Historic Mansion

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    George Eastman (American, 1854–1932). Residence, 1905–32. Gelatin silver print. George Eastman Museum, gift of the University of Rochester.

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    George Eastman (American, 1854–1932). Conservatory expansion from terrace garden, 1919. Negative, gelatin on nitrocellulose roll film. George Eastman Museum, gift of Eastman Kodak Company.

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    George Eastman (American, 1854–1932). Residence and greenhouses, 1905–32. Gelatin silver print. George Eastman Museum, gift of the University of Rochester.

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    George Eastman (American, 1854–1932). Dining room, 1905–32. Gelatin silver print. George Eastman Museum, gift of the University of Rochester.

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    George Eastman (American, 1854–1932). Front hall and staircase, 1905–32. Gelatin silver print. George Eastman Museum, gift of the University of Rochester.

After purchasing the 8.5-acre East Avenue property in 1902, George Eastman hired architect J. Foster Warner (1859–1937) to build a Colonial Revival mansion based on the design of the Root House in Buffalo, New York. Warner, Eastman, and landscape architect Alling S. DeForest (1875–1957) created an urban estate complete with working farmland, formal gardens, greenhouses, stables, barns, pastures, and the 35,000-square-foot, fifty-room residence made of reinforced concrete.

Eastman’s house presented a classical facade of decorative craftsmanship. Beneath this exterior were modern conveniences such as an electrical generator, an internal telephone system with 21 stations, a built-in vacuum cleaning system, a central clock network, an elevator, and a great pipe organ, which made the home itself an instrument, a center of the city’s rich musical life from 1905 until Eastman’s death in 1932. Eastman was involved in every aspect of the construction, paying close attention to detail and requiring the use of high-quality materials. To design the interior, Eastman hired William Rutherford Mead (1846–1928) of the premiere New York firm McKim, Mead & White, which had worked on Andrew Carnegie’s house in New York and on the White House. The total cost of the initial construction was $335,000 (around $9 million today). Eastman’s mansion was completed in 1905, and he celebrated with a gala that October.

In 1919, George Eastman sought to enlarge the conservatory in order to make the space oblong rather than square. His architect at the time, William G. Kaelber (1886–1948), drew up plans to cut the house in two and move the rear section 9 ft. 4 in. to the north using horizontal hydraulic jacks on railroad ties with special wheels and tracks. The project cost $750,000 and took approximately three months.

A fourteen-month restoration of the mansion was completed in January 1990. A nationwide search resulted in the recovery of many of Eastman’s belongings thought to have been lost or destroyed. The many photographs made by Eastman and others, as well as details found in letters, bills, and notes, helped to make the restoration authentic.