Thursday, August 13, 2009

Claremont Academy to Ride Off Into the Sunset

The Claremont Riding Academy on West 89th St. between Columbus and Amsterdam Aves. is closing this Sunday after the weekend's riding is done. Opened in 1892, Claremont is the oldest continuously operated horse stable in the U.S. It was initially used as a livery stable, but was turned into a riding academy in the 1920s. Riding lessons are given in a small ring on the main floor, while stables occupy the basement and upper floors, which horses reach via ramps. Owner Paul Novograd said he was closing the business because pedestrian traffic was becoming too congested along Central Park's bridle trails, making it difficult to ride. Homes will be found for the roughly 45 horses that currently stable on 89th St.

The building that houses the Claremont Riding Academy is located at 175 West 89th St. on the north side of the street. It was designed 115 years ago by Frank A. Rooke, who also built The Gershwin Hotel on East 27th St. According to the AIA Guide to New York City, the structure narrowly escaped destruction in the 1960s when urban renewal advocates called for its removal from the neighborhood and replacement as part of a consolidated stable facility inside Central Park, but preservationists prevailed. 175 West 89th is now a New York City Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places, so any alterations will have to be approved by the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission. We imagine that after washing away 115 years of horse smell, the four-story building could be worth a lot of money as a residential conversion project.

Last year we wrote about how luxury condo developers got the jump on the Landmarks Preservation Commission by removing the facade of the Dakota Stable on 77th st. and Amsterdam Ave. before the building could be landmarked, thus removing any reason for it to be landmarked. The stables at West 89th should avoid this fate because the building is already landmarked. Urban equestrians may now have to decamp to Brooklyn's Kensington Stables located in Prospect Park, which has well-used bridle trails. And although information is fairly difficult to come by, there is a horseback riding facility on Ward's Island.

New York Stables Closed

After more than 100 years of service, the nation’s oldest operating stables closed its doors.

The familiar sight of horse and rider cruising through Manhattan’s Upper West Side in New York is only a memory now. The Claremont Riding Academy officially closed its doors Sunday after more than 100 years of service to equestrians throughout the city. The four-story stone stable located between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues originally opened as a livery stable in 1892 but became a riding school in the 1920s, offering lessons and hiring out horses for use on bridle paths within Central Park.
Owner Paul Novograd says dwindling business contributed to closure of Claremont, which was one of the oldest continuously operating stables in the United States. The building was declared a city landmark in 1990, so its exterior can't be changed without approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. However the building’s interior, which looks like it hasn’t been changed in decades, does not hold the same protection.
New homes are being sought for the 45 horses from the stable.


“The one thing I do not want to be called is First Lady. It sounds like a saddle horse.”

Jackie Kennedy grew up surrounded by horses, nurtured her passion and became a highly respected life long equestrian. When she was living in Washington Jackie would often flee the city to the quiet of Kennedy’s 300 acre retreat at “Glen-Ota” in Middleburg. Apparently JFK was allergic to animal fur and did not share her passion for horses. Caroline’s pony – Macaroni – would often wander the White House grounds eating the grass and occasionally the White House roses! There were no stables at the White House for they had been destroyed by President Taft to make way for his modern motorcar! Stombock’s Fine Riding Apparel on M Street in Georgetown supplied Jackie’s equestrian needs. For more formal attire she turned to Oleg Cassini and other haute couture designers. Her connection with Cassini had an strong equine link, for he had been an instructor of horsemanship in the US Army Calvary in Fort Riley Kansas, he had played polo for the army team and had hunted on more than 20 hunts. According to Vicky Moon’s book “they shared the passion although never rode together.” Her saddles were from the Steuben Saddle Company which was founded in 1894 and manufactured in Stans Switzerland. After her death the estate sale estimate for her saddle was $300 - $500 however, it surprised many by selling for $90,500.

Few assigned protective agents could keep up with Jackie when she was riding so a good looking 27-year-old US Parks Department Private by the name of Denis Ayres was assigned to cover her. Ayres eventually became a Sergeant Major of the US Park Police with over 90 horses under his control – most likely housed in the building that is now the DC Archives at 1300 Naylor Court. With guests, Jackie would ride at Rock Creek Park.

Nobody who has ever seen footage of JFK’s funeral could ever forget the pathos evoked by the riderless horse with reversed boots. The horse – Black Jack - was a sixteen year old hybrid between a quarter horse and a Morgan. He served at the funerals of Eisenhower, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson and General Douglas MacArthur. “Several years after the funeral, Jackie received a letter from the secretary of the Army, asking her if she might want to include him in her stable. She wrote back and politely declined saying it would be better to have him continue in military service.”(ref) After 24 years of distinguished service he was euthanized at the age of 29 on Feb 6th 1976, he was given a full military funeral followed with burial on the Fort Meyer parade ground, Summerall Field. His stall became a shrine.

Jackie moved to New York (1040 5th Avenue) following JFK’s death after trying to live in Washington. While in NYC she continued to ride several times a week through the Claremont Riding Academy on the upper West Side at 175 West 89th Street. This was a 5 story Romanesque revival building built in 1892 by Edward Bedell listed in the NY Landmark Commission as a National Historic Site. Originally a livery stable, designed by Frank A. Rooke who specialized in stables and factories it is allegedly the oldest continuously operated stable in the country. There were more than 100 horses living in the stable and it housed a commercial sized elevator for the horses along with a 65’ x 75’ arena. The horses (and their perspective riders) were specially trained to be accustomed to the NY traffic.

Jackie usually rode alone in the morning. The Claremont Stables would bring a horse to the Engineer’s Gate north of the Guggenheim Museum at 19th and 5th Avenue for a ride along the 5 mile long bridle path around the reservoir, built by landscape designer Frederick Law Olmstead in 1858. Today the reservoir bears Jackie’s name.

“The Private Passion of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Portrait of a Rider” by Vicky Moon, Harper Collins Publisher 1st Edition 2005