Sunday, June 26, 2011

My Kitchen (1 of 2)

I'm lucky the main kitchen at Daheim is not buried in the basement - as is the case in many big old houses - but is situated in a convenient location on the same floor as the dining room. Well, I use the term "convenient" advisedly. Nothing in this house is "convenient," but that really doesn't matter. The kitchen is huge, has 11-foot ceilings, floor to ceiling tile walls, marble window sills, daylong sunlight from six tall windows, terra cotta floors, and cabinets with mahogany counters and white marble legs, so who needs convenience?

Here's another view from the same vantage point as above. That steel prep table has been in this room for almost a hundred years.

These tubs were originally used for washing up pots and pans. To my eye, they are antique industrial sculptures of great beauty. Antonia rinses out her mops in them today. Actually, the one on the left only has cold water (long story).

A closeup of the valves. I think they are beautiful.

A detail of the kitchen wall, showing how one of the marble window sills is fitted into the tile wall.

My Kitchen (2 of 2)

Here's the door to the serving pantry, which occupies a roofed-over section of the original wraparound porch. Please note the thickness of the wall. Daheim's kitchen wing, containing kitchen, servant hall, pantries, and eight second-floor servants' rooms, is essentially a free standing, 2-story, steel frame, stone and poured concrete structure attached to the original frame house by the pantry. This wing of the house could take a direct hit by heavy artillery, which is a good thing since it originally housed the sort of Victorian era coal fired furnace that frequently blew up.

Here's the walk-in cooler, a pre-refrigeration era ice box that literally cooled by ice. The ice was loaded through exterior doors facing the driveway, then cooled the walk-in as it melted slowly inside a zinc-lined enclosure.

The inside of the walk-in is lined with carerra glass and fitted out with metal rod shelving. This image shows the right hand compartment. The left hand compartment has a window overlooking the driveway. Yes, Daheim has an ice box with a window. We use it as a pantry these days, but I suppose if one ever wanted to load it up with ice again, it would be as operational as it ever was.

The brass label on the walk-in.

Almost 30 years ago, I rescued an enormous antique gas stove from the basement of an old mansion here in Millbrook. It had three ovens, a roll top bread warmer, seven burners, a tall hooded back, and all sorts of exterior gas piping and ceramic handles. After the oven door fell off for the 10th time, I hauled it out to Rhode Island where an old guy who called himself the Stove Doctor was going to restore it. He never did, but instead moved it to some stove pal's place in New Hampshire. The price doubled and I wound up abandoning the whole project. One day, I'll find another old stove and dump the "temporary" range that's been sitting under the hood for the last 10 years.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Halcyon Hall Collapsing

Some months ago I blogged about the Halcyon Hall, as derelict Bennett College here in Millbrook, NY, once was called. It is a fantastical structure built at ruinous expense by a local hilltopper named Harry Davison. The hotel opened in the early 1890s, was bankrupt by 1903, and sold in 1907 to May Bennett, founder of the college.

Through a combination of bad luck and bad planning - in particular, the construction of a heavily financed new science building - the college went bankrupt in 1978. The next thirty-three years have put no one in a particularly good light. Two early prospective buyers - CBS which considered the possibility of a production center, and the Job Corp which proposed a training facility for minority kids - were discouraged either by the town board or the college trustees, or both. A dizzying string of owners and a complex series of subdivisions ensued during decades characterized more by foreclosure proceedings than anything else. The ugliest buildings on the campus - namely, a series of 4-story, flat-roofed, bunker-like, cinder block dormitories - were converted into condominiums and sold. The one really valuable building, the old Halcyon Hall itself, was allowed to rot pending the miraculous birth of one or another ill-conceived conversion plans. By 2011, the place had come to this.

Halcyon Hall has been leaking like the proverbial sieve for over a decade, but somehow it basically held together. Last week it began to collapse.

Admittedly, the place was looking pretty wobbly before it began to fall in, but this signals the real beginning of the end.

Demolition would cost millions, a tab the village can't afford and one the present owner is disinclined to spend without approval for the latest development scheme. The real casualty in all of this is the village of Millbrook, which is about to lose a much loved landmark.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Wedding Gift

I think Winston Churchill said, "No time is wasted on the back of a horse," or something close to it. I was out for several hours this morning in woods perfumed with wild multiflora rose bushes. They are everywhere, great masses of little white flowers clustered on huge bushes. In another week they'll all fade into undistinguished underbrush, but this morning the woods were magical. Did multiflora make me think of 11 East 62nd Street? Galloping through the woods, leaping over walls and coops, I wracked my brain to come up with something to blog about - and came up with this. It was built in 1900 as a wedding gift for Edith Shepard and her husband Ernesto Fabbri with Vanderbilt money from her parents. Edith's father was an eccentric named Eliot F. Shepard, proprietor of a newspaper called The Mail and Express, parodied by wags of the time as The Wail and Distress. More to the point, he was the husband of William H. Vanderbilt's eldest daughter, Margaret. Shepard paid not just for this 22,500 sq. ft. behemoth, but for another palazzo at 5 East 66th Street, now the Lotos Club, for daughter Maria and her husband William Schieffelin.

Twenty years ago I wrote a book titled "The Vanderbilts and the Gilded Age, Architectural Aspirations 1879-1901," in the course of which I learned a bit about Col. Shepard. He was a faithful husband and doting father, perhaps, but otherwise a nut. My favorite memory of the Colonel was his campaign to alert the readers of The Mail and Express of a pernicious threat to the public health, namely "brownstone gangrene." This turned out to be nothing more than a greenish mold that grew on the north side of some brownstone houses. The building in these photos was designed by Heydel and Shepard, the partner in charge being Shepard's nephew. The view above shows the west end of the dining room.

The Shepards moved to Europe in 1912 and sold the place to a Morgan partner named Charles Steele. He and his wife lived here until his death in 1939. Apparently he had no trouble carrying the place during the Depression, as he left an estate of $30 million. The Fabbris returned to New York after the war to a similarly grand - but in my eye far less appealing - mansion at 7 East 95th St.

Here's the other end of the dining room at 11 East 62nd. The interiors of this house are the definition of splendor, notably a big library on the second floor facing 62nd Street, of which I do not have a photo.

Here's a view up to the second floor. Oddly, considering the late Charles Steele's fat estate, the house was foreclosed in 1941 and sold two years later to an educational testing firm called the Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation. In 1999, in a condition essentially unchanged from its Fabbri and Steele days, the house went on the market for $30 million. Two years later, for $21 million, the Japanese Government bought it for a diplomatic residence. Have my favorite old house parts - bathrooms, pantries, old kitchens, etc. - survived? I strongly doubt it.