Gracie Mansion was built about 1798 by an
unknown architect/builder as a summer residence for New York merchant
Archibald Gracie. The property was initially occupied in 1646 by the Dutch
farmer Sybout Claessen, who called it Horn's Hook. In 1896 the City of New York
acquired the house and property for use as a park. In 1923 the house became the
home of the Museum of the City of New York and was among the earliest Colonial
Revival period museums. In 1934 the house was restored by Robert Moses, and in
1941 it became the official residence of the Mayor of New York City. Fiorello
La Guardia was its first tenant - subsequent residents included William O'Dwyer,
Vincent Impelleteri, and Robert F. Wagner, who initiated a plan for an addition
to the house in 1964.
Mott B. Schmidt, at the age of 75, was appointed chief architect for the addition late in 1964. He was assisted in the production and design of the building by Edward Coe Embury, F. Burrall Hoffman, and the Landmarks Commission architect John Barrington Bayley, while furnishings and interior decoration were handled by other specialists. The design of the new wing, under careful scrutiny by many interested parties, was thus a kind of team process, with Schmidt supplying the formal scheme and most of the initial design ideas.
A simple two-story wing, unobtrusively attached to the main house, the addition replicates details from the old building, like the attic balustrade, shutters, and clapboard siding. It is comfortably matched in scale to its counterpart. The only flourishes occur in the large, triple hung windows and the graceful entrance porch, flanked by curved stairways and crowned by a canopy supported by paired composite columns. The design of the porch is an adaptation of one designed by Samuel McIntire for the Lyman House in Waltham, Massachusetts Of 1793, also the source of inspiration for the great ballroom inside. Other motifs on the portico, including the fanlight above the main door, come from the Tichnor house on Boston's Beacon Hill of 1801. Though seen as archeological by most critics, the addition demonstrates Schmidt's skills as a deft planner, a knowledgeable student of Georgian and Federal architecture, and a creative eclectic architect.
The organization of the wing, which was to house both a suite of rooms for entertaining and a group of administrative offices, is straightforward: formal rooms upstairs on the piano nobile, workrooms in the basement. Both are served by a gracious stair hall, from which all the major rooms are accessible. The showpiece of the building, directly on axis with the main stair, is a 50 by 24 foot ballroom, a free combination of Federal and Adamesque details using the trabeated wall treatment of the Lyman ballroom as its starting point. The Susan B. Wagner Wing, Schmidt's last major commission, remains his best-known work and is a fitting culmination to a long career.
In 1982 a $5.3 million restoration of the old house, with minor alterations and redecoration of the Wagner wing, was undertaken by the administration of Edward I. Koch, under the directorship of Joan K. Davidson. The house is now stewarded by the Gracie Mansion Conservancy, a nonprofit corporation.