Saturday, October 23, 2010

"Life is but a walking shadow...that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more."

I did a little Long Island tour yesterday with an old house pal. Creeping down an overgrown lane called Whitney Phipps Garvan Road - one not really even open to traffic - we came across the back gate to Roslyn House. This was Francis P. Garvan's place in Old Westbury, sandwiched between his neighbors the Whitneys and the Phipps. The Whitney place is now the Old Westbury Country Club, whose 1940s-era mansion (the original was razed) is much disfigured by club additions. The Phipps house, called Spring Hill, was demolished in the 1960s, but the estate survived as open land until just recently. It's being subdivided as I write. The Garvan place, called Roslyn House, was pulled down in 1974 and the estate is now a subdivision called Stone Arches. That old gate in the second image is buried in a patch of surviving woods on abandoned Whitney Phipps Garvan Rd. It is evocative to say the least, facing a line of subdivision backyards through a screen of trees across the lane, while behind it, almost obscured by wild underbrush and unkempt forest, are glimpses of tony new-ish houses in Stone Arches. Some unknown vandal sprayed blue paint on the sign, but it still says, in barely readable lettering, "Mrs. F.P.Garvan Private, No Trespassing." The top image is of now vanished Roslyn House, to which that old gate once led. The next is of the gate itself buried in woods. The third image is of Edgewood, the Flagler house up here in Millbrook, probably taken about 1903. Yesterday's trip down Whitney Phipps Garvan Lane brought it to mind. The fourth and last image shows the same view today, minus Edgewood, which was pulled down in the early 1970s. Unlike the places in Old Westbury, the original 200 acre Flagler estate - minus the mansion - is basically intact. It's owned by two people, each of whom owns half of it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Three Little Devils

They've been sitting atop a statue on the approach to Daheim for over a century. I'm not sure anyone has completely figured out what they're doing - or perhaps what they're about to do. Stone decorations like this are part of the charm of Victorian country estates. We've got a lot of this stuff at Daheim.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A gentleman's bowling alley

It sounds today like a contradiction in terms, but private alleys were commonplace on the estates of rich clients ca. 1900. This being the Columbus Day weekend, my landlords' maintenance man has left our vintage 1896 alley unlocked. I wasted no time running in to get a few candids. When I first came to Millbrook in 1981, this building was in ruins. Vandalized during the Leary years, at the mercy of a leaking roof and an uncaring farm manager (now deceased), it was fast headed for destruction. About 10 years ago, my landlords got religion and restored the place. You'd never know now that the ceiling was caving in, the windows were kicked out, or that trees were growing out of the roof. If the beautifully carved interior hadn't been solid oak, it's very doubtful it would have survived. The images above are of the exterior and the main floor. The post below illustrates the second floor.

more bowling alley

These are of the second floor, originally a billiard room, accessible by an exterior stair with a balcony entrance.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A fine Colonial house

Colonial houses don't really rock my world. I respond to early 20th Century Colonial Revivals instead, as long as they're grand and formal. The legitimate articles, however, are too restrained for my corrupted taste. Having admitted as much, I will confess to admiring a very fine Colonial style house near me in Millbrook. Built in 1832 by a house proud farmer named Tristram Coffin, it is adorned with particularly fine Greek details. During the 1920s a rich New Yorker named Alfred Maclay enlarged the house - perhaps a bit too much - and named it Killearn Farm. The first image shows the house before it gained weight, so to speak. Having already tripled its size, Mr. Maclay decided to push forward a portion of the kitchen wing wall so as to make it flush with the original facade. The second photo shows the result. Photo 3# is a view under the eaves showing a motif I've never seen before - literally thousands of dominoes. The fourth image shows the main stair. Nothing Edwardian here, but so fine a piece of work - both in terms of aesthetic restraint and quality of craftsmanship - as to be a definition of elegance. The last is a picture of the front door, whose delicate Greek porch is famous amongst Hudson Valley architectural historians.

Monday, October 4, 2010

the "big room"

My daughter grew up at Daheim, a house with a "front room." I'm not really sure why we never called it the living room, but we never did. Our front door opens directly into the front room, which in turn opens in a straight line into the library, the stair hall, and the dining room, a linear distance of about 100 feet. This has impact, but nowhere near the impact of the "big room" in the family home of my Philadelphia friend, Ms. Penrose. Horace Trumbauer added it around 1912 to Barbados Hill, her father's house on the Main Line in Devon. It's the big wing on the left in the exterior view. Ms. P's father, Dr. Penrose, rescued the marble fireplace from the demolition of the famous Albany in London. Underneath the big room was a huge model train room whose coved ceiling obscured an enormous secret vault. Warned by Senate colleagues of the inevitability of Prohibition, Grandfather Penrose filled it with demijohns - being over-scaled short-necked bottles typically encased in wickerwork - of the "good stuff," purchased on a special trip to Scotland. Senator Penrose enjoyed it until his death in 1921. His son, Dr. Penrose, finished the last of it in 1956, at which point it had become, according to his daughter, "magnifique." The house still stands, but is no longer in the family.