Alice Austen House, Alice Austen Park
2 Hylan Boulevard
Staten Island, NY 10305
The Alice Austen House Museum on Staten Island recalls the world of an exceptional woman, photographer Alice Austen. Austen's quaint, Victorian cottage-style home, with a magnificent view of New York Harbor, displays prints from the large glass negative collection of her work that depict turn-of-the-century American life.
The original house, one of the City's oldest, dates back to the 1690s. Once part of a farm near the scenic Narrows, the property was bought in 1844 by John H. Austen, Alice's grandfather. Austen expanded the small, one-and-a-half-story farmhouse, named it "Clear Comfort" and gave it a romantic Gothic Revival facelift that included steeply peaked dormer windows and flourishes of "gingerbread" wood trim. The parlor is restored to look as it did in the 1890s with an arrangement of ornate period furniture, rugs, Delft fireplace tiles and Oriental vases.
Alice continued to live in the house until 1945. Taught by her uncle, Austen took up photography with a passion, shooting more than 7,000 pictures that captured a quieter Staten Island, as well as a growing, bustling New York City.
Austen, who captured images of New York's aristocrats and its working people, experienced both extremes during her lifetime. After enjoying a family inheritance for much of her life, Austen lost her savings at age 63 in the stock market crash of 1929. She and Gertrude Tate, her lifelong companion, tried to support themselves by operating a restaurant at "Clear Comfort," but Austen was forced to mortgage the family home and eventually entered a poorhouse, a self-declared pauper. Only toward the end of her life was Austen's work recognized. When Austen's admirers learned of her misfortune, they arranged to sell some of her work and place her in a nursing home. Austen had the satisfaction of seeing her work recognized before she died in 1952.
The City bought the Austen house in 1975 and restored it and the grounds in 1984-85. The Victorian garden was replanted according to Austen photographs with shrubs such as weeping mulberry and flowering quince. The Staten Island Historical Society owns Austen's collection of negatives and helps the Friends of Alice Austen House--which operates the museum--present photographic exhibitions at "Clear Comfort." Together with the restored cottage and gardens, the exhibitions perpetuate Austen's life, her times and her art.