Gracie Mansion has been the official residence of New York City’s mayor since 1942, Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia and his family moved in. It is located on East 88th Street in Carl Schurz park.
The federal style house was built in the 18th century for wealthy merchant Jacob Watson. In 1798 ship merchant Archibald Gracie traded his Lower East Side townhouse for the Watson mansion in what was then known as Yorkville. The city purchase the Gracie estate in 1886 to expand Carl Schurz park.
For years it served various functions as part of Schurz park, housing public restrooms, an ice cream stand, and classrooms. From 1924 until 1936, it housed the Museum of the City of New York, and from 1936 until 1942, it was shown as a historical house.
For many year there had been discussion of finding an official residence for New York’s mayor, which finally came to fruition under Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, who convinced La Guardia that it could be made a suit residence with the help of the New Deal. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided the funds and the labor force to restore Gracie Mansion, both inside and out, under the direction of Moses’ architect Aymar Embury II and engineer W. Earle Andrews.
In an early November 1941 “Memorandum to the Mayor,” Moses outlined the costs – totaling $25,000 – including $10,000 for “alterations to the house,” $5,000 for “draperies, rugs and additional furniture for public rooms,” and $10,000 for “reconstruction of park area at Gracie Mansion so as to provide entrance, fencing, etc.”
A May 1942 press release announcing the completion of the restoration explained that: “Although it has been essential in the restoration to make some concessions to the needs of modern living, very little was done to disturb the existing floor plans. Great care was taken to preserve the simple charm and dignity of the structure…Exterior building work consisted of minor repairs and complete repainting.”
The move to Gracie Mansion was controversial, as La Guardia feared, since it smacked of pretense to grandeur in the midst of World War II. But that tempest in a teapot passed, and it is now viewed as a major feature of the city’s historic landscape and a suitable home for the city’s mayors.
Gracie Mansion was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Its main two floors are open to the public on a limited basis for guided tours on Tuesdays and as a small museum. In 2017, the Gracie Conservancy announced a 75th year celebration of the mansion as the official residence of the mayor of New York.
The full story is told in an excellent essay by Ms. Emily Gruber, A tribute to the New Deal-funded restorations to Gracie Mansion, for Professor Elizabeth Blackmar’s course on urban landscapes.
National Archives and Records Administration https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gracie_Mansion https://www1.nyc.gov/site/gracie/index.page Department of Parks, Press Release, May 21, 1942 Robert Moses to Fiorello H. La Guardia, “Remodeling Gracie Mansion,” November 8, 1941. La Guardia Files Roll #74, 000339. La Guardia and Wagner Archives. La Guardia Community College, Queens, NY.
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