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.