Wave Hill House set for grand re-opening

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The makeover is almost complete.

After a wait of more than two years, during which Wave Hill had to relocate a variety of programs for children and adults, just a few finishing touches remain before Wave Hill House officially re-opens to the public on Saturday, July 6. 

But Riverdale’s public garden overlooking the Hudson River and the Palisades couldn’t wait to celebrate its nearly $10 million renovation, and at a ribbon cutting ceremony on June 19, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Councilman Oliver Koppell joined in the festivities. 

Mr. Bloomberg called Wave Hill “one of the real gems in the cultural crown of the city,” and touted the restoration project as “really a great example of public/private partnerships.”

The $6.6 million restoration — funded by the city and Wave Hill — makes Wave Hill House ADA compliant by installing an elevator and better ramps and it has brought about long-delayed repairs.

During this first city-funded phase, begun in April 2011, plumbing, electrical and fire protection systems have been upgraded and a new energy efficient HVAC system has been installed. 

The second, privately funded $3.1 million phase has restored the building’s public spaces to their original designs.

“The house will now be both more functional and more aesthetic,” said Martha Gellens, Wave Hill’s assistant director for marketing and communications. “It feels the same and yet different.”  

The scope of the renovations includes both interior and exterior modifications, which were designed by Dattner Architects. Among the most obvious changes is a remodeling of the café, which has been changed to open the space up and allow the room to be used entirely as a dining area. An adjacent serving area has been added to allow for cafeteria style dining, which will include more food choices than previously offered.  

William Lewis Morris built the mansion between 1843 and 1844, and his family lived there until 1852, Wave Hill House was then bought by publisher William Henry Appleton. Many famous people have lived within its walls, including Lord Gladwyn Jebb, British Ambassador to the United Nations, and the larger-than-life conductor, Arturo Toscanini. England’s Queen Mother stayed at the house when she visited New York in the 1950s. Mr. Appleton leased it to Theodore Roosevelt Sr. — the president’s father — and, later, Mark Twain. Financier George W. Perkins bought it in 1903, and leased it to Dr. Bashford Dean, first curator of Arms and Armor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  

It was Dr. Dean who commissioned Fieldston resident Dwight James Baum to design the Armor Hall wing. The distinguished architect was asked to create a space to house Dr. Dean’s personal collection of medieval armor. Renovations to the wing include repairs to its interior Juliet balcony and changes to the lighting and audio to enhance the room for performances, weddings or conferences. 

Wireless Internet will also now be available throughout the house.

Downstairs, guests will notice that the theater space has been drastically increased and now includes two ADA accessible levels. The Sally and Gilbert Kerlin Learning Center has been remodeled to include child and adult sinks and lab quality flooring has been installed to make cleaning easier. A new side entrance to the basement has been added to allow easy access from the outside.  

“We wanted to beautify the house and make it appeal to 21st century visitors,” said Ms. Gellens. “It’s polished, but it’s essentially the same building.”  

Other changes, made to bring the house back to its original appearance, include marble flooring in the entrance way, fabric panels in the Mark Twain Room designed to mimic the original panels and a restoration of fireplaces throughout the house.

 “The staff is excited to come back and work at the House,” Ms. Gellens said. 

Admission to Wave Hill’s grounds will be free and open to the public on Saturday, July 6 as part of a free weekend sponsored by Target.

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