21 August 2008

A Piece of History For Sale

Hickory Hill

In England, many houses have names - not addresses. The five most popular names given to English houses are Orchard House, The Coach House, The Bungalow, Rose Cottage, and the number one name is simply, "The Cottage." How romantic would it be to have a name for your home? I especially like two other, less popular names for houses in England: Honeysuckle Cottage and The Vicarage. Hmm.....What would I name my own house, I wonder? "Big Dying Tree" or how about "Garage Filled with Junk so Cars Park Outside?" Has a certain ring to it.

In America - naming your house is usually reserved for the upper echelons of society. Everyone has heard of Mount Vernon, Fallingwater, and Monticello, The Biltmore Estate, and The Playboy Mansion - all very famous houses indeed! Say the name "Hickory Hill" and what immediately comes to mind - touch football and lots of handsome children running around? Yes, Hickory Hill, the longtime home of Ethel and Robert Kennedy is known by it's name alone. Nobody knows the street it is on or its address, but everyone knows what Hickory Hill is. Located in McLean, Virginia, just 15 minutes to the Capitol, it is the house where the Kennedys raised their large family and lived happily until Bobby's untimely death while running for president in the summer of 1968. Surprisingly, Ethel has continued to live there alone, long after all her children have grown, although it is reported that she now spends most of her time at the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port. Now, after over 5o years at Hickory Hill, Ethel is finally unloading it. She originally put the house on the market four years ago at 25 million. Today, the asking price is down to a paltry 12.5 million.

Built in the mid 1800s, the Colonial was enlarged and remodeled in the 60s to accommodate the 11 Kennedy children. Originally Joe Kennedy, Bobby's father, bought the house for John and Jacqueline Kennedy. After suffering a miscarriage, Jackie found the house too depressing, so it was sold in 1957 to Bobby and Ethel who already had a large family and were expecting to have an even larger one. The house is quite historic, the front steps of the home actually came from Mt. Vernon, George Washington's house. The person who buys it is definitely buying an important piece of American history. Inside, there is a sitting room and library directly on each side of a center hall. Further back off a lateral hall, there is a large 38 ft. drawing room. The floors down and up are pine and the ceilings are high. The drawing room and dining room both lead out to terraces that overlook the almost 6 acre property. Upstairs, the master suite has two bedrooms, a dressing suite and two bathrooms (how did Ethel ever manage to have so many children with separate bedrooms?!) Three more bedrooms with bathrooms are on the second floor. The third floor boasts seven bedrooms and three baths. The basement level has a family room, another bedroom and a laundry room.

On the property there is a pool with a pool house that includes his and hers bathrooms, a kitchen, and a movie theatre. There are also stables on the grounds and two garden sheds and a lighted tennis court. In total there are 13 bedrooms and 10 full baths, and too many fireplaces to count. Taxes were over $80,000 last year. It's hard to fathom that one woman lived alone all these years in a house this size, but apparently, she did. All in all, the property is a paradise for a large, rambunctious family, which the Kennedys certainly were. There has been a lot of buzz about why the house hasn't sold yet, especially since it's been reduced by half. Some think it's because Hickory Hill needs major updating, and others question the school district, but whomever can afford a house like this would certainly utilize private schools. My thoughts as to why it's still for sale is who has enough kids in this day and age to fill up a house this large?

I do know one thing, if I had a large family and the means, I would be first in line to buy this house. To me, it's such a piece of history, a wonderful story of a family that America once thought of as our royalty. While John and Jacqueline Kennedy were always the more popular and attractive ones of the Kennedys, I was more interested in Bobby and Ethel's family. All those children! I once knew all their names by heart -- first and middle ones too: Matthew Maxwell Taylor, Mary Kerry, Mary Courtney (two sisters with the same name, no less!), Kathleen Hartington, David Anthony, Douglas Harriman, Rory Elizabeth Katherine, to name just a few! I loved to see pictures of the loud, raucous family playing their touch football, sailing on the bay in Hyannis Port, or all dressed up in matching outfits going to Sunday Mass. Besides my fascination with their large family and the Kennedy Mystique in general, the actual house, Hickory Hill, held an allure for me. In fact, large homes in general appealed to me as a young girl. Especially irresistible were the Southern mansions with hanging moss in old oak trees and their sprawling rooms and secret, hidden passageways, the large attics and dank basements, the landscaped acreage - all those things that were so foreign to my childhood spent living in a 60's, one story, ranch burger.

Today, the Kennedy name no longer holds the same cachet it once did. America has moved on and left that part of our history behind. We don't have a royal family anymore, and maybe we don't want one. Time marches on. Most of Bobby and Ethel's children have gone on to have successful lives in, and mostly out, of politics. They are businessmen and filmmakers, conservationists and politicians. Two have passed on, one killed by drugs and one by a skiing accident. Their children, themselves, are now posed at adulthood, making them the fourth generation of Kennedys. When Hickory Hill eventually does sell, it will be the end of an era for those of us who lived through it all -- the presidency, the assassination, the highs and lows, Camelot. To those of us who are baby boomers, it's hard to explain to the younger generation the effect this family had on our lives - they were our stars, our heroes.

Hickory Hill

Hickory Hill - three stories tall - proudly flying the United States flag.

Blue Room

The Blue Room - this is the library, it is to the right when entering the front door. Classic proportions, marble mantel, beautiful windows, it just needs a fresh coat of paint, new fabrics and slipcovers, and some seagrass. I wouldn't change a thing more.

Sitting Room

The pink Sitting Room, off the entry to the left. Through the door is the yellow, formal Drawing room, reached also by the lateral hallway just past the entry hall. A drawing of Robert Kennedy is hanging on the wall. Again, classic proportions, large, and with just a few updates, the room would be perfect.

Dining Room

The formal Dining Room, accessed off the lateral hall and adjoining the Drawing room. The large terrace overlooks the spacious grounds. The French furniture is just prefect. Again, new curtains, paint, and some youthful slipcovers and it's good to go! The painting of the little girl is Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, their oldest child. The other two paintings are of two of the other 11 children.

Snap111

Towards the back of the property, the pool and pool house stand alone, secluded inside a large hedge. Very nice. I wonder when was the last time anyone went swimming in here? Grandchildren, perhaps?

image

The family in the early sixties - with just seven children (Bobby Jr. is missing here). Not sure which room this is, but notice the white slipcovered sofa! So fine! The chairs wear a lovely blue chintz. The table is a cheap reproduction. The lamps and plates are antique porcelains. And, the painting - does anyone know who's the artist? The woman on the left looks exactly like Jackie O! Notice the room next door - those curtains show up in another picture below.

image

This is the same room as above, redecorated. The door is the same and the two paintings on the wall above the sofa are the same. I think I like it decorated in the blue and white better.

Hickory Hill Guest Room

House and Garden photographed the home in the early sixties. I wish I could see all the photos, but just this one is on the Internet. Wonderful slipcovered furniture that looks so today - as does the bleached armoire. There's even a lantern. I love the textured curtains. This was called a guest room in the article, but it seems like the same room off the blue sitting room two pictures above (note the same curtains.) The ceiling and brick walls are throwing me off - I just can't figure out where this room fits into the floor plan. Anyone have any ideas? The Kennedys updated and remodeled in the 60s and this room might be a reflection of that time.

image

The stairway in the lateral hall, with the four children ready for bed, 1957. The stairway is small and is quite a disappointment to me - I would imagine there would be a grand staircase right off the entryway.

image

1957, praying before bedtime in one of the children's toy filled rooms.

image

1958, getting ready for Michael's baptism. I assume this is one of the master bedrooms. I love the shelf between the windows with the flowering plant and small mirror. Such a sweet picture! Look at the little girl, Mary Courtney, to her mother's left staring up intently at her.

image

In 1958,the family posed in this room - with six children and a huge St. Bernard dog. The white slipcovered sofa is the same as the sofa in the previous picture, but the room is different, more dressy. The french chair on the left and the french coffee table are reproductions. The brass side table here is used as the coffee table in the guest room picture show previously.

image

Again, 1958, six children, this time posing in yet another room with a series of prints above the tweedy sofa. This may be the library. The boys all look so cute in their matching shorts and suspenders!

image

1959, this time the baby's baptism is Mary Kerry's. Notice the beautiful chintz on the chair and ottoman, and the gorgeous French secretary to the left in the back. The curtains are rather elaborate here with tassel fringe. This most certainly is the formal Drawing room. The portrait of Kathleen is on the right, today it hangs in the dining room. Bobby Jr., left, front, always looks so sad in all the pictures.

image

Another view of the formal Drawing room. Rough housing, as usual. Again, the chintz chair and ottoman, the fancy tassel trimmed curtains, and the portrait of Kathleen and another little boy, maybe Michael.

image

The 1959 Kennedy Christmas Card - all in pajamas, waiting for Santa Claus. Of these children, David is passed of a drug overdose, and Michael of a skiing accident - shortly after it was discovered he had had an affair with his teenaged babysitter.

After having a new baby almost each year, the family remained like this, with seven children for another three years.

image

In 1960, Ethel reads to her seven children. The painting above is of David (holding onto Ethel) and Bobby Jr. - sitting on the left of the sofa. This painting is by the same artist that painted Kathleen, today hanging in the dining room.

image

Dinner in the early sixties. Isn't this beautiful? The crystal chandelier, the fireplace mantel, the french lavabo to the right of the fireplace. The table seems small for so many (Bobby Sr. is missing here), but I love the chairs. Notice how little Mary Courtney's linen napkin has fallen to the floor. Ethel looks a little harried here, I wonder why? Look at all these children and realize she still has four more to come! This room is not the formal dining room, so I suspect it was a table set up in another room - I just can't figure out which though.

image

1960 with a sporty sofa, dark with white trim. From the front left, Kathleen, the oldest, looking happy as usual, Bobby looking down, not engaged, as usual, and Joe to the front, looking a little too old to be wearing dress shorts! David sits on his father's lap - he is usually shown clinging to one of his parents. Mary Courtney, Michael, and Mary Kerry on the back left.

image

In 1961, the four boys posed on a charming French day bed in their robes. From left, Bobby Jr., pensive, David clinging, Robert, proud, Michael happy, Joe, looking handsome.

A wintry Google satellite shot from above shows the aerial view of the property with the main house, the pool house and the stables are at the back right, and the tennis court is at the back left. Sure doesn't look like six acres from this view, does it?

image

A picture from the stables - you can see the Hickory Hill name spelled out on the blanket over the stall. Ethel looks so young, thin, and pretty here in her riding attire.

image

This picture was taken in 1957, the baby is Mary Courtney.

image

A horse drawn buggy on the grounds on a wintry day. Hickory Hill was famous for the animals that roamed all over the property. Horses and dogs were numerous in those days.

image

A wintry day of touch football. The house looks almost spooky in this picture! It seems as if it had not been landscaped yet. The back side of the house, you can see what the left wing looked like before it was added. The formal, large Drawing room is located in the left wing, as is the master suite above it.

image

1960, lunch on the patio out back.

image

The back side of the house with the tree house showing, horses and rough housing boys, just another day at Hickory Hill.

image

1963, a Christmas scene in the manger/stable. There are eight children now, the baby is Christopher George. After having a baby almost every year, there was a 3 year break between Mary Kerry and Christopher. Three more children were born in the next five years, making a total of 11. Ethel was said to have wanted more children than her mother-in-law, Rose, who had nine. Jackie Kennedy, who had two children, several miscarriages and a baby who died after a few days, was said to have felt inadequate next to Ethel's easy child birthing skills. Interesting to note that Jackie Kennedy was a closet chain smoker and perhaps her problems with pregnancies were actually caused by her smoking habit.

Notice the assortment of animals here, dogs, horses, donkeys, rabbits, chickens, and goats. Bobby Jr. is today a famous falconer and he says his love of animals started at Hickory Hill.

image

A shot of the back of the house showing the left wing addition with the large paned glass windows and balcony on the second floor.

image

1967, a year before RFK's assassination. The back yard with the large tree house on the left. Ten children down, one child left to go. The youngest child, Rory Elizabeth Katherine, was the little baby girl that was born after Robert's assassination. She was named Rory in memory of her father - Ethel rejected the suggestion she name her Roberta.

President John F. Kennedy's funeral. The event that changed America forever. Here John Jr. gives his famous salute to his father's passing casket.

image

1964. Another famous Kennedy scene, visiting the graves of John and Robert Kennedy on their birthdays. Here, the Robert Kennedy family visit John's grave. This is his original grave site before the permanent one was erected. Surrounded by a quaint picket fence, the mound around the eternal flame held all the different hats he wore in his service to the country. Jackie Kennedy insisted there be the eternal flame on his grave site. Each year, it was a huge media event when the family visited the grave site. Odd to think of that, today.

image

The funeral of Robert Kennedy. At the far left, Eunice Shriver, Robert's sister and mother of Maria Shriver, First Lady of California. Next to her is Eunice's husband, Sargent Shriver. In front of Eunice is Rose Kennedy, Robert and Eunice's mother. Next is David Kennedy, hands clasped and Michael in front of him, Courtney has a mantilla on her head. Standing next to Ethel is Robert Kennedy, Jr., the famous conservationist and falconer. Robert Jr. is probably is the most famous of the 11 children and is credited with saving the Hudson River from total pollution.

image

The Third Generation Kennedy cousins, all grown up in the 70's. David Kennedy is on the back row, left, next Kathleen, Robert Jr. has the wavy, long hair (!!), and Joe is next to him, then Michael. This photo was taken at Rose's house in Cape Cod.

Robert

When Hickory Hill sells, it will be the end of an era for the Robert Kennedy family. Here, Robert and Ethel, looking almost like twins, were photographed at Hickory Hill when they were very young, happy, and optimistic.