The Golden Age of Reynolda: The Buzz about the Basement Photos

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The Golden Age of Reynolda: The Buzz about the Basement Photos

We like to share from the Reynolda House Archives on our Facebook page each week. Recent posts include images from the Golden Age of Reynolda (1923-37) to complement our current exhibition, Star Power: Edward Steichen’s Glamour Photography. The following images generated quite a buzz with our followers, so we wanted to share more.

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Party in the basement game room showing murals

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CREDIT: Party in the basement game room showing murals, c. 1950, Reynolda House Museum of American Art

In the mid-1930s, Mary Reynolds Babcock and her husband Charlie redesigned the lower level of the house to include a bowling alley, shooting gallery, ping pong room, indoor pool, squash court, bar, and game room. Murals provided a carnival-like setting for parties. The only surviving visual evidence is a double-exposed snapshot of a party with Charlie Babcock in a dark suit in the foreground and Mary’s head faintly visible to his right. In the background, one wall of murals shows Dick Reynolds, Jr. at the controls of an airplane with his wife Blitz next to him. 

Dick was an avid aviator who founded Reynolds Airways and once owned the airport Curtiss Field (later Roosevelt Field) where Charles Lindbergh lifted off in The Spirit of St. Louis. Jane (Mrs. Gordon) Gray hung from one wing and Mary Babcock hung from the other.

The murals also featured a circus wagon and a poker game with recognizable faces in caricature. Reynolds relatives (including the branch of the family that developed Reynolds Metals and “Reynolds Wrap") were dispersed as little cherubs in the blue sky.

 

Follow the buzz here.

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Mirrored Art Deco bar

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CREDIT: Mirrored Art Deco bar, with Mary Reynolds Babcock at left, c. 1937. Reynolda House Museum of American Art

Mary Reynolds Babcock came of age in the late 1920s and enjoyed a social life that revolved around cocktail parties where martinis, whisky sours, and other mixed drinks were served. Mary’s generation pioneered a new type of space in their houses called a recreation room, which invariably contained a bar.

As Catherine Gilbert Murdock has written, “During Prohibition, acceptance of women’s home drinking facilitated development of new drinking rituals, in particular the cocktail party. The cocktail provided hard liquor, but softened - feminized enough to remove its most opprobrious male association. Women who would never think of consuming straight gin could ask for a dry martini without fearing for their reputations. The cocktail provided a neatly packaged, suitably disguised, fashionably decorated shot of liquor." (Domesticating Drink: Women, Men and Alcohol in America, 1870-1940, p.164)

The Reynolda bar is a classic example of the Streamlined Modern style. Like French Art Deco, the style privileged curved lines, reflective materials, and bright contrasting colors. By the 1930s streamlined design could be found on locomotives, automobiles, and airplanes, as well as in playful interior decoration. Aerodynamics found expression at Reynolda in the curves of walls and banquettes, and details like the banding on the edge of the bar — a widely used motif suggesting airflow.

In its bright color contrasts, shiny metal surfaces, an diffused lighting, the Reynolda bar reflects the new generation’s sophisticated taste. But the bar was also designed to amuse: by moving from a convex to a concave mirror one’s reflections alters from slender to obese, which broke the ice at every party.

 

Follow the buzz here.


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