America’s Garden of Eden: The Hudson River Valley

Peter’s Reflections
A monthly column by ICAA President, Peter Lyden


“Truly all is remarkable and a wellspring of amazement and wonder. Man is so fortunate to dwell in this American Garden of Eden.”   -Albert Bierstadt, Painter

The Hudson River and its magical environs have always held a certain spell over me. The charm of the region comes from a special alchemy, a unique combination of its signature characteristics: the glowing light which the Hudson River School Painters treasured; the romantic charm of the grand houses that have fallen into a bit of disrepair and their overgrown gardens; the majestic views in all directions; the embedded history and remembrance of the region’s significance throughout the revolutionary, civil, and world wars (remember FDR gave the Queen Mum hot dogs at Hyde Park overlooking the Hudson River). While Americans seem to be so keen to visit and gush about the beauty of the Rhine, I personally think the Hudson is even more splendid than its European counterpart.
I have my own personal favorite places to share with you, a veritable classicist playground!

1. Edgewater, as a part of Classical Homes Preservation Trust

In my mind, Edgewater is a temple to the gods. The families that owned the house over the years, from the Livingston family to my personal hero Dick Jenrette (who currently resides there), created such a classically beautiful home right on the Hudson River that is a sight to behold. My favorite features of the house include its parade of perfectly proportioned rooms; its impressive collection of Duncan Phyfe furniture; its position on the Hudson River with the Catskill Mountains in the distance; and its lush collection of trees and English border gardens. I am delighted to give you all a little teaser that the ICAA will soon be working in partnership with Dick and his fine foundation on an upcoming project. Stay tuned!

2. Montgomery Place

Montgomery Place (Image: Peter Lyden)

To me, Montgomery Place is the most authentic, archetypal example of an ideal Hudson River home. Perfectly positioned on a bluff, overlooking the river, it is the jewel in the crown of this region. This is where I always bring my guests to show them a true Hudson villa, à la Edith Wharton. Montgomery Place is the joint creation of the architect Alexander Jackson Davis and the landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing. Both men created many memorable homes and gardens, but I believe this united effort resulted in a near perfect result.

3. Wethersfield Garden

Wethersfield Garden (Image: Wethersfield Garden)

Please travel to Wethersfield to see the gardens designed by Bryan J. Lynch and Evelyn N. Poehler. They have created a timeless, meditative garden that focuses on shrubs, water features, and stone walls with classical statuary. My favorite parts of the garden are the views of the valley below (particularly in autumn) and its flowering shrubs in the spring, especially the rhododendrons and azaleas. An additional treasure at Wethersfield Garden is its impressive horse carriage collection. Seeing the hackney ponies and driver out with one of the classic historical carriages is truly a beautiful sight.

4. Middlefield

Middlefield (Image: G. P. Schafer Architect, PLLC)

In my opinion, the Greek revival home of architect Gil Schafer (former President and Chairman of the ICAA) stands out as one of the country’s most extraordinary examples of contemporary classicism. Middlefield is not only a stunning building on its own, but it is perfectly aligned with its natural setting. One would think Gil’s house had been there for centuries! The exceptionally high standard of design, craftsmanship, and beauty are maintained not just in the architecture, but also in the landscape design and the interiors, all of which near perfection.

5. Drumlin Hall

Drumlin Hall (Image: Peter Pennoyer Architects)

How wonderful to see that the houses mentioned above have influenced the creation of Drumlin Hall, the contemporary regency villa designed by Peter Pennoyer (also a former Chairman of the ICAA). The gently arched porte-cochère was inspired by Montgomery Place. The interiors, designed by Thomas Jayne, draw inspiration from Edgewater, with its painted wood floors. Peter combines these various influences with perfect continuity. However, what I admire most about this house is its spectacular placement in the drumlins, the miniature hills caused by glacial deposits.

I would also recommend visiting the houses of Old Chatham and the drive down Route 13; the charming town of Kinderhook; Olana’s grounds and spectacular views; and the horse properties of Millbrook, particularly Yellow Frame Farm. And I could go on; such are the treasures of the Hudson River!  – Peter Lyden, ICAA President

* Keep an eye on the ICAA’s Instagram this week to see more of Peter’s favorite views from the Hudson River Valley.

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Inspired Places & Spaces – March

As the signs of spring begin blooming around us, March’s Inspired Places & Spaces visits three extraordinary sites that serve as inspiration to James Doyle, Quincy Hammond, and Kathryn Herman. These three landscape professionals have discovered spaces that offer a magical blend of landscape, architecture, and design.

Montacute House

James Doyle: Montacute House is a masterpiece of Elizabethan Renaissance architecture and design and I fell in love with the honey-gold color of the ham stone. Beautiful gardens surround the house and bleed out to the Somerset countryside. The house was completed in 1601 and a walk through the Long Gallery is a must. The history of time is evident with the gallery housing Tudor and Elizabethan portraits from the National Portrait Gallery.

The Musée Rodin

The Musée Rodin

Quincy Hammond: The Musée Rodin in Paris is the perfect marriage of art, landscape and architecture. The building establishes the formal character of the garden layout, while the sculptures define the unique character of each garden room, while the plantings enhance the intrinsic character of the sculptures within them. They complement so completely it is impossible to imagine one element without the other.

Lunuganga Estate

Kathryn Herman: Lunuganga Estate, the private home of Geoffrey Bawa on Dedduwa Lake, Bentota, Sri Lanka is one of my favorite places. The buildings and gardens are a charming mash up of tropical meets Italian meets British Colonial. The gardens are lush and water is prevalent in the design. The house is beautifully sited to overlook the lake. Bawa used his home and gardens as a place to experiment and this is something that I can relate to!

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14th Annual McKim Lecture

By Anthony Del Aversano

On Wednesday, March 4, 2015, the ICAA held its 14th Annual McKim Lecture. Organized in partnership with the University Club and the One West 54th Street Foundation, this year’s lecture featured Francis Morrone as the guest speaker. A noted architectural historian and writer, Morrone spoke to a sold out audience about the City Beautiful movement in his lecture entitled, The City Beautiful and the Urban Landscape in America.

The evening commenced with members of both the ICAA and the University Club socializing over cocktails during a reception. Afterwards, attendees were ushered into the beautiful and newly renovated University Club’s College Hall. There, Francis discussed the City Beautiful movement, an architectural movement occurring during the turn of the century which pushed for improving urban areas through building and monument programs heavily influenced by the Classical style. Francis cited the famous 1893 Chicago World’s Fair as the first large-scale example of the City Beautiful movement. The start of the movement, as seen at the Fair, was exemplified by its model city complete with neo-classical buildings clad in white stucco and streetlights that outshined Chicago’s surrounding grim and dilapidated tenement buildings.

Cities across the country caught on, building various structures in the classical tradition in the hopes of beautifying their own communities. Francis focused specifically on New York, mentioning a variety of local City Beautiful inspired buildings. This list included the Bronx Community College Library designed by Stanford White, once a part of New York University, as well as the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch found in the center of the Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. Francis made special note of what he viewed as one of the best examples of the City Beautiful movement, a streetcar stop found close to the aforementioned Arch. While diminutive when compared to his other examples, the stop embodies the philosophy of the movement with its clean, pristine herringbone brick walkway and large bronze urns that flank the open aired seating area placed in a columnated gazebo. Francis’s parting words were that even in the smallest, most utilitarian of places, the City Beautiful movement was used to take a claustrophobic, gritty urban area and make it a truly beautiful city.

The evening was capped off with a dinner in the University Club’s grand Main Dining Room where members from both organizations dined while enthusiastically discussing the fascinating lecture Francis had given.

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Remembering Michael Graves

A word from ICAA Chairman, Mark Ferguson

My fellow members and I at the ICAA are deeply saddened by the death of our teacher, mentor and longtime advisor Michael Graves. His passion for teaching and his erudition and artistry were legendary. These qualities drew me and my future colleagues, the founders of the Institute, to the Graduate College at Princeton in the early 1980s. His prolific output of drawings and, later, of buildings, furniture and household objects, was deeply influential on an entire generation of architects. It was an extraordinary time to be his student. He made ancient design principles relevant by making evident, in his critiques and in his work, the endless possibilities for invention embodied in simple ideas. His use of metaphor to connect buildings to the humanist tradition laid the foundation for our careers. We are thankful for his counsel and will always draw inspiration from his work.

Michael Graves at the ICAA’s Reconsidering Postmodernism Conference, 2011. Photo © Sterne Slaven.

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ICAA Members Visit the Edward S. Harkness House

By Anthony Del Aversano

The Edward S. Harkness House

Interiors of the Harkness House

On Saturday, February 21, 2015, ICAA members were given a tour of one of Manhattan’s true hidden gems, the Edward S. Harkness House. Situated on the corner of 75th Street and Fifth Avenue, this seven story, neo-Italian Renaissance building was constructed between 1907 and 1908 for Edward Harkness and designed by James Gamble Rogers of the architecture firm Hale and Rogers. It was a wedding gift to Edward from his mother Anna. Harkness was the sole heir to his family’s fortune, which was derived from his father Stephen V. Harkness’ investments in John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company. Harkness was a passionate philanthropist, donating vast sums of money to a variety of educational and artistic institutions.

After Edward’s death and the death of his wife Mary, the house was donated to the Commonwealth Fund, which still owns the Harkness House today. The Commonwealth Fund was founded by Anna Harkness in 1918 as a non-profit organization focusing on improving healthcare for society’s most vulnerable people,. The ICAA is grateful to Paul Wentworth Engel, Co-Building Manager and Harkness House Curator, for leading the tour through some of the houses beautifully preserved rooms.

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Inspired Places & Spaces – February

The cold and dreary month of February is the perfect time to dream of travel escapes near and far. With travel on the mind, we turned to William Brockschmidt and Andrew Tullis, two members of the ICAA’s Travel Committee, to seek inspiration from their favorite places and spaces.

Duomo di Siracusa

William Brockschmidt, Designer: Incorporating Ancient Greek temples, gleaming baroque churches, gelato-hued palaces, and a raised garden with orange and palm trees, Siracusa’s graceful crescent-shaped Piazza Duomo is glorious for its architecture – and the briny sea air, bold Sicilian sky, and happy crowds make it as joyous as it is inspirational.

The Farmstead, 1931. Gordon Kaufmann, architect

Portuguese Bend Riding Club, 1928. Gordon Kaufmann, architect

Andrew Tullis, Architect: Sometimes Travel takes us to a newly discovered corner of our own local area. South of Los Angeles, on the Palos Verdes peninsula overlooking the Pacific, are remnants of a grandiose never-completed housing tract from the late 1920’s. The vision was Italianate villas and gardens with a master plan design by the Olmsted Brothers and buildings by Los Angeles architect Gordon Kaufmann. The remaining buildings and the rural setting possess the romance of a past era and of a way of life that hasn’t changed much in nearly a century.

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