WHEELS | 1950 Crosley Hotshot roadster

CrosleyHotshotFormer New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller’s 1950 Crosley Hotshot roadster, left, on display in the Coach Barn at Kykuit.

Last fall, as I wrote here, Mrs. F. and I spent a very nice afternoon at Kykuit, the Rockefeller estate in Sleepy Hollow. Among the many treasures there are Gov. Nelson Rockefeller’s extensive car collection. Displayed alongside the massive midcentury behemoths the governor used while in office is a 1950 Crosley Hotshot roadster.

The car, a charmingly-designed convertible that looks more like a dune-buggy than anything else, was first introduced in 1949. Rockefeller’s is a 1950 model. Time magazine has called the 1,100-pound, 149-inch car one of the worst cars of all time, writing:

What killed the Hotshot was its engine, a dual-overhead cam .75-liter four cylinder, not cast in iron but brazed together from pieces of stamped tin. When these brazed welds let go, as they often did, things quickly got noisy, and hot.

The Hotshot was manufactured until Crosley Motors ceased to be in 1952. The company had been founded in 1939 by Cincinnati industrialist Powel Crosley, who made his fortune manufacturing radios and owned the Cincinnati Reds. With the help of his brother, Lewis, he launched Crosley Motors in 1939. The cars enjoyed some popularity during World War II as they were relatively fuel efficient. After the war’s end, the line expanded to include sedans, wagons, coupes and roadsters. At its peak, in 1948, the company sold nearly 25,000 vehicles manufactured at two plants in Indiana and one in Ohio.

Crosley owners included Omar Bradley, Humphrey Bogart, Pamela Harriman, Gloria Swanson, Frank Lloyd Wright and Rockefeller.

GREAT HOUSES | Kykuit, seat of the Rockefellers

KykuitKykuit, the epic seat of the Rockefellers in Pocantico Hills.

“It’s what God would have built, if only He had the money.”

At the peak of the Hudson Valley fall, Mrs. F. indulged me and agreed to spend the better part of an October Saturday touring Kykuit, the Rockefeller seat in Pocantico Hills.

The estate, owned by New York’s first family since 1893, is a sprawling compound that sits high above the Hudson and the villages of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown. Its apex is a forty-room classical revival manor house that was home first to John D. Rockefeller Sr. and subsequently by his son, John D. Rockefeller Jr., and his grandson, Nelson A. Rockefeller, storied governor of New York and the 41st vice president of the United States.

Work on the mansion’s first form took six years to complete. The house’s final rendering was completed by Junior in 1913 with architecture from Chester Holmes Aldrich and William Adams Delano. The six-story structure includes two basement levels. The gracious interiors, which I found remarkable for their simplicity, were designed by Ogden Codman Jr., who co-authored the seminal Decoration of Houses with Edith Wharton in 1898.

Elsewhere on the estate, called the Park, are the homes of David Rockefeller, Happy Rockefeller, and a massive Tudor-revival Playhouse that’s still used as a club house by the Rockefeller. A nine-hole golf course, a massive orangerie and a multi-story Coach Barn and about 70 other outbuildings and houses round the Park out. The landscaping is as remarkable as the manorhouse and the other structures. Initially begun by the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted, the work was completed by William Welles Bosworth, who designed the extensive terraces, fountains and gardens that surround the house.

HappyHappy Rockefeller plays with her son, Nelson Rockefeller Jr., in a fountain at Kykuit in 1965. This image was taken by epic LIFE photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Though the grand setting is itself worthy of a visit, Nelson Rockefeller’s extensive art collection is the real gem at Kykuit. A roster of artists whose works adorn Kykuit is too long for inclusion here, but the Governor’s subterranean galleries, which feature some of the best artists of the 20th century, are among the finest I’ve ever visited. Warhol, Picasso and Calder are all accounted for. The Governor also interspersed a vast collection of sculpture on the property.

As if that weren’t all terribly charming, there’s a fantastic collection of Rockefeller automobiles, carriages and coaches in the Coach barn. Among these are the Governor’s 1949 Crosley Hot Shot and several Lincolns he used during his four terms as New York’s chief executive.

The Park is a frequent cultural reference; the Governor’s May 4, 1963 marriage to Happy Rockefeller was mentioned during the third season of “Mad Men.”

Tours of the home are conducted seasonally, from the beginning of May to the beginning of November. The 2011 season opens Sunday, May 8. While the home is owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, tours are run by Historic Hudson Valley, a network of historic Hudson Valley homes that was founded in 1951 by Junior. Tickets should be purchased in advance and tours start out from the adjacent Phillipsburg Manor.

Here’s a gallery from our trip:

Kykuit — Historick Hudson Valley
(914) 631-8200 Monday through Friday or (914) 631-3992 on weekends
Pocantico Hills, New York.

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