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Foto Friday: Tea with Gracie

March 23, 2012

It’s springtime and the blossoms are bursting forth.

My cherry tree is the first bit of color in my neighborhood.  Then the dogwoods begin to wake.  When the crocus begin to fade, the daffodils leap in to the color fray.  The giant sycamore up the street has a blanket of Virginia bluebells spread out around its trunk.  So pretty.

I haven’t been back to New York City to check, but I”m guessing that the bluebells, daffodill and tulip bulbs I helped plant as a volunteer with the Central Park Conservancy are probably busting out all over — including over at Gracie Mansion.  (See if you can find me in the group above; I”m standing next to SaraLevine, the wonderfully inspiring manager of the L.I.V.E. — Learning/ Involvement for/Volunteers in the /Environment — program as part of the nascent Central Park Conservancy.  And, yes, that’s the inimitable Ed Koch in the middle of the group.  I have also hit him up for a donation when I was a Central Park gatekeeper during the annual park clean up/fundraiser day — he pulled his pockets inside out to show that he had no cash on him.)

You can check on my posies at this historic mansion by taking a tour — available  most Wednesdays at 10 AM, 11 AM, 1 PM and 2 PM. (General admission is $7 for adults, $4 for seniors, and students are admitted free of charge. Tours last approximately forty-five minutes.)

A more special treat would be the Tea Time Tour, where you get to experience the residence and enjoy a delicious assortment of homemade tea sandwiches, teacakes, and scones, plus the House Tea — a blend with a twist of mandarin and safflower (for groups of 25-50 people on Tuesdays and Thursdays at $25 per person).

Haven’t ever heard of Gracie Mansion?  Let the brief history below lure you to its location in Carl Shurz Park on the Upper East Side along the East River.  For more information or to book a tour, contact the Gracie Mansion Conservancy.

In 1799, a prosperous New York merchant named Archibald Gracie built a country house overlooking a bend in the East River, five miles north of the City. Financial failure forced Gracie to sell his house to Joseph Foulke in 1823, and in 1857, the house came into the possession of Noah Wheaton. The City of New York appropriated the estate in 1896, incorporating its 11 acres of grounds into the newly-formed Carl Schurz Park.

After decades of use as a concession stand and restrooms for the park, Gracie Mansion was restored and became the first home of the Museum of the City of New York. When it moved to a larger building, Gracie Mansion became a historic house museum run by the Parks Department. Parks Commissioner Robert Moses convinced City authorities to designate it as the official residence of the Mayor, and in 1942, Fiorello H. La Guardia moved in.

The house was enlarged in 1966 with the addition of the Susan E. Wagner Wing, which includes a grand ballroom and two intimate reception rooms. The Gracie Mansion Conservancy was established in 1981, and under its guidance, the first major restoration was undertaken between 1981 and 1984.

In 2002, the interior and exterior were again restored, and the house was transformed into the “People’s House” with increased accessibility to the public and to City agencies. It has also been used to accommodate visiting officials and dignitaries, such as former guests First Lady Rosalynn Carter and President Nelson Mandela.

The Gracie Mansion Conservancy is a private not-for-profit corporation established in 1981 to preserve, maintain and enhance Gracie Mansion – one of the oldest surviving wood structures in Manhattan and a member of The Historic House Trust. The Conservancy’s mission is to raise funds to restore the historic structure and acquire furnishings that illustrate the rich history of New York; improve the surrounding landscape and gardens; and provide educational services, including publications and tours.

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