First thing’s first. The new West 246th Street headquarters for the Old Guard of New York is not opening as a museum. But once someone walks into the newly minted armory, it might feel very much like it.
The Old Guard — with roots dating back to the early 19th century — has stepped out of its longtime West 91st Street home, and now opened the doors of its new home in Fieldston, purchased in 2017. It’s a place brimming with military history and the idea of sharing their artifacts with the rest of the world is nothing new to Old Guard members. Expanding their history to the northwest Bronx is just part of the plan.
“We have displays and artifacts that have been around since the 1820s,” said Old Guard Col. Robert Sikorski, a commandant of the Old Guard, who by day runs a Kips Bay law firm. “We have sabers and old uniforms on display, and some old books from the Civil War.”
The 485 W. 246th St., location includes a collection of medals dating back to the 1800s, portraits of veterans, and even some 19th-century military uniforms. Documents like letters and invitations also are on display.
It’s not a museum, but it is a place of history. Since the 1800s the core purpose of the Old Guard has been to uphold the goals of the original 13 Colonies. It was meant to exhibit unity in the military on all fronts, as well as keep soldierly traditions alive.
Although Civil War and American Revolution soldiers aren’t the veterans who frequent the space anymore, veterans of more recent wars can be found roaming the Old Guard headquarters.
“This is their place to meet,” Sikorski said. “And to receive camaraderie and to just not feel neglected by society but that they’re part of society. They talk about old times and we have members who have various skills.”
The Old Guard purchased the home — built in 2005 — in September 2017 for $1.9 million, according to county property records. Located just off the Henry Hudson Parkway, the three-story building comes complete with an elevator, something its Manhattan location lacked.
Money to purchase it came from the late Norman Rothfeld, a World War II veteran who Sikorski described as a shy and humble man whose goal was to help those around him. He died in 2015 at 89, according to published reports.
The Old Guard is a unique facility that not only lends itself in a historical sense to the public but also serves as a place for veterans to be themselves. In a lot of ways, it’s like a clubhouse for the elderly soldiers who have returned home, Sikorsky said.
The Old Guard also does its part in supporting the soldiers of tomorrow through its backing of the ROTC, including invitations to their Fieldston home. It continues a tradition for an organization that has had some famous members over the years, including presidents — like both Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower. Even British royalty, like King Edward VII and grandson, abdicated king and later Duke of Windsor, Prince Edward.
Other famous members include five governors — including Herbert Lehman and Thomas Dewey — as well as Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Gen. George Marshall.
In the same way the Old Guard cares for its veterans, it provides support for their family members.
“We focus on the home front because families are important too,” Sikorski said. “Our veterans can’t exist without families.”
The Old Guard is working to restore and add pieces to its collection of military memorabilia. While unpacking, extra care was taken to ensure nothing was broken, or allowed to overheat or collect moisture.
“We don’t want them to rust or deteriorate,” Sikorski said. “They were used in the Civil and Spanish-American War, but we want them on display because we want people to see these artifacts.”