Friday, September 28, 2012

From the Estate of Brooke Astor, Part Two: 778 Park Avenue

 One more day of humoring me with the Brooke Astor auction, please. 

Today we'll take a look at the fabled Park Avenue duplex Mrs. Astor called home for nearly fifty years. Many of the pieces auctioned off (indeed, looking at the auction catalogue, pretty much everything was auctioned off) fetched higher than the estimated prices. Some surprised even the auctioneer as the bids were driven higher and higher. To New Yorkers, Brooke Astor was a hero, and many things were going to sell for higher prices simply because of their provenance. Seriously, if you have time, scroll through the results just for fun. The prices are crazy, and you'll be able to see almost everything you see in these rooms, and how much they sold for.

Sotheby's had estimated the auction would bring in $6.6 million (as the low estimate) for the two day, four session sale. By the end of the first session on Monday morning the sale had already $6.7 million. In all, the two day auction brought in $18.8 million for Mrs. Astor's various charities. One of the showstoppers being her nearly 23 carat  Van Cleef & Arpels emerald engagement ring selling for $1.2 million

Sorry the picture quality is so awful.

778 Park Avenue stands at the northwest corner of East 73rd street and Park Avenue. Built in 1931 by Rosario Candela, 778 is still a much sought after address, if you can get past the cash only policy for purchasing, as well as the formidable co-op board. It is rumored that the board requires potential buyers to show at least three times the purchase price of any apartment in assets. Brooke Astor's apartment was originally listed for $46 million, although the price was slashed and it finally sold for around $21 million. 
The "Only In New York!" floor plan.
The bright, light drawing room.

Looking south towards the famous red lacquered library.
I love this photo of the north wall. A bit granny, yes, but also rather wonderfully mellowed.
Looking into the dining room from the gallery.
The pink and green dining room with it's silver set in all it's glory. 

This is a before picture of the then wood paneled library, before Brooke called in famed decorator Albert Hadley.

The redone library with the red lacquered and brass trimmed walls. This painting of an Egyptian man from 1868 sold for around $1.6 million.
The library looking north towards the entrance gallery and the drawing room. Nothing had changed in years, except the portrait over the fireplace.
                                     
For years Mrs. Astor proudly displayed her favorite painting "Flags, Fifth Avenue" ("Up the Avenue From 34th Street") by Childe Hassam.

There is a very horrid tale of elder abuse in the tale of this painting. But the short of it is that Brooke's son, Anthony Marshall, sold this painting while his mother was in the midst of the dementia that she succumbed to in her final years. It was promised to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but he sold it for $10 million (and took a $2 million dollar commission) having told his mother that she needed the money (her income was between $5 and $6 million at the time). According to her butler, when her son told her he had sold it, Mrs. Astor asked "Now can I buy dresses?"

The oval sitting room off the library.
Brooke's bedroom decorated by Sister Parrish.
This listing photo shows a rather different room, with most of the same furnishings reupholstered. I prefer the original...but not the pink bed drapes.
I think this sitting room was the second bedroom on the main floor, off the master bedroom. Pictures, gilding, chintz, and books-Mrs. Astor's quintessential style.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

From the Estate of Brooke Astor, Part One: Holly Hill


Let me just say that I am addicted to big auctions, and on September 24 and 25 there was one of those iconic auctions at Sotheby's that will never be repeated. Think of the auction of the Duchess of Windsor's jewelry. Or the Elizabeth Taylor Auction at Christie's. It was, in fact, an auction from the estate of the late, great, and last true Grande Dame of New York City, Brooke Astor.

I believe Brooke Astor was truly the last link of Old New York in the modern world. It was her husband's grandmother (The Mrs. Astor) who created the fabled "Four Hundred" and allowed the upstart Vanderbilts to enter Society, after all.

Our Mrs. Astor, however, was married to an Astor for only about five and a half years. Vincent Astor (son of John Jacob Astor IV, who died on the Titanic after putting his second, and much younger and pregnant wife, into Lifeboat Number 4) was her third husband, and Brooke was his third wife. Upon his death, he left 60 million to Brooke, and 60 million for the creation of a foundation for "the alleviation of human suffering". "You'll have fun, Pookie," he told her. Brooke continued his philanthropic work in New York City, begun because he wanted to wipe out the Astor image of Manhattan slum lords living in luxury at the expense of the less fortunate.

Brooke took the responsibility of the Vincent Astor Foundation very seriously and lived by the motto "Money is like manure; it's not worth a thing unless it's spread around" (a quote from Dolly Levi in Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker, by the way). And spread it around she did. When she disbanded the Foundation in 1997, she had given away almost $195 million dollars primarily within New York.

However, she WAS an Astor, and had the homes to prove it! Today let's take a look at Holly Hill, Mrs. Astor's weekend (and perhaps favorite) house in Briarcliff Manor, New York, where she passed away at the age of 105 on August 13, 2007.


An aerial view of Holly Hill, Brooke Astor's 64.60 acre estate in Briarcliff Manor, New York.

The front of the 10,000 square foot, 13 bedroom, 1927 English country style stone manor house designed by architect William Adams Delano, who also designed Kykuit, the Rockefeller estate in nearby Sleepy Hollow, among many other blue blooded buildings.

The stair hall at Holly Hill lined with dog portraits (nearly all of which were sold at the auction).
A corner of the 42 foot long living room looking into the library. That mirror and it's pair sold for $56,250.


Symmetry perfected. The Chinese low table fetched $40,652. Many of her belongings were of Asian origin, having fallen in love with the culture after growing up in China, the daughter of the 16th Commandant of the United States Marine Corps.

The pickle panelled library. The 1780 Louis XVI bureau plat had a high estimate of $9,000. It sold for $28,125.

A timeless, WASPy country house room.

One of two sun porches. I love how there are books in nearly every room (although it does look like she kept them out of the drawing room).
The indoor swimming pool supposedly always heated to a hardly refreshing 90 degrees. 
I believe this was Mrs. Astor's bedroom (because of the French doors leading to a small balcony).

This yellow four poster bed sold for only $625, but the desk sold for $21,250! This is when the huge number of tables, commodes, and chairs in the auction began to make sense. It takes a lot of furniture to fill thirteen spacious bedrooms!
Breathtaking views across the property of the Hudson River.

I wish I had a meadow to fill with daffodils.

A manicured path leading to where?

The sun shining on the river side of Mrs. Astor's lovely country house. It sold in early 2012 for $6,450,000. The development rights were intact, but let's hope whoever bought it kept the estate together.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Round Two In the Berry Patch?

I was a bit surprised earlier this Summer when we had a rather nice harvest of 'Fall Gold' raspberries. After all, it wasn't Fall. Doing a bit of research, however, I found out that 'Fall Gold' is an everbearing variety that fruits one one year old stems. This means that as soon as they fruit, I can cut these canes right out. I usually wait until Spring to do this, but knowing I can do it now will help with an early start in the Spring.
Nice, plump berries. We need to keep the bird feeders full and keep the birds away from here!

There are so many berries coming! I hope they have time to ripen up! The red 'Heritage' raspberries are also fruiting again. Time will tell if we have another harvest.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Big Winter Move Begins

On Friday night, as the rain fell and the chilly wind blew through the Penthouse, I began preparing the dining room in earnest for the return of the citrus and tropical plants from their scattered homes around the Garden. I stopped and grabbed two more lights (I need one more and I'll be set...unless I set up another set of shelves), assembled the Metro shelving that has been "stored" in the Malibu's boot since early Summer, I went to work. 

Thankfully all of my precious (to me) citrus and non-cold tolerant figs made it home along with the dwarf banana and the 'Mojito' elephant ear. Yesterday I hauled the now giant cut-leaf philodendron up the three flights, and began potting up the agaves to bring in, but I'll update you on all of that later once everyone is finally home.

A real happening Friday night at the Penthouse includes cleaning and assembling shelving.

Fast forward to Saturday afternoon. The cold rain stopped and it turned bright and sunny the moment the last citrus tree was placed in the Bu.

I also brought home my little collection of scented geraniums from Logee's. I almost forgot! I ordered two stephanotis plants! Oy vey, the Penthouse is filling up before I even bring everyone home! There is still the Martha Washington to bring home, and three "fancy" geraniums, as well as two ivy (also called "balcony") geraniums I would like to keep alive. Right now, as temps are a bit warmer, the scented geraniums are home, but living happily outside right behind the window boxes. 
I wanted to spray them with organic Neem oil while they were still outside. However, since it was raining I brought them home and did it in the bathtub. Neem oil is a natural, and strong smelling, pesticide. This insures that no white flies or scale tagged along on the leaves. It still smells a bit in the Penthouse.
And now everyone is warm and happy again! The little fig in the bottom center is the "Petite Negra" who arrived as a teeny plant almost two years ago. Summer camp was good for him!
I still need to get more pebbles, both for looks and to help keep the humidity up (the pebbles keep the pots raised up enough that I can fill the trays with water). The Meyer lemon whose pot is in the lower left is really leggy, and I'm sort of thinking I need to cut him back. Or maybe move him to the top shelf where the tall variegated citron sits. There are a few more inches of head space up there.
Speaking of the Variegated Citron, the buds keep appearing and getting bigger and bigger! Fingers crossed!

And for the first time ever, the Meyer lemon I've owned the longest (indeed, it began my "collection") is putting forth some buds. Why couldn't this have happened at the start of Summer? Fruit tends to stay on better than buds when the plants move in for the Winter. Hopefully all will go well.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

And Away They Go!

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm getting a bit nervous about the cooler temperatures. Even though we made it through the 38 degrees the other night, Sunday's low is forecast to be 37! It warms up next week, but I'm planning on beginning the big move in this weekend anyway (maybe even round one tomorrow). In the meantime, while walking around the Garden yesterday and making my mental Fall Clean-Up list, I decided to go ahead and shove the amaryllis into their cabinet in the garage.

Once again they've grown so nicely outside all summer, and the bulbs are nice and plump. I really hope Dad puts this bench on his list of projects for the winter...I have the nicest shade of grey in mind for it.

And here they sit, with the bug spray and leftover paint. See you in 8 weeks (or so)!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Autumn Arrives on West Berry

Looking out the Penthouse's big living room windows yesterday morning I spied some changes in the trees. I love sweater weather, but I'm not quite ready for the wind down of the Summer. There are tons of tomatoes in the garden that need to ripen. I need to prepare the dining room for the return of the tropicals (which makes me nervous as they usually just need to lump along for about 71/2 months inside-time to get some new, hot bulbs for the grow lights). And I haven't even begun to buy bulbs. 

It's only September 19th, for crying out loud!
It's just a tinge, but the leaves they are a changin'!
I'm not sure why the poor old ash in the foreground was never cut down, but the leaves changing to red right behind can only mean Fall is on the way! 
And the lows in the forecast have me scrambling to attempt to move all of the tropicals home! This doesn't usually need to happen until October!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Squash, Olive, and Goat Cheese "Frittata"

The side effect of blowing out eggs with the egg blower is that you have an abundance off eggs on hand to cook or bake with. I need to plan ahead, and perhaps divide things according to recipes I may make (like a container of two eggs for cookies, or six for that coconut pound cake that I have been asked to make again). The easiest, of course, is the baked frittata. Alexis Stewart, I'm happy to say, always bakes hers rather than the two step stove to oven method, and that makes me feel better about having always just thrown frittatas in the oven. It's really just a fancy name for crustless quiche, anyway, right? That's how I see it, at least, and the real only difference is the addition of half and half. Six eggs and a half a cup of half and half and get to it. I saw the real version of this on her blog, but it was late, and I totally half-arsed it. It was good, though!
Softening up the summer squash. Add some thyme (the original recipe, looking back, called for curry powder, too) and salt and pepper.
Whisk the eggs and cream, add the chopped olives...

...and then the goat cheese. I also forgot to put in the Parmesan cheese (as I said, it was late), which would have made this over the top delicious. Bake at 350 until it's set in the center and golden on the edges. I actually forgot  it was in the oven and ran, panic-stricken, to the kitchen when I remembered. 

It was a bit more "golden" around the edges, but was fine. A rather unusual combo with tasty results! I bet it's even better if you follow the recipe!