Thursday, December 13, 2012


An elegant five-story brownstone nestled in the historic enclave of Murray Hill, at 22 East 35th Street, is often passed without a ruffle of interest by ordinary foot traffic, except if one is a stamp collector or the curious onlooker. Yet, if one pauses, as I often do to look at the exterior, I wondered, “What is this charming building doing here?” I had the opportunity recently to learn more about this storied place when I was invited by a club member to a holiday party.
HISTORICAL REFERENCE Standing in the shadow of the Empire State Building the Collectors Club, philatelic headquarters, is distinguished by its fascinating fa├žade. In 1902 the famous architect Stanford White completely redesigned the structure for an art dealer and collector, whose new home garnered lavish praise for its beauty and became a showcase for his art collection. Thanks to the generosity of Alfred Lichtenstein, one of the giants of early philately, it became the Club’s permanent home in 1938 and in 1979, it was designated an historic landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. A $1 million renovations in 2001 restored the famous windows and assured the interior/exterior of the Clubhouse would meet the needs of the club well into the future.
THE LIBRARY A treasure trove of documents, auction records, famous stamp collections, the Collector’s club boasts one of the most extensive philatelic libraries anywhere in the world. Beyond housing some of the rare pieces in philatelic literature, it is very much a ‘working’ library. Members can research or browse through thousands of philatelic publications, comprehensive groups of historical periodicals and extensive runs of priced auction catalogues. They also boast a Youth Stamp Club to encourage a new generation of collectors.
EARLY FOUNDERS In the Golden Age of stamp collection the Club was founded in New York City in the summer of 1896 as a way to “gather…all the societies, all the auctions and all the philatelic interests of the city.” It counted among its members leading, even legendary, names in philately. Founding members included John W. Scott of catalog and album fame, John Nicolas Luff, Hiram Deats, and Charles Mekell. Later members included such famous names as Alfred F. Lichtenstein and Theodore Steinway to name a few. One of the most famous honorary members was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who lived in the Murray Hill area at the time and also attended the Church of the Incarnation at the corner of 35th and Madison Avenue.

If you intend to visit: The Collectors Club is open Monday through Friday, 10am to 5pm; however, call ahead to make an appointment. (212.683-0559). The library and its support committee are available on Wednesdays, also from 10 to 5 pm. If you are interested in membership contact the Membership Secretary at

Friday, November 30, 2012


New York’s hidden treasures can be just down a side street in historic Murray Hill section of the city where a miniature village exists. Still framed in time it lets us vicariously travel back to the Civil War era in old New York. On a nonchalant stroll we may find ourselves in front of the locked gate on 36th street between Lexington and Third Avenues where an intimate group of 10 picturesque houses are ensconced with traces of foliage, potted flowers and window boxes to complete the picturesque site.
ORIGINALLY STABLES These two storied structures were originally stables owned by old New York families who lived in Murray Hill and now are a testament to historical preservation. Let’s not forget that this area was considered in those days as a very tony part of old New York and many celebrated New Yorker’s moved to this area, far uptown some said at the time. The structures are brick, some in their natural brownstone color and others painted various shades of gray and green while others are black. To the most part they are considered as early Romanesque Revival.
THE BUILDER The ten brick stables were build in the 1850s by a local builder John Sniffen and were converted into town houses in the 1920s with a studio at the south end. Horses once watered at the hand pump in front of the rear way at the far end of the flagstone-paved alley. Plaques of Greek horsemen adorn the rear wall by the sculptress, Malvina Hoffman, who maintained her studio there during the 1920s and 30s. When carriages were replaced by automobiles, individual premises were converted into dwellings with common access to the alley.
THE AMATEUR COMEDY CLUB Number One on Sniffen Court has been owned by the Amateur Comedy Club since 1884, and registered as a legitimate theater, albeit a private one. It is not open to the public but stages legitimate shows strictly by and for the amusement of its own members and social circle. I was fortunate to attend several performances as a guest of a member and I am reminded how truly professional these thespians are performing as they do staged classic revivals. The only time the club broke their private rule was during WWI, when it became a dramatic theater company for the entertainment of military service members.
THE MURRAY LADIES ENTERTAIN There are other historic sites worth seeing while you are in Murray Hill. Legend has it that Mrs. Mary Lindley Murray and her daughters entertained British General Howe and his troops for tea, while General Putnam and his American troops moved northward. The Murray home, Belmont, was located at Park Avenue and 37th Street, on their farm known as Inclenberg. A bronze plaque honoring Mary Lindley Murray, placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution, is embedded in a boulder in the southern mall at Park Avenue and 37th Street.
Visit Sniffen Court, a New York Historic District and National Register of Historic Places, at 150-158 East 36th Street. IMAGES, courtesy of the Estate of Dean Avery, of historic and architecturally important buildings in Murray Hill are available for purchase as black-and-white note cards, prints and a map through

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

THEODORE ROOSEVELT, 26th President's Birthplace (c) Polly Guerin

The flamboyant, Rough Rider, Theodore Roosevelt is a bona fide New Yorker and his boyhood home attests to this fact. One of the historic sites in New York that deserves a visit is the brownstone home of the only President born in New York City, Theodore Roosevelt, who would grow up to be our 26th President of the United States and immortalized on Mount Rushmore. Imagine strolling near Gramercy Park on 20th Street between Broadway and Park Avenue South and there at 28 East 20th Street is the four-story brownstone, Roosevelt’s birthplace. After Roosevelt’s death in 1919, the site was purchased by the Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association and rebuilt and decorated with many of its original furnishings by Roosevelt’s sisters and wife. The Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site, preserved with artifacts, is a legend in history and contains five period rooms, two museum galleries and a small bookstore. His rough rider uniform is among the rare objects on display.
TR’s BIRTHPLACE "Teedie", as young Roosevelt was nicknamed, was born on October 27, 1858 into a wealthy family in New York City, but the bright boy suffered from asthma and was tutored at home studying natural history. To improve his health Teedie began an exercise program at the at the house’s outdoor gymnasium that to compensate for his physical weakness, he started a lifelong passion for the “strenuous life.” Encouraged by his father, Teedie began exercising and boxing to combat his poor physical condition. Fortified and able he eventually attended Harvard University, where he studied biology.
THE ROUGH RIDER After graduating from Harvard, Roosevelt pursued his boyhood dreams, as a rancher, naturalist, explorer, author and Colonel of the Rough Riders, the first U.S. volunteer Cavalry Regiment serving in the Spanish-American War. His political service included reforming the U.s. Civil Service Commission. He was a commissioner, 1895-97 of the New York City Police Department and reformed what was considered at the time to be the most corrupt police force in the country.
BECOMING PRESIDENT After two years as President of the New York Board of Police Roosevelt was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1897-98. He led his Rough Riders up San Juan Hill in Cuba and after this courageous charge he was elected Governor of New York and then vice president to William McKinley. TR became president when President McKinley was assassinated in September 1901. Roosevelt was 42 years old  when sworn in as President making him the youngest president ever. As President, Roosevelt pushed progressive reforms, and brokered a peace agreement between both sides in the Russo-Japanese War, The Treaty of Portsmouth was signed September 5, 1905 ending the conflict and earned TR a Nobel Peace prize.


Visit his Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace, Tuesday-Saturday, 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Closed on major holidays. The period rooms can only be seen by Park Ranger guided tours. Reservations required. Telephone 212.260.1616.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Many people may dream of creating an imaginary paradise on earth, a faraway haven of idyllic beauty and tranquility, but no person could have done it as well as Doris Duke, the quintessential heiress who built her exotic utopia in Honolulu, Hawaii. She filled it with Islamic treasures and patterned its ambiance with rare tiles, textiles, ceramics and artifacts. I regret that I never visited Duke’s Shangri-La but MAD; the Museum of Art & Design on Columbus Circle in New York City has remedied that desire. The exhibition explores the synthesis of 1930’s modernist architecture, tropical landscape and Islamic Art Doris Duke achieved at Shangri La. It is open to the public through next year, February 2013.
SHANGRI LA AT LAST Opening during the centennial year of Doris Duke’s (1912-93) birth this is the first major exhibition about Shangri La to be shown outside of Hawaii. It tells the story of her transformative engagement with the Islamic world that brings her work at Shangri La to national audiences. Doris was ahead of her time in collecting Islamic art and the exhibition is a breathtaking presentation of the spectacular Honolulu home of this philanthropic art collector.
DORIS DUKE’S PASSION Shangri La reflects Doris Duke’s aesthetic passion for collecting rare and historic Islamic art. The impressive home incorporates carved marble doorways, decorated screens, coffered ceilings, floral ceramic tiles, and everywhere exuberant color. Inlaid mother-of-pearl wood furniture reminds me of the beautiful bedroom suite in her house at Rough Point, Rhode Island, for I once visited this mansion and wrote a previous story about it. Duke was an accomplished swimmer and was known to into the ocean, off the cliff at Rough Point for a daily swim. No wonder she engaged in competition surfing in Honolulu.
SHANGRI LA TODAY Structured around five acres of interlocking terraced gardens and pools, Shangri La overlooks the Pacific Ocean and Honolulu’s Diamond Head. The home itself is a wonder of unique architecture and much of its construction was supervised by Doris herself. The interior weaves together artifacts such as silk textiles, jewel toned chandeliers and rare ceramics. Most astonishing are the huge retractable windows in the living room which can be lowered to reveal the breathtaking outdoor panorama of the gardens and Pacific Ocean. Today Shangri La is open to the public with 2,500 objects many collected during her extensive international travels. To promote Islamic art to its fullest there is a scholar-in-residence and artist-in-resident program.
AN AMERICAN HEIRESS Throughout her life Doris Duke’s generosity was legendary and her largesse extended to many known philanthropic causes, and others rarely mentioned gained her support. She was the only daughter of an immensely rich tobacco tycoon, James Buchanan Duke, who lavished large on his child. An oversized portrait of Doris at Rough Point attests to her blonde beauty and attractiveness, yet she was a down-to-earth realist, a great hostess and never bored but continued to explore, create and make a difference in the art world.
JOIE DE VIVRE LIFESTYLE Doris Duke may have been born into a life of wealth and privilege, but she embraced it with a love for life on many levels. For one thing, I remember that she was an accomplished jazz pianist who befriended jazz musicians and held music sessions in her home at Rough Point and even sang in a gospel choir. She spoke fluent French and at one time early on she was a journalist for Harper’s Bazaar. Doris loved animals, particularly her dogs and pet camel, and later in life became a wildlife conservationist. Many of the rare holdings at Shangri La were acquiring during her 1935 honeymoon around the world with her husband, James H.R. Cromwell, the son of a Palm Beach doyenne. They had one child, a daughter Arden, who sadly lived but one day.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


As a traveler in Colonial America I often wondered, “What must have been the hazards of the road and where could a respectable woman find a safe haven in New York City?” Solution could be found in the 1799 building at 421 East 61st street, the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum and Gardens, where today modern seekers of historical knowledge can tour the nine period rooms, attend lectures or linger in the pleasant gardens, an oasis in the bustling metropolis. Originally the building was a carriage house and stables and from 1826 to 1833 it operated as a hotel and then it was a private residence.
A ‘DAY’ HOTEL It was common in those days for the members of the upper and middle class to take ‘day trips’ to the country, the then rural setting that is now Manhattan. “Up north some might say,” but it offered a respite from the dirt, noise and bustle of city life. Remember, in the early part of the 19th century New York City only extended as far north as approximately 14th Street. In 1924 the Colonial Dames of America, a historical and genealogical organization bought the house and by 1939 it was opened to the public as the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum and Garden. However, the museum was formerly called the Abigail Adams Smith Museum, in  honor the woman who once lived there.
QUEEN OF COLONIAL REVIVAL It is sad to note that references of Jane Teller are rare in American furniture books, yet auction catalogs and other sources list nearly 1,000 objects that she bought widely for in 1922 she put up items for sale including bedspreads, whale oil lamps, pine tables, spinning wheels, butter churns, sugar kettles, cheese molds, lard squeezers and enough additional pieces to revive appreciation for all things Colonial that turn up at the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum.
COLONIAL CRAFTSMANSHIP Jane Teller singularly sought to revive all aspects of Colonial culture, including the furniture and decorative arts of her 18th-century stone house headquarters at 421 East 61st Street where she began giving classes in handcrafts and advertised for a few bright women to learn hand spinning and weaving whilst self-appointing herself as the secretary of the Society for the Revival of Household Industries and Domestic Arts. Jane regretted that clothes were lacking of individuality and the finer artistry of old hand work. It is suffice to say that that very thought permeates many women’s thoughts even today.
WHO WAS JANE TELLER? She was born Jane Crosby and made a fortuitous match in 1902 and married Myron Teller, an architect who restored houses and was interested in things antiquarian. At her headquarters on East 61st Street Jane taught women to spin or to take raw flax or wool home and spin it there. Jane Teller may not be a household word today, but we acknowledge with gratitude that she helped to popularize the arts and crafts of the Colonial period. By the 1920s she was running a antiques shop offering work of old Colonial design.
THE MUSEUM TODAY The Mount Vernon Hotel Museum is the only surviving example of a ‘day hotel.’ Its period rooms are furnished with historic pieces that reflect how guests would have been accommodated and a kitchen of the era recalls how meals were prepared, while social rooms for card playing  and music, and a Colonial bar attest to the conviviality of the place. The museum offers a variety of lectures and educational programs of the circa 1830 hotel and in the Abigail Adams Orientation Center visitors can view a video about New York City in the 1820s and 1830s. Musical programs in the gardens are scheduled, weather permitting.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


I invite you to step back into a bygone era when grand sweeps of architectural splendor made hotels the quintessence of elegant living. Such is one fine Victorian lady, The Hotel Wolcott. Skirted with grace and brimming with old-world charm, this hotel takes its place with pride as one of the unique treasures in the Murray Hill section of New York City. In the 1850’s when the Victorian swells moved up from downtown Old New York, they chose Fifth Avenue and so did the Hotel Wolcott at Thirty-first Street and Fifth Ave. The historical value of this hotel deserves to be recognized for the hotel fortunately has been restored with modern amenities so that travelers may be able to stay in a luxurious environment like the cognoscenti of yesteryear's.
SOME HISTORICAL ACCOUNT The impressive interior and exterior of the hotel, with gold cherubs caressing the sweeping staircase inside was the work of American architect, John H.Duncan, who counts among his achievements as the architect of Grant’s Tomb and also the Soldiers’ and Sailor’s memorial Arch in Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, NY. The 1904-built hotel was named after a brother of the ex-Senator of Colorado and the current steward, is Scott Erlich, whose family has owned the hotel since 1975 and has carefully restored the structure with a great sensitivity towards authenticating the original plan.
A GRAND BUILDING “If only we looked this good at one hundred years old!” is an appropriate statement when it comes to describing this beautiful Manhattan hotel. Like the grand lady, that she is, the building still maintains the structure’s original architectural details. The lobby is restored in perfect detail with gorgeous crystal chandeliers, marble columns and ceiling colors that match the magnificent period-looking carpet, as pictured in the image above.  Keeping up appearances, so to speak, the hotels warm service also harkens back to a long-past era of hospitality.
MODERN AMENITIES Each of the 200 private rooms have modern amenities like TV and Internet access, but tempting sights nearby beckon as well. Close by is the famous Empire State Building, Madison Square Park and the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church. Downtown past Twenty-third Street there are lots of trendy restaurants and a quick hop on the Madison Avenue bus and you are whisked up to Museums along the route such as MOMA and the Whitney or the Metropolitan. Cross town on 34th Street you can hop the Select Bus to the Javits Center.
A LADY AUTHOR As for me I think I would find the ambiance of the hotel so inspiring that I would sit right down and write a romantic novel there. That’s what America’s most beloved writer Edith Wharton did in 1907, she penned the book, “The Fruit of the Tree,” and I cannot wait to read it. Surely in the past discreet ladies on the town found the hotel’s warm and elegant ambiance to their liking as do the ladies and business women today who might find it likewise an appropriate home away from home.
FAMOUS GUESTS Recalling the hotel’s heyday, Titanic survivors took refuge there as did important businessmen. Musicians including Buddy Holly and Everly brothers were guests as were numerous other celebrities even including Fiorella H. LaGuardia and his family. Nonetheless, the Wolcott has come full circle and today it’s a destination place attracting fashionistas and travelers, not only because it is such a living treasure, but with all of its historical ambiance, the Wolcott, my dears, is quite affordable.

THE WOLCOTT HOTEL, 4 East 31st St., Between Fifth Avenue and Broadway. Tel: 212.268.2900

Monday, July 23, 2012

MERCHANTS HOUSE MUSEUM: A Bygone Era (c) By Polly Guerin

If the elegant red brick homes that once paved a handsome picture on East Fourth Street could talk today, what tales of Victorian splendor would they reveal? In 1832 those were the days when the street was part of the most fashionable residential section of New York City, the Bond Street area, far uptown one might have said, as old New York settlement was way downtown by the waterfront. Just around the corner, Lafayette Place was lined with the homes of millionaires; the Astors, Delanos, van Warts, Landons and Brevoorts all lived there. In 1859 the celebrated industrialist Peter Cooper would erect his free college, Cooper Union.
SOCIAL MOBILITY Eventually in the wake of social mobility the houses and the socially elite, who had lived there, disappeared and later the area gave way to boutiques, artists’ lofts and galleries. However, one old grand red brick lady, the Merchant’s House Museum, nearly 200 years old stands alone today waiting for visitors to discover the only nineteenth century family home in New York City preserved intact.
THE TREDWELL HOUSE Considered one of the finest surviving Greek Revival row houses in America, it is a wonder that the house survived. For one thing, the Tredwell family who lived there never changed the interior or furnishings and the last descendant Gertrude Tredwell remained there in decaying splendor until her death in 1933. The house became a museum in 1936, founded by George Chapman, a cousin of the family.        
THE TREDWELL Merchant Seabury Tredwell, a partner in Tredwell and Kissam, prosperous importers of English marine hardware, after years of successful trade retired to live off his interest and investments. He paid the builder/owner, Joseph Brewster $18,000 for the house and moved in with his wife Eliza in 1835. With them came their seven children and four English and Irish servants to run the house at top form. Tredwell furnished the house with the finest and costliest of furnishings including pieces by the celebrated cabinetmaker, Duncan Phyfe. Tredwell patronized several workshops and may even have purchased pieces by the English cabinetmaker, John Hewitt who was Phyfe’s rival at the time. 
FASHIONABLE FURNISHINGS The house was decorated in the latest fashion befitting the Tredwell’s financial and social status and it seems no money was spared in creating their elegant home. The house is a treasure trove, important today for its outstanding collection of original furnishings and decorative objects. I especially appreciated the charming 19th century clothing, gowns, bonnets and accessories that the Tredwell women wore in their daily and social engagements which were on display. 
THE MUSEUM’S ENTERTAINMENTS The home must have been a lively house and the formal double parlors, the finest example of Greek revival architecture, were the scene of holiday celebrations, wedding receptions and musical socials. In addition to the magnificent period rooms, like the Tredwell’s, the Museum presents many theatrical performances, musicals, lectures, holiday parties and special events throughout the year. Visiting the museum is almost like stepping back into a time capsule where we can see what it was really like to live in a grand red brick brownstone, a genuine 19th Century New York family home.
THE MERCHANT’S HOUSE MUSEUM is located at 29 East Fourth Street, between Lafayette and the Bowery in New York City. While fashion changed during Tredwell’s lifetime he did not and there were no alterations made to the East 4th Street house. After his death, the family updated the parlor with the addition of a few up-to-date Victorian upholstered pieces. Otherwise as his daughter, Gertrude would say, it was left “as papa wanted it.” This rare museum treasure deserves to be put on your sightseeing agenda.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

KEEN'S STEAK HOUSE: Pipe Dreams on 36th Street(c) By Polly Guerin

Keen’s English Chop House is a pipe dream story with a storied history that dates back to Merrie Old England where travelers kept their clay pipe at their favorite inn.  Keen's pipe tradition began in 1885, when Albert Keen opened his restaurant and saloon, now known as Keens Steakhouse and it is still operating full steam ahead as a historic destination dining spot. It’s a ‘man’ thing but ladies also dine there, too,  and  smoke their pipe. Aside from serving up man’s size meals Keen’s unique attraction is its ceiling collection of post-dinner pipes emblazoned with the handwritten number assigned to each owner and kept on the premises. As of the last count Keen's owns the largest collection of churchwarden pipes in the world with over 90,000 pipes installed aloft for safe keeping, because the clay pipes are too fragile to travel. (Image: Note the massive array of clay pipes on the ceiling)
CELEBRITY SMOKERS So, whose pipes are up there anyway? Famous and regular New Yorkers, people like you and me. The membership rooster of the  Pipe Club contains over ninety thousand names, including Teddy Roosevelt, Will Rogers, Grace Moore, Albert Einstein, J. P. Morgan, Stanford White, "Buffalo Bill" Cody.Think celebrities, too numerous to mention here, but I can imagine there are many more ghosts of New York City’s glory days lingering in the rafters.One ironic piece of information: Just the day before Mayor Michael Bloomberg enacted a citywide smoking ban in 2003, he was presented with an honorary pipe during a dinner at Keens, but he did not smoke it. His signed stem remains an artifact at the restaurant.
THE CHURCHWARDEN PIPES The Churchwarden pipes, yes, that’s what they are called, are roughly 15 inches long. Legend has it that the “church” moniker comes from the old chapel officers, who created a stem long enough to reach out past the stained-glass windows so that they might smoke during Mass. Most current models are made in Holland by the Royal Delta Company. It’s a throwback to a bygone era but new members may still receive their pipes and cards bearing the identifying digits and join this exclusive club. The life of a pipe has its calling. When a member dies, it’s Keen’s custom that friends and family ceremoniously break the stem of his or her churchwarden, so that it can never be smoked again.
GARMENT DISTRICT MUSEUM This garment industry museum boasts an extensive collection of Lincoln, Roosevelt and theater memorabilia arrayed in profusion of old photographs, newspaper clippings and other odd ephemera that cover the restaurant’s six expansive dining rooms. If you are a history sleuth check out the Lincoln Room which features the Ford’s Theater playbill that President Lincoln held right before he died at the hands of John Wilkes Booth. This is a surprisingly ‘seldom talked about’ restaurant find, and it is located just a few doors from Macy’s Department Store.
During the workweek the restaurant seems to be always crowded, and that’s a good thing, but lunch on the weekend, when the crowd has thinned out, you can enjoy stepping back into another era under a canopy of pipe dreams. Keens Steakhouse, 72 W. 36th St. (Between 5th & 6th Aves.) 212.947.3636.


About Me

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Polly Guerin is an author/poet with four textbooks and 2 video productions as credentials as well as 4 books ready to be published. All my blogs are intended to become the basis for books to be published. PollyTalk From New York (c) is a current events blog about happenings in New York City. I have been PollyTalk columnist on the Internet, Big Apple News Network. AmazingArtDecoDivas blog features amazing women of notable character. I am on the board of the Art Deco Society of New York. The Fashion Historian blog gives pertinent insight into Polly's consummate knowledge about fashion history. Former professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Awaken Your Sleeping Beauty blog gives you pertinent information about holistic remedies for health, beauty, mind, body and spirit. I am on the board of the Edgar Cayce New York Center. I sing with the St. George's Choral Society and also serve on their Board. My little dog Colby is a rescue dog and I support animal charities. I hope you enjoy my blogs, please keep in touch.