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.