Modernist Houses and Historic Preservation (or not) on Long Island

Saving (or not) Modernism in the Hamptons and What Historic Preservation is Doing to American Cities

Two different perspectives on houses and preservation that should have more of an overlap in Long Island, New York

Featured image: The Geller I house by Marcel Breuer in Lawrence, New York. Demolished 2022. Source: Docomomo/Syracuse University.

Aspiring to Easier Living at Manitoga

Recently we visited Manitoga, a National Historic Landmark that is the studio and home of industrial designer Russel Wright. A prime advocate of what has been called “Livable Modernism,” Wright, with the aid of his wife, Mary, became one of the most influential and well-known designers of the 1930s to 1950s. His pottery, tableware, and furniture brought Modernism to the American masses (quite literally: his most popular line of pottery and one of his furniture lines were both named American Modern). 

American Modern.

Together, they wrote the 1950 manifesto Guide to Easier Living which promoted radical ideas like “buffet suppers, one-pot meals, portable seating and lots of double-duty storage…They may be the inventors of modern grad student storage: wooden shelves on cinder blocks hidden behind a curtain” (Alexandra Lange, “Easier Living, By Design”, The New York Times July 23, 2010).

Manitoga came later in his career. He and Mary purchased the land in the Hudson Highlands north of New York City around 1942 and spent many years modifying the landscape, including turning an abandoned quarry pit into a swimming pond complete with a waterfall. 

They lived in a cottage (still standing, but not part of the Landmark) next to the quarry. It was not until several years after Mary’s death in 1952 that Russel began building the house and studio (designed with architect David Leavitt). It was completed in 1960 and Russel lived there with his daughter Annie and her governess/housekeeper until his death in 1976.

Dragon Rock is a rare instance of Mr. Wright contradicting his theory of “easier living,” — his daughter, Anne, recalls arduous hours spent vacuuming the rocks and keeping all 11 levels in some semblance of order.

Richard Horn, “Collecting Russel Wright” The New York Times August 23, 1979.

The Vanderbilt Mansion In Hyde Park, New York

If this 54 room home looks a little bit small for something with both “Vanderbilt” and “Mansion” in its name, maybe it’s because Hyde Park was just one of several houses Frederick and Louise Vanderbilt owned. They also had a New York City townhouse, of course, and at various times, a Newport, Rhode Island mansion (Rough Point, later owned by Doris Duke), an Adirondack camp (Pine Tree Point), and a Bar Harbor, Maine mansion (Sogonee, later owned by radio tycoon A. Atwater Kent).

Construction began in 1895, the same year that Frederick’s kid brother, George Washington Vanderbilt II, completed his modest 250-room summer house, the Biltmore Estate.

Columns!

Art and Design of the New York Central Railroad

The other fab Jazz Age exhibit at the Albany Institute of History and Art is Romancing the Rails: Train Travel in the 1920s and 1930s, which focuses on the New York Central Railroad.

It’s cool to see the original paintings for some of their now classic advertising posters. There’s also a lot of items from industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss’s work on the 20th Century Limited, “The Most Famous Train in the World.” Dreyfuss designed everything from the streamlined locomotives to the dinner plates.

Romancing the Rails is on display through February 2022.

Original oil on canvas painting by Walter L. Greene, c. 1927 (right), next to a printed poster used by the New York Central Railroad (left).
Original oil on posterboard painting by Chesley Bonestell, c. 1929.
Glassware (by Libbey) and ceramic dinner plate designed by Henry Dreyfuss for the 20th Century Limited, 1938.

Original designs for the 20th Century Limited’s cars by Henry Dreyfuss, gouache on paper, 1938.
Bar Lounge design for the 20th Century Limited by Henry Dreyfuss, gouache on paper, 1938.

Featured image: Observation Car design for the 20th Century Limited by Henry Dreyfuss, gouache on paper, 1938.

Jazz Age Adventurers: Fashion Edition

At the Albany Institute of History and Art: Fashionable Frocks of the 1920s showcases the adventurous dresses of the Jazz Age.

Silk Evening Coat, 1929.
Quintessential flapper dress in silk and rayon exemplified the “relaxed morals” of the decade.
Chiffon “Bab” dress, c. 1925, Paris.
If you couldn’t afford a Paris original, Montgomery Wards and other department stores provided fashionable alternatives.

Featured image: Silk dress with flower, worn by former Girl Driver of Hospital Truck, D.T.A. Cogswell.

New York Bricks Go Boutique

Here’s a brief history of the New York brickmaking industry from the New York Times. New York did not have a monopoly on bricks; excellent clay deposits run through New Jersey and into Pennsylvania as well. The Sayre & Fisher Brick Company, in the town now known as Sayreville, New Jersey, was for a time the largest brickmaker in the world and in 1903, Pennsylvania was the largest brick producer in the nation.

A Clymer (Pennsylvania) brick found in Hoboken, New Jersey. Source: TCM.
Sayre & Fisher Reading Room, built of Sayre & Fisher bricks, in Sayreville, New Jersey. Source: KForce at English Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.

But the Hudson Valley was also lined with dozens of brickyards, and since it’s the Hudson Valley, it should be no surprise that now one of them, the Hutton Brickyards, has been turned into a boutique hotel that preserves some of its history. Their “Genuine Experiences” do sound genuinely fun:

Our sprawling campus features whimsical invitations to fun: an archery range, croquet lawn, firepits and bicycles. Experience hikes, guided kayak experiences, paddle-boarding, running, outdoor yoga, snow shoeing, cross country skiing, bee-keeping and more!

huttonbrickyards.com
Hutton Brickyard. Source: hudsonwoods.com

Featured image: Hutton Brickworks in 2016, by Corey Seamer via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0.

Attractive Ruins at Franny Reese

Pictures from a visit last autumn to Franny Reese State Park in New York. The sun-dappled ruins are the former estate of wealthy dentist Charles H. Roberts. A graduate of Albany Medical College, Roberts’ dental innovations made him rich and allowed him to branch out into other lucrative business ventures. In the 1860s, he began building his home, Cedar Glen, on the west bank of the Hudson River overlooking Poughkeepsie. After Roberts died in 1909, protracted squabbling over his will by his children resulted in the decline of Cedar Glen. Read more of the story at About Town.

Franny Reese Park. Source: TCM

Massive and Free Archaeology Book on the Onondaga Iroquois

The New York State Museum has just published James W. Bradley’s new book, Onondaga and Empire; An Iroquoian People in an Imperial Era. The book is available to freely download from the museum. At over 800 pages, it is a truly massive work and focuses on the Onondaga Iroquois and their interactions with Europeans over a fifty-year time span (c. A.D. 1650-1701).

Link to download: Onondaga and Empire

Featured image: Figure 7.16. from Onondaga and Empire depicts shell pendants and effigy figures from Indian Hill.