A day-trip to Kykuit

The mighty Hudson as seen from the terrace of Kykuit, looking northwest. Photo: Jeff Hirsch.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012. Heat. Day and night. With assurances from the weatherman that it breaks sometime late today.

There is activity in the city, but it’s the kind of heat that you really don’t want to go out on the street. Perhaps after the Sun goes down. Last night I had dinner at the eternally chic and elegant La Grenouille with Wendy Carduner, the Directrice of Doubles, and the restaurant was packed. And cool.

On this Monday past, JH and I drove up to Kykuit, the Rockefeller estate near Tarrytown. I was participating/being interviewed by Los Angeles architect David Appelbaum for a documentary that Stephen Crisman is producing/directing for the National Geographic channel on Great Houses of America. (I don’t know if that’s the title but that is the idea).
Architect David Applebaum and DPC beginning the interview on the lawn of one of the Rockefeller family houses on the property.
The interview continues in the forecourt of the big house. I'm always surprised to see how tall I am. For most of my life I've felt too tall. But c'est la vie.
David and DPC sitting by a fountain in one of the gardens next to the house.
David and DPC taking direction from Steve Crisman.
Kykuit (pronounced ky-cut — from the Dutch word meaning “look-out”) is only about 17 miles north of Manhattan once you get on the Henry Hudson Parkway. We drove up midmorning, and riding in the air-conditioned car, it was a beautiful drive. The West Side highways and those to the north the Saw Mill River Parkway are verdant and lush. And for a few miles, the Hudson River with nature’s stately Palisades on the western side command your view (unless you’re driving).

We went up to Kykuit a few years ago for a tour with the American Friends of Versailles. At that time we had a tour of the some of the house’s interior, which was last occupied by Nelson and Happy Rockefeller and their children. The property is vast, for an American estate. The property was acquired by John D. Rockefeller Sr. in parcels beginning in 1893 when he bought 400 acres in North Tarrytown in the Pocantico Hills.
Mary Louise Pierson. Mary's mother is one of Nelson Rockefeller's daughters by his first wife, Mary Clark Rockefeller.
Mary Louise Pierson, Nelson Rockefeller's granddaughter, with Kykuit docent Laura Bunt. Ms. Bunt's father, Leonardo Frasca, worked as a cabinetmaker for the Rockefeller family for many years. And her uncle, Vincent Frasca, was Mr. Rockefeller's personal chauffeur. 
Ms. Pierson and Ms. Bunt are both authors of books about Kykuit. Pierson's book is called The Rockefeller Family Home: Kykuit; Bunt's is called Times and Dimes with the Rockefellers.
Rockefeller’s main residence at that time was in Cleveland but because of the massive expansion of his business, The Standard Oil Company (now Exxon), he established a residence in Manhattan (on West 54th Street). But he always loved countryside and this property in the Pocantico Hills ran along the Hudson, affording a king’s view of the wide river and the Catskills beyond. It was originally intended as a “country house” for when the Rockefellers were residing in Manhattan, while the house in Cleveland was still considered “home” and where the family spent several months a year.

By the early 20th century Rockefeller had expanded the property to more than three thousand acres. The family lived in a simple wood frame house that came with one of the parcels. That too was never intended to be baronial, as the man’s tastes in architecture and shelter were not reflective of his vast fortune in the days before Income Tax (his yearly income in 1902 was close to $60 million, or several billion in today’s dollars).
The gate at the top of the driveway that leads to the forecourt and the main entrance of the house. The owner's monogram is in gold at the center of the top of the gate, and underneath, the number 1909, the year the house was completed and the gate was constructed
Looking out from the forecourt at the Oceanus Fountain, the granite bowl of which came from Stonington, Maine, weighing more than 35 tons and 20 feet in diameter. Its statuary were copied by European craftsmen, packed up in 13 crates and arrived at Kykuit first by steamer and then by train.
The entrance way to the house.
At its top, above the third floor, the great carved eagle, clutching a shield with the Rockefeller cipher.
The basket bearing cherubs set on either side of the house's entryway.
More luscious details.
By the time he reached age 60, Standard Oil was so enormous that Rockefeller began to retire and concentrate on his property (and his golf he played his first game of golf when he was 60 and played almost daily for the rest of his very long life). 

The first house they occupied burned down and they moved to another house that was on another part of acquired property. John D. Rockefeller was a man meticulously focused on his objectives, be it business or with “landscaping” his property. In the early days of the estate, Rockefeller hired Frederick Law Olmsted to design the landscaping, but later fired him because he preferred doing it himself. He built about thirty miles of roadway which he loved for daily drives. He planted thousands of trees. The modern sculptures which surround the house were the addition of its last occupant Nelson Rockefeller, son of John D. Jr. and his wife Abby who was one of the founders of the Museum of Modern Art. John D. Jr. hated modern art and although he financially supported his wife's endeavor, he never wanted it around so that he had to see it. Nelson, however, after his father's death, changed all that as he shared his mother's love of modern art.
The view from the house's entrance looking out across the forecourt to the Oceanus Fountain, looking east across the Pocantico hills.
Ornamental supports over the entrance facade.
The modern sculptures which surround the house were the addition of its last occupant Nelson Rockefeller, son of John D. Jr. and his wife Abby, who was one of the founders of the Museum of Modern Art. John D. Jr. hated modern art and although he financially supported his wife's endeavor, he never wanted it around so that he had to see it. Nelson, however, after his father's death, changed all that as he shared his mother's love of modern art.
The big house, which was begun in the early years of the 20th century, was a long time in planning and then in building, with the influence of several architects, as well as landscape architects, including Delano and Aldrich, and the interior decorator Ogden Codman. Most of all, it was the accidental, and sometimes dramatic collaboration of Mr. Rockefeller and his son and namesake, John D. Rockefeller Jr.

Its history is the story of the relationship between the father and son, and it will be spelled out in the upcoming documentary, shedding new light on the richest man in the world and his only son. It will be aired on the National Geographic Channel sometime in October.
DPC and David Applebaum strolling along the walk from the garden to the big house.
The spectacular views of the Hudson from the terrace of the house.
A view of the house's northern facade from the entrance driveway outside the big gate.
The Playhouse, an idea of Abby Rockefeller's as a center for her family's use, contained squash courts, an indoor pool, a gymnasium, a bowling alley, a billiard room, an indoor tennis court, a kitchen, and a large room for parties. Family members still use the playhouse for picnics and family events and dinner parties in the warm weather.
It's a wrap! Mark Roy, Chuck Webb, DPC, Mary Louise Pierson, Greg Androcke, Stephen Crisman, Peter Firstbrook, David Applebaum, and Vasilios Sfinarolakis.
Kykuit now belongs to the National Trust and can be visited by the public. For more information, click here.
 

Contact DPC here.