Thursday, May 27, 2010

400 Turn Out For House Tour!

Noel Murrain (left), nephew of the present owner of 131 Pinecrest Drive, shakes hands with Hastings Mayor Peter Swiderski (right). 131 Pinecrest was owned in the 1920s by Metropolitan Opera ballet master Alexis Kosloff. (Photograph copyright Susan Rutman)

Last minute worries about the weather and a sufficient stock of cookies are behind us, and we can now bask in the glow of a terrifically successful event. The Historical Society’s house tour “Hastings Characters and Character” attracted approximately four hundred visitors this past Saturday and Sunday. And every one of them raved about the opportunity to peak inside fifteen of our community’s most historic homes.

Once again, we want to extend our thanks to all those many, many people who helped make the tour not only possible, but fabulous! Thirteen private home owners (including children and dogs) graciously opened their homes to the public. Two dozen researchers compiled histories of the houses and their notable inhabitants. One hundred and twenty docents guided visitors though the houses on the days of the tour. A special thanks goes to Jennifer Moore Smith, who did all the graphic design for the project. And our biggest thanks to the tireless house tour organizers Sue Smith and Liz Liebeskind, the duo whose imaginations were large enough to conceive of such a mammoth undertaking. We stand in awe!

And thanks also to everyone who attended! We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. If you took a couple of special photographs or have any interesting stories of the tour – send them our way!

Docent Dick Ford greets visitors to 31 Sheldon Place, home of artists Rosetta and Herbert Bohnert. (Photograph copyright Susan Rutman)

Our heroes: Liz Liebeskind (left) and Sue Smith (right), posed with the silhouette of actress May Yohe made for the house tour by Jennifer Moore Smith. (Photograph copyright Susan Rutman)

DiggIt!Add to del.icio.usAdd to Technorati Faves

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Title: House Tour Preview: May Yohe – Hastings’ Glamour Girl

Hastings has rarely been as close to the international high life as it was at the turn of the century when the actress May Yohe lived here. This weekend, May 22nd & May 23rd bewteen 1 & 5, the house she spent several years in will be on the Historical Society’s house tour. Her life is so incredibly like a romance novel that the wonderful 8-page article written for the Hastings Historian last year by Lilian and John Mullane was barely long enough to do it justice. This blog post, baldly cribbed from the Mullanes’ article, can only give you a hint of her extraordinary escapades. Join us for the house tour to find out more!

Mary Augustus Yohe was born on April 6, 1866 to a poor family in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Her father, most likely of German ancestry, was an ironworker and a commissioned officer in the Civil War. Her mother, Lizzie Batcheller, was an expert seamstress and amateur singer of English-Narragansett Indian ancestry. Aided by German friends of her mother, May was sent abroad to an expensive boarding school in Dresden and then to a finishing school in Paris.

By the time she returned to Pennsylvania, at age 21, her father was dead and her mother had moved to Philadelphia. There her mother ran a successful dressmaker’s business. One of her wealthy customers was Mrs. John Drew, a successful actress and manager of the Arch Street Theater in Philadelphia. Mrs. Drew, impressed by May’s poise, beauty, imagination, and musical talent, gave her a letter of introduction to Mr. A.M. Palmer, the manager of the Union Square Theater in New York.

Palmer gave May a job as a chorus girl at $9 per week. Less than a year later, she had her first role: understudy to the lead actress in Natural Gas, a musical comedy. May’s career flourished. Four years later, in 1892, she was introduced to Henry Francis Pelham-Clinton Beresford Hope at a dinner party at Delmonico’s Restaurant. Lord Francis, though May did not know it, was heir to a British dukedom and the Hope Diamond. After dinner, May had planned to go to the Horse Show at Madison Square Garden, and Lord Francis boldly asked to accompany her.

Shortly afterward, they met again, in London. Lord Hope apparently arranged for May to be cast in the starring role of the play, Little Christopher, Jr. May’s “foghorn” contralto voice, performing “Honey, Ma Honey,” created quite a stir, and she soon became known as “Madcap May, the toast of London.”

May appears to have moved in with Lord Francis before they were married, but the service was finally held, in spite of the bitter opposition of his entire family, on November 27th, 1894. Between her shopping and his gambling, the couple led an expensive existence. In 1899, they set out on a luxury round-the-world tour. It was on this trip that the couple met Putnam Bradlee Strong, a Harvard graduate and son of a former mayor of New York City. When the trip ended, Strong kept up his friendship with Lord Francis -- and increased his attentions to May. When May came down with pneumonia in New York and Lord Francis refused to cut short his fishing trip to Florida, Strong kept bedside vigil instead. When she recovered, May was in love.

The couple fled first to San Francisco, and then continued on to Japan, where their house became the meeting place for the local smart set. Their life was no less extravagant than it had been in New York, only now May had to pick up the tab. When the money ran out, the couple returned reluctantly to the United States -- and to Hastings-on-Hudson.

By then May’s mother, Lizzie Batcheller, was living in a grand house on Villard Avenue. Built in 1880 in the Queen Anne style, the house has not only wrap-around verandah and an open turret, but also a large domed tower. It is unclear exactly who built the house, and when it came into Lizzie’s hands, but the money for it had certainly come from May. And to this house, Lizzie brought her daughter, her daughter’s lover, their Japanese maid Yodi, and their 100 pieces of luggage.

On the surface, May and Strong lived quite peacefully in Hastings. May returned to the New York stage to bring in an income. But Strong had resumed his gambling. In July of 1902, Strong suddenly disappeared with money he made by pawning some of May’s jewels (which were said to be worth $250,000). May followed Strong to London, and there was a reconciliation, followed in October by a marriage in Argentina. May vowed never to return to the United States, but when her mother died she did come back to sell her mother’s house to Oliver O. Gribben, a buyer in foreign rugs and tapestries for Macy’s and B. Altman’s.

This was the end of May Yohe’s connection with Hastings, though hardly the end of an eventful life that included at least two more marriages and a 1920s silent movie series that she starred in and promoted called The Hope Diamond Mystery. May made the most out of her brief association with the Hope Diamond, which she referred to as a “life-long association.” She did her best to further the completely unfounded “curse” surrounding it. Lord Hope sold the diamond in 1901, and it passed through several hands before it was donated by an American jeweler to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC in 1947.

May Yohe in 1926. Around her neck is a necklace with a large stone suspended from it, probably the replica of the Hope Diamond made for the 1921 movie series. May apparently enjoyed wearing the stone in public -- and letting people think it was was the real one.

2010 House Tour: Hastings' Characters and Character
Saturday May 22 & Sunday May 23 between 1PM & 5PM

Tickets are no longer available online, but you can still buy them at Festivities on Main Street in Hastings during business hours, and on the day of the tour during tour hours at the Historical Society tent in Zinsser Parking Lot, across the street from the train station. Tickets purchased at Festivities before Saturday are $20 for an individual, $40 for a family, and $5 for a child 8 or older. Tickets purchased the day of the tour are $25 for an individual, $50 for a family, and $5 for a child 8 or older.
And here is a grand list of the Hastings personalities featured on the tour!
Actress May Yohe
Women's rights activist Margaret Sanger
Musician Arthur Abell
Artists Rosetta and Herbert Bohnert
Empire State Building architect Richmond Shreve
Social psychologists Kenneth & Mamie Clark
Federal judge Maurice Grey
Ballet master Alexis Kosloff
Local activist and photographer A.C. Langmuir
Scientists John William Draper and his son Henry
Admiral David Glassgow Farragut
Artist Jasper F. Cropsey
Tiffany silversmith Edward C. Moore
Join us this weekend to learn more about all these fascinating characters!
DiggIt!Add to del.icio.usAdd to Technorati Faves

Thursday, May 13, 2010

House Tour Preview: Jasper F. Cropsey – A View from the Artist’s Studio

Jasper F. Cropsey at age 24, painted by Edward L. Mooney in 1847. From the Collection of the Newington-Cropsey Foundation.

Thanks to the generosity of the Newington-Cropsey Foundation, our May 22 & 23 house tour will include the house and studio of the painter Jasper F. Cropsey (1823-1900), one of the leaders of the 19th-century Hudson River School.

The Hudson River School has been called the first truly American school of painting, a school that glorified the beauty and grandeur of the American landscape. Cropsey himself was known as “America’s painter of Autumn.” His paintings of the fall colors of the Hudson Valley were so brilliant that the English thought he was exaggerating when he exhibited his work in London. He had leaves sent from home and displayed them with the paintings to prove that trees could really show such colors. Cropsey began his career in New York City as an architect, but from childhood he had shown a gift for painting. He exhibited a landscape at the National Academy of Design when he was 21 that earned him an invitation to become an Associate Member—the youngest in the history of that organization. In 1845 he left architecture to become a full-time painter.

"View of Hudson River and Palisades from Artist's Home," an oil painting signed and dated, "J.F. Cropsey 1886." From the Collection of the Newington-Cropsey Foundation.

His work reached the peak of its popularity in the 1850s and 1860s. During this period he travelled between Europe and America, painting English castles and abbeys for his American clients and the American landscape for the English. In 1861 he was presented to Queen Victoria, who greatly admired his “Autumn—On the Hudson River.” In 1862 the painting won a medal at the International Exposition in London and sold for the amazing sum of $2,000. Back in New York, Cropsey helped to found the American Watercolor Association in 1866. That same year Cropsey and his wife Maria purchased land in Warwick, NY on which they built a splendid house and studio that they christened “Aladdin.”

But during the 1870s the tide of fashion began to turn against the Hudson River School as the public became more interested in French landscape painting, and then Impressionism. The Cropseys, who were never careful with money, were forced to sell “Aladdin” in 1884. In 1885 they purchased a Gothic Revival cottage that had been built in the 1830s on Washington Avenue in Hastings. The couple gave the house the name “Ever Rest”, and they lived there together until Jasper Cropsey’s death in 1900.

Detail of a 1901 map of Hastings of the area between Main Street and Washington Avenue showing the Cropsey Estate, the house on Washington that backed onto the Ravine with its circular driveway, the stream running through the Ravine down to the industrial waterfront, and at the far right the "School" -- the 1863 Fraser Free School, the first school building built in Hastings.

As soon as they purchased the property, Cropey added a studio, a recreation of the one he had designed for Aladdin. The two-story room is paneled with dark wood and contains an Inglenook fireplace, modeled after one Cropsey had admired at Windsor Castle. Above is a square cupola whose windows can be opened with pulleys. The house and studio are full of his work, and you will also see Cropsey’s palette and easel there, as well as furniture and stained glass that he designed.

Interior of Jasper F. Cropsey's studio in Hastings.

Hastings, according to Cropsey, was “one of the finest passages of scenery on the river.” From 1885 on, the town began to figure prominently in Cropsey’s paintings and drawings. His studio overlooks the Ravine that begins behind Five Corners and leads down to the waterfront, under the Warburton Avenue Bridge that was built in 1899, the year before Cropsey died. The painting reproduced above shows the view looking west down the Ravine to the Hudson River. He also painted the view in the opposite direction, looking up the Ravine toward the back of Main Street. This watercolor, which you can see below, shows what was then the Fraser Free School (now the Hook & Ladder Company) and an axle mill in the Ravine, long since demolished, that was fed by the stream that ran through the Ravine. (For someone who had made his reputation as part of a group that prized wilderness above everything, it is surprising how many of Cropsey’s Hastings views include industrial buildings and steam boats.)

Cropsey also painted pictures of the Hastings waterfront and views looking down to the river from the Hastings hills, as well as scenes in nearby river towns. “I have no occasion,” he wrote, “to travel much since I am so surrounded with beautiful scenery – the rocky palisades – the ever changing marine “bits” of the Queen River; and inland, the lovely meadow and wooded hills of the Saw-Mill River Valley, and the grassy Sprain River – where the summer verdure is most luxuriant and the autumn color is as brilliant as any where in our country. … [I] find my recreation with my sketch book, in little tramps about my home.”

"View from the Studio (Overlooking Ravine)," watercolor painted by Jasper F. Cropsey in 1891. From the collection of the Newington-Cropsey Foundation.

DiggIt!Add to del.icio.usAdd to Technorati Faves

Thursday, May 6, 2010

House Tour Preview: Kenneth Clark – Neighbors and Guests

Our May 22 & 23 house tour will include the home of African-American psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark. In 1950, the Clarks moved to Hastings’ Pinecrest neighborhood, the area west of the Andrus Memorial Home. They raised their children here and remained here until their deaths, Mamie in 1983 and Kenneth in 2005. In 1990, Historical Society Trustee Coleman Barkin interviewed Clark for the Society’s oral history collection. The following is an edited version of that interview, in which Clark talks about his house, his neighbors, his friendship with the Lithuanian-born sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, and some of his more famous house guests.

(In the interview, Clark refers to “The Chances” who sold them their house. These were African-American lawyer Lucille Chance and her sister Sarah Grey. Their maiden name was Edwards, and under that name they ran a Harlem-based real estate business called Edwards Sisters Realty. Lucille was instrumental in bringing African-American families to Hastings. Her house will also be on our house tour.)

The view: the Hudson River seen from the Pinecrest neighborhood in 1929.

INT: Where did you first live?

KC: In New York City, in Washington Heights. As I said, [Mamie was] from Arkansas, and a home—she didn’t particularly like living in an apartment. So she said we ought to look to find a home, and this was the first place we looked -- Hastings. Our neighbors, the Chances, who have a home up here, were in real estate and they showed us this home. … She liked it, I liked it. I liked the view, and that oak tree in the back is really magnificent, and the fireplace. We decided to buy it. We didn’t look any further. …

INT: Was Hastings an integrated community at that time?

KC: As far as we knew. There were about three or four black families in this area. It seemed like a pretty integrated area. I had a very good friend, Robert Merton, who lived up the drive. … He’s a professor of Sociology at Columbia. … I’ll never forget the first Christmas we were here. We hadn’t yet fixed up the house. The bell rang, we went to the front door and there was Bob Merton and a group of neighbors who came to sing Christmas carols and whatnot. That was really a very impressive event for us. It told us, really, that it was a decent community … . One of the things that fascinated me was that in the Pinecrest area whites and blacks interchanged in selling. A white family would sell to a negro family, a negro family could sell to a white family. …

INT: What kind of reputation did Hastings have?

KC: A pleasant place, a pleasant suburb. … It seemed the type of place that one would like other places to be like. …

INT: Did you use the parks around here, or the aqueduct?

KC: Yes, sometimes. In fact, I used to walk down the aqueduct to [sculptor Jacques] Lipchitz’s studio on Sundays. We would sit and talk. We were quite friendly. … I walked down and I saw his studio, and, of course, I’ve always been impressed with Lipchitz. In fact, I have one of his pieces upstairs that I’ll show you. We’d sit and we’d talk. We’d talk about Picasso. He was quite a person, a very gentle man. …

INT: Was he working continuously? Was he sculpting all the time?

KC: He did quite a bit of sculpting, yeah. And he didn’t seem to mind taking time out for us to sit and talk. And I visited his home there … . He has a lot of African art.

The Old Croton Aqueduct running alongside Pinecrest Drive in 1931.

INT: What did you talk about besides Picasso?

KC: Events – what was happening in the world. We had similar ideology. …

INT: You had mentioned to me, when we last spoke, that you had different friends come up and spend some time here. [Singer] Paul Robeson, you said he’d been here, and [writer] Jim Baldwin.

KC: Paul Robeson had been up with the Chances. Martin Luther King had spent some time here with us as a guest. …

INT: Were they here just socially, or did you have meetings?

KC: Socially and meetings. Meetings with Roy Wilkins, Whitney [Young] [both prominent civil-rights activists], and others. …

INT: Why did you meet here, rather than in somebody’s office?

KC: That’s a very interesting question. It was a… I guess it was a secret. I think Martin was staying with us. As I told you it was fascinating, we had lunch upstairs and discussions down here [in the library]. …

INT: What was [Jim Baldwin] like?

KC: He was like Jim Baldwin. We had long discussions. We’d have more discussions with Jim than we would with Martin. Martin was easy going. I only saw him angry once. Jim was sort of voracious. I liked him. Mamie liked him. In fact, we would not have guests here, particularly those that were staying for a while, who we didn’t like … .

INT: You said you saw Martin Luther King angry once?

KC: Once he was angry with [civil-rights activist] Roy [Wilkins], who was opposed to his anti-Vietnam position. I must say Whitney was quite the negotiator. I admired Whitney’s ability to reconcile. … [But] I certainly was very much on [Martin’s] side in the anti-Vietnam. I guess I was a part of history – here in the Pinecrest area – although by no means publicized.

Sculptor Jacques Lipchitz at work in his studio ca. 1965.

DiggIt!Add to del.icio.usAdd to Technorati Faves