Sunday, December 15, 2013

Past residents of Gracie Mansion offer Bill de Blasio's kids advice, share their memories


As Chiara and Dante de Blasio prepare to move into the 18th century East Side mansion, the children of some former mayors give them an idea of what they should expect.

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New York Daily News

Legendary Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who reigned from 1934-1945, holds his two children, Eric and Jean, while heading for a swim.

The de Blasio kids already have tackled the first order of business at Gracie Mansion, their new home: Picking their bedrooms.
Duncan Wagner, a son of late Mayor Robert Wagner, hopes they chose well.
A rueful Wagner, 66, still recalls his brother’s prime roost overlooking the East River — and his own less-than-scenic view of a police guard booth after his father’s 1953 election.
“I think my brother got first pick because he was older,” Wagner recalled.
When Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, his wife, Chirlane McCray, and their two children swap their humble Brooklyn rowhouse for the elegant East Side mansion next year, the teens will become members of an exclusive club.
The landmark house, which became the official mayoral residence in 1942, has served as home to only 10 other children across the seven decades since Fiorello LaGuardia and his family first arrived.
Mayor LaGuardia votes at 109th St. and Madison Ave. as his wife and kids look on.

Mayor LaGuardia votes at 109th St. and Madison Ave. as his wife and kids look on.

RELATED: BILL DE BLASIO MOVING TO GRACIE MANSION
Dante, 16, will live in the mansion full time while finishing his last two years at Brooklyn Technical High School.
Sister Chiara, 19, attends college 3,000 miles away but will share the historic space for summers and holidays. (And no more family fights over the one shared bathroom in Park Slope. Each of the four Gracie Mansion bedrooms upstairs has its own bathroom.)
The mayor-elect announced the move last Wednesday, after lengthy deliberations and a secret family visit to the rambling home over the Thanksgiving weekend.
The Daily News reached out to the surviving mayoral children — including Eric LaGuardia, now an 83-year-old retired English professor in Seattle — for advice and anecdotes about their days at Gracie.
John Lindsay Jr. went through his adolescence in the mayoral mansion, arriving at age 5 in 1966 and departing at age 13. He remembers playing football on the lawn, trick-or-treating in the neighborhood — and sneaking cigarettes in the attic.
Eric LaGuardia, son of former Mayor LaGuardia, in Seattle in 2009.

Kevin P. Casey/AP

Eric LaGuardia, son of former Mayor LaGuardia, in Seattle in 2009.

The last didn’t go over very well with his father, two-term Mayor John Lindsay.
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“My father was saying, ‘It’s one thing to try it, but in the attic? The house would go up like a tinderbox,’ ” recalled Lindsay, 53, a retired Florida landscaper.
Duncan Wagner, now retired from the Department of Education, recalled his own tobacco experiment: “One of the policemen took me to buy a pack of cigarettes.”
The Gracie detectives also offered Wagner occasional homework aid — until his parents got wind of it “and sent me away to boarding school.”
The mansion was named for its first owner, 18th century Scottish merchant Archibald Gracie, whose guests at the wood-frame “country home” included Alexander Hamilton and Gov. De Witt Clinton.
The Wagner family. Robert Wagner was mayor from 1954-1965.

The Wagner family. Robert Wagner was mayor from 1954-1965.

Gracie sold the home in 1823 after falling on financial hard times, with two other families moving in. The city foreclosed on the property in 1896 to settle an unpaid tax debt.
Kathy Lindsay Lake, the eldest of the four Lindsay kids, was a high school student like Dante when her family settled in from 1966 through 1973.
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The then-19-year-old was married in June 1970 at a Gracie Mansion ceremony, with guests gathered beneath a yellow and white tent on the lawn.
“I think the most important thing I would say — not necessarily to Dante, but more to his parents — is that they make every effort to make this a family home and not a showcase,” said Lake, a former Daily News writer and mother of two.
She credited her mom, Mary, with turning the official residence into a cozy spot for the family of six.
John Lindsay, who was mayor from 1966-1973, with his family.

Bill Meurer

John Lindsay, who was mayor from 1966-1973, with his family.

“She made it into a real family home, as well as a place my father could work,” she recalled. “And people could feel welcome in there.”
Her brother John recalls meeting some bold-faced names at the mansion, including comedic genius Charlie Chaplin and Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie.
There were plenty of other less-memorable encounters.
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“You’d shake hands, bow, say ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you’ — and you would go about riding your bicycle,” he recalled. “They’d go back to politics.”
Wagner recalled an embarrassing mansion run-in when he was 11 years old and met humorless Gov. Averell Harriman at a cocktail party.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and wife Donna Hanover give daughter Caroline a lesson in the fine art of making the bat meet the ball on the lawn at Gracie Mansion.

Richard Corkery

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and wife Donna Hanover give daughter Caroline a lesson in the fine art of making the bat meet the ball on the lawn at Gracie Mansion.

“Gov. Harriman was in the kitchen, doing something in the pantry,” he recounted. “He had a tux on. I was a kid, I didn’t know . . . I went up to him and said, ‘Are you our new butler?’ He was stunned!”
Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy was another Gracie Mansion guest. Wagner recalled his excitement at meeting the handsome, charismatic politician.
“My mother showed him my bedroom,” he recounted. “Yup, that figures — it was a total mess.”
Eric LaGuardia, who moved into the mansion with his family, including his sister Jean, from their apartment at 1274 Fifth Ave., said he still enjoys following Big Apple politics.
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But when asked for his memories about growing up Gracie, or advice for the de Blasios, he politely apologized.
Mayor Giuliani with daughter Caroline, son Andrew, wife Donna Hanover and their dog, Goalie.

Richard Corkery

Mayor Giuliani with daughter Caroline, son Andrew, wife Donna Hanover and their dog, Goalie.

“I don’t give interviews,” he told a reporter over the phone. “Why don’t you try the Wagners?”
De Blasio becomes the 10th mayor to reside in Gracie Mansion, where there has been none of the noisy hum of family life during the three terms of Mayor Bloomberg.
The billionaire businessman used Gracie for official business and receptions but opted to stay in his tony Upper East Side townhouse.
Last year, he suggested all future mayors should pass on using the mansion as their home — even though he donated $5 million of his fortune to spruce the place up.
Former Mayor Ed Koch, a bachelor who spent 12 years there, initially felt the same way. The incoming mayor couldn’t imagine leaving his cozy Greenwich Village apartment — until sharing dinner with family members in the house.
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Dante and Chiara de Blasio get a big, new temporary home.

Julia Xanthos/New York Daily News

Dante and Chiara de Blasio get a big, new temporary home.

“It was so wonderful I said to myself, ‘You’d have to be a fool not to move in,’ ” Koch said in the book “Gracie Mansion: A Celebration of New York City’s Mayoral Residence.”
“I moved in.”
The Giulianis, with son Andrew and daughter Caroline, were the last family with kids in the two-story home with its parlor rooms, million-dollar kitchen, sprawling front porch, blooming magnolias and East River views.
Andrew, now 27, stressed that kids in the mansion are under the media microscope — a situation that’s only grown worse in the dozen years since his dad, Rudy, left office.
“Make sure that you think through your decisions and understand that your actions will be scrutinized to a much greater degree than your friends’,” he advised.
But he, like the rest, said living in Gracie Mansion was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be cherished.
Dante and Chiara will be the first kids to grace Gracie Mansion since Giuliani's children lived there.

Marcus Santos/New York Daily News

Dante and Chiara will be the first kids to grace Gracie Mansion since Giuliani's children lived there.

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Giuliani, only 8 when his family moved there in 1994, urged the de Blasio kids to get friendly with the day-to-day workers at the mayoral residence.
“You can develop life-long friendships with some wonderful people,” he said.
All the ex-residents advised the incoming kids to enjoy the house, the cook, and grounds, and to also show the venerable home a proper amount of respect.
“Don’t use magic marker on the wall,” offered Kathy Lindsay Lake.
“Don’t try to hit a flop shot over any of the chandeliers, no matter how good your golf game is,” said Giuliani, now a golf pro.
The 24-hour news cycle isn’t the only thing that’s changed since the Lindsays lived there in the ’60s. John Lindsay Jr. recalled the Cold War days when the mansion included a bomb shelter.
“When we were kids,” he said, “we’d go down there to play hide and seek.”
hevans@nydailynews.com
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