The Witch's House—2018

At Halloween, every neighborhood has one, doesn’t it?—either the Witch’s House, or the Haunted House. This Halloween, my wife Alex and I did what we do every year and joined our friends Mike and Lisa to scare the hell out of our Douglas Manor neighbors and their children at the Witch’s House. Amazingly, it works.

The witch sizes up the crowd as they file up the bluestone path—who will she scare the most?? Skulls hang on the front door and bats and skeletons hang from the trees. Even the flower pot gets a jaunty skull to set off the blood red.

The phrase “Come here my pretty” spoken by Lisa has reduced several small children to tears, running back to their parents in abject fear. Same with some of the parents who have been ambushed while fellow Halloweeners—myself, Alex, and our friends Kathy and Nancy—distract at the front door with less frightening visages while Lisa sneaks up from behind, or leaps out of the shrubbery.

The Witch’s House looks pretty normal most days—a 1926 English cottage style house with a sloping “cat slide” roof over the sun porch, and a cheery and welcoming red door. I designed the restoration and renovation for Lisa and Mike more than a decade ago, and I love seeing how they put this house through its paces for the life they live, including on Halloween, a high holy day in their canon of life’s important events.

Lisa is a very ugly witch with green tinted skin and rotting teeth, who ramps up her theatrics with a boom box hidden in the bushes that amplifies and echoes her voice to great effect. Her voice stops them in their tracks before they even get to the front door.

An ancient crooked redbud tree frames the Witch as she returns from scaring away children—but not until they get their candy. Mike varies his act each year. Sometimes he is a mirror-faced cipher—scary in and of itself—or a skeletal monster, like here.

This year he was “himself,” cheerfully handing out candy to the kids while wearing a flannel shirt and jeans.

I love seeing the costumes the kids wear, a reflection of culture, fantasy and sometimes the truly weird. Some of the parents are more terrified of the Witch than the kids. And some have better costumes than their kids!

Are you thinking scaring kids is a little bit mean? Not at all. Every kid likes a little frisson with their candy on Halloween. Several mini ghouls and comic book characters were overheard Halloween night as they approached saying, “Here it is—the Witch’s House! It was really good last year!” And next year we know, they’ll be back for more! Ow Ow-oooooo!!

Our backyard neighbor’s mutts are transformed for Halloween into “Dino Dog” and yes, a peacock!

The Pee Wees arrive in force—a variety of costumes on display. Fairies and Flamingos and Spiderman.

A yellow dinosaur attempts a backward glance—a fail! A wee Batman has backup with The Cat in The Hat. Where’s the Joker?

Waiting for the “Reveal”—will she be as ugly and scary when she turns around as my friends said? Mike hands out candy in the background—an exotic young girl from some far away kingdom heads back to score more candy.

For some, visiting the witch is just another photo op. The adults are having fun too!

A zombie Woman in White quietly decomposes… who is she eyeing next? Oh what a tangled web we weave—on our hands?

Some Halloween transformations are subtle—Alex grows black velvet horns for the evening, and wears her favorite gold spider necklace and matching earrings. In a previous Halloween incarnation, Alex as Young Dr. Frankenstein.

The mysterious zombie Woman in White forges an alliance with the Witch—will it last? Zombies are never satisfied for long.

Uh-oh, the pizza’s late! Will they have Mike for dinner? Tools of the (Witch’s) Trade—blood stained eyeglasses, a microphone at rest and a Vampire’s Blood Cocktail signal the end of the evening.

“The Voice”—30 Years After

It was the most unlikely of places—Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, an autumn afternoon last year, sitting in a yellow children’s school bus while fellow architects straggled back from our trek among the tombstones, where we were getting learning credits for our architecture licenses.

I didn’t know a soul.

  Greenwood Cemetery—A Trek Among the Tombstones: Architects getting credits for our licenses wander the Cemetery with a guide.

Greenwood Cemetery—A Trek Among the Tombstones: Architects getting credits for our licenses wander the Cemetery with a guide.

And then it happened.  “Kevin?”—and with the sound of that voice I was pulled out of my graveyard reverie.

Just a split second, but I immediately knew who it was without even looking. There she was, Emily, a classmate from Columbia who I hadn’t seen since we graduated from architecture school nearly 30 years before:

“It’s Emily—I know you don’t recognize me…”

“But I do,” I told her. “Of course I do…

How could I forget Emily, who would make all of us laugh in the middle of the night when the class, en masse, was pulling an all-nighter for a presentation the next day?

  Dazed and Confused, the Class of ’88—Then: Here we are 30 years ago, near “The End,” for an impromptu photo shoot outside Avery Hall where the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation is located.

Dazed and Confused, the Class of ’88—Then: Here we are 30 years ago, near “The End,” for an impromptu photo shoot outside Avery Hall where the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation is located.

We caught up, chatted, and then Emily said if Columbia sends out anything about a Reunion—May 2018 would be our 30th anniversary—she was going to try to get our classmates together, apart from the organized Reunion festivities.

A week later, in some cosmic crossing as if directed by Emily, Columbia sent out an email announcing a 30th Reunion for the Class of ’88, the only time in 3 decades any of us was invited to one.

  The Organizer: Emily, who organized  EVERYTHING  after a chance encounter in a cemetery.

The Organizer: Emily, who organized EVERYTHING after a chance encounter in a cemetery.

Emily immediately kicked into gear, tracking down emails, calling classmates she hadn’t spoke to in decades, and sending out email missives to gather the troops.

An email list appeared, and I stared at the names. I conjured up those youthful faces of 30 years ago. And then the emails started pouring in from my classmates, with stories, with links to their websites, with promises to come to the Reunion, or regrets that they couldn’t make it, each sincere and heartfelt.

Earlier this month I watched in awe—and utter delight—as the machinery that Emily set in gear last fall, rolled over us. People from Seattle, San Diego, Paris and even Dubai flew in for the weekend.

  Speed Dating?: The DUMBO rooftop is a whirl of motion as my classmates move from one to another catching up. Spouses were invited and several joined the revelry. Our host’s husband even cooked the Columbians hot dogs.

Speed Dating?: The DUMBO rooftop is a whirl of motion as my classmates move from one to another catching up. Spouses were invited and several joined the revelry. Our host’s husband even cooked the Columbians hot dogs.

Saturday night of Reunion weekend, about half of my 60 classmates stood on a rooftop of a spectacular new building in Dumbo, having drinks, catching up and enjoying a barbecue that another classmate hosted, all the while gazing at the East River, the bridges, Manhattan across the way, amidst one of the most spectacular settings in the world.

It was a perfect June evening, with a stiff breeze coming off the East River. Seeing them all was pure delight. I spoke to everybody!

  Delirious New York: The rooftop view from 1 John Street in DUMBO, where we gathered for a BBQ.  Could there be any better place to get together on a perfect June evening?

Delirious New York: The rooftop view from 1 John Street in DUMBO, where we gathered for a BBQ.  Could there be any better place to get together on a perfect June evening?

What was astonishing was the stories that were told, the lives lived, and the sheer talent and accomplishment of my peers.

Many had started small boutique firms and were doing residential work, much like myself. Others worked for large firms, and had risen through the corporate ranks. Several chose an academic life and taught at universities and colleges. Perhaps those were the expected stories.

  Class of ’88—Now: We gather with all of Manhattan as a backdrop. Older and definitely wiser!

Class of ’88—Now: We gather with all of Manhattan as a backdrop. Older and definitely wiser!

Others chose not to practice architecture at all—or left it after a time—like Emily, who got a law degree. My good friend Marcantonio started a terrazzo company after working at I.M Pei & Partners a few years, and now has an international operation that stretches through the Middle East to the Far East. He just completed installing the terrazzo for the Qatar Airport, the largest airport in the world.

  Up (and Down) The River: The fabulous view from out DUMBO perch.

Up (and Down) The River: The fabulous view from out DUMBO perch.

Another teaches art and works as a potter at her studio in Harlem, just north of Columbia, where she turns out amazing pottery with Japanese influenced glazes.

One classmate practiced architecture a few years and then chose to join—as we architects like to call it—“the dark side” and became a developer in Boston. He gets to hire architects and be the client, bringing a level of quality to housing projects of all kinds.

  Seems Like Old Times: Whooping it up as we discovered photos of ourselves taken 30 years ago in Studio during a break.

Seems Like Old Times: Whooping it up as we discovered photos of ourselves taken 30 years ago in Studio during a break.

One classmate brought photos taken of most of us one day in the studio atop Avery Hall, where we spent three very intense years.

The prints (from a real camera, long before cell phones!) were laid out on a table and there were whoops of delight as  many of us found versions of our younger selves, taken one moment, one day, 30 years ago and quickly forgotten, now suddenly precious.

It was 10 p.m.  Suddenly the skies darkened, rain started sprinkling the crowd and we retreated under the cover of a roof. It was time to go home.

 

Walkin’ The Walk and Talkin’ The Talk: Crowds Thrill to NYC’s Largest Collection of Arts & Crafts Houses at Douglas Manor for Jane’s Walk 2018

While the crowd gathered at the Mid-Century Modern LIRR train station at Douglaston, I looked over at my Jane’s Walk co-tour guides, good friends and fellow architects, the Brothers DadrasRobert and Victor—and I could see their jaws drop too.

 Jane’s Walk 2018 Jane’s Walkers arrive in droves—70 total—and came from all over the City to see Douglas Manor’s historic Arts & Crafts houses. Photo by

Jane’s Walkers were arriving in droves—coming from all over the City to see Douglas Manor’s historic Arts & Crafts houses.

Douglaston’s Mid-century Modern station house by local architect Gordon Lorimer, marked the starting point for our Jane’s Walk 2018. The station was built in 1962. Lorimer said his design intentionally echoed the Tudor style of “The Village” storefronts nearby.  Battered and frayed, it will undergo a rehab—not a “restoration”—by the MTA later this year.

Lorimer’s station house replaced this boldly masculine 1888 Queen Anne station house with an apartment above for the station master, that by 1962 was deemed “obsolete.” The building was replete with Tudor style beams, pebble dash stucco panels, multi-light sash, a stylized rounded turret, and exaggerated brackets holding up an overhang to protect passengers from the weather.

Just before the kick off time of 1 pm, the crowd had surged in a matter of minutes from 30 to 40 to 60—and we were expecting 30, tops—filling the café tables at our LIRR stop area that we all fondly call “The Village” while they waited for Jane’s Walk 2018 to begin.

We were off to see  just a smattering of the largest collection of Arts & Crafts style houses in New York City, all a few minutes walk away within the borders of Douglas Manor in the Douglaston Historic District.

Victor, Robert and I had led Jane’s Walks in Douglaston together twice before, but never had there been such a crowd.

In New York, Jane’s Walk is sponsored by the Municipal Arts Society, in honor of Jane Jacobs, a dragon slayer of a woman who first took on the mighty Master Builder Robert Moses in the 1950s successfully derailing his plan to build a highway through the middle of Washington Square Park.

Jacobs, untrained in city planning, wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities, a critique of city planning and urban renewal that was nothing short of revolutionary.

Her influence was so great that she changed the way that every urban designer, architect and city planner today thinks about cities.

 Douglas Manor Subdivision This map shows the subdivision of the original Douglas estate, a mile long peninsula jutting into Little Neck Bay. The construction of the railroad tunnels under the East River and Penn Station in 1910 made daily commuting from Douglas Manor to Manhattan possible. Such was the demand that over a million dollars worth of lots were sold on site during a March snowstorm in 1906. Today there are 600 single-family homes here, most built before 1930.

This map shows the subdivision of the original Douglas estate, a mile long peninsula jutting into Little Neck Bay. The construction of the railroad tunnels under the East River and Penn Station in 1910 made daily commuting from Douglas Manor to Manhattan possible. Such was the demand that over a million dollars worth of lots were sold on site during a March snowstorm in 1906. Today there are 600 single-family homes here, most built before 1930.

As a tribute to Jacobs (she died in 2006) Jane’s Walk happens simultaneously on the same May weekend each year in cities all over the world.

Urban enthusiasts of all  stripes volunteer to lead walks to show perfect strangers why their particular neighborhood is special—and all Jane’s Walks are free and open to everyone.

This year, as a joint effort of  the Douglaston Local Development Corporation and the Douglaston & Little Neck Historical Society, we decided to thematically focus our local Jane’s Walk on Douglas Manor’s great Arts & Crafts houses.

When good  friends and neighbors Don and Leela Fiorino heard of our plan, they generously offered to host an end of the walk Reception at their Arts & Crafts gem, a 1911 gambrel roofed rose covered cottage, with a richly outfitted interior in oak, that rivals any that Arts & Crafts master Gustav Stickley might have designed.

 Jane's Walk 2018, Douglas Manor, Queens NY

With Robert holding his “pig snout” amplifier for me to speak, and Victor “herding cats" in the rear, we embarked on our journey.

Victor introduced the group to the LDC’s ongoing efforts to revitalize the Station area. The railroad connection to Manhattan made the development of Douglas Manor possible.

We stopped to see three Stickley houses along the way—two of which are straight out of The Craftsman magazine plans that Stickley published—and  another dozen houses that exemplify the Arts & Crafts tradition in America.

The 600 houses of Douglas Manor are arrayed along its romantically winding streets with a range of eclectic styles typical of the early 20th century. Many of the house designs exemplify the tenets of the Arts & Crafts ethos of the time, that a true home requires:

BEAUTY

SIMPLICITY

UTILITY

ORGANIC HARMONY

The Manor’s Arts & Crafts houses do just that. 

140 Prospect Avenue: This simple gray stucco house with dark brown trim was recently restored, opening up the second story porch that had been enclosed. The play of solid and void is typical of Stickley’s house designs. This is House No. 85 from The Craftsman magazine, 1910. The rendering from 1910 and what was built at Douglas Manor are identical.

Typical of Stickley’s designs, the first floor plan of No. 85 reveals a generous but sequestered (typical of the time) kitchen with many built-ins. There are also built-ins for books with windows above, a built-in “Seat” at the Living Room, and built-in double china closets with a large sideboard at the Dining Room, still extant. A door from the Dining Room leads to the covered porch.

Although a modest house, the second floor of No. 85 also includes an outdoor balcony and a sewing room as amenities, with a shared bathroom for the three bedrooms. The “state-of-the-art” bathroom boasted a shower with a full body spray feature. Note how the bedrooms “pinwheel” around the hallway—very Frank Lloyd Wright.

A Craftsman-style fountain: At the side of 140 Prospect is a small garden. A recent owner added this simple but attractive fountain (not yet turned on) on axis with the open porch at the first floor. Passers-by get a nice glimpse of it and get to hear it, too.

For Plan No. 85, Stickley suggested furniture, including this simple chair and table.

Many of the houses are either overtly Arts & Crafts in style, or ornamented outside or inside with typical Arts & Crafts features. Arts & Crafts architecture is among my favorites, and I’ve not only renovated and restored some of the Manor’s finest specimens, I also designed an entirely new house in the District in the Arts & Crafts tradition that remains one of my favorite projects.

225 Hillside Avenue: Arts & Crafts style? Yes—but this yellow stucco house with white trim might also be described as a “Four Square,” which it is. It is nicely embellished with an inviting wraparound porch with a one-story Queen Anne-esque circular tower at one end. The rounded porch adds asymmetry to what is otherwise a perfectly symmetrical composition.

The railing on the porch shows a Classical influence, but like many Arts & Crafts style houses, the design has been simplified to basic geometric shapes, and in the process, transformed.

Originally, the trim on this house would’ve been painted a dark color, likely green or brown with gray or beige stucco. Shutters and window sashes may have been a different but complementary color, to add another layer of richness to the simple composition.

Jane’s Walk offered a chance to explore exactly what is meant by “Arts & Crafts” and what it is that makes a house an Arts & Crafts style house to begin with.

Our Jane’s Walkers had a lively discussion, and lots of questions along the way about the Arts & Crafts movement, New York City Landmark rules, and of course, “Arts & Crafts“ style. This is a tricky topic!

For the real answer is that there is no “Arts & Craftsstyle.

The movement started in England in the mid 19th century with the rise of industrialism and in opposition to it, as a way to cultivate the handcrafted, and influenced everything from architecture to print making to furniture design to textile and graphic design.

Here in the States, the Arts & Crafts movement arrived a bit later, and morphed away from its Socialist edge the in England, to more of a middle class lifestyle that favored the handcrafted over the machined, with a fantasized version of family life and domestic bliss thrown into the mix.

The Arts & Crafts style and its ornament were a perfect match for places like Douglas Manor where the planned garden suburb reached by rail offered a green alternative to the increasingly mechanized and frenetic neighborhoods of Manhattan, but remained easily connected to it. 

During the early 1900s, Douglas Manor was promoted for its natural assets and healthy liifestyle—the commonly owned shoreline perfect for strolls and picnics, with tennis, swimming, sailing, and golf all easily accessible—a mere half hour rail ride from mid-town Manhattan’s newly opened Pennsylvania Station.

 104 Hollywood Avenue Built during the pre-auto horse and buggy era, the Manor featured some grand homes like this one, as well as more modest ones to appeal to a range of the middle class. This eclectic Arts & Crafts style house combines features like oversized fluted Classical columns with a gambrel roof and an open “piazza” that wrapped the house, and culminated with a covered porch facing west to capture views of the nearby Long Island Sound.   

104 Hollywood Avenue: Built during the pre-auto horse and buggy era, the Manor featured some grand homes like this one, as well as more modest ones to appeal to a range of the middle class.

This eclectic Arts & Crafts style house combines features like oversized fluted Classical columns with a gambrel roof and an open “piazza” that wrapped the house, and culminated with a covered porch facing west to capture views of the nearby Long Island Sound

By the turn of the century, even the wealthiest Manhattan neighborhoods were subject to commercial incursions because of a lack of zoning. Zoning didn’t begin in New York City until 1916. In 1906, the developers of Douglas Manor ensured that its borders were protected, using deed restrictions to create a community of freestanding single family houses, which communally shared and maintained a mile-long waterfront facing the Long Island Sound.

  Gustav Stickley

Gustav Stickley

A mid-Westerner who was the son of German immigrants, Gustav Stickley started life as a farmer. By 1900, he was publishing a magazine and owned a multi-story building in Manhattan where his offices were located with a ground floor showroom to sell his work.

He became the leading American proponent of the Arts & Crafts movement, and promoted the style with his magazine called The Craftsman, which featured the design work of his staff of architects and designers, who, along with himself, created house plans and furniture designs.

 A Craftsman Interior Stickley lavishly illustrated his magazine with color plates, showcasing interiors that had a careful balance of stained wood trim, his trademark built-ins—often oak—with contrasting plaster painted warm, earthy colors.   

Stickley lavishly illustrated his magazine with color plates, showcasing interiors that had a careful balance of stained wood trim, his trademark built-ins—often oak—with contrasting plaster painted warm, earthy colors.

The magazine lasted from 1901 to 1916, when Stickley went bankrupt. The movement in America had run its course by the start of the 1920s.

Today, Stickley’s furniture is collectible and his houses and their offspring—they were widely imitated—are still revered by a certain enthusiastic few.

122 Arleigh Road: This 1909 Stickley No. 70 house from The Craftsman magazine shows the influence of Japanese architecture (also a fascination of Frank Lloyd Wright’s) with a long broad sloping roof, and the beautifully detailed entry porch.

This rendering of Plan No. 70 shows the house built at 122 Arleigh in an idealized setting of open countryside.  Originally the multiple layers of shingles, board and batten and clapboard used for the exterior cladding would have been emphasized and highlighted in different colors instead of the monotones chosen today.

The first floor plan reveals a much more expansive—and expensive house—than Plan No. 85, with a 20 by 20 foot Living Room, three oversized fireplaces with decorative tile work, including one at the Kitchen, a powder room,  and a “Billiard Room,” all interconnected by wide door openings, a predecessor to today’s “open concept plan.”

A 40-foot long covered porch faces west, capturing distant views of the Sound a block away.

Plan No. 70 is equally generous at the second floor with four bedrooms, an oversized 12’-0” by 15’6”  Sewing Room (which could be a fifth bedroom), and a Servant’s Room.  A huge “Balcony” over the covered porch below faces west.  But there is only one bathroom.

Stickley designed built-ins for Plan No. 70 at the Dining Room, shown in this illustration. Readers could order plans from The Craftsman magazine, and then hire a local contractor to build the house.

The craze for all things Japanese triggered when America’s Commodore Matthew Perry opened trade to Japan in the mid 19th century, continued unabated into the early 20th. Here, the simple but elegant forms of Japanese architecture find their way into the timber details at the front entry portico.

The Arts & Crafts movement here embodied many disparate eclectic styles of the time including the unlikely Colonial Revival (no one dares describe a Colonial Revival house as Arts & Crafts), so popular at the turn of the last century and a style which endures to this day.

In Douglas Manor there are many early 20th century Colonial Revival style houses that follow the tenets of that style exactly at the exterior. However, once one steps inside, there are often elements that speak to the Arts & Crafts movement so popular at the time.

 Classic Colonial Revival Even the most faithful Colonial Revival exterior may belie Arts & Crafts touches at the interior, including hand made decorative tile work, art glass light fixtures and other handcrafted features that were all the rage during the early 20th century.   

Classic Colonial Revival: Even the most faithful Colonial Revival exterior may belie Arts & Crafts touches at the interior, including hand made decorative tile work, art glass light fixtures and other handcrafted features that were all the rage during the early 20th century.

This could be in the form of hand made Grueby or Batchelder tile work around the fireplace openings, artisan crafted light fixtures with leaded and opalescent glass, or sometimes the mix of overtly Classical detailing with Arts & Crafts references, like leaded glass windows—and nothing Colonial Revival about it.

28 Shore Road: Jane’s Walkers gather outside a late Queen Anne (1909) designed by architect Carl P. Johnson, originally with a bell shaped cap over the 3-story tower, now missing. The interior is outfitted with golden oak woodwork and wainscoting and handmade Arts & Crafts tiles at the Dining Room.

A few years after completion, the owners added a multi-sided sunroom at the south side with leaded glass windows and capped by a squirrel weathervane. The gray squirrel was a favorite domestic pet of the late 19th century.

At the Manor, the Colonial Revival houses we passed on our walk tended to be of the gambrel roofed variety, and so subject to more overt expressions of the Arts & Crafts style at the exterior.

 Gambrel roofed Colonial, or Arts & Crafts cottage? Bracketed by a pink flowering dogwood and a mature beech tree, this house at 37 Circle Road adjacent to No. 85 sports window shutters with a unique cutout typical of the whimsical details favored by Arts & Crafts era designers.

37 Circle Road: Gambrel roofed Colonial, or Arts & Crafts cottage? Bracketed by a pink flowering dogwood and a mature beech tree, this house adjacent to No. 85, sports window shutters with a unique cutout typical of the whimsical details favored by Arts & Crafts era designers.

Our Jane’s Walk was a strenuous walk that lasted almost two hours up and down some of the hilliest streets of the Manor. But even an elderly guest with a walker was undeterred and hung in there until the reception at the Fiorinos'.

Herewith, some highlights of our tour:

 309 Hillside Avenue This “Medieval Spanish Baroque Revival” mansion was designed and built in 1916 by Elbert McGran Jackson, a Southerner by birth and an architect by training.  A colonnade of Moroccan inspired leaded glass windows at the second floor is visible. I restored this house and designed the garden for the current owner 20 years ago. It is among my favorite projects.   

309 Hillside Avenue: This “Medieval Spanish Baroque Revival” mansion was designed and built in 1916 by Elbert McGran Jackson, a Southerner by birth and an architect by training. A colonnade of Moroccan-inspired leaded glass windows at the second floor is visible. I restored this house and designed the garden for the current owner 20 years ago. It is among my favorite projects.

Jackson first built a two-story high studio for painting in 1916, and added multiple additions to the copper roofed house over the next 20 years.  The interior of the house is decorated with his handiwork as well, including hand painted beams, evoking a Middle Eastern casbah, complete with a backyard grotto.  

A steep cobblestone driveway leads to a Model T sized garage at Jackson’s mansion, known locally as “The Alhambra.”  McGran’s original painting studio is to the left of the garage.

An arched stucco wall with a wooden gate at the sidewalk promises mysteries beyond. Once inside the gate a curving path leads to a front garden filled with spring flowering trees and roses in the summer, leading up to a raised terrace at the front door.

329 Forest Road: Jane’s Walkers fill the brick paved forecourt to artist Trygve Hammer’s house and studio. Hammer was a Norwegian painter and sculptor who designed the bas-reliefs of the now demolished Bonwit Teller building (site of Trump Tower) in Manhattan, as well as other sculptures throughout New York City and the region.

Hammer first built a studio here for himself in 1916, and then added on to it to make this his full-time home. The hand carved bargeboards and other decoration at the gable peak are his handiwork.  He also fashioned the leaded glass windows at the kitchen, to the right

Hammer’s house evokes the traditional houses of his native homeland—think snow and skis—and is encircled by ten one hundred foot tall Norway spruces that are the favored haunt of owls.

My wife and I lived next door to this house until recently. Every morning was a delight to wake up and look upon Trygve’s roost from our perch slightly uphill, especially in the snow when the dark stained vertical boards and turquoise trim provided high contrast. Locals call this house “The Chalet.”

202 Shore Road Before & After: This house facing the Long Island Sound was designed by Werner & Windolph in 1919 in the Arts & Crafts style. Five different additions were built over the years, and the original all stucco house was covered with aluminum siding in the 1950s, obliterating what it once looked like.

Two world famous artists have called 202 Shore Road home, the German artist George Grosz, and the famed Chilean pianist, Claudio Arrau.

Before renovation, aluminum siding still covered every surface of the original stucco house. I renovated and re-imagined the house inside and out  for the current owners. Arrau’s piano room was demolished, opening up 180 degree views of the waterfront the room had blocked, and allowing the construction of a new pergola to replace the long missing historic one.

To break up the massing, the upper story was covered in cedar shingles left to weather gray, the lower story stuccoed in beige, and the windows and trim painted dark green—a true Arts & Crafts composition.

 111 Hollywood Avenue Another Stickley house (1919) custom built at the time for an attorney, this simple elegant house with a hipped roof and broad eaves exemplifies the ethos of its designer, and marks the end of the Arts & Crafts era in America. Plans for this are archived at Columbia University’s Avery Library. Nearly two decades ago, I designed a lush English style garden around an existing swimming pool at the rear yard for the current owners.

111 Hollywood Avenue: Another Stickley house (1919) custom built at the time for an attorney, this simple elegant house with a hipped roof and broad eaves exemplifies the ethos of its designer, and marks the end of the Arts & Crafts era in America. Plans for this are archived at Columbia University’s Avery Library. Nearly two decades ago, I designed a lush English style garden around an existing swimming pool at the rear yard for the current owners.

By the time we were a few blocks away from the Fiorinos' our Jane’s Walk crowd had surged to 70. I called Lee to warn them. “Bring ‘em on!” she cheered enthusiastically, followed by a huge laugh. And so we did. Our Jane’s Walkers, tired, hungry and thirsty, were greeted by a beatific Lee who revels in having parties, even for strangers!

Fiorina Residence: Don and Leelas' stucco and shingled gambrel roofed house designed by architect George Chichester in 1911 exemplifies many features of the Arts & Crafts style.

The  house was restored several years ago. New cedar shingles were installed and new colors were selected, including a bright orange front door, green trim and dark red sash at the windows. In a few weeks the roses will come out, flanking the first floor bay window, and encircling the screened porch at the rear.

I designed a new screen porch addition for Don & Leela, with a circular bluestone terrace and a “no grass garden” of perennials surrounding it. A favorite gathering space for relaxing, the garden and terrace complete the picture of early Twentieth century ideals of domesticity promoted by the Arts & Crafts movement

Our Jane's Walkers flowed in like a tidal wave, and then spread themselves through the garden and first floor of the house to kick back, relax and enjoy a feast of cheeses, fruit, Prosecco and wines donated by the Historical Society.

Our hosts encouraged them to take a house tour if they liked, and many were treated to the Fiorino’s spectacular third floor Shrine Room—they are both practicing Buddhists and travel to Nepal often—to see not only the room, but the views from the top floor.

A half moon window at one end frames views east over the Great Neck peninsula , and a window mid-attic facing north overlooks the treetops of the mile long Douglas Manor peninsula.

As one beatific Jane’s Walker commented upon returning to earth after visiting the Shrine Room—“Heavenly!

Busman's Holiday—Yip, Yip Yaphank!

Ok—so I must confess. What do I like to do most in my free time?

Yup, you guessed it—look at old buildings just like the ones I’m working on, especially old houses.

So last week, when Preservation Long Island teamed up with the Yaphank Historical Society and Suffolk County Historic Services for a “behind the scenes” peek, mid restoration, at the historic Homan-Gerard House in lovely Yaphank, Long Island, I was there!  

  The Holman-Gerard House, ca. 1910.  The mill is partially visible to the right.  Photo from the Yaphank Historical Society.

The Holman-Gerard House, ca. 1910.  The mill is partially visible to the right.  Photo from the Yaphank Historical Society.

And what could be better than this, folks, for an historic house architect? The Federal style Homan House dates to ca. 1790 (although new evidence suggests it may be as late as 1820), and restoration is underway but not completed. Walls and ceilings were opened up.

  The south side of Holman house in 1962, showing a wrap around porch with Queen Anne style posts.  The porch no longer exists. Photo from Preservation Long Island’s archive.

The south side of Holman house in 1962, showing a wrap around porch with Queen Anne style posts.  The porch no longer exists. Photo from Preservation Long Island’s archive.

  The south side of the house today, facing the millpond.  The quarter round windows at the attic never contained glass, confirmed by historic analysis that shows the painted out black boards are original. Photo from Preservation Long Island’s archive.

The south side of the house today, facing the millpond.  The quarter round windows at the attic never contained glass, confirmed by historic analysis that shows the painted out black boards are original. Photo from Preservation Long Island’s archive.

Some original finishes and fragments of wallpaper and trim from the layers of lives lived in this house (and the inhabitant’s tastes) from the past two centuries were still in evidence. Original plaster lath was showing, and some of the original paint colors, confirmed by paint analysis, had been applied to trim, in preparation for final painting.

  Bark still clings to the attic sheathing behind a plaster wall.

Bark still clings to the attic sheathing behind a plaster wall.

We went to the attic and looked at original pegged beams. We climbed into the cellar, where a 21st century structural intervention was preventing the house from collapsing in on itself. What could be more exciting? This was hog heaven!

  The entry hall as it looked in 1962.  Photo from Preservation Long Island’s archive.

The entry hall as it looked in 1962.  Photo from Preservation Long Island’s archive.

A little background: the house is owned by Suffolk County and is part of the Suffolk County Historic Trust, and for the last 65 years the house has been abandoned.

The County owns more than 200 historic properties, ranging from modest farmhouses of the Colonial era, some Gilded Age mansions from the early 20th century, and even a dude ranch from the 1930s.

With little funding for historic preservation, the County has a tough row to hoe taking care of these buildings.

So their priorities are often to stabilize them—new roof, protect the windows, stop leaks—until such time that they have the financial resources to restore them. They often look to “Friends” groups to partner with to raise funds and create programming for historic properties once restoration is completed.

  When the LIE was being built the house had been abandoned for years.  Vegetation and neglect had taken their toll, but the beauty of this exceptional house was still visible when this photo was taken in 1962. Photo from Preservation Long Island’s archive.

When the LIE was being built the house had been abandoned for years.  Vegetation and neglect had taken their toll, but the beauty of this exceptional house was still visible when this photo was taken in 1962. Photo from Preservation Long Island’s archive.

For six decades at Homan House vegetation ran rampant, water found its way in through the roof, animals climbed in and made homes for themselves, and most recently Homan House looked like it might not survive.

  The front door facing Yaphank Avenue, freshly painted the morning of our tour.

The front door facing Yaphank Avenue, freshly painted the morning of our tour.

  Detail showing the restoration of the original thin wood frame applied over the window glass on both sides at the front door sidelights.

Detail showing the restoration of the original thin wood frame applied over the window glass on both sides at the front door sidelights.

Finally, in 2012, Suffolk County stabilized the building with a new roof and foundation work. Yaphank Historical partnered with the County and provided funding, in part, though grants from the Gerry Charitable Trust, and the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation. The nearly $700,000 restoration is expected to be completed this fall.

  Old lath and new lath are exposed where the plaster has fallen away from years of neglect.  Traditional, three-coat plaster restoration is about to begin.

Old lath and new lath are exposed where the plaster has fallen away from years of neglect.  Traditional, three-coat plaster restoration is about to begin.

  A fragment of a mid-19th century cornice molding with swags and garlands, originally gilded at the top, survives in a corner of a first floor parlor. The interiors of the house were high style for the time, despite the rural location. 

A fragment of a mid-19th century cornice molding with swags and garlands, originally gilded at the top, survives in a corner of a first floor parlor. The interiors of the house were high style for the time, despite the rural location. 

  Sarah Kautz introduces the group to the restoration project outside the house. Twenty people toured the house with representatives from the Yaphank Historical Society, a restoration contractor and Suffolk County.

Sarah Kautz introduces the group to the restoration project outside the house. Twenty people toured the house with representatives from the Yaphank Historical Society, a restoration contractor and Suffolk County.

Sarah Kautz, Preservation Director for Preservation LI, who created the “behind the scenes” program, did a quick overview of the Homan-Gerard House history outside the house, and then introduced our hosts and guides from Suffolk County—Richard Martin, Director of Historic Services—and for Yaphank Historical, President Bob Kessler and Historian Tricia Foley, who also happens to be the magazine editor, stylist and interior designer (Tricia Foley Design) famous for her all white interiors, as well as author of a multitude of popular books on home design. 

On the contractor side there was Jeremiah McGiff, an historic house carpenter and antique furniture restorer, who is currently working on the house.

Our hosts took us through the house, step by step. They described where the house had been historically, what layers of its material past they are preserving and why, and what the house will be like when the restoration is finished.

Most of their restoration decisions take the house back to the early 19th century. The house will be open to the public from the first floor to the attic.

  Jeremiah McGiff shows the group the shutter up close, where he has repaired damage and restored original material.  Paint analysis shows the shutters were originally painted white, to match the trim.

Jeremiah McGiff shows the group the shutter up close, where he has repaired damage and restored original material.  Paint analysis shows the shutters were originally painted white, to match the trim.

McGiff started the tour showing us an original shutter he is restoring for the exterior, and explained how he views them as he would a piece of important  furniture to be restored, carefully preserving as much original material as possible, rather than replacing the shutters with new.

  McGiff also created new windows from scratch, where windows were completely missing, matching the delicate muntins of the original windows. Storm windows will make these windows as efficient as any new insulated glass window.

McGiff also created new windows from scratch, where windows were completely missing, matching the delicate muntins of the original windows. Storm windows will make these windows as efficient as any new insulated glass window.

He also showed us original windows he restored as well as new windows where windows were completely missing.
 
Homan House was already in particularly bad shape when the County bought it in 1963. And then it languished for 60 years. Let’s put that in perspective: the construction of the Long Island Expressway was so long ago that most people alive today don’t even remember it being built.
 
At the time the LIE was being built, an access road planned for Yaphank that would’ve required demolishing Homan House was dropped from the construction program.

But the house was still scheduled to be demolished, and so it was through the efforts of SPLIA and the Yaphank Historical Society, that Homan House was ultimately acquired by Suffolk County and spared.
 
Preservation Long Island (then known as SPLIA—the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities) did extensive research on the house and documented it in photos in the 1960s.

This research and photo documentation proved invaluable to the restoration going on today.

  Thin square spindles and minimal detailing add to the stair’s elegance, reflecting the thoughtfulness and care of the craftsman who built it two centuries ago.    

Thin square spindles and minimal detailing add to the stair’s elegance, reflecting the thoughtfulness and care of the craftsman who built it two centuries ago.

 

  Once the missing pieces are restored, the elegant stair rail will read as one continuous curving piece of wood from the first floor to the attic.

Once the missing pieces are restored, the elegant stair rail will read as one continuous curving piece of wood from the first floor to the attic.

  Preservation Long Island Executive Director Alex Wolfe (my wife) shows off her “Paint Tape Blue” pants inadvertently color coordinated to the blue paint tape at the second floor hallway.

Preservation Long Island Executive Director Alex Wolfe (my wife) shows off her “Paint Tape Blue” pants inadvertently color coordinated to the blue paint tape at the second floor hallway.

  Most of the attic remains intact, with some subtle structural interventions to repair damage from insects.  The attic will be open to the public when the house opens in the fall, and well worth the trip.

Most of the attic remains intact, with some subtle structural interventions to repair damage from insects.  The attic will be open to the public when the house opens in the fall, and well worth the trip.

The house, situated on Yaphank Avenue just a block from Yaphank’s Main Street, is adjacent to a lovely millpond that still exists, called the Lower Lake.

Like most houses of its time, Homan House is a just a few feet off the road. Pre-LIE, one can imagine how quiet it was there, in this rural outpost far from New York City. At least that’s what one might think at first.

In reality, our guides explained, Yaphank was a beehive of activity at the dawning of the Industrial Revolution. Yaphank is geographically almost the exact dead center of Long Island.

  Powder post beetles did damage at structural wood members in the cellar, now repaired.

Powder post beetles did damage at structural wood members in the cellar, now repaired.

  A temporary steel jack holds up a new steel beam as permanent posts are installed; at the front of the house the rubble stone cellar wall was collapsing and had to be reinforced and new brickwork at the chimneys repaired to make the house structurally sound.

A temporary steel jack holds up a new steel beam as permanent posts are installed; at the front of the house the rubble stone cellar wall was collapsing and had to be reinforced and new brickwork at the chimneys repaired to make the house structurally sound.

  The original rubble stone foundation wall intact;. Mortar was added to the foundation later to stabilize it and prevent water infiltration—roots still found their way in.

The original rubble stone foundation wall intact;. Mortar was added to the foundation later to stabilize it and prevent water infiltration—roots still found their way in.

Damming a part of the Carmans River system at Yaphank created two ponds at opposite ends of the village a mile apart that provided waterpower for mills.

Soon other industries and businesses arrived and Yaphank’s residents were among Long Island’s most prosperous. They built several architecturally sophisticated houses to show off their wealth, including the Homan’s who built the first mill in the 1760s a couple of hundred feet from the house.

A later generation built the Federal style house with the high style details of the time, including taller ceilings at the first floor, elegant parlors and a dining room.

  This 1962 photo shows the condition of the first floor front parlor.

This 1962 photo shows the condition of the first floor front parlor.

  The first floor parlor today—new lath is in place for plastering, and the mantel shelf will be reinstalled in the coming weeks.

The first floor parlor today—new lath is in place for plastering, and the mantel shelf will be reinstalled in the coming weeks.

This century-long heyday ended by World War I, when the mills closed and jobs dried up. (Yip, Yip Yaphank is the title of an Irving Berlin musical revue written and first performed when he was stationed at nearby Camp Upton during WW I).

Yaphank declined and was forgotten, and its once wealthy denizens started renting out rooms in their houses to vacationing New Yorkers, looking to get away from the City.

The millponds were the draw for swimming, fishing and boating. Homan House became a boarding house. By the mid twentieth century, that endeavor had collapsed as well.

  This 1962 photo shows the hole over the fireplace for a potbelly stove at the rear parlor, a later addition that was more efficient than the fireplaces for heating.  The stoves were removed from the room each summer and stored.

This 1962 photo shows the hole over the fireplace for a potbelly stove at the rear parlor, a later addition that was more efficient than the fireplaces for heating.  The stoves were removed from the room each summer and stored.

  The rear floor parlor undergoing restoration. Paint analysis revealed this deep blue was the original color for one of the parlor mantels.

The rear floor parlor undergoing restoration. Paint analysis revealed this deep blue was the original color for one of the parlor mantels.

Today, the Homan mill no longer survives. Despite proximity to the LIE, the edges of the Lower Lake remain undeveloped, surrounded by a park. There are beautiful views of this pond from the house, and one can imagine that the landscape looks much like it once did, nearly two centuries ago.

  The addition at the rear is one of the largest rooms in the house, but it is not clear when this was added.  There is an unfinished attic above, reached by a hidden staircase.

The addition at the rear is one of the largest rooms in the house, but it is not clear when this was added.  There is an unfinished attic above, reached by a hidden staircase.

  The fireplace is off center, and there is another room behind this, “the shed.”

The fireplace is off center, and there is another room behind this, “the shed.”

  A detail of the fireplace mantel shows the alligatoring of the paint finish, soon to be restored.

A detail of the fireplace mantel shows the alligatoring of the paint finish, soon to be restored.

  The secret stair to the attic from the shed, temporarily being used as storage for paint.

The secret stair to the attic from the shed, temporarily being used as storage for paint.

We completed our outing to Homan House with a reception at Yaphank Historical’s headquarters at the Swezey-Avey House, where there are numerous exhibitions.  This is another lovely historic house facing the Upper Lake that is also part of a well-loved village park.

  Trim detail at the addition is elegantly simple.

Trim detail at the addition is elegantly simple.

Tricia Foley told me that she moved to the area four years ago, restored a 19th century house, sold it, and then moved to another house nearby dating from the 1970s, that she recently restored.

Mid-century Modern in all respects, it was featured in Architectural Digest online last month.  

As village historian, Trish, as she is known, is an articulate and passionate spokesman for all things relating to historic Yaphank, and for old houses in general, having now added Mid-Century Modern to her repertoire (the 1970s are officially “old"!).

  Trish Foley, Yaphank Historical Society Historian.  Her 2015 book,  Life/Style: Elegant Simplicity at Home , recounts her love affair with an 1820s house on Yaphank’s Main Street she restored but has since sold. Photo by Marili Forastieri

Trish Foley, Yaphank Historical Society Historian.  Her 2015 book, Life/Style: Elegant Simplicity at Home, recounts her love affair with an 1820s house on Yaphank’s Main Street she restored but has since sold. Photo by Marili Forastieri

As to the coming completion of the Homan House restoration, and its eventual opening to the public this fall—Yip, Yip Yaphank!  I can’t wait to be there when the doors open next, to see the restoration completed!

Raising The Bahr: Are You Experienced and The Summer of Love

My wife Alex and I had great fun last week, attending the opening of the Bahr Gallery in Oyster Bay, a new gallery devoted to classic 1960s psychedelic rock posters, many of which are lasting and iconic images of that time.

  Symmetrical lava lamps in the show windows flank the front door to the Bahr Gallery.

Symmetrical lava lamps in the show windows flank the front door to the Bahr Gallery.

SignJPG

The gallery is right next door to 20th Century Cycles, Billy Joel’s motorcycle and auto museum, and across the street from one of the newest and hippest restaurants in once sleepy Oyster Bay, 2 Spring.

Suddenly Oyster Bay, long the exclusive province of its most famous dead resident, Teddy Roosevelt, is coming to life after a century long slumber.

“Break on Through to the Other Side”—need I say more?
Artist: Victor Moscoso, 1967
Avalon Ballroom, San Franscisco
Bands: The Doors, Sparrow, Country Joe & the Fish

Ted Bahr is the owner of the gallery (and on the board of Alex’s organization, Preservation Long Island) and retired from his long career, most recently as the CEO and President of BZ Media, which he sold.

While too young to have experienced the acid rock of the 1960s firsthand, he recalls longingly looking back at it a decade later during his years growing up in the 1970s.

He ended up living in California for 15 years in the 1980s and 90s. While in San Francisco, he burnished that interest into a scholarly regard not only for the music, but for the artwork of the time embodied in the many posters created, and started collecting them.

  A photo of Ted from his working days.  At the Gallery opening he sported a   psychedelic blue blazer.

A photo of Ted from his working days.  At the Gallery opening he sported a psychedelic blue blazer.

San Francisco was the epicenter of the graphic designers who created the posters, since the city is where most of the early concerts were held, in the days before vast gatherings at mega halls and stadiums.

The graphic designers known as the “Big Five”—Alton Kelley, Stanley Mouse, Rick Griffin, Wes Wilson and Victor Moscoso—were responsible for some of the most iconic posters created between 1966 and 1970, and sometimes collaborated together.

The Big Five: Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso, Rick Griffin, Wes Wilson, and Stanley Mouse

These artists drew on all sorts of imagery for inspiration, including a renewed interest in Victorian era architecture (remember San Francisco’s “Painted Ladies”?), Art Nouveau graphics and the recycling of elaborate Edwardian dress and thrift shop finds as hippie culture exploded, most famously in Haight Ashbury with the “Summer of Love” in 1967.

And of course, a major influence was the advent of the popular use—and imagery of—psychedelic drugs.

  Life imitates Art—Alex’s embroidered tunic inadvertently mimics the embroidered tunic in the poster—cosmic!

Life imitates Art—Alex’s embroidered tunic inadvertently mimics the embroidered tunic in the poster—cosmic!

Many of the most recognizable posters were produced in that brief time period, but they still resonate today, so embedded are they in our pop culture.

At the gallery, Ted carefully chronicles the story of each poster with a beautifully written and scholarly summary that includes not only the artist, but what show it was produced for and the date, what bands played, and what influences—or sometimes jokes—are alluded to in the posters.  

  Artist: Alton Kelley, 1967 The Moore Gallery, San Francisco Band: Country Joe & The Fish

Artist: Alton Kelley, 1967
The Moore Gallery, San Francisco
Band: Country Joe & The Fish

Some of the posters announcing concerts were later used by the bands as album covers, most notably the Grateful Dead’s iconic “Aoxomoxoa” poster designed by Rick Griffin, and considered one of the greatest rock posters of all time.

The Dead chose this poster for the cover of their third album, six months after the concert.

There are many reprintings of this poster, but Ted has an original first printing hanging in the gallery, in immaculate condition.  

  Aoxomoxoa, a clever palindrome that means nothing apparently.  Some read into the lettering “We ate the acid.” If you look at a certain angle… Artist: Rick Griffin, 1969 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco Bands: Grateful Dead, Sons of Champlin, Initial Shock

Aoxomoxoa, a clever palindrome that means nothing apparently.  Some read into the lettering “We ate the acid.” If you look at a certain angle…
Artist: Rick Griffin, 1969
Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco
Bands: Grateful Dead, Sons of Champlin, Initial Shock

Every poster in the gallery is an original first printing, many are signed by the artist, and each one is in mint or nearly mint condition.

Some are amazing beautiful, rich in color and detail, and they certainly evoke a time whether you were there or not!  As Ted likes to say, they’re not “posters,” but “art.” And so they are.
 
They are for sale too, although walking around and looking at them at the gallery is like being in a museum, they are so carefully curated and displayed. Prices range from $1,200 to $10,000.

Artist: Wes Wilson, 1966
Winterland and the Fillmore Ballroom
Bands: Jefferson Airplane, Muddy Waters, Butterfield Blues Band

Ted has been collecting these 1960s posters for years, and displayed them in the white walled offices of BZ Media, where he hoped they would be inspirational for his mostly Millennial staff.

When he decided to sell BZ, it produced a crisis of sorts—what would he do with his collection?

Artist: Victor Moscoso, 1967
The Matrix, San Francisco
Band: The Chambers Brothers

Ted’s wife Rebecca had an idea. The answer was to create a gallery, and the result is small-town stunning. Trained in urban studies, Ted was very specific about where he wanted the gallery to be—Oyster Bay for its small town vibe—and who his clientele would be—boomers, specifically.

  Artist: Wes Wilson, 1966 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco Bands: Velvet Underground with Nico, Frank Zappa, Exploding Plastic Inevitable

Artist: Wes Wilson, 1966
Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco
Bands: Velvet Underground with Nico, Frank Zappa, Exploding Plastic Inevitable

Oyster Bay is one of my favorite Long Island towns, a very real, sometimes charming, but never too cute hamlet facing Oyster Bay Harbor on Long Island’s North Shore.

The town is a great mix of the high and low with some beautiful, if neglected, late 19th/early 20th century Main Street commercial architecture.

Vast estates still linger nearby from the Gilded Age, and of course Teddy Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill, my favorite house museum of all time, is just a few short minutes away (the subject of a later blog).

In the center of town is the the Victorianized mansion Raynham Hall, a restored part of which dates to the mid-18th century showing off its modest Colonial farmhouse roots.

Artist: Stanley Mouse & Alton Kelley, 1966
The Old Cheese Factory
Bands: Grateful Dead, Andrew Staples

There is something interesting to look at around every corner of the town itself.

There are still mom and pop stores sprinkled throughout, a working harbor front with a large park, and a terrific hardware store (Nobman’s Hardware, 95 South Street). There are no chain stores!

The Bahr Gallery adds immensely to that wonderful and lively mix.

Bahr.jpg
  Time to mingle after the crowd checks out the posters opening night at the Bahr Gallery.

Time to mingle after the crowd checks out the posters opening night at the Bahr Gallery.

  A bookshelf in the Gallery—some “good reads” if you’re so inclined.

A bookshelf in the Gallery—some “good reads” if you’re so inclined.

Ted took a forlorn shop and storefront on Audrey Avenue facing Oyster Bay Town Hall, and with his interest in historic preservation, transformed it in the simplest, most elegant way, leaving as much of the original store’s architecture and finishes as possible.

When the dropped ceiling was removed, a tin ceiling was revealed that hadn’t seen the light of day in half a century.

The walls and ceilings were painted bright white, gallery lighting installed, and suddenly Ted was looking at a bona fide gallery space, perfect for his collection, and for this next phase of his life.

Artist: Rick Griffin, 1967
Denver Dog, Denver, CO
Bands: The Doors, Allmen Joy, Gingerbread Blu

While preparing for this transition, Ted also tracked down one of his favorite poster artists of the time, Wes Wilson and commissioned him to do a new poster evoking this golden era.

His only request was –“no nudes please.” So what did Ted get from Wes Wilson? A nude—of course. And what color? Psychedelic pink—of course.

When Ted closed his Melville offices, he threw a party to celebrate, and Wilson’s vibrant poster was handed out as a party favor. Alex attended and was the proud recipient of one of these posters. Now framed, it hangs in my office, and I have to say, I love it!

The Psychedelic Nude

“Everybody Is Good At Heart”
Artist: Rick Griffin, 1967
Denver Dog, Denver, CO
Bands: Big Brother & The Holding Company, Blue Cheer, Eight Penny Matter

Detail, “Everybody Is Good At Heart”
Check out all the advertising symbols of the time in this detail!  Can you name them?

For the opening of the gallery, Ted engaged a graphic designer friend, Mara Leonardi who was taking photos at the opening last week.

Mara helped Ted with his graphic materials for the gallery, and she also designed buttons for the opening with 60s sayings—“Peace,”  “Love,” “Heavy,”  “Flower Power”, and of course “Far Out,” to name a few.

There was a big bowl of the buttons as you walked in, right near the twin lava lamps in the front windows. One guest decorated a lapel with a selection of the buttons, to great effect. Yes, you got it— she looked totally “Groovy!”

2 Spring.jpg
  Post-opening, we headed to 2 Spring across the street, where handsome wood table tops, low light and yellow daffodils in stone vases set the scene.

Post-opening, we headed to 2 Spring across the street, where handsome wood table tops, low light and yellow daffodils in stone vases set the scene.

  A psychedelic TR (had they been to the Bahr?) holds sway over an intimate, well-stocked bar.   And the food was great too!

A psychedelic TR (had they been to the Bahr?) holds sway over an intimate, well-stocked bar.   And the food was great too!

A Love Story

Time to say farewell to the darkest depths of winter and, in the receding swirl of March snow and sleet, the holiday that always tries to perk it up—Valentine’s Day.

This year the Douglaston & Little Neck Historical Society (of which I am a co-founder) held our fundraiser in a house I recently renovated. The party was aptly called “A Valentine’s Soiree—Baby It’s Cold Outside," and the entire first level of the house was deployed for the party, including the addition of a heated tent to add more space for a bar for the 150 guests that showed up and celebrated.

I love seeing houses I’ve worked on used this way—there is nothing more delightful than a house filled with people having a good time, seeing old friends, meeting new ones, and all the while raising money for a cause they believe in.

For this Valentine’s event this house had an added special treat—a true love story—hidden away for decades, but recently discovered in the attic.

  My favorite photo of our “Valentine’s Soiree” fundraiser—guests arrive in a blur of red!

My favorite photo of our “Valentine’s Soiree” fundraiser—guests arrive in a blur of red!

The house is one of my favorites, one of the first to be built in Douglas Manor in 1907, and designed by architect George Keister, who was known for designing Broadway theaters.

He designed the Belasco Theater, currently hosting Farinelli and the King. And Keister designed the fabled Apollo Theater in Harlem, which recently underwent an extensive restoration.

Keister was a master of creating fabulously ornate Classically inspired interiors for his theaters. But at this house, Keister put together a restrained composition in the Arts & Crafts style popular in the early 20th century.

  The Living Room of  The Knollwood  today—at Genuine Antique Lighting in Boston we found beautiful bronze trimmed milk glass light fixtures from the Edwardian era; the restored interior offsets the owner’s contemporary furniture.

The Living Room of The Knollwood today—at Genuine Antique Lighting in Boston we found beautiful bronze trimmed milk glass light fixtures from the Edwardian era; the restored interior offsets the owner’s contemporary furniture.

The house, once known as The Knollwood, crests the top of a hill that overlooks Little Neck Bay. It  is a very horizontal composition, shingled at the second floor, clapboard at the first, and with signature oversized stuccoed columns lining the glassed in front porch—a typical Arts & Crafts style feature.

Inside, like many American Arts & Crafts houses, there is an eclectic mix of traditional and stylized Classical details, as well as the more expected A&C features like the fireplace inglenook, which The Knollwood has.

Eleven-foot-tall ceilings give the house a spacious and elegant air, with large windows in all the rooms. The sunporch overlooks a garden I also designed, and is enclosed by tall hedges.

  Chris Roy of Heirloom Woodworking rebuilt the sun porch from top to bottom, and replaced non operating storm windows with new casement windows, installed a new tongue-and-groove wood ceiling stained a deep brown, and a new decorative tile floor with radiant heat. Previously uninhabitable, the sunroom is now a favorite spot to overlook the garden, in every season.

Chris Roy of Heirloom Woodworking rebuilt the sun porch from top to bottom, and replaced non operating storm windows with new casement windows, installed a new tongue-and-groove wood ceiling stained a deep brown, and a new decorative tile floor with radiant heat. Previously uninhabitable, the sunroom is now a favorite spot to overlook the garden, in every season.

Ironically, I’d worked on this house 20 years earlier for another owner. I did some restoration work on the exterior, and designed a new terrace that overlooked the water.

I also looked at the third floor, which was unfinished, but vast, 35 feet long with a 12-foot ceiling, three generous skylights marching down the middle of the clear rectangular space and two triangular dormers facing east.

Despite these great assets—no go. Unfortunately the couple divorced, and the house got sold.

  The Attic—Before  ; shortly before framing began for the new room, a workman found the love letters, tucked in a corner of the attic slope.

The Attic—Before; shortly before framing began for the new room, a workman found the love letters, tucked in a corner of the attic slope.

  The Attic—After; ready for a game of billiards

The Attic—After; ready for a game of billiards

The next owner called me soon after, and also took me to the attic to see what might happen there. But alas—also a no go!

The house got sold again because that owner decided what they really wanted was a brand new house with a flowing “open concept plan” (see HG TV) with a Kitchen/Family Room, not possible with this house because of an enormous brick chimney.

In stepped the current owner, old friends at this point, whose previous house a few blocks away I had renovated for them 15 years ago. We immediately  marched up to the attic, and as the saying goes, the third time’s the charm.

I soon had a compelling scheme going for them, an attic playroom with a big TV setup, ample room for a convertible billiard/ping pong table, a full bath, and built in couch cum beds for overseas relatives who arrive like clockwork to visit each summer.

  Guest beds used as extra couches when no one is visiting—a favorite hang for the 20 somethings to watch a move or play pool.

Guest beds used as extra couches when no one is visiting—a favorite hang for the 20 somethings to watch a move or play pool.

Construction began in earnest, and work soon started on the attic space, which was the biggest part of the renovation. Things were going smoothly.

And then one day, the unexpected happened, a story that only can happen in a  movie.

As one of the demolition crew began to clear debris, he spied a stack of papers far back in a corner, tied together with a faded red ribbon. Afraid to open the bundle, he called his boss.

The papers were letters from a young woman, Miriam Spaeth. The letters were addressed to—in a time long before zip codes and house numbers—“Emerson W. Smith, The Knollwood, Douglaston, Long Island”.

From the letters it is clear that Muriel met Emerson when he was lifeguarding in Ocean Beach, New Jersey in the summer of 1941. Muriel was immediately smitten by the tall hunky (from her description) lifeguard.

A romance ensued and Muriel was invited to The Knollwood where Emerson lived, and and met his family.

In her letters, she recalls various outings while she was in New York at The Knollwood, including one night when she and Emerson climbed a tree in the yard to watch the moon rise over the Bay—mucho romantico!!

  Is this the tree, strafed by moonlight on that romantic evening 77 years ago, that Muriel and Emerson climbed to look at the Bay?  Not likely, as this Japanese maple is only about 70 years old so would have been a sapling at best! But the tree is in the perfect spot to climb up and see the Bay on a moonlit night.

Is this the tree, strafed by moonlight on that romantic evening 77 years ago, that Muriel and Emerson climbed to look at the Bay?  Not likely, as this Japanese maple is only about 70 years old so would have been a sapling at best! But the tree is in the perfect spot to climb up and see the Bay on a moonlit night.

At summer’s end, Muriel and her Mom headed to Fort Lauderdale where they rented a house, and Muriel began her studies to become an executive secretary at a school within walking distance.

Muriel and Emerson wrote each other several times a week (mail was delivered twice a day), and Muriel’s letters are filled with adoring comments and probing questions:

“When are you coming to visit? Darling, I can’t wait to see you.”

In one letter, she invokes several lines (incorrectly) from a favorite song, "This Love of Mine," just released that year by a very young Frank Sinatra with the Tommy Dorsey Band:

“You’re always on my mind, tho’ out of sight, it’s lonely throughout the day, and all the night.”

And she ends the letter with this plaintive query:

“Do you remember that my heart was left behind? It was—Please write soon—Love, Muriel
P.S. Thank you for the happiest days of summer.”

  A postcard Muriel sent to Emerson from Southern Pines, N.C. on her way to Florida

A postcard Muriel sent to Emerson from Southern Pines, N.C. on her way to Florida

Muriel had just graduated from high school. Muriel comments in one letter how she thinks—but isn’t sure—that Emerson is 21 years old (apparently he kept his age a secret!) as she knows he is registered for the service.

 The letters begin in September of 1941—three months before Pearl Harbor—and end abruptly a year later.  There are 60 letters in total.

During the course of the party, I brought three sets of Valentine’s Day revelers to the attic playroom as part of the house tour and told them the story of Muriel and Emerson. I read some selected passages from the letters.

Many were moved, or curious, at the least. “What happened they asked,” over and over again. But alas, there is no happy ending to this love story, or any known ending at all.

The Historical Society has uncovered no leads. The granddaughter of the family that owned this house for nearly 60 years, including during the early 1940s, still lives nearby. She didn’t recognize the names.

Who were Emerson and Muriel? What became of these star crossed lovers, separated by 1,500 miles after their idyllic summer together? Did they eventually marry? Was Emerson lost in World War II? I hope we find out someday, and have the ending to this story…

Some other pictures of The Knollwood today, after renovation and restoration:

  New wallpaper and cabinetry adjustments brought this existing gold tinged bathroom back to life.

New wallpaper and cabinetry adjustments brought this existing gold tinged bathroom back to life.

  The garden at  The Knollwood  in full bloom last summer

The garden at The Knollwood in full bloom last summer

  “Birds & Bees,” the wallpaper that the owner selected from the vendor Timorous Beasties, is rolled out for installation by Robert Montagnese of Wallpapers Unlimited, to enliven the formal Dining Room with full-size birds and bees.

“Birds & Bees,” the wallpaper that the owner selected from the vendor Timorous Beasties, is rolled out for installation by Robert Montagnese of Wallpapers Unlimited, to enliven the formal Dining Room with full-size birds and bees.

  “Birds & Bees” installed, and the Dining Room ready for a romantic dinner party.

“Birds & Bees” installed, and the Dining Room ready for a romantic dinner party.

  One of several new custom-made copper light fixtures by Old California Light Fixtures over the French doors at the North terrace

One of several new custom-made copper light fixtures by Old California Light Fixtures over the French doors at the North terrace

   The Knollwood  after a complete porch restoration, with new foundation plantings just installed by Joe Pizzirusso of New Creations Landscape

The Knollwood after a complete porch restoration, with new foundation plantings just installed by Joe Pizzirusso of New Creations Landscape

  The South Terrace with deep cushioned couches and chairs to view the   parterre garden from

The South Terrace with deep cushioned couches and chairs to view the parterre garden from

  Dusk falls on the new North terrace—time to contemplate what happened to Muriel and Emerson over a glass of port.

Dusk falls on the new North terrace—time to contemplate what happened to Muriel and Emerson over a glass of port.

A Winter's Tale—Dilatory Domiciles and Other Mysteries of the Gilded Age!

This past weekend, I was walking up the path to Coe Hall at Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay, as the afternoon faded away into the gloaming. I moved along the curving path as the main entry of the mansion hoved into view, and I realized, this is one of my favorite places.  How could it not be?

The mansion is a rambling and restrained exercise in the Cotswold-ian—at an extravagant scale, mind you—with grounds out of a dreamscape. Nothing could be more delightful, even in the darkest depths of winter!  

  Coe Hall—the Approach

Coe Hall—the Approach

I was on my way into the house for a lecture sponsored by Long Island Preservation (full disclosure, my wife Alexandra is the Executive Director), with the somewhat puzzling title of “Dilatory Domiciles, New York’s Gilded Elite on Long Island.”

The speaker was scholar and historian Jeannine Falino, who is an independent curator and museum consultant whose specialty is American decorative arts.  I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know what “dilatory” meant—but more on that later.

  Strapping and Studs—the Front Door

Strapping and Studs—the Front Door

Once past the large strapped and studded oak front door,  more architectural and decorative treasures were revealed inside—a two-story-high limestone and timber reception hall, with dimly lit (as I like it) passageways leading off to other rooms in perfect synchronicity with the period atmosphere of the early 1920s when the house was built, and all meant to evoke the Medieval.

The house was designed by Walker & Gillette in 1918 for William Robertson Coe, who made millions in the insurance industry and his wife, Mai Rogers Coe, a Standard Oil heiress.

  William Robertson Coe

William Robertson Coe

  The Reception Hall

The Reception Hall

  A Comer of the Gallery

A Comer of the Gallery

  The Gallery, with the Duveen furniture in place

The Gallery, with the Duveen furniture in place

  The Buffalo Room, with original murals intact painted by artist Robert Winthrop Chanler

The Buffalo Room, with original murals intact painted by artist Robert Winthrop Chanler

  Huguette Clark

Huguette Clark

As guests waited for the lecture to begin, we gathered in the baronial Dining Room for drinks.  Perhaps some of us thought that if we tried hard enough we could easily imagine ourselves as guests of the Coes a century ago, for it seemed as if nothing much had changed inside the house since it was finished in 1923. Nor outside, either.

Two-story-high windows on three sides look out into the gardens and seemingly unlimited open space. In fact, there is enough land at Planting Fields (409 acres) that there is no sensation of any suburban development outside of its gates at all. One truly feels that the place looks as it must have when the house was built, and the area was mostly rural and sprinkled with a mix of Gilded Age estates and modest farms from the 19th century.

A glance at a tall arrangement of forsythia on a table adorning one bay window (OK, it was fake but from five feet away utterly convincing) and suddenly one was hopeful that spring wasn’t too far around the corner.  Fifty plus degree temps last Saturday also added to this hopefulness—quickly quashed by this week’s snowfall!

  The Dining Room

The Dining Room

After a stroll through the other ground floor rooms—the “Den” overlooking the Great Lawn a few steps up from the entrance hall and with a “secret bar,” a French-ified sitting room with light boiserie panelling and the original furniture donated by a Coe heir, and the previously mentioned Gallery with comfortable red, deeply upholstered fireside chairs—it was off to hear the lecture.

Ms. Falino gave a spirited and interesting talk showing the kinds of objects that those of great wealth filled their city and country houses with, including the previously mentioned Duveen.  Duveen was famous for mixing true antiques—expensive and with provenance—with Frankenstein-ian mishmashes he created in which not very important antiques were modified for the market to look more “authentic.” The result was interiors for the super rich of the day with the appearance of the layering of multiple generations of wealth, combined with practical living of the time.

For the likes of Mr. Coe, who came from humble beginnings in England  and immigrated here with his family as a teenager, the house and grounds created for him and his wife were a perfect fit, evoking Olde England but with all the latest technology and comforts. 

  Mai’s Bedroom with extravagant handpainted bird themed wallpaper

Mai’s Bedroom with extravagant handpainted bird themed wallpaper

  Mai Rogers Coe

Mai Rogers Coe

But back to “dilatory domiciles”—what does that mean? Ms. Falino read a passage from the New Yorker from July 24th, 1926, written right at the time that the Coe’s estate house had recently been finished, as follows:

Dilatory Domiciliates in Summer Social Register on increase. 13,000 names of shore and mountain dwellers, but little change in fashionable resorts. Good places are Newport, Southampton, Bar Harbor. These places have grown larger to give birth to East Hampton and Northeast Harbor. Cal. and Fla. not popular, with exception Palm Beach. Rapid spread of isolated country places on shore lines from N.Y. to Canadian border, such as Millbrook, N.Y. Today nice people even live in Forest Hills. Le Grande Monde grown so large it stretches from Bernardsville & Peapack, N.J. to Mount Desert Island in Maine. Newport, Bar Harbor & Southampton blaze like three emeralds in stomacher, instead of as they used to, shining solitaire.

My favorite part of that description is, of course—“Today, nice people even live in Forest Hills.” Even though it meant they were living in—OMG—Queens?  Apparently so…

So what exactly are “dilatory domiciles”?

As explained in the description of the lecture, it is a phrase from the famed Social Register (still in business by the way) and explained thusly:  Families of great fortune sought to demonstrate their new status by building vast Fifth Avenue mansions filled with precious objects, important painting collections, and hosting elaborate fêtes and balls. This is the moment of Mrs. Astor’s “Four Hundred,” the rise of the Vanderbilts and Morgans, Maison Worth, Tiffany & Co., Duveen, and Allard. Old and new wealth competed in expending small fortunes on country estates, also known as “dilatory domiciles,” to which they retreated for casual or seasonal residences.

In other words, a vast and very fancy country house. Ms. Falino showed both city and country house interiors of the time, the objects that adorned them, as well as ball dresses and costumes, jewelry, and even a pair of enameled opera glasses decorated with platinum and diamonds, that were made for Florence Schloss Guggenheim that likely cost as much a Gold Coast mansion on Long Island.

  Florence Schloss Guggenheim’s opera glasses, inscribed “FSG”

Florence Schloss Guggenheim’s opera glasses, inscribed “FSG”

Ms. Falino finished, and it was off to have a final drink and treats in the Dining Room, a chance to meet Ms. Falino and chat about her talk. The darkness outside enveloped the house, but the warm incandescent bulbs of the enormous chandelier, and the fringed shades of the Edwardian era lamps, lent the house a cozy air, despite its enormous size.

What about the other great houses, I wondered—did those owners also collect beautiful things, were they knowledgeable about antiques, art, and architecture? Including those with the rags- to-riches story like Mr. Coe, many of whom had little formal education? Did they hire specialists in these areas to help them? Were some of these vast houses filled with dreck, like so many of the McMansions of our day are?

Ms. Falino confirmed that, yes indeed, many hired specialists to help them amass collections of art, antiques, and to furnish and design their houses. Some like Coe, became expert and knowledgeable collectors. But how widespread that kind of story was is hard to tell, she said, since so many of the houses are now gone, and the furnishings and objects long ago dispersed. No one has looked at this in a scholarly way, either.

On Long Island’s North Shore for example—the fabled “Gold Coast”—there once were more than 1,000 estates in the heyday before 1930, and now only about 300 of them survive either as private houses, or institutions. Most of the ones with vast acreage have been radically reduced by suburban subdivisions built after World War II. Planting Fields and Coe Hall are truly unique in that so much of the place is intact, and after many years of neglect, also well maintained.

Now dark, I set off for my car and the ride home. I couldn’t help but glance around and think of spring and summer at Planting Fields, and the transformation of the grounds during the coming seasons. Herewith, some images from last summer, and fond memories of an afternoon spent walking among Planting Fields’ gardens and lawns:

  The amazing Spider Leaf Maple (Acer palmate “Ornatum’) not far from the front door of Coe Hall.

The amazing Spider Leaf Maple (Acer palmate “Ornatum’) not far from the front door of Coe Hall.

Japanesemaple.jpg
  The Sunken Garden and pool, originally a tennis court and renovated by the Coes for this garden.

The Sunken Garden and pool, originally a tennis court and renovated by the Coes for this garden.

POOL.jpg
  One of the summer greenhouses

One of the summer greenhouses

  Oak Leaf Hydrangea and Echinacea

Oak Leaf Hydrangea and Echinacea

  Blue Atlas Cedar

Blue Atlas Cedar

  Hydrangea serrata ’Beni’—Tea of Heaven

Hydrangea serrata ’Beni’—Tea of Heaven