Monday, September 23, 2013

Forty-seven Years Ago Last May

Yesterday, at Framing the Viewshed: Groundswell, Dorothy Heyl, a member of the Olana Landscape Viewshed Committee, was ensconced at the picnic area midway along Ridge Road, telling about the beginnings of Olana as a state historic site.

She had with her a copy of Life Magazine for May 13, 1966, the issue that contained a photo essay about Olana entitled, "Must this mansion be destroyed?" Heyl explained that in June 1966, when the New York State Legislature considered the bill authorizing the State of New York to acquire Olana, a copy of this issue of the magazine was placed on the desk of every state senator and assemblyman.

The Life article that helped to persuade the State Legislature to save Olana turns out to have also been an early example of crowd sourcing. The text of the article contained this appeal:
. . . today Olana is in imminent danger of destruction. In 1964 the artist's heirs decided to dispose of the 327 acres of land, the mansion and its entire contents, including several hundred paintings and drawings by Church himself. Alarmed at this news, Professor David Huntington, a Church expert and enthusiast, rounded up a distinguished committee to preserve Olana as a museum and park. They have raised $160,000 toward the purchase of the property, but they must obtain $310,000 more before June 30 when their option expires. Only the interest and contributions of many Americans can save this unique and splendid domain of an artist's fancy.
People all over the country responded by sending contributions for Olana to Huntington, mailing them to Time, Inc. The contributions, although none in great amounts, were many. Heyl had copies of some of the letters that accompanied contributions. Among them was one from the owner of a Shell station in Newark, New York, who shared this sentiment:
May your committee raise the necessary money or we may surely be classed as the "Ugly" Americans.
The sheriff of Multnomah County in Oregon had this to say in the letter that accompanied his contribution:
I read with interest the article in LIFE Magazine regarding the F. E. Church estate and the effort to save it from destruction. I feel very strongly that we should save the best of the past to provide for the excellence of the future.
Among the letters, too, was one from a nine-year-old boy in West Nyack, who sent a dollar he had saved along with fifty cents from his six-year-old brother. In his letter, he wrote:
In the latest issue of life they had an article on Olana. They told about the mansion where the Famous artist Frederic Edwin Church lived.
In the mansion it holds 100's of Churches Pictures and drawings and its lovely furniture.
But I was disappointed when the article said the artist's heirs planned to tear down it all, 327 acres and all. . . .
I hope that the mansion that overlooks the Hudson river will be saved and be turned into a park and a museum so many people could see what it was like when the mansion was built.


  1. My Aunt, who just turned 82,became totally enchanted with Olana, when she first came to visit me in Hudson,when I bought my house. She has visited me and Olana, a number of times. A copy of this 1966 Life Magazine issue on Olana,was left in my attic, and inside was a lot of newspaper clippings someone had kept from different newspapers on saving Olana.
    She had it all copied and did an at length study for a presentation about Olana, for her ladies Study Group , in Ashland, Va.

    1. I would love to talk to you. I am writing a book about the Saving of Olana. Can you email me at

    2. I just did, olanafanatic. How wonderful,you are writing a book about Saving Olana.

  2. Does it cover that the furniture had already been removed for auction and after the wrecker's ball was stopped at the 11th hour, so was the auction, and the furniture was retrieved.

    1. That's really amazing. Maybe my Aunt knows about that, but I certainly didn't. How did they manage to stop the auction of the furniture?

    2. There is an interview of David Huntington who led the camplaign to save Olana (which I edited). It is for sale at the Olana gift sale. The very dramatic tale is told in the booklet.