Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, May 19, 2017

New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia Used Bartow-Pell Mansion as a Summer City Hall

The Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum and Carriage House is yet another Pelham landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Located in today's Pelham Bay Park a few hundred yards from the Pelham Manor border, the Bartow-Pell estate is one of the most stunning reminders of what life was like in the grand estates that once lined the shores of Eastchester Bay and Pelham Bay overlooking Long Island Sound.

The Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Part of Bartow-Pell's illustrious history includes its use as a Summer City Hall by New York City Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia during the 1930s.  Today's Historic Pelham article provides a little more on the history of Bartow-Pell and its use by La Guardia.

According to tradition, Thomas Pell gathered with a great multitude of Englishmen and Native Americans beneath a giant oak on the land that later became the Bartow-Pell estate and signed the deed by which the Native Americans transferred about 50,000 acres of land to Pell.  This land became known as the Manor of Pelham.  

John Bartow, who married Ann Pell, bought a large estate that included the lands that form the grounds today in 1790.  He sold the property to a wealthy New York City Merchant, Herman LeRoy, in 1813.  More than two decades later, Bartow's grandson, Robert Bartow, purchased the property, thereby returning ownership of the property to the Bartow family.  Bartow built the mansion and carriage house by 1842.  Members of the Bartow family owned and managed the estate for nearly the next fifty years until Bartow heirs sold the estate and grounds to New York City in 1888 as the City was assembling the parcels necessary to form today's Pelham Bay Park.

Although the mansion, carriage house, and estate were used by various charitable organizations for a number of years, it was leased to The International Garden Club in 1914 for use as its headquarters.  For the next four years the mansion and carriage house were restored and formal gardens were designed by Delano & Aldrich.  

Because of the foresight and efforts of The International Garden Club, soon the mansion was the only one along Pelham Road (Shore Road) that still stood by the mid-20th century.  All the other grand estates that once stood in that area were demolished.

During the summer of 1936, the Bartow-Pell Mansion had a particularly notable resident.  Beginning on Wednesday, July 1, 1936, New York City Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia moved into the mansion and used it for more than a month as New York City's "Summer City Hall."

Countless news articles were written about La Guardia's time in Bartow Mansion.  Many were intensely critical of his choice of the mansion as a Summer City Hall because it was located more than a mile away from the end of the Pelham Bay subway line and, thus, was considered inaccessible to the many supplicants who visited the Mayor's office daily.  Indeed, the Mayor was the target of so much criticism, before the end of his time in the Bartow Mansion he announced that the following summer he would find a location "somewhere" in the borough of Queens to serve as his Summer City Hall.  

On July 2, 1936, The Pelham Sun reported:

"Mayor LaGuardia Now A Neighbor

Another Mayor came to Pelham this week, but this time it's Pelham Bay.  Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, chief executive of New York City, has moved his office to the old Bartow mansion on the Shore road, near Split Rock road, and now the business of the biggest city in the United States is transacted right on Pelham Manor's doorstep.  La Guardia, who makes his summer home at Westport [CT], will commute between that place and the Bartow Mansion during the summer.  In the winter the Bartow Mansion, one of the old historical relics is used as the headquarters of the International Garden Club."

Source:  Mayor LaGuardia Now A Neighbor, The Pelham Sun, Jul. 2, 1936, Vol. 27, No. 13, p. 1, col. 3.  

Today's Historic Pelham Article presents newspaper articles regarding Fiorello H. La Guardia's use of the Bartow-Pell Mansion as a Summer City Hall during July and August, 1936.  

from Budget Room" on March 23, 1940.  Source:  Library
of Congress Prints and Photographs Division No. LC-
USZ62-132498 (visited May 6, 2017).  NOTE:  Click on
Image to Enlarge.

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I have written extensively about the Bartow-Pell Estate and the Bartow family on numerous occasions.  For a few of many more examples, seee.g.

Mon., May 01, 2017:  Tragic Accident Marred Pell Treaty Oak Ceremony at Bartow-Pell in 1915.  

Wed., Oct. 26, 2016:  The Ghost of the Murdered Traveler Who Wanders the Bartow-Pell Grounds.

Thu., Aug. 25, 2016:  Pelham's Thriving and Living Memorial to the Pell Treaty Oak That Once Stood on the Grounds of the Bartow-Pell Mansion.

Wed., Aug. 24, 2016:  Washington Post Report of the Final Destruction of the Pell Treaty Oak in Pelham Bay Park in 1909.

Wed., Jan. 06, 2016:  A Brief History of the Bartow-Pell Mansion Published in 1931.

Tue., Jul. 28, 2015:  John Bartow Who Lived in the Manor Home Built by John Pell in About 1672.

Thu., May 21, 2015:  Pelham Manor Romance: A Tale of Aaron Burr and His Love, Theodosia Bartow Prevost of the Manor of Pelham.

Mon., Nov. 03, 2014:  More on the 17th Century Location of the Manor Home of John Pell of the Manor of Pelham.

Thu., Nov. 29, 2007:  John Bartow Offers His Pelham Farm for Sale in Advertisement Published in 1807.

Mon., Jul. 2, 2007:  Notice of Auction Sale of Lots at Bartow-on-the-Sound in Pelham in 1874.

Mon., Jun. 4, 2007:  Abstract of 1797 Will of John Bartow, Sr. Who Owned Land in Pelham and Whose Family Became Early Pelham Residents.

Wed., Feb. 28, 2007:  Lord Cornbury Installs John Bartow as Rector of the Parish of Westchester, Eastchester, Yonkers and the Manor of Pelham in 1702.

Tue., Sep. 12, 2006:  Evidence Sheds Light on Location of An Early Home of John Pell, 2d Lord of the Manor of Pelham

Fri., Dec. 30, 2005:  Subdivision Development Map Created in 1873 for Bartow Village in the Town of Pelham.

Mon., Dec. 12, 2005:  19th Century Subdivision Map of Planned Bartow Village.

Thu., Jul. 21, 2005:  Today's Remnants of the Bartow Station on the Branch Line Near City Island.

Tue., June 14, 2005:  Ceremony in 1915 to Open Bartow-Pell Mansion as Headquarters of International Garden Club Marred by Tragedy.

Thu., Mar. 24, 2005:  The Bartow Area of Pelham in the 19th Century: Where Was It?

Bell, Blake A., The Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum and Carriage House, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 31, Aug. 6, 2004, p. 9, col. 1.

Bell, Blake A., The Manor House of John Pell, Second Lord of the Manor of Pelham, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 51, Dec. 24, 2004.

Bell, Blake A., Bartow-on-the-Sound, Once a Hamlet in the Town of Pelham, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XV, Issue 5, Feb. 3, 2006, p. 13, col. 1.

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"Mayor to Be a Long Way Off
Select an Almost Inaccessible Spot for His Summer City Hall.

In choosing a site for the Summer City Hall Mayor LaGuardia selected a spot almost as far from City Hall Park as is Tottenville, Staten Island.  As a matter of fact the Bartow mansion, in Pelham Bay Park, is harder to reach than Tottenville unless one has a car.  

A tourist desiring to do business with the Mayor after next Wednesday will take the Lexington avenue I. R. T. subway at the City Hall station, and ride to 125th street.  There he will change to the Pelham Park line and ride to the end of it, which is the Pelham Bay Park station.  If he is lucky he will find a bus waiting at the foot of the stairs leading from the Pelham Bay Park station, which is elevated at that point.  Five minute ride will take him to Prospect avenue where a short walk will deposit him at the temporary home of the municipal government.  The Mayor plans to remain there until the end of August.

If the tourist is fortunate enough to own a car he can follow the Boston Post Road to the junction of Pelham Bay Parkway and follow the parkway to the summer City Hall.  Thousands who frequented the Hunters Island Inn during prohibition days will have no difficulty in finding the Mayor.  The summer City Hall can be seen from the road leading to Hunters Island Inn.

Seeks to Discourage Visitors.

It is known that the Mayor chose the Bartow mansion for the summer City Hall because of its inaccessibility.  He seeks to discourage visitors.  But it is a safe bet that bright and early next Wednesday morning there will be a line of taxicabs under the Pelham Bay Park station of the I. R. T. ready to whisk traveler to the summer City Hall in five minutes or less.

The Mayor can sleep in the summer City Hall if the mosquitoes, which are particularly ferocious in the swamps of Pelham Bay, when the tide is out, will allow him to sleep.  If he finds the mosquitoes beyond endurance he can jump into a car and motor up to his summer home at Westport, Conn., where his wife and children will be located for the summer.

The grounds around the Summer City Hall are full of poison ivy.  Whether the Mayor was aware of this when he picked the place is not known, but it is known that he would be overjoyed if a few of the pests who surround the downtown City Hall, and will get to the Summer City Hall if they have to walk or swim, would mistake the poison ivy for a harmless vine and eat some of it.

Mansion is 100 Years Old.

The Bartow mansion was built about 100 years ago and was the home of the Pell family [sic].  It stands on the spot where John [sic] Pell signed a treaty with the Indians in 1654 and purchased Pelham Manor and all the surrounding territory for $17.50 [sic].  Since 1915 it has been the home of the International Garden  Club.  About a dozen [sic] of the original Pells are buried in a family cemetery on the grounds of the Summer City Hall.

John Robertson, who is steward of the International Garden Club, has lived in the Bartow mansion with hi wife for the last thirteen years.  They will keep house for the Mayor.

The house is built of granite with walls at least two feet thick.  Mr. Robertson says it is always at least 15 degrees cooler within the mansion than outside.  The main floor has a dining room, a parlor, a conservatory, a smoking room, a music room, a library, a ladies' dressing room, a men's room and a kitchen.  On the second floor are four large bedrooms."

Source:  Mayor to Be a Long Way Off -- Select an Almost Inaccessible Spot for His Summer City Hall, The New York Sun, Jun. 26, 1936, p. 40, cols. 2-3.  

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