Bed Check

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY ZOFIA SMARDZ smardzz@wash­post.com

Lin­ger­ing grandeur at a Hud­son Val­ley ho­tel.

What would Mary think? This is what I won­der as I fol­low the two women up the sweep­ing grand stair­case of the Bid­dle Man­sion at the Tar­ry­town House Es­tate and Con­fer­ence Cen­ter in Tar­ry­town, N.Y. The pair, in their im­pec­ca­ble busi­ness suits, are clearly here for a con­fer­ence, check­ing out the meet­ing rooms on the sec­ond floor of the 1890s manor, dis­cussing the fa­cil­i­ties, lo­cat­ing the el­e­va­tor.

Me, I’m strictly a voyeur (and a ho­tel guest, too, so it’s al­lowed). I’m roam­ing the house af­ter break­fast, ogling the art and pho­tos in the warmly pan­eled draw­ing room, scan­ning the books and mag­a­zines in the sunny li­brary, peek­ing into an el­e­gant din­ing room with leaded-glass win­dows. And stand­ing in what I fig­ure was the mas­ter bed­room, with its ex­hil­a­rat­ing view of the gleam­ing Hud­son River be­yond the tree­tops, be­moan­ing the fancy but ster­ile car­pet­ing that cov­ers the floor. And even more, the Pow­erPoint pro­jec­tion screen at the far end of the room­ful of padded chairs.

Oh dear, Mary, what would you think?

Mary — that would be Mary Duke Bid­dle, an heiress of the Duke to­bacco for­tune out of North Carolina, who was the last pri­vate owner (1921-1960) of this im­pos­ing, castle­like gran­ite house. For the last year of her life, she owned the stately white-columned King Man­sion just a few yards up the hill, too. Once upon a time, through the mid-20th cen­tury, these homes were the sites of lav­ish par­ties and gra­cious liv­ing, of ten­nis games on the indoor court of pink clay (im­ported from France) and horse­back rid­ing over the rolling Hud­son Val­ley hills 25 miles north of New York.

Now? Well, now, as the cen­ter­pieces of a 212-room ho­tel and the nation’s first ex­ec­u­tive con­fer­ence cen­ter (opened in 1964; who knew con­fer­ence cen­ters were such a hoary con­cept?), they’re still the site of lav­ish par­ties (and wed­dings, lots of wed­dings). You can still play ten­nis — out­doors only now; the indoor court has be­come guest-room and meet­ing space — and swim in indoor or out­door pools. (Horse­back rid­ing, well, not so much: The old sta­bles — once also home to Mary’s Due­sen­berg — are more meet­ing rooms and of­fice space these days.)

Still, it seemed a shame, I thought, as we turned into the long and wind­ing drive up to the 1840s King Man­sion, whose im­pos­ing columned por­tico rises up glis­ten­ingly white through the ever­greens at the crest of the hill, and stopped in front of the sparklingly mod­ern reg­is­tra­tion area next door. Two gor­geous 19th­cen­tury homes and their lux­u­ri­ant grounds, over­run now by thou­sands of vis­i­tors a year, many of them no doubt too busy run­ning from meet­ing to meet­ing to ap­pre­ci­ate the splen­dor of the sur­round­ings and Mary’s pretty sculp­ture gar­den at the cen­ter of the 26-acre es­tate.

At the foot of that gar­den, down a small slope, the Bid­dle Man­sion’s crenel­lated tur­ret stood out­lined against the fad­ing sky. We’d head there shortly for din­ner at Cel­lar 49, the comfy base­ment tav­ern in what was once Mary’s bowl­ing al­ley. But first we had to find our room.

“It can be a con­fus­ing prop­erty,” said the desk clerk who checked us in, and she wasn’t kid­ding. Apart from a few (pricey and closed for the win­ter) ac­com­mo­da­tions in the King Man­sion, the ho­tel quar­ters are all in a com­plex of newer build­ings snaking off from the reg­is­tra­tion area. The clerk pulled out a map and marked the lo­ca­tion of our room in what looked like a neat rec­tan­gle of in­ter­con­nected build­ings. Hah. Try a vast maze of hall­ways and lev­els.

Luck­ily, we were on the third floor of the Put­nam build­ing. “ The rooms here are some of the eas­i­est to find,” said our bellman. O-kay.

The rooms are pretty stan­dard: large and com­fort­able with white bedding, flat-panel TVs, free WiFi, ya­dayada. I was en­ter­tained by a sheet in the in­for­ma­tion binder about pur­chasable items. The hand-stitched bed scarf in mint green, rose and gold was sorely tempt­ing, ex­cept that $425 struck me as a lit­tle steep. On the other hand, a Serta ho­tel se­ries king mat­tress for $850 seemed like a steal. And the bathrobes — wait a minute! I didn’t see any bathrobes in our closet. Maybe I could spring for the Rip Van Win­kle sou­venir Do Not Dis­turb sign for $5? I’d think about it over din­ner.

The bellman hadn’t promised that it would be easy to get from our quar­ters to other points on the prop­erty, and sure enough, we got roy­ally lost try­ing to make our way to the tav­ern. My hus­band, of course, would prob­a­bly have just kept on mak­ing ran­dom turns, but I asked a man us­ing the com­puter in the atrium for di­rec­tions, and he kindly es­corted us the fi­nal leg.

By morn­ing, we had our route to break­fast in the Bid­dle Man­sion’s “Win­ter Palace” down. Hid­den be­hind the draw­ing room’s dou­ble doors, this cav­ernous glassed-in din­ing area was a stun­ning sur­prise. I’d never have guessed that the house was that big. (It doesn’t look it from the out­side.) We sat by the win­dow and gazed dream­ily at the blue wa­ters of the Hud­son over our bagels and omelet.

When I’ve fin­ished prowl­ing around the house (most in­ter­est­ing fea­ture: the por­trait of Maj. John An­dre, Bene­dict Arnold’s Bri­tish co-con­spir­a­tor, that Mary hung promi­nently over the fire­place in the foyer; now why did she do that?), we take the lit­tle sign­posted tour of the grounds. We note the golf tee that Mary had built above the swim­ming pool, find the bal­ing hook that still hangs above the door to the for­mer sta­bles, stroll through the herb gar­den that still sup­plies the kitchen and peer through the back win­dows of the King Man­sion at the grand rooms now closed up for the sea­son.

Okay, that last part’s not re­ally on the tour, but I couldn’t help my­self. I’m a voyeur, as I said. I won­der: All those peo­ple who walked through these rooms ... What would they say if they knew what their sump­tu­ous homes had come to? What would you say, Mary?

Well, given the prob­a­ble al­ter­na­tive, I think I have a good idea:

“Just bring that Pow­erPoint pro­jec­tor right on in.”

PHO­TOS BY ZOFIA SMARDZ/THE WASHINGTON POST

The KingMan­sion, above, and the Bid­dleMan­sion, right, are fo­cal points of the con­fer­ence cen­ter in Tar­ry­town, N.Y. Most of the 212 guest rooms, how­ever, are in newer build­ings on the 26-acre es­tate.

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