gracie Mansion. For popular use, well, suffice it to say that the latter is a bit of a mouthful. Gracie Mansion has been around since 1799. It hasn’t always been the mayoral residence for New York City in the two centuries and counting since then. However, it seems safe to say that it will remain in that role for the foreseeable future.

How the Belview Preceded Gracie Mansion

Gracie Mansion is situated on a bluff overlooking the East River. The place is called Hoorn’s Hook. Supposedly, a one-time owner Siebert Classen named it thus because he came from the city of Hoorn in the Netherlands. Regardless, Gracie Mansion wasn’t the first home built on the bluff. Instead, that was the Belview, built by Jacob Walton in 1770. The location was very different in those times. For instance, the local infrastructure had yet to reach the Belview, meaning interested individuals had to visit by boat rather than by carriage. That might explain why the home came with a system of tunnels that connected to the East River, which would’ve enabled visitors to avoid exposure to the elements during the colder seasons.

When the American Revolution broke out, the Waltons fled their home. Their loyalty to the British crown was one of their reasons for doing so. Still, it is important to note that their home occupied what was suddenly a very strategic location. After all, the bluff was an elevated position overlooking the East River, meaning it was bound to see fighting. Indeed, the Continental Army took over the place and deployed an artillery battery on it. Subsequently, there was an exchange of cannon fire with a British fort just over the river, which was the end for the Belview. Interested individuals can see one of the cannonballs used in the fighting on the fireplace mantel in Gracie Mansion’s Yellow Parlor.

Later, the shipping magnate Archibald Gracie bought what remained of the place from Walton’s heirs. He built the mansion that now bears his name in the Federal style in 1799. Subsequently, Gracie used it as a country home until selling it in 1823 because he needed the money for his outstanding debts. From that point forward, the mansion passed through a couple of families. Eventually, New York City appropriated it before adding it to what is now called Carl Schurz Park in 1896.

Gracie Mansion Before Coming Under Governmental Ownership

Archibald Gracie was a very prominent man. As a result, his home hosted other well-known individuals such as Alexander Hamilton, John Quincy Adams, and Louis Phillippe. Due to this, Gracie Mansion has borne witness to a fair amount of history. For instance, its porch was where Hamilton and other Federalists held the meeting that would result in the founding of The New York Evening Post, which is now The New York Post. Besides this, Gracie Mansion has a more ghoulish connection to Hamilton as well. In short, people rushed the man to Bayard House after Aaron Burr shot him during their duel. None of the doctors who rushed there could save him, so he died in front of a fireplace in that home. For whatever reason, that fireplace is now installed in Gracie Mansion.

Moving on, it is interesting to note that Gracie Mansion sometimes reveals reminders that the people of the past were just as human as we are. Some doors were treated to look like mahogany without being mahogany in the historic part of the mansion. Similarly, there are wooden floors painted to look like black and white marble in the same. As it turns out, Gracie was rich but not rich enough to furnish his home with the best of everything. Still, he was conscious enough about it to pretend he was.

Some NYC Mayors Have Been Reluctant to Live in Gracie Mansion

New York City put Gracie Mansion to various uses before making it a mayoral residence. At one point, it housed the Museum of the City of New York. Eventually, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses fixed it up before presenting it to New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who turned it down. It was a very political choice. First, LaGuardia’s predecessor Jimmy Walker had fled to Europe with his lover after exiting the position because of a massive corruption scandal. Second, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, had been elected by people looking for someone who would help them out during the middle of the Great Depression. As such, accepting Gracie Mansion would have been very poor optics, to say the least.

Still, LaGuardia accepted Gracie Mansion as the mayoral residence in 1942. By then, Germany had declared war on the United States, meaning there were fears of German raids on the U.S. East Coast. Such an attack was never carried out. However, the people living in those times could not have been sure about any such thing. Due to that, LaGuardia and his family moved in because the tunnels made the mansion more survivable than his apartment.

Since then, most New York City mayors have chosen to move into Gracie Mansion. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a notable exception. He spent money to fix up the mansion. Otherwise, he refused to stay there because of two stated reasons. One, Mayor Michael Bloomberg didn’t think it was a necessary part of the mayor’s compensation. Two, Mayor Michael Bloomberg thought that it would be better to leave the mansion available for public use as much as possible.

Gracie Mansion Today

Gracie Mansion is inhabited once more. However, interested individuals can still visit it for tours. General tours are available on most Wednesdays from the late morning to the early afternoon. The price is $7 for adults, $4 for seniors, and nothing for students. Similarly, tea tours are available on Tuesdays and Thursdays for $25 per person for those who want something to eat and drink on their visit. On top of these, there are student tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which are free of charge.

References:

https://www.nyc.gov/html/om/html/gracie_video.html

Gracie Mansion

https://archive.nytimes.com/cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/27/mayors-shouldnt-live-in-gracie-mansion-bloomberg-says/

https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/moa/0968476.0001.001?rgn=main;view=fulltext

https://househistree.com/houses/belview

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