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Secrets of New York

The ultimate insider's guide to the best-kept secrets of NYC's must-see places and buzzed-about people.

Gracie Mansion, located in Carl Schurz Park, on

Gracie Mansion, located in Carl Schurz Park, on Manhattan's Upper East Side. (Credit: Getty Images)


Secrets of Gracie Mansion: Madonna, Yule Log, more

88th Street & East End Ave., New York, NY 10028

It's been 14 months since Mayor Bill de Blasio and his family moved into Gracie Mansion on Manhattan's Upper East Side, and beginning Nov. 10 -- following months of renovations, including roof repairs -- the first family is kicking its doors open to the public with tours.

"The fact that Gracie Mansion is accessible is a secret to most people," Paul Gunther, executive director of the Gracie Mansion Conservancy, tells amNewYork. "People don't realize that they can actually visit."

Also kicking off with the tours is an incredible 49-piece art installation reflecting the city's history. The installation, "Windows on the City," is in honor of the Gracie Mansion Conservancy's 35th anniversary. Pieces include paintings, artifacts and historical documents. Among the items are an Iroquois pipe tomahawk, paintings of 19th century Brooklyn and portraits of abolitionists.

A key aspect of the installation is showcasing New York City's various cultures. "Material looks at the Jews of New York, African-Americans, the China trade, the decline of local Indian culture and more," Gunther says.

In a nod to that sensibility, "Windows on the City" also features the original draft of the 1799 Gradual Emancipation Act of New York State and an 1800 Ketuba -- a Jewish marriage prenuptial agreement written in Hebrew -- between New Yorkers Frances Isaacs and Harmon Hendricks.

Tours of Gracie Mansion are held Tuesdays at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., and last about 45 minutes.

Below, amNewYork digs up secrets of New York's "Little White House."

When the city's first family moved into Gracie

Credit: West Elm

West Elm donated $65,000 worth of merchandise to furnish the de Blasios’ private quarters

When the city's first family moved into Gracie Mansion in July 2014, they headed to their new home's second-floor private residence, outfitted in West Elm furniture and accessories. Johanna Mele, a home stylist with the retailer, was the lead designer on the project. It involved three bedrooms, a formal sitting room, an office, a den and sewing area in the attic. The items were donated to the Gracie Mansion Conservancy. "We partnered with the first lady to create spaces that are beautiful and functional, using a base of calming neutrals with accents of rich colors and global influences," says West Elm creative director Vanessa Holden.

Credit: Getty Images / JP Yim

A visit to the White House inspired former Mayor Ed Koch to open Gracie Mansion to the public

"He wanted Gracie Mansion to be like the White House," Gunther tells amNewYork of Koch, who died on Feb. 1, 2013. "He said 'let's have it open to the public.' So he started tours." Koch formed the Gracie Mansion Conservancy in 1981 to oversee the home's preservation and programming.

Gracie Mansion was completely redecorated in 2001 by

Credit: Getty Images / Dimitrios Kambouris

Madonna’s interior designer redecorated Gracie Mansion in 2001

Gracie Mansion was completely redecorated in 2001 by Jamie Drake, who worked on Madonna's Los Angeles home. But the task at hand wasn't easy: To emulate the décor of the home when it was built in 1799. The only problem? There is no record of what Gracie Mansion's interior looked like. So he designed the home in the style of what homes from that time period looked like. "It's still very accurate," Gunther tells amNewYork. "He put in elaborate window treatments and changed the art a little. When the Bloombergs came in they said they would like the house to reflect a broader historical narrative."

At the request of then-first lady Susan Wagner,

Credit: Gracie Mansion Conservancy

The ballroom fireplace is a hand-me-down from another historic Manhattan home

At the request of then-first lady Susan Wagner, Gracie Mansion was enlarged in 1966 to include a ballroom and two official reception rooms. Sadly, she died before the wing was completed, and it is now named after her. The fireplace in the ballroom is actually from Bayard House on Jane Street in the West Village, where Alexander Hamilton was brought after he was shot by Aaron Burr. It's believed that he died in front of that fireplace in July 1804.

The dining room's wallpaper -- dating back from

Credit: Gracie Mansion Conservancy

Preservationists ran out of dining room wallpaper -- so they improvised

The dining room's wallpaper -- dating back from 1832 and found in an upstate New York home -- was added to Gracie Mansion during the 1981 restoration kicked off by Koch. After it was purchased and put up, it was discovered that it didn't reach the ceiling. The fix? An artist was hired to conceal it by painting a blue sky on the remainder of the wall.

The notion of Gracie Mansion being occupied by


Boo! Gracie Mansion may be haunted

The notion of Gracie Mansion being occupied by supernatural beings has long been tossed around. Archibald Gracie, who built the mansion, had a daughter-in-law, Wolcott Gracie, who died there in 1819 from apoplexy. That death fueled the myth that her ghost still floats through from time to time. And considering ghosts go hand-in-hand with children's imaginations, it's no surprise that in 1999, the children's book "The Ghost of Gracie Mansion" was published. It focuses on the Gracie children spotting lurking figures in the hallways and objects disappearing.

In 1989's

Credit: Columbia Pictures

Speaking of ghosts, that wasn’t really Gracie Mansion in 'Ghostbusters II'

In 1989's "Ghostbusters II," the film's supernatural-hunting squad visits the fictitious mayor at Gracie Mansion to inform him of the city's imminent takeover by ghosts. But, like many films set in New York City, it was actually shot elsewhere. Standing in for Gracie Mansion was Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, Calif., a Tudor Revival home built in 1928.

Since Gracie Mansion may only be used for

Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

Even the mayor’s friends can’t sleep over

Since Gracie Mansion may only be used for official city business, only visiting public officials and the mayor's family can spend the night at the house. So even BFFs of the family need to seek lodgings elsewhere.

The iconic WPIX Channel 11 Yule Log --

Credit: WPIX

The original WPIX Yule Log was shot at Gracie Mansion

The iconic WPIX Channel 11 Yule Log -- the first of its kind in the world -- debuted in 1966 as a three-hour program consisting of a 17-second, 16 millimeter filmed loop of the festively decorated fireplace at Gracie Mansion. But WPIX wasn't invited back to Gracie Mansion -- the home of then-mayor John Lindsay -- when it sought to reshoot the footage: "Unfortunately, when WPIX shot the original Gracie Mansion footage, to capture the log in all its flaming glory, the crew decided to remove the protective screen and a stray spark damaged a valuable antique rug," WPIX admits on its website. "Needless to say, the mayor's office was not receptive to the idea of letting WPIX come back and reshoot the footage."

Feliberto Estévez, the executive chef who tends to

Credit: Gracie Mansion Conservancy

Revealed! The Gracie Mansion chef's gingersnap cookie recipe

Feliberto Estévez, the executive chef who tends to the home's culinary concerns, has shared with amNewYork a Gracie Mansion favorite among its residents and guests.

Yield: 4 dozen medium size cookies


Wet Ingredients:

1½ stick of unsalted butter (softened to room temperature)

1 cup dark brown sugar (tightly packed)

1/3 cup molasses, unsulphured

1 large egg, slightly beaten

2 tablespoon water (room temperature)


Dry Ingredients:

2¼ cup all-purpose flour, sifted

2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon salt




Preheat oven to 350 degrees


In a bowl with a wooden spoon or spatula (by hand):

Cream together the butter and brown sugar until well incorporated.

Add the egg, and mix well until incorporated.

Add molasses and water and mix well.


In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt and sift together); and fold into creamed butter mix, stirring until well incorporated.


Line baking sheet pan with parchment paper.


Using a teaspoon, scoop out cookie dough onto the lined sheet pan and bake for 15 minutes or until edges are brown.


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