(This feature story appeared in Newsday on June 25, 2018)
Vanderbilt Museum Garden Revival in Full Bloom
Resealing and repainting of the front courtyard walls have been completed during the ongoing renovation at the mansion in Centerport
By Lisa Irizarry
William Kissam Vanderbilt II’s Centerport mansion has gotten a colorful exterior face-lift just in time for summertime visitors — and the result is something of which the businessman, sportsman and philanthropist would have been proud, those involved in the improvements say.
“We think somewhere he’s smiling,” says Patrick Keeffe, a spokesman for the Vanderbilt Museum. The house, named “Eagle’s Nest,” is part of the 43-acre Vanderbilt Museum complex that includes a seaplane hangar and boathouse, a curator’s cottage and a planetarium.
Also this summer, the first floor of Vanderbilt’s marine museum, the Hall of Fishes, will be reopened to the public on June 26 while renovations on the second floor of the two-story building continue. The Hall of Fishes was opened to the public by Vanderbilt in 1922 and a two-year-project involves the restoration of dry mount exhibits and those suspended in fluid.
The completed portion of ongoing improvements to the exterior of the mansion include the resealing and painting of the walls in the front courtyard to restore the grandeur of the 24-room Spanish Revival style home. Work on exterior walls not quite as visible to the public will be started at a later, unknown date.
The ongoing renovation work will cost about $100,000 and work on the Hall of Fishes, about $135,000, Keeffe says, with the improvements being paid for through private funding and fundraising.
But a large part of the face-lift was done for free. New colorful flowers and lush greenery were added to nine gardens that dot the estate, courtesy of donations of labor and materials by local landscaping companies as part of the first “Gardener’s Showcase” on the property.
Participating businesses were allowed to advertise on small cards that stand at the front of each garden to identify the designers.
Jim Munson, operations supervisor for the property, says he thought the showcase could make the spectacular estate even more beautiful.
“It’s a good way to bring back the estate the way Mr. Vanderbilt would have wanted,” says Munson, an East Northport resident. “Last February I started making phone calls.”
Most of the building and garden improvements were completed within the past six weeks. The work also involves shoring up loose cobblestones and flagstone in the courtyard walking areas.
The mansion overlooking Northport Bay opened to the public in 1950 after the home was deeded to Suffolk County upon his death in 1944.
The site allows visitors a glimpse of the lavish world of Vanderbilt and his wife, Rosamond, during the Jazz Age through World War II.
In 1910 Vanderbilt commissioned the Warren & Wetmore architecture firm to build a summer house for him, and 26 years of expansion followed, although Vanderbilt and his wife spent only about four weeks a year there, Keeffe said. The firm’s partners designed and built Grand Central Terminal in New York City for Vanderbilt’s great-grandfather Cornelius Vanderbilt, founder of the New York Central Railroad system.
Among the many exhibits in the mansion are wildlife and marine-life dioramas by the artisans who created those in the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.
“For the volunteers to come here and to design the public gardens just brings the property to the next level,” museum executive director Lance Reinheimer says. “They did the detail work that we could never do.”
Patricia Dohne, whose husband owns the Greenlawn-based Landscapes by Bob Dohne Inc., says they were happy to help. She says she remembers visiting the museum with her family when she was a child and loved the Wishing Well Garden, where her husband put in such plants and flowers as coral bells, boxwoods, blue salvia and petunias for the refurbishing.