Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Old Postcard Wednesday--Claremont, Riverside Drive, New York City

This postcard may be rare. It is one of the oldest in my grandmother's collection; her New York postcards were separated from the others and must have been special mementos from when the family lived there (1918-1925). I think it is rare based on the lack of information I've been able to find online as I researched for background on this week's old postcard. Thanks to the New York City Parks & Recreation Department I have the following to pass on to you.

Riverside Park, comprised of 266.79 acres, contains within it Claremont Playground, described at the NYC Parks & Recreation Department website:
Claremont Playground
Riverside Park
Rich in history, the plain of Claremont Playground has been the site of a Revolutionary War battle, a country estate, a fashionable inn, and a children’s recreation area. This was the scene of fierce combat during the Battle of Harlem Heights, fought on September 16, 1776. Michael Hogan, a former British Consul in Havana, purchased land here in 1806 and built the Federal-style Claremont Mansion (for which Claremont Avenue was named). Possible sources of the name are the elevated site’s scenic outlook; Hogan’s birthplace in County Clare, Ireland; and the title of his friend Prince William, Duke of Clarence, who would ascend the English throne as King William IV in 1830.

After a series of owners, the mansion came to be used as a popular roadside inn by 1860. The City acquired the property in 1873 for the development of Riverside Park and continued to operate the inn. At the turn of the century, the Claremont Inn and its formal gardens attracted visits from numerous politicians, military officials, socialites, and entertainers including President William McKinley, Admiral George Dewey, Lillian Russell, and members of the Morgan, Vanderbilt, and Whitney families. By 1907 it was a public restaurant, serving house specialties like curry of chicken Claremont to such notables as Cole Porter, George S. Kaufman, George M. Cohan, Fannie Hurst, and James J. Walker. Claremont Inn burned down in 1950, and a new playground was constructed on the site within two years. 

There are an impressive array of monuments and structures near the playground. To the west, the Amiable Child Monument (1797) marks the grave of St. Claire Pollock, the five year-old boy who fell to his death on nearby rocks or drowned in the Hudson River. To the south stands majestic Grant’s Tomb, designed by architect John Duncan and sculptor John Massey Rhind. The neoclassical structure, modeled on the tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus, was dedicated in memory of U.S. President and General Ulysses S. Grant on April 27, 1897. Other nearby landmarks include the Riverside Drive Viaduct (1901), Sakura Park (acquired in 1896), and a tablet presented by representatives of the Chinese empire in memory of General Grant (1897).

I spent some time looking at vintage recipe sites hoping to find the house specialty mentioned above, but did not find curry chicken Claremont. I did, however, discover a vintage recipe at Lost City for Tavern on the Green's Tavern Chestnut Dressing with this interesting tie to the Claremont Inn (highlighting is mine):
This is the first Recipes of the Lost City to feature a restaurant that still exists. But I figure the Tavern on the Green of 1950—well before the Warner LeRoy era—was a very different beast than the one we know today. It was owned by the management of the Claremont Inn on Riverside Drive at that point.
With the holidays around the corner, you might want to check out the Tavern Chestnut Dressing at the Lost City link above. I'm interested to try it because Mike and I ate at Tavern on the Green on our wedding night in 1995.

The Morningside Heights district of the city has a website with a bit of information about Claremont Inn, that once stood in the area. It includes a vintage photograph of the building that is worth the click to see it. It truly was a spectacular-looking place....... now "vanished," as labeled at Morningside

And this is what remains.

(photo from New York City Parks & Recreation Department website, monuments)



Don't Feed The Pixies said...

I think it's a shame that this building has gone - with its winding driveway and imposing look one can imagine Rhett Butler striding up, or Jack Nicholson taking over as caretaker...

Talking of curry chicken though i'm due to make Chicken Tikka Masala at my indian cookery class next week. Sound traditional?

Well - the story goes that Tikka Masala (despite being the UKs favourite indian dish) is not actually an indian dish at all - and was created either in Glasgow or Birmingham for the british palate (depending on who you believe!)

Melinda said...

Hi Lydia!

I am back for Old Postcard Wednesday--and like all the others I have seen on your blog, I loved this one. Playgrounds are so important to children and some of the happiest memories of mine involve playgrounds. I often go to the park, today, as an adult and feel a real spark of pleasure as I see children running carefree and innocent in the park.

Thank you!


Kim said...

That's so interesting that from such a large place all that remains is a plaque. It's good that people like you have the old postcards to prove that it was around and had its time in the sun.

Looking to the Stars said...

Lydia, I fell in love with this postcard. I am so glad your grandmother saved it so you could share it with us.

I wish we could time travel. It would be lovely to visit. Kind of a let down feeling, that all we have left of this beautiful place is a stone marker. But we have postcards like yours to remind us of beauty that once was. Thank you.

Lydia said...

@Pixies- re: your first paragraph...wild imagination there!
When I was looking for the curry chicken recipe I saw several for the dish you are about to create next week. I had no idea about the background, but now that I do I can see why it's the favorite Indian dish in the UK! If yours turns out great, please consider posting the recipe.

@Melinda- That's cool that you go to playgrounds even today. The one in our beautiful city park just had a total makeover. I was worried I'd miss all the old play equipment (nostalgic metal things) but was so impressed to see the replacements. Lots more kids will have lots more fun in lots more safety. :)

@Kim- Yeah, I guess this would be a building's version of dust-to-dust!

@Looking to the Stars- I had the same reaction to this one. I wish I knew what organization or historical society might want it, as it should be with them.

bfk said...

Once again, Lydia, I travel all the way to your blog just to learn something about the city I've been living in for three decades.

Fortunately, I could almost keep up this time: I did finally visit Grant's Tomb, um... last year. You'll never guess who's buried there!

Lydia said...

@bfk- Who? Do tell!....
I'm really proud of you for visiting Grant's Tomb. I bet not many New Yorkers have seen it. I'll put it on my list for next visit.
...three decades, you really are a New Yorker now and I remember way back when you talked in our old home town about moving to NY.



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