Home Sweet Home?: New York Mayors and Gracie Mansion

Gracie Mansion: A Celebration of New York City's  Mayoral Residence by Ellen Stern

Gracie Mansion: A Celebration of New York City’s Mayoral Residence by Ellen Stern

To move, or not to move, that is the question, for the de Blasio family.  They have not yet decided whether or not they will move from their Park Slope home to the Upper East Side where the official New York City Mayor’s residence stands overlooking the Hell Gate Channel in the East River, and they will probably not make any decisions until Chiara deBlasio, the mayor-elect’s daughter, comes home from college for Thanksgiving later this month.

Gracie Mansion was home to New York City’s mayors for most of the twentieth century, beginning with Fiorello H. LaGuardia in the early 1940s, but it has not been used as a residence since 2000, when Mayor Giuliani moved out so that he could live with his then-girlfriend Judith Nathan, who could not live in the mansion due to a stipulation stating that the tax-payer funded house may be used only for official business and only house public officials and the mayor’s family, even for one night.  Giuliani’s successor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg never resided in Gracie Mansion.

Brochure for the Museum of the City of New York in Gracie Mansion, which opened in 1923 (page 31)

Brochure for the Museum of the City of New York in Gracie Mansion, which opened in 1923 (page 31)

The mansion has not always been the Mayor’s official residence, however.  In Gracie Mansion: A Celebration of New York City’s Mayoral Residence, author Ellen Stern recounts the history of the residence.  The merchant and shipowner Archibald Gracie built the house in 1799 as his country estate until he sold it in 1923 (for $20,500), after which it was still occupied as a residence until 1896, when the City integrated the house and the land surrounding it into Carl Schurtz Park.  From 1924 until 1936 the building housed the Museum of the City of New York, after which it was shown as a historical house until 1942, when the house began being used as the official mayor’s residence after a major renovation.  The house was recently restored by Mayor Bloomberg, who dubbed it the “People’s House” in 2002.

From the book’s preface:

Gracie Mansion, an exquisite relic and unique political showcase, has come full circle.  Built over two hundred years ago by Archibald Gracie as a country retreat in which to entertain the noble and notable of his day, it has been splendidly restored by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as a place in which to entertain the people of today, including the many city workers who contribute so much to New York’s well-being. (page 11)

Gracie Mansion, ink on cardboard by Abram Hosier, ca. 1830-1883 (page 112)

Gracie Mansion, ink on cardboard by Abram Hosier, ca. 1830-1883 (page 112)

A good portion of Stern’s lavishly illustrated book is dedicated to the Mayors themselves, beginning with Fiorello H. Laguardia and ending with Mayor Bloomberg, and their relationships to Gracie Mansion.  These very telling stories reflect the different and varied characters of each mayor.  A few excerpts:

Fiorello H. Laguardia

As the first mayor of New York to occupy an official residence, LaGuardia relished the grit of his job but chafed at the nobility of his home.  From the day he moved in to the day he moved out, he persisted in calling it not Gracie Mansion, but the Mayor’s House or Gracie Farm. (page 49)

John V. Lindsay

To celebrate the fiftieth birthday of the mayor and his twin brother, David, Mrs. Lindsay and her sister-in-law threw a surprise party.  “John loved belly dancers,” so they hired a belly dancer.  But first there was a small dinner for close friends in the dining room, and the birthday boys got cowboy hats. (page 72)

Edward I. Koch

“If you’re the mayor,” he says, “everybody wants to come [to Gracie Mansion], so it wasn’t hard to get some of the brightest and most interesting people in town.”  One of these was Woody Allen, who in 1989 cast Mayor Koch as Mayor Koch in “Oedipus Wrecks,” his segment for New York Stories.  Another was Mother Teresa, whom he sent home with a freshly baked batch of his chef’s chocolate chip cookies. And then there was John Cardinal O’Connor, who, upon the death of Koch’s father, came to sit shivah at Gracie Mansion. (page 81)

Michael R. Bloomberg

Today’s mayor has much in common with yesterday’s merchant.  Both men came to New York from out of town to make their success in business and then, with deep pockets and bountiful inventions, to make changes for the common good. (page 95)

 

Mayor Bloomberg reading in the library at Gracie Mansion (page 95)

Mayor Bloomberg reading in the library at Gracie Mansion (page 95)

The question remains, will Mayor Bill de Blasio continue the tradition that began at the dawn of this century of New York City mayors living in their own private residences (as they did before LaGuardia moved in)?  Or has the past 13 years been an aberration in a longer standing tradition of Gracie Mansion as the White House of New York City?

According to at least one New Yorker, Kyle Smith of the New York Post, the answer is clear: Anybody running for mayor of this town is already living in New York. Why uproot mayors from the streets and send them to live in Green Acres? They should have to walk around the garbage mountain at the curb just like the rest of us.

 

Further reading on Gracie Mansion:

Black, Mary, and Joan R. Olshansky. New York City’s Gracie Mansion: A History of the Mayor’s House. New York: Published for the Gracie Mansion Conservancy by the J.M. Kaplan Fund, 1984.

London, Mitchel, and Joan Schwartz. The Mitchel London Gracie Mansion Cookbook. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1989.

Stern, Ellen S. Gracie Mansion: A Celebration of New York City’s Mayoral Residence. New York, NY: Rizzoli, 2005.

The Bowery Boys: Gracie Mansion: How a bucolic summer home survived a couple wars, a society feud and a few live-in mayors

Huffington Post: Gracie Mansion Slideshow

Gracie Mansion in popular culture (from Wikipedia):

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