American Mansion: Secrets of the Rockefeller Estate

In 1906, John D Rockefeller—then the richest man in the world—began construction on a new summer house on his vast 3,410 acre estate overlooking the Hudson River. Rockefeller’s son, John Junior, took responsibility for the construction; but father and son disagreed from the outset over who should design the house—so they compromised by having several architects work together. The mansion was finished two years later and the result was generally considered to be a disaster: the house was ugly, the windows were too small, the ceilings too low, smoke blew in through the windows and the plumbing was noisy.

It was a crisis for the Rockefeller family: Senior and his wife disliked the house intensely, and their son Junior felt that he had let his parents down. Eventually, Senior decided to virtually demolish the house and start again. The rebuild took another five years to complete, but it ran into further problems, including threats to kidnap Senior’s grandchildren, arson and even murder on the Rockefeller estate. The new house, called Kykuit (pronounced Ky-kut)—which is Dutch for ‘lookout’—was eventually completed in 1914.

Senior pronounced himself happy with the house, which was packed full of the very latest technology which Rockefeller enjoyed— including state-of-the art telephones and telegraph, ticker tape, refrigeration and even a central vacuuming system. He was less impressed, however, with some of the statuary which his son had installed in the gardens, including a vast fountain in the forecourt (the granite bowl alone weighed a staggering 35 tons) and a marble statue of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, which nobody was sure was authentic or not. Each one of these features cost Rockefeller Senior more than double the original estimate for the landscaping of the gardens. With all the new technology in the house and the elaborate sculptures in the garden, it is not surprising that the construction went over budget: the house alone cost four times the original estimate, and the landscaping and gardens went 45-times over budget!

Rockefeller’s wife Cettie did not enjoy the house for long, for she died the following year. Senior went on to live for another 22 years; when he died in 1937, the house passed on to his only son, Rockefeller Junior, and his wife Abby, and they added their own unique touches to the house. After Junior’s death in 1960, his son Nelson moved into Kykuit and introduced a more family-friendly atmosphere, including two swimming pools and an ice cream parlour in the ‘Teahouse’. Nelson also installed an eclectic mix of modern art, including statues by Henry Moore, Picasso and Alexander Calder.

After Nelson’s death in 1979, Kykuit and its gardens were bequeathed to the nation and the house and grounds have been open to the public since 1994 for restricted tours during the summer months.

Secret Access Week continues with American Mansion: Secrets of the Rockefeller Estate, tonight at 8P.


  1. Larry Zuber
    October 12, 2012, 10:43 am

    Can’t wait to see this! “If walls coud talk.”

  2. Trish Pannell
    College Station, TX
    October 12, 2012, 8:08 pm

    Very interesting show. David Applebaum did a fantastic job as host. The story and explanation of this estate was well put together and kept the viewer interested. I hope we get to see more of this new series.

  3. Rick Wilshe
    October 12, 2012, 9:48 pm

    Really enjoyed this show tonight. I actually have been to JDR’s birthplace in Richford, it is very hard to find but I stood where Mr. Applebaum stood and found it to be quite inspiring–from those humble surroundings rose one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in American history. Hope there are more espisodes planned for this series.

  4. Jim Swindel
    Joshua Tree CA.
    October 13, 2012, 12:30 am

    Wonderful program, well written, shot and edited. Love the charming host… Fun & informative….want more

  5. Juanita Proctor
    The Woodlands, Texas
    October 13, 2012, 10:51 am

    The show offered more than I expected – love the details; great food for thought for a history buff; and a great host to top it all off!

  6. Dave
    October 13, 2012, 2:54 pm

    This was a very interesting special. The father-son issues well developed. Who wrote the Musical score for this show?

  7. Kathy
    United States
    October 13, 2012, 4:41 pm

    SUCH an interesting program! And I loved the professional info from the host!

  8. Susan Tate
    Fort Worth, Texas
    October 13, 2012, 6:39 pm

    This was a fascinating show. What added dimension was utilizing an architect to enhance the experience. David Applebaum did a great job. I was entranced throughout the entire piece!

  9. Craig Krampf
    October 13, 2012, 10:36 pm

    Going throught the dial on a Friday night and here is this show. I was hooked…very interesting content. Loved the mixture of architecture (which is indeed a form of art) and history. Host was very cool, and the interviews and old pictures and movies gave credence to it all. Hope there are more in the works.

  10. John Papapavlos
    Los Angeles
    October 13, 2012, 11:56 pm

    LOVED American Mansions! Hope to see more episodes.

  11. Allan
    Houston, Texas
    October 14, 2012, 9:43 am

    Excellent show. My whole family watched and enjoyed the show.

  12. Larry Zuber
    October 15, 2012, 10:28 am

    I liked this for the same reson I’m a big fan of David McCullough’s books. It tells the story of a time and place by telling us stories about people. There’s an important segment of viewers (and sponsors who want to reach them) just dying for more shows like thie that are enganging, ingelligent and human.

  13. Sheri
    Atlanta Georgia
    October 15, 2012, 2:03 pm

    My husband and I loved the show American Mansions and can’t wait until the next one comes out. David Applebaum was a very entertaining host and narrator. We loved learning about the Rockefellers.

  14. Rose Fenton
    Los Angeles, CA
    October 15, 2012, 3:14 pm

    I just love architecture and history both, and found this show to be so fascinating! I hope to see more shows like this one.

  15. Griffin Haskins
    Los Angeles, California
    October 15, 2012, 8:21 pm

    This show was incredibly interesting, and I hope to see more of this series soon!

  16. […] The Rockefeller Estate – This is in Sleepy Hollow area of New York, and was used for a lot of different things over the years. To learn more, be sure to check out the American Mansion: Secrets of the Rockefeller Estate. […]

  17. 【激安市場】コーチ COACH★アクセサリー(キーホルダー)F92406 レッド ハートピク
    September 17, 2015, 7:06 am