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In consideration of the 20th anniversary of the inauguration of the Luxembourg House, a publication reflecting the colorful history of the residence at 17 Beekman Place was put together by the Consulate General of Luxembourg in New York. The project involved the production director Laurence Pierron, the three authors Debra Pickrel, Pamela Hanlon and Marianne Matthews, as well as Kathy McGilvery who handled the book’s design and layout. “The Luxembourg House on Beekman Place – Three Portraits in Time” is a wonderful link between Luxembourg and the United States, the past, present and future…
In 1929, during the most dire financial crisis in American history, the young Wall Street executive James V. Forrestal acquired 17 Beekman Place, demolished the building on the site, and commissioned architect Harold Sterner to design the five-story Neo-Georgian townhouse that is the Luxembourg House today. James, his wife Jo, and their son Michael settled into the home in 1932 - their son Peter was born during the eight years that they lived there. In 1940, Forrestal’s appointment as under secretary of the navy, then, in 1944, secretary of navy by President Roosevelt, forced the family to move to Washington, DC. Hoping to return to New York, Forrestal rented his home, but was forced to sell it due to a higher calling when in 1947, President Truman appointed Forrestal first US secretary of defense.
American songwriter Irving Berlin – whose all-time greatest hit “Annie Get Your Gun” was playing on Broadway at the time - purchased the property from Forrestal. Following a few interior renovations, he moved into his new home with his wife Ellin and their daughters Mary Ellin, Linda and Elizabeth in 1947. Ellin died in 1988. Berlin continued to live at 17 Beekman Place until his death in 1989 at the age of 101. The Berlin daughters then decided to sell the house.
Egide Thein, Luxembourg’s Consul General in New York at the time, had visited a few properties prior to his discovery of 17 Beekman Place. With a strong vision in mind to strengthen Luxembourg’s presence in New York and in the United States, he convinced his government to acquire the house of two iconic Americans.
On April 30, 1990, the Government of Luxembourg purchased the property, transforming it into a unique venue for diplomatic initiatives, economic endeavors, tourism promotion and cultural events. Twenty years later, its rich, untold story is now revealed in “The Luxembourg House on Beekman Place”.
How the Book Came to Be:
The original idea for The Luxembourg House on Beekman Place: Three Portraits in Time came from Debra Pickrel, an established author and neighborhood resident fascinated by our Neo-Georgian, five-story townhouse. In 2004, she wrote to Consul General Georges Faber regarding her desire to use the house as the subject of a paper for her urban history class. The idea was readily approved, and she visited the property several times to research its rich architectural history. The resulting paper won an award in 2006, and, several years later, a new idea emerged.
In 2009, Pickrel approached Consul General Knaff with the idea of publishing a book to commemorate the 2010 twentieth anniversary of the purchase of the house by the Government of Luxembourg. The complete history of the house would be told in three chapters written by different authors and would highlight the many ways in which Luxembourg works within the house today. The idea received immediate approval.
Those who have received the book from Consul General Knaff to date comprise an array of prominent individuals and organizations including H.R.H. Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa, President Barack Obama, President Bill Clinton, Mayor Bloomberg, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean Asselborn, Curtis Roosevelt (grandson of President Franklin D. Roosevelt), Archives Nationales de Luxembourg, The U.S. Embassy in Luxembourg, The Library of Congress, New-York Historical Society, The New York Public Library, Princeton University (James V. Forrestal archive), The United States Military Academy at West Point, The Juilliard School, Rogers & Hammerstein: An Imagem Company, and many more. Contributors, individuals, and companies featured in the book also received copies.
THE LUXEMBOURG HOUSE ON BEEKMAN PLACE: Three Portraits in Time receives the 2011 Apex Award for publication excellence
Commerative book and authors honored at special presentation
“Dear Apex 2011 Winner: Congratulations!”
In June 2011, a package with an unfamiliar logo affixed to it arrived at the Consulate General of Luxembourg in New York.
The five judges of the prestigious Apex Award for Publication Excellence had finished deliberating. The Luxembourg House on Beekman Place: Three Portraits in Time was selected 2011 winner in the One-of-a-Kind Custom Publications category. Apex had received over 3,300 entries of which 247 were submitted in the book’s winning category. “We won”!
The twentieth anniversary of the acquisition of 17 Beekman Place by the Government of Luxembourg for its new Headquarters provided an unprecedented occasion for the Consulate General of Luxembourg to publish a book about the untold story the house and its three successive owners: the first U.S. secretary of defense James V. Forrestal; American legend songwriter Irving Berlin; and the Luxembourg Government in New York.
Launched in New York on October 20, 2010 at a business award event organized by the Luxembourg American Chamber of Commerce, H.R.H. Crown Prince Guillaume of Luxembourg and H.E. Mr. Jeannot Krecké, Luxembourg Minister of the Economy and Foreign Trade, were the two fortunate individuals to receive the first copies. With further distribution, the book ultimately reached a wide array of individuals and organizations in the United States of America, in Luxembourg, and beyond.
While letters of appreciation kept pouring into the office, Consul General François Knaff decided to enter the book in several national competitions. Copies were sent to The New York Society Library Book Awards 2010, IPPY, 2011 Apex Awards, and others.
The Consulate’s winning publication reveals the unique story of 17 Beekman Place’s inhabitants. However, like many residences, the house still holds secrets within its walls. So it was fitting that the 2011 Apex Award Certificate would remain hidden from public knowledge and from the book team for just for a little while….
A One-Of-A-Kind Celebration for a One-of-a-Kind Publication
An event was planned to unveil the award to the unaware book team, guests, and media. For one evening, 17 Beekman Place would become the stage for accomplished writers and performers to deliver a short “rendition” of The Luxembourg House on Beekman Place: Three Portraits in Time, including their personal stories behind the book and offering public recognition to their respective contributors: family members of James & Jo Forrestal and Irving & Ellin Berlin, and officials from the Luxembourg Government.
On July 13, 2011, the special book presentation took place on the two first floors and in the ground-floor garden of the townhouse to honor co-authors Debra Pickrel, Pamela Hanlon, Marianne Matthews, art director Kathy McGilvery, and architect Terry Hudak, floor plan contributor.
Incorporating music into a book presentation is a rare occurrence, but it was a natural fit to the story of 17 Beekman Place. Glory Crampton, Broadway veteran with piano accompanist Michael Lavine, and Michel Reis, Luxembourg jazz pianist/composer joined the authors “on stage” following Consul General Knaff’s opening remarks to the 140 guests.
Say it with music, sing it with words
Glory Crampton, whose great-grandfather, composer A. Baldwin Sloane, worked alongside Irving Berlin as a founding member of ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) took center stage with Cole Porter’s It’s D’Lovely hit song, inviting the audience on a journey going back to James & Jo Forrestal and their friendship with the iconic composer.
“Tonight, we are pleased to have with us Peter Forrestal’s widow, Katherine Callahan Forrestal and their daughter, Francesca – The Forrestals’ only grandchild” announced Debra Pickrel, author of the prologue and chapter one, The Forrestal Years. After explaining how the idea of writing the book emerged (see chapter above), she then recommended the audience take a close look at the pine-paneled elevator with sunray detail – “a must see”, she said.
Following Pickrel’s talk, Glory Crampton introduced The Berlin Years chapter with the song The Hostess from the Mostes’ on the Ball, an Irving Berlin composition written at 17 Beekman Place, taken from the musical Call Me Madam which tells the true story of the first U.S. female minister appointed in Luxembourg.
Pamela Hanlon, author of chapter two, The Berlin Years, tipped off the audience about the mysteries around Mr. Berlin’s many pianos in the house. “I am particularly grateful to the Berlin daughters, Mary Ellin Barrett and Linda Emmet here with us tonight, for their tremendous effort in providing source material for my chapter,” concluded Hanlon. She also thanked Elizabeth Peters, the youngest daughter, who could not attend.
Michel Reis, second prize recipient of the solo piano competition at Montreux Jazz Festival, closed up chapter two and introduced chapter three with his own interpretation of Berlin’s How Deep is the Ocean – composed in 1932 when the Forrestals moved into their property - followed by Reis’ composition Fairytale.
Marianne Matthews, author of chapter three, The Luxembourg Years, talked about the transformations necessary to turn the townhouse into an office space, while maintaining the public spaces the way the Berlins had them. Matthews added: “I would like to take a moment to recognize key player and visionary former Consul General, Egide Thein, who found the property; Michel Franck, architect in charge of the renovations; Edward Emmet, grand-son of the Berlins; Anna Mae Wallowitch, sister of the late John Wallowitch who started a Christmas caroling tradition honoring Berlin; and, also several individuals featured in the book: photographers Michael Anton and Wade Zimmerman; violinist/composer Raimundo Penaforte; and of course, Glory Crampton and Michel Reis”.
The secret is out…
Creating some suspense at the conclusion of the program, Consul General François Knaff invited art director Kathy McGilvery and Terry Hudak to join the authors “on stage” while the well-kept secret was about to be unveiled.
Knaff announced: “I now congratulate all involved in the making of this book for the impressive accomplishment of winning the 2011 Apex Award”. The audience and the book team in particular, were elated. One guest whispered “… and they even won an Award!” That guest was Edward Emmet, grand-son of Irving Berlin. Smiles were on all faces and guests rushed to the first floor to receive signed copies of the book.
A Historical Moment for Posterity
Decorated with photographs depicting the house’s occupants and its elegant rooms over time as well as letters from renowned individuals include H.R.H. Grand Duke Henri and President Barack Obama, the Luxembourg House instantly became the scene of a never-to-be-repeated occasion.
For the very first time, members of the Forrestal and Berlin families, as well as Luxembourg representatives, gathered at 17 Beekman Place for a joint celebration.
The evening was undoubtedly one of the most historical events that took place at in the house….. almost like a Fairytale.
Three eras of Luxembourg House owners were represented at the book signing. Front row (seated) – left to right: Mary Ellin Barrett, eldest daughter of Irving and Ellin Berlin; Katherine (“Kit”) Callahan Forrestal, widow of Peter Forrestal, youngest son of James Forrestal; Linda Emmet, middle daughter of Irving and Ellin Berlin. Second row – left to right: Kathy McGilvery, art director; Millicent Ogden McKinley Cox, great-niece of Jo Forrestal; Pamela Hanlon, author; Debra Pickrel, project director and author; Francesca Forrestal, daughter of Kit Forrestal; Hon. François Knaff, Consul General of Luxembourg in New York; Marianne Matthews, author; Terry Hudak, contributor; and Laurence Pierron, executive assistant, Luxembourg Trade & Investment Office, and production director of the book. Back row – left to right: Peter Matson, grandson of Mary Ellin Barrett; Edward Emmet, son of Linda Emmet; Katrina McKinley Cox, daughter of Millicent Cox.
Start Spreading The News… Right There in Old New York:
The Luxembourg House on Beekman Place: Three Portraits in Time has prompted more online and print media attention than any coverage on the house since 2005. A July 3rd New York Times book review by Sam Roberts in “An Era When the City Roared,” was followed by features on DNAinfo.com, a New York neighborhood news Web site and in Our Town, a publication and partner Web site that covers news in the Consulate’s Turtle Bay area, and on October 12th, Michael Riedel, theater columnist from The New York Post wrote an in-depth article “Blue Skies: Berlin’s Beekman”. Mentions of the book were even included on Irving Berlin’s Facebook page!
Read the different articles below:
Article written by Laurence Pierron
Impressions of the book signing event