Monday, July 25, 2016

George Eastman Mansion

Tom hosts Tuesday's Treasures and I'm posting about his town.

July 2016 - Rochester NY

Click here to see more Rochester sights.

It was overcast when we started out but the sun soon came out.

We spent some time  admiring the front of the house.

We eventually found the entrance to the museum with the help of a woman who was arriving to attend the film festival at the theatre. She learned we were Canadians and couldn't stop gushing about our prime minister.

Entrepreneur George Eastman (1854–1932), the pioneer of popular photography, completed his Colonial Revival mansion on East Avenue in Rochester in 1905 and resided there until his death. He bequeathed most of his assets to the University of Rochester, expressing a desire that his mansion serve as the residence for the university president. The large house, measuring 35,000 square feet, proved far too large for this purpose, especially without a large service staff.

In 1947, the Board of Regents of the State of New York chartered George Eastman House Inc. as an independent nonprofit educational institution—specifically, a museum of photography and allied pursuits created as a memorial to George Eastman. The next year, the University of Rochester donated Eastman’s mansion and surrounding property to the museum. The institution altered its name several times over the ensuing decades, but its mission has remained steadfast: to collect, preserve, study, and exhibit photographic and cinematic objects and related technology from the inception of each medium to the present.

At the museum’s opening in 1949, it was one of only two American museums with a photography department and one of only two American museums with a film department (the Museum of Modern Art also had both). In 1951, the museum opened the beautiful Dryden Theatre, with seating for more than five hundred people, to exhibit films.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the formation of the National Park Service, the George Eastman Museum presents Photography and America’s National Parks, an exhibition exploring the role of photography in the development of the agency and in shaping our perception and understanding of these landscapes.

An Ansel Adams!!

Ansel Adams was an American photographer who is widely known for his modern day representations that are made on calendars, posters, and in books. He is best remembered as a prominent figure in black and white photography. Adams was a great environmentalist too. The multi-dimensional genius in Adams made him develop the Zone System which determines proper exposure and adjusts the contrast of the final print. Adams was a guiding light in developing the field of photography with his teachings and practices of resolution, clarity and the importance of sharpness in images.

They provided lots of photo ops.

After the galleries and gardens we toured the mansion. I could be happy with a sun room like this.

The security staff were the most pleasant I have ever seen. We couldn't get the door open to the gardens and didn't want to push in case of an alarm, but a guard came along, opened it and even walked a bit with us and pointed out some things about the garden.

The Colonial Revival mansion, built between 1902 and 1905, served as George Eastman’s primary residence until his death in 1932. Today, visitors can explore the historic mansion on their own or on a guided tour, offered daily. Live music performances are offered in the mansion most Sunday afternoons throughout the year.

Eastman remained humble, shy, and unassuming. His reticence and boyish face gave him a low profile for many years, even in his home town of Rochester, New York. When he identified himself, at the peak of his success, to a newly hired gate guard outside his own factory, the watchman scoffed, “Glad to meet you; I’m John D. Rockefeller.” One of his friends observed that George “could keep silent in several languages.” It took 25 years of close collaboration before Eastman and University of Rochester president Rush Rhees began to address each other by their first names. Eastman could be brisk and unemotional, and he never married, though he enjoyed his extended family and a number of close friendships.

On the main floor, visitors enter from the museum through the Palm House and Colonnade, which also provides access to the Schuyler C. Townson Terrace Garden. Past the Colonnade, visitors enter the Dining Room and continue into the Conservatory, the center of the mansion.

Eastman was a stern and no-nonsense businessman, but generous in sharing successes with employees and shareholders. He was a pioneer in creating sick pay, disability compensation, pensions, and hospital benefits. After one highly successful stock offering he set aside a large sum from his personal proceeds and had it distributed to 3,000 startled Eastman Kodak employees with a note reading: “This is a personal matter with Mr. Eastman and he requests that you will not consider it as a gift but as extra pay for good work.” It was one of the first corporate bonuses.

Eastman was a high mix of homebody and adventurer. He would work ceaselessly in Rochester, relaxing only in mundane house and garden duties, then explode into some exotic and extended foreign jaunt. He bicycled across Europe several times (and also enthusiastically bicycled to work much of his life, even in Rochester winters). He would go on music-and-theater jags where he’d attend several performances or plays each day. On African safari once he stood filming a rhino on an early hand-cranked movie camera, and calmly continued as the snorting animal charged directly at him, simply sidestepping and actually brushing the animal as it passed. As the very-large rhino began its second charge, with Eastman still methodically filming, the terrified hunter-guide accompanying him shot the creature dead just a few paces from his intrepid client.

The Billiard Room, Library, Great Hall, and Living Room are all accessible from this large two-story room.

More spoils of the hunt.

George Eastman’s most personal gift blessed Rochester and the world alike. “GE is absolutely alcoholic about music,” wrote one friend, after accompanying him on a 1925 culture trip to New York City. They attended 12 operas and plays in six days, as well as visiting the Morgan Library, the Metropolitan Museum, the Frick Museum, and two movies. (“The rest of the time we loafed,” Eastman summarized in his own account.)

Eastman described listening to music as “a necessary part of life,” and actually installed a large organ in his house and paid an organist to play it every morning as a kind of alarm clock and then breakfast accompaniment. “There are no drawbacks to music: you can’t have too much of it,” he opined. “There is no residual bad effect like overindulgence in other things.”

The charmed donor loved to share beautiful music with others, and made many innovative efforts to expose everyday citizens to great performances. He created elaborate music-instruction programs for the community at large, purchased hundreds of instruments for children, and subsidized the best ensembles to play in Rochester. He insisted tickets at all performances he had anything to do with should be sold first-come/first-served to avoid any “class distinctions.” He required that operas be sung in English so people could understand them. He sent the conductor of the local orchestra to Europe for a year of full-time study and practice, then brought him back to lead a large professional orchestra in popular concerts.

Up the Grand Staircase on the second floor, visitors will see the restored bedroom suite of Maria Kilbourn Eastman (George Eastman’s mother), the north and south organ chambers behind latticework, the Sitting Room, exhibitions related to George Eastman and Eastman Kodak Company, and the Discovery Room, with hands-on image-making activities for kids.

Looking down into the Conservatory.

His mother's quarters.

Kodak sign on building.

George and me.

The third floor, now used for museum offices, once housed Eastman’s screening room and workshop, as well as living quarters for household staff. Museum members can go behind the scenes to the third floor and the basement on the monthly Upstairs/Downstairs tours.

Back outside and the sun is shining.


  1. Excellent write up and shots. Makes me feel like I'm still there.

  2. Jackie, you certainly visited a treasure of Rochester's past. It saddens me to see what has become of Kodak. I took special interest of the collection of hat boxes, stores that are no longer a part of this wonderful city. Thanks for did a fabulous job!

  3. What a beautiful house and museum. I would love to got there. Great photos.

  4. Wow! An amazing place for sure! You really documented it well.

  5. What a stunning mansion and museum, Jackie! The Eastman home is gorgeous! Such fascinating history! Loved all the photos and info! How fun that you are able to post about something in Tom's stomping grounds! :-)


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