Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Winter at the Vanderbilt Museum

© Vanderbilt Museum

Back in November, on a frigidly cold Sunday, I was fortunate enough to take a visit to the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum

The bitter winds did not encourage lingering around the lovely grounds, but we braved the walk over to the Marine Museum's Hall of Fish to while away some time before our late afternoon tour of the Mansion. I love the vintage hand-lettering and wording of the signs here--it really brings you back to the time of WIllie K, when the hall would have been open to the public on Wednesdays, with the live-in curator eager to give tours.

© Keriann Kohler
The Stoll Wing animal-habitat dioramas are currently under renovation, and sure enough, on our quick exploration of the area we heard drills and saws buzzing away behind the plastic-shielded entrance. I would have loved to see the newly restored 8-ton, 32 foot whale shark--the largest example of fish taxidermy in the world--but am equally excited to see the entire museum reinvigorated.

Hall of Fishes © Vanderbilt Museum
Our last stop was the mansion itself, where we were able to warm up looking at all the specimens in the Memorial Wing while waiting for our tour to start. Bird lovers will be enchanted by the collection of Birds of Paradise from New Guinea, and fisherman will appreciate the continued array of aquatic specimens. Don't miss the small room around the corner that displays trophies and ephemera from Willie K's yachts. I was especially impressed by the photos of the staterooms of the Alva--they were enormous! They could easily be a suite at The Plaza, rather than the stateroom of a yacht. You can watch highlights from the Alva's around the world journey in 1931 here and learn more about the journey on the Vanderbilt's Facebook and Twitter pages.

Library with tree © Vanderbilt Museum
Touring the mansion's living quarters, we were lucky to be treated to a sneak peek of the lovely Christmas decor that had been painstakingly arranged by the Dix Hills, Centerport, Honey Hills, Nathan Hale and Three Village garden clubs; Michele Boyer; Harbor Homestead & Co. Design; Claudia Dowling Interiors, and the Cornell University Cooperative Extension master gardeners.

Michele Boyer trims a tree in Rosamund Vanderbilt's bedroom. 
A drawing of Rosamund hangs on the wall.
Rosamund Vanderbilt's bedroom. © Vanderbilt Museum

Krishtia McCord and Mary Schlotter decorate
William K. Vanderbilt II's bedroom.
As the sun set over the harbor, the rooms were softly lit by the Christmas lights, and one got a real sense of what it would have been like to inhabit this home at the beginning of last century. It was a new way of seeing the mansion for me, and I highly recommend scheduling your visit for a 4pm tour, or even better—from December 26th to 28th the Vanderbilt hosts candlelit Twilight Tours of the decorated mansion from 7-9pm. It's a wonderful place to spend a cold winter's afternoon.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Inisfada, The Final Chapter

Rear Facade
© Paul J. Mateyunas
We are sad to say that today marks the loss of America's fourth largest home, Inisfada. For its century-long lifetime, Inisfada was the largest residential project, and only on Long Island, in existence by noted Philadelphia architect John Torrey Windrim. 

It is truly devastating that those responsible for the demolition of this significant piece of local and architectural history have further erased the kind of landmark that makes the North Shore unique, and plan to replace it with a high end version of tract housing.

Loss of the Great Room with many details still left in the building
© Paul J. Mateyunas

Example: carved beam ceilings still clinging to the ceiling and now exposed to the sky 
© Paul J. Mateyunas

During the course of its history, Long Island has inspired numerous artists and writers, among them William Cullen Bryant, Walt Whitman, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, just to name a few. Novels and movies like The Great Gatsby and Sabrina have become American classics. Current pop culture is providing a resurgence of interest in our history, and works like Downton Abbey and Baz Luhrman's remake of The Great Gatsby are causing visitors to flock to places like Newport, RI; Long Island's Vanderbilt Museum and Old Westbury Gardens; and Biltmore in Ashville, NC by the thousands and watch shows like Selling Spelling Manor and The Queen of Versailles. Vast and imposing, the awe-inspiring Inisfada could easily have become "America's Downton Abbey", but now that its physical presence is lost, it is likely that future generations may never even hear about this snippet of our history.

© Paul J. Mateyunas

Inisfada is the most significant house to be razed on Long Island in over three decades, and we suggest that our community take this as the North Shore equivalent of a wake-up call like Manhattan's Penn Station. We hope a loss of this magnitude will finally spark a local movement for mix of new and old buildings and the kind of adaptive reuse that enables us to keep the fabric of our community unique. Let's use this horrible loss as a lesson to appreciate and preserve what we have left.

Leaded glass windows, crushed and smashed in the rubble© Paul J. Mateyunas

© Paul J. Mateyunas