WHO: Karen Campbell, her husband, daughter, father, sister, and nephew
WHAT: Exploring cars and bikes where horses were once stabled
WHERE: Larz Anderson Auto Museum, Brookline
Here was the challenge — we were looking for a family adventure that would be relatively contained and accessible enough for my elderly father with Alzheimer’s and a bum hip, yet stimulating and engaging for the youngest of our brood, comprising three generations. The Larz Anderson Auto Museum proved just the ticket.
And there could not be a better time to put it on your to-do list.
As part of Highland Street Foundation’s Free Fun Fridays, admission is free on Friday, July 12. And throughout the summer, the museum hosts a series of weekend Lawn Events, each focusing on a different theme. The Microcar Classic Event. is Sunday, July 14, from noon-4 p.m.
Boasting “America’s oldest car collection,” the Brookline museum is housed in the 1888 French chateau-styled Anderson Carriage House on the grounds of what was originally the Anderson estate (now Larz Anderson Park). It’s an impressive, handsome building, and we were barely out of the car before we began snapping photos of the castle-like turret and archway.
Once inside, my horse-lover sister couldn’t get over the fact that this grand, spacious structure was initially built to house a working stable. In fact, the walls where the standing stalls once were still have name placards for some of the horses. The tack room contains a collection of vintage bridles, harnesses, and saddles, including some rare side saddles.
My husband and car-hound father were taken with the museum’s remarkable collection of vintage automobiles, ranging from one of the earliest “horseless carriages,” the 1899 Winton Phaeton that started Larz and Isabel Anderson’s famed collection, to the brightly colored roadsters in the back room. The main gallery is reserved for various exhibits. Currently, “Patina, Providence, and Originality” provokes visitors to contemplate the value of restoration vs. preservation.
The most exotic cars are downstairs, including the leather-fendered, fully armored 1906 Charron-Giradot-Voight (CGV), which the Andersons nicknamed the “Winniepocket” and used to travel between Brookline, their vacation estate in New Hampshire, and their home in Washington, D.C. Like a primitive precursor of a Winnebago, the 90-horsepower luxury car not only featured a desk, fan, and rear seat that converted to a bed, but a sink and — wait for it — a porcelain toilet, which elicited more than one drawled “OMG” from my visiting Southern kin.
My daughter and nephew gravitated to the bicycle room, which features a small collection of two- and three-wheelers, such as one of the first fixed-gear bikes as well as vintage classics like the high-wheel safety bikes (that look anything but safe) and a wrought-iron bike from 1865 appropriately named “The Bone Shaker.”
We completed our tour in under an hour and, had the day been nicer, we might have lingered on the terrace overlooking the expansive lawn, or the more intrepid of us might have strolled along one of the walking paths to the pond or top of the hill, which affords a lovely skyline view of Boston. But as it was, it seemed just right — short, sweet, manageable, and fun.
Larz Anderson Auto Museum 15 Newton St., Brookline. 617-522-6547, www.larzanderson.org. Open Tue-Sun 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Adults $10, military, seniors, students, children ages 6-12 $5, under 6 free.