Welcome to Urban By Design Online! This blog is a notebook of my travels as a city planner, historic preservationist and nonprofit advocate. It's a virtual collection of the many things that I adore, featuring cities, the arts, architecture, gardens, interior design, and retail. Enjoy! - Deena
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Entries in Bronx (3)


Visiting the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

A small slice of rural life within the city's limits.

There are days when I'd like to visit the country, but I don't always have the time to go too far from home. One of my favorite hidden gems is the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, within Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. This New York City and National Historic Landmark is tucked away in the far reaches of the northeast corner of the highly urbanized borough, a mere mile from major highways.

The museum is located off of the very winding, and well-forested Shore Road, which feels more like a country road on Long Island’s North Shore than the Bronx. Upon entering the nine-acre site, there is a long driveway, flanked by towering canopies of centuries old trees, creating a natural tunnel, with subtle rays of light filtering between the leaves.    

After passing a carriage house, and a thicket of wildflowers that include a number of perennials such as black-eyed susans, and goldenrod, there is a three-story 19th century stone Federal-style mansion.  The house was built between 1836 and 1842 for Robert Bartow, a descendent of Lord Thomas Pell, who established the Manor of Pelham there in 1654.  Lord Pell purchased 9,000 acres from the Native American Siwanoys. The land extended from the Bronx to what is now Lower Westchester County.  Four generations of Bartow family members lived in the house until 1884.

The carriage house was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978.  It is also open for tours.

The Bartow-Pell Mansion, with its stately Greek Revival interior, represents an era of past grandeur and splendor, a time when the New York elite built country homes to enjoy the incredible vistas of the nearby Long Island Sound.  Their temporary escape from the congested, densely populated areas of Manhattan to seek solace in the greener pastures of the Bronx, would be rather short-lived. Eventually the idyllic scenery enjoyed by a select few, was sacrificed to meet the recreational demands of a burgeoning population in a rapidly expanding city.  The Bartow heirs sold the land when the city decided to create Pelham Bay Park. Here is some additional historical context:

The City consolidated several estates to create Pelham Bay Park, including lands belonging to the Hunter, Furman, Edgar, Lorillard, Morris, Stinard, Marshall, LeRoy, and Delancey families. The park's largely natural acreage was virtually ready-made parkland, requiring only the construction of roads and walks.  During the late nineteenth century, the Bronx Parks Department leased some former estate buildings to various organizations, such as the Jacob Riis Settlement. One of these, the Bartow-Pell Mansion is a designated New York City Landmark. Several others were either demolished or converted into hotels and restaurants. By the 1930s, virtually all of them had been demolished. The Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, however, remains.  [NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission]

The City of New York spared the Bartow-Pell Mansion, and it was used by various charitable organizations until it became vacant. In 1914, the International Garden Club (now known as Bartow-Pell Conservancy) leased the house. The club's original intent was to model itself the Royal Horticultural Society of Great Britain. According to the New York Times, there were also plans to create a series of experimental gardens similar to those that the Royal Horticultural Society had at Bisley. The mansion was restored between 1915-18, with gardens designed by the architectural firm of Delano and Aldrich. In 1946, the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum opened to the public.

In 1915, Delano and Aldrich added a series of descending terraces that lead to the sunken garden, with its iron gates.  When the Bartow family's home was built, it had an unobstructed view of the Long Island Sound, where many boats could be seen from here on the terrace, and the rear rooms of the house. The 1930's era Orchard Beach construction project permanently obstructed the view, as the infill, and later new tree growth blocked the waterfront.



The 1930's era Orchard Beach was the brainchild of the "master builder" of the New York Metropolitan Region, Robert Moses.


A cherub fountain is the centerpiece of the Delano and Aldrich designed sunken garden



The Mary Ludington Herb Garden, outside of the South Gate of the Terrace Garden.  There are many lovely culinary, medicinal, aromatic, and ornamental herbs plant.  Boxwoods, nasturtium, black-eyed susans, sedum, day lilies and trumpet vine are among the many plants in abundance.

There are a variety of landscapes represented on the property, including wetlands, woodlands, and meadows, which are accessible by Pelham Bay Park's many hiking trails.

The museum is also known for its attention to decorative arts, and its interior design choices are from the Federalist period.  This room is known as the  Lannuier Bed Chamber, which is a master bedroom and personal parlor. The bed was designed by prominent French cabinetmaker Charles Honoré Lannuier.

Current Preservation Efforts

Recently the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Elizabeth and Robert Jeff Preservation Fund for New York City awarded the museum a matching grant.  Over the last two years, the museum has been the site of a volunteer workshop through Adventures in Preservation, a nonprofit organization that supports community-based heritage preservation workshops around the world.  More information: 

The volunteer workshop, Galleting Galore in the Garden, led by master mason Kevin Towle, finished the restoration of flagstone walkways and steps in the garden begun in the summer of 2008. The work consisted of resetting flagstones in walkways and steps, removing mortar between them, and replacing it with small pieces of bluestone known as gallets. Roughly 15 volunteers, from all over the country and even as far away as France, participated. 


Volunteers galleting in the Terrace Garden at the Bartow-Pell Mansion [August 2010, B-P Museum]

Visiting the Bartow-Pell Mansion

Today the Bartow-Pell Mansion is owned by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, operated by the Bartow-Pell Conservancy, and is a member of the Historic House Trust of New York City. It also hosts a number of educational and public programs throughout the year, as well as museum tours.  For more information visit: Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

Video: Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum Tour 



Kiku at New York Botanical Garden

Kengai (Cascade) inside the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory
After a successful three-year run, Kiku: In the Japanese Autumn Garden, recently closed at the New York Botanical Garden. More than 5,000 meticulously cultivated chrysanthemums, a traditional Japanese art form, and garden plants, were on display, one of the largest ever outside of Japan.

Kengai (Cascade): This technique features small-flowered chrysanthemums that are more typical of the wild varieties. They are trained to conform to boat-shaped frameworks that cascade downward like waterfalls for lengths of up to six-and-a-half feet. The result is a burst of hundreds of tightly clustered blooms.

Rows of Ogiku-styled blossomsOgiku (Single Stem): These plants feature single-stems that can reach up to six feet tall, with one perfect bloom balanced on top. Each chrysanthemum pot is buried horizontally and the plant stem is bent, precisely arranged in diagonal lines that decrease in height from the back to the front of the bed. The plants are then arranged in color patterns resembling traditional reins called tazuna-ue (horse bridle).


Autumn Stone and Kiku Garden:  In Japan, gardens composed of stones set in raked sand are called karesansui. Abstract and sculptural, they symbolize the larger natural landscape. This Autumn Stone and Kiku Garden Is based on the karesansui style, but uses mases of chrysanthemums (kiku) and river pebbles in place of raked sand. Designed by Mark Peter Keane, the garden evokes the mountains of Japan in autumn. The red orange, and yellow kiku suggest fiery fall foliage flowing down mountain peaks, which are represented by the larger stones.

Ozukuri (Thousand Bloom): In this highly complex technique, a single chrysanthemum is trained to produce hundreds of simultaneous blossoms in a massive, dome-shaped array. Ozukuri are planted in specially-built wooden containers called sekidai.

Photos: Deena B. Parham for Urbanbydesignonline

Text: Deena B. Parham with notes from the New York Botanical Garden


Why I Loved the Orchid Show

I visited the New York Botanical Garden's annual Orchid Show not once, but twice during its 2.5 month run. This year's theme was Brazilian Modern, which incorporated contemporary design principles, which did not render the 5,000 orchids on display merely decorative,  but genuine works of art.

The crowds were deep, and there was live Bossa Nova music on opening day.  The initial chill of outside was quickly forgotten, as I bathed in warm humid air which had the smell of fresh orchids, which had the subtle scent of raspberries. It was quite the delicious experience.

While I am no expert on orchids, I am always struck by their pure beauty. Below are a few that I photographed.  I cannot wait until the show returns again in February 2010.