Jackie, A New Yorker

Jack and Jackie Greet New York, 1960

After becoming First Lady, Jackie Kennedy seemed to do anything to avoid Washington, D.C. She did indeed officially live in the White House during John Kennedy’s presidency, but she spent far more time away from the capitol than she spent in it. (Spoiler Alert: New York City was one of her favorite places to go.)

At the time Jackie Kennedy became First Lady, she was no stranger to Washington, D.C. She had lived in the city as a child–shuttling back and forth from NYC where her father lived– after her mother married Hugh Dudley Auchincloss, Jr., an attorney and Standard Oil heir.  She moved to the city as a college student, after transferring from Vassar College to George Washington University. At the time, her mother and stepfather lived at 3044 O St, NW. 

In 1951, after graduation, she was hired by the Washington Times-Herald as their “Inquiring Camera Girl.”

The next year, she met Congressman Jack Kennedy. They were married in September 1953.

The couple lived in several Georgetown residences, before settling into a home at 3307 N Street, where they would live until moving into the White House in 1961. (John Kennedy lived in several places in Georgetown beforehand).

Settling In: Jackie in Georgetown

John was a senator by now, and Jackie (apparently) spent the day taking care of him and their dog Tippy (despite an admitted interest in politics!) You can see Jackie’s almost visible annoyance at the inane questions asked her in this April 3, 1957 interview with her (and John). The interviewer is  Arlene Francis.)

Smile and Explain: Jackie in the Media Glare

In a later interview, in March 1961, Jackie talks about undertaking a (limited) restoration of the White House, a place which she clearly did not consider her home:

“It doesn’t belong to anyone,” she said of her current residence, “but to everyone in this country.”

Her effort to restore the house was intended to make it into a “museum.” It was her idea to hire a curator and a historian for the White House.

White House Make Over, 1961

The restoration of the White House would captivate the nation’s attention, and it is for this that Jackie is perhaps most widely remembered.

But for her, the work to restore the White House was less about creating a stunning or even more comfortable living space for her and her family, and more about conserving American history.

You can watch Jackie’s tour through the White House in this 1962 film.

“Like a Museum:” The Blue Room at the White House, January 1963

While the country dreamed about the White House as Jackie’s “home” (and the elevated homemaking she accomplished there), she was actually spending the vast majority of her time miles and miles away from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She was either spending weeks at time at the family compound in Hyannis Port or at Glenora, her rented farm in Middleburg, VA; (The Kennedys rented Glenora while building a new house nearby, “Wexford,” which was completed in the spring of 1963. The Kennedy family only stayed in the house a couple of times. In 2013, Wexford went on sale for $11 million. Later, the price was reduced to just under $8 million.)

Glenora: A Kennedy Retreat (Palm Beach served as another Kennedy favorite site)

Glenora and Hyannis Port were places Jackie retreated for solitude; especially at Glenora, she could do one thing she loved most: ride her horses.

Hyannis Port: Home-Away-From-White House

These cozy, albeit palatial, residences offered Jackie and her young children a place to be at home. When she wanted to be in “the world,” as it were, it was to New York City that Jackie often traveled, spending days shopping, attending the ballet, and socializing with friends. Her pied-a-terre was none other than a swanky duplex apartment on the 34th and 35th floors of the Carlyle Hotel at 35 E 76th Street.

Her secret service agent, Clint Hill, always enjoyed these New York excursions, and he wrote about these trips at length in his fascinating memoir, Mrs. Kennedy and Me: An Intimate Memoir, (with Lisa McCubbin, 2012).  Mr. Hill was delighted each time he arrived with the First Lady in NYC; The Carlyle always put the agents up in their own rooms in the hotel.

Jackie Kennedy with her Secret Service Agent, Clint Hill. He would provide her with security from 1961-1964
It would hold a lot of wheat: The Carlyle Hotel, built in 1930

Hill also notes the extensive preparation required for each visit: the Washington, D.C. Secret Service had to coordinate with a New York office for security. And protecting Jackie on the busy streets of New York was altogether different than taking care of her at one of her secluded homes.

Landing at LaGuardia airport (having flown to the city in their private plane, The Caroline,) Jackie and entourage would be driven to Manhattan in a Lincoln Town Car (the Secret Service had an “agreement” with the Ford Motor Company).

Hill recalls his first trip:

“I had never been to the Carlyle before, and as I realized we were getting close, I noticed this beautiful structure that seemed to rise up from the city, overlooking Central Park, unobstructed by any other tall buildings. . . . As we pulled up to the stunning hotel that rose forty stories high, I thought back to my youth in North Dakota wheat country where the highest structures were grain elevators standing for or five stories tall, and I thought, That sure would hold a lot of wheat.

The general manager of the Carlye, Mr. Samuel Lewis, would escort Jackie and company up to the 34th floor, where Secret Service agents from the New York Field Office awaited.

The apartment- with its stunning views and two terraces- occupied two floors, the 34th and 35th. According to Clint Hill, it included, on the lower floor, a living room, dining room, kitchen and study, and, on the upper floor, two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a glassed-in solarium. While this layout sounds modest, the “magnitude and majesty of this apartment,” as Hill recalled, “was almost overwhelming.”

A Home in the City: At the Carlyle

According to one reporter, it was John Kennedy who had “put the Carlyle on the map,” when he purchased the Kennedy apartment prior to becoming president. After he assumed office, both Kennedys stayed there during frequent visits to NYC. (Stories about JFK’s visits to NYC are quite scandalous.)

And thus the Carlyle came to be known as “the New York White House.”

(JFK’s father traced the Carlyle’s outlines on the map before him. Joseph P. Kennedy also owned a suite at the Carlyle. Other presidents had stayed there too, including Harry Truman.)

But Jackie had roots in NYC that were far deeper than JFK’s.

City Girl: Jackie Loved the Country Life

Born in Southampton, New York, on July 28, 1929, Jackie was a member of a family that had been a part of Manhattan’s swanky upper crust for many years.

Janet and John Bouvier, Jackie’s Parents

If a family trip had not intervened, she would have been born, as had been planned, in Manhattan. She was baptized at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola at 980 Park Avenue.

Her mother, Janet Norton Lee, was born in Manhattan. Her father, John Vernou “Black Jack” Bouvier III, was a lawyer and Wall Street financier. (Janet and John divorced in 1940).

(For more on the extensive Bouvier roots in Manhattan see

Jackie’s maternal grandfather was James Thomas Lee, a banker, lawyer, and New York developer, whose many projects included 740 Park Avenue, a 1930 Art Deco building that is still considered one of the most elite in NYC. The building was designed by architect Rosario Candela (1890 –1953).

There, in an luxury apartment at 740 Park, Jackie would live as a child, from age 3 through 9, a time when she attended the Chapin School on East End Avenue. (She later attended boarding school at Miss Porter’s in Farmington, CT.)

“Far-reaching Ideas in Modern Luxury and Beauty:” 740 Park Ave, Jackie’s Grandfather’s Dream
Jackie and Friend: She had a lifelong love of horses

Manhattan was Jackie’s childhood playground. She took ballet lessons at the old Metropolitan Opera House at 1411 Broadway (demolished in 1967). She rode her horse, Danseuse, in Central Park. And she went to Schrafts for pistachio ice cream with her father and younger sister, Lee.

625 Madison Avenue

After spending her younger years on Park Avenue, she would find herself growing up in a quiet, but up-and-coming neighborhood near the East River.

Jackie’s Manhattan

After her parents divorced, Jackie moved with her mother, sister, and servants to another building developed by James Lee, 1 Gracie Square (at 84th Street), near Yorkville, on the upper East Side.

East River View: Gracie Square, c. 1940

The 1929 building (an innovative development) was another Rosario Candela design. Candela, along with developers James Lee and Anthony Paterno, and architect William Lawrence Bottomley, created a new kind of apartment cooperative (with huge closets, views of the East River, and outdoor space) that was designed to appeal to well-to-do families.

Named after nearby Gracie Mansion (constructed as a private residence in 1799 and designated the official residence of the New York city mayor since 1942), Gracie Square (and the various buildings constructed there in the 1920s) was soon be considered a fashionable address.

“Where Park and River Meet,” Jan. 20, 1929 Ad, New York Times

A 1928 change in the city’s zoning laws had opened the area for this kind of development and would transform the working class identity of the neighborhood in just a few years. (In 1930, socialite Brooke Astor, also following a divorce, moved to Gracie Square with her young son.)

And so in this quiet corner of Manhattan, Jackie Bouvier would grow up. Her school, Chapin, was just steps away from her apartment, and summers were spent at her paternal grandparents’ estate in East Hampton, Long Island, known as “Lasata.” The Bouviers had been summering on Long Island since about 1912.

A la Gatsby, The Bouviers at Play

“East Hampton Colonists” the New York Times called those New Yorkers who “summered” on Long Island.

On Long Island, her relatives were also her neighbors: her aunt, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale, and cousin, Edith Bouvier Beale.

Jackie’s cousin, Edith Bouvier Beale, (1917-2002)

Edith had married Jackie’s father’s law partner and, in 1924, the couple moved into their Long Island estate just three miles from Lasata. In New York City, the Beales lived at 987 Madison Avenue, the future site of the Carlyle Hotel.

As cousins Edith and Jackie grew to adulthood, their families’ fortunes would rise and fall, tossing the women in an emotional sea, as financial disaster, divorce, and alcoholism played themselves out through their families. But to the world, these young women seemed nothing if not privileged. These beautiful, educated, and poised young women seemed to have it all.

The Media Spotlight Begins

Jackie made her debut in 1947, and afterwards she took part in the social whirl that involved all proper debutantes.

Debutante Ball: Jackie and her sister, Lee (Caroline Lee Bouvier Radziwill)

After coming out, Jackie was part of the Manhattan social scene, indeed. At age 18, she chaired the philanthropic committee that sponsored a Metropolitan Opera benefit performance of “Lucia di Lamamoor.” The performance took place in December 1947, with the proceeds benefiting the Free Milk Fund for Babies.

Jackie, right, on the pages of the NYT, Nov. 23, 1947.

While the media focused on the lavish parties and philanthropic projects of the rich and richer, Jackie and family underwent their own personal troubles. Indeed, all was not always swanky for the Bouvier clan.

They did indeed claim great wealth, and they built and lived in great structures that symbolized the dynamism of NYC and the nation itself.

But from the boom years of the 1920s, to the crash, and into the Great Depression, the family endured  divorces, bitter custody battles, and the loss of fortunes.

In fact, Jackie’s relatives would rise and fall with regularity–moving from boom to bust–creating great works and enduring great tragedy– each with his or her own story that seemed not only to parallel the American story, but also to illustrate the strains and emotional toll endured by many Americans through these periods.

Jackie’s father and mother’s divorce, and the accompanied alcoholism of her father, cast a dark shadow over her life.

It was not until she was married to the handsome young “Jack” that the media began to shine the light even brighter upon her. And at that time, she found herself seeking out places of refuge, away from the scrutiny.

The Perfect Couple, Perfectly Happy

Another dark shadow was cast in November 1963 with the assassination of her husband. New York, the nation, and the world was stunned. Times Square and the Broadway theaters went dark after the assassination.

New Yorkers react to the assassination in November 1963.

Immediately following the assassination, Jackie called up Theodore White. White, a journalist and author, had been a friend to JFK. His groundbreaking 1961 book, The Making of the President, 1960, had changed the way the American public viewed politics. And it had more than bolstered Kennedy’s image.

Jackie sat down with White for hours just a week after his assassination.  On December 6, 1963, Life published White’s interview with Jackie, titled, “For President Kennedy: An Epilogue.” 

Here, Jackie would refer to the famous line from the 1960 musical Camelot in an effort to take control of her husband’s legacy (remembering that she and Jack had listened to a recording of the musical during their time in the White House):

“Don’t let it be forgot
 that once there was a spot
 for one brief shining moment 
that was known as Camelot.”
Richard Avedon’s Kennedys, January 1961

After November 1963, Jackie decided to leave Washington, D.C. for good. The press was far too eager to watch (and photograph) her every move.

She would return to NYC (with Clint Hill as her bodyguard) staying in the Carlyle for 10 months before moving into an apartment on the 15th floor of 1040 Fifth Avenue, another Rosario Candela building.

1967: Jackie’s NYC (Follow the link for the various addresses related to Jackie)

In Manhattan, Jackie would work (first from an office on Park Avenue in the Pan Am Building) and later as a book editor in the city (for Viking and then Doubleday). Her marriage to Aristotle Onassis in 1968 was not without controversy, and Jackie continued to be the center of attention. Still, she often moved into the public eye, taking part in events around the city.

1966: Dedication ceremony for the Whitney Museum of American Art, with architect Marcel Breuer and Jackie Kennedy
Still in the Spotlight

In 1967, Alan Levy’s Saturday Evening Post piece acknowledged the near frenzy related to the “National Sport of Watching Jackie Kennedy” (although, to be fair, the sport was somewhat local, relegated to Manhattan’s streets.)

In NYC, Jackie was constantly hounded by the press.

(See her NYC apartment and the paparrazo who pursued her relentlessly here. That story was the subject of a 2010 film: Smash His Camera).

Sometimes, it was those closest to her that violated her privacy: Her cousin, John H. Davis, wrote numerous books about her and her family, beginning with the The Bouviers in 1969. (In 1998, Davis published: Jacqueline Bouvier: An Intimate Memoir.)

Also in 1969, Jackie’s former secretary, Mary B. Gallagher published, “My Life with Jacqueline Kennedy,” a bestselling tell-all that painted Jackie in less than flattering terms. (Watch a clip of Barbara Walters’ 1970 interview with Gallagher.)

It seemed as if, in the wake of the loss of “Camelot,” –and the myth of those halcyon days at the White House that Jackie herself had crafted–that the nation was ready to see past the myth (even though in past decades the media continues to riff on the Camelot legend).

Thus, by the lean and grim 1970s, the toppling of the majestic myths of the wealthy and powerful was in full swing.

Paradise Lost: Sheehy’s Take on the Bouviers’ Downfall

While Jackie received quite a lot of negative press, she was still revered and adored by many.

It would be two other women in Jackie’s family who would bear the brunt of the harsh scrutiny as they were observed as if specimens under glass, wilting and eccentric, trapped within their own once splendorous walls of wealth: Edith and Edie Beale (Jackie’s aunt and cousin).

Profiled in Gail Sheehy’s 1972 New York Magazine piece, “The Secret of Grey Gardens,” (–In 2007, Sheehy updated her piece–) they were later the focus of the Maysles brothers’ 1975 documentary, Grey Gardens (and numerous other versions of Grey Gardens, including a musical among other portrayals).(In 1978, Edith Beale herself would appear in a cabaret in NYC.)

The story of the mother and daughter, living in a rambling and ruined Long Island estate, seemed to provide the perfect mixture of (lost) glamor and pathos, a kind of latter day Sunset Boulevard. 1970s readers and audiences found in the story of  “Little Edie” and “Big Edie,” a tale of decline and survival (something parallel to conditions in the country generally at the time).

Fight to Preserve the City: A New York Renovation, Jackie with Ed Koch

And indeed, by the 1970s, Jackie’s beloved New York was in flux–and decline–too.

But just as she tried to help out her Bouvier relatives, she would also lend her name and support to a number of preservation projects around the city, the most famous of which was the saving and ultimate preservation of Grand Central Terminal.

In a landmark case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1978, the owners of the decrepit, but historically significant station who wanted to tear down the station, argued that they “should be able to do what it wanted with its property.” Meanwhile, “New York’s lawyers said the city had the right to regulate land use through the landmarks law.” Read an account of the story here.)

Grand Central was saved.

Jackie, A New Yorker

Jackie passed away on May 19, 1994. Her funeral, on May 23, took place at the very same church where she was baptized.

This was just one reason that, after she was gone, New York remembered that yes, she had been First Lady; certainly, she had been a style icon; and indeed, she had been an important leader in the preservation movement, among other things. But she was first, and simply, a New Yorker. (See Robert D. McFadden’s  “Jackie, New Yorker; Friends Recall a Fighter for Her City,” New York Times, May 22, 1994.)
After her death, the city wanted to find a way to honor her “for her role in the city’s life.” (John Kifner, “Central Park Honor for Jacqueline Onassis,” New York Times, July 23, 1994).

Her children, John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Kennedy Schlossberg, came up with the idea of naming something in her honor, something she cherished, somewhere in a place that had seen her biking, riding, and jogging for many years: Central Park.

The Central Park Reservoir was chosen, a place where she had, for many years, walked and biked alone or with her friends or her children.

The city bears her name in many places still.

“Don’t let it be forgot
 that there (is still) a spot…” in Central Park….named for one of the city’s own.

~Jenny Thompson

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, NYC


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s