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Another One Bites the Dust

18heathentryWhen I read that a developer had filed an application to the Village of Scarsdale to demolish a 9,200 square foot home on Heathcote Road, I marked my calendar to attend the 10-15 hearing.

I had formerly researched the home and knew that it was on 5+ acres and had many updates. Unlike other houses that have recently been torn down, this one has not fallen into disrepair. In fact, it is beautifully appointed with a "deluxe kitchen," seven full baths, 3 half baths, a pool, tennis court and even a guesthouse.

And though the architectural style of the house did not have merit, the former residents were interesting. The home was formerly owned by Virginia and Leonard Marx who were prominent members of the community. Marx was a developer and manager of real estate properties and chairman and chief executive of Merchants National Properties. In 1985 he was on the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans with a net worth of $300 million. The Marx's were active philanthropists who endowed professorships at Columbia University and built a daycare center at Westchester Community College called the Virginia Marx Children's Center. Leonard Marx served as a trustee of the Scarsdale Foundation from 1953-1974 and donated funds to keep the Scarsdale Library open on Sundays. Virginia Marx died in 1999 and Leonard Marx died in 2002 at the age of 97 at the house on Heathcote Road. One of their daughters still lives in town and in 2007 the Virginia and Leonard Marx Foundation donated $300,000 to renovate the reference room at the Scarsdale Public Library.

A few other relevant facts emerged:

  • Though the listing said the house was built in 1907, from the photos, the house did not appear to be historic. The current home does not resemble the former Tudor home, originally called "The Hedges." pictured in a book of historic homes.
  • The house was not included in the Historic Resources Survey conducted by Li/Salzman architects for Scarsdale Village in 2012
  • The 5.39 acres property could not be subdivided
  • The real estate taxes are $181,495 per year and in the course of two years the asking price had fallen from $12.9 million to $7.2 million.

Knowing the provenance, prominence and size of the house and the property I expected someone to put up a fight to defend it from demolition. Even the developer, David Fenton of Twin Oaks Construction seemed ready for controversy and appeared with his attorney Lawrence Graham from Cuddy Fedder to explain why the house was not worthy of preservation. Graham contended that since the house had been renovated extensively in 1952 and again in 2004 it no longer resembled the original home in several key ways:

  • The home was originally stucco and is now covered in shingles
  • The original gables were gone
  • The 1907 Tudor style home is now a Colonial

The Marx's daughter Jennifer Gruenberg, who still lives in Scarsdale, also spoke, She shed some light on the renovations and did say that interior portions of the original home remain intact. But even she seemed ambivalent about advocating to preserve her childhood home. Village historian Eric Rothschild could not come to the meeting so attendees did not have the benefit of his research on the house.

Without much of a fuss the committee voted unanimously to let the house go.

I found it disturbing that yet another home in the Heathcote Association would be knocked down and most likely replaced with a mega-size Colonial, indistinguishable from the others that line this majestic Scarsdale thoroughfare. Though I understand that the house did not meet the criteria for preservation according to the current Village code, the Heathcote Association surely merits historic designation as a neighborhood and it's a shame that the Board of Trustees cannot find a way to preserve the neighborhoods that define our community.

Putting aside historic considerations, I am puzzled at why it is necessary to knock down a stately, elegant and comfortable home that someone would surely buy when the price was right. Yes, the taxes are high – but on a par with other homes of equal stature in the neighborhood. Why is a new home more highly valued than a house with a noble past?

The Scarsdale Trustees have been working on revisions to our historic preservation code to preserve historic homes and landmarks since I launched this site almost five years ago. A draft of that new code that addresses some of the issues raised by this home is currently in the works. Let's hope new laws are implemented soon so that we can preserve our quickly vanishing stock of historic homes.

Also approved for demolition on October 15 were the following homes:16Montrose

  • 11 Rural Drive: Former home of sportscaster Bill Mazer
  • 16 Montrose Road: Former home of Stuart and Jane Weinberg
  • 53 Lincoln Road53LincolnRoad


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#5 Character 2013-10-24 07:51
I believe people can spend their money as they wish and there are incredible benefits to new homes: better drainage, more efficient. I totally get it. But, what about all the chemicals released into the air upon demolition? What about the added materials to the landfills? I challenge these architects and builders to modify, expand, update these old homes. While this one may not fit the criteria for character, there are do many other homes slated for demolition that do fit "character criteria". All the different styles from American architecture represented throughout Scarsdale ADD to the character of the town. To me, it makes it a prettier town to see all the styles. I appreciate when someone takes the time and energy to restore -not tear down -an older home. I thank you. Please, let's consider these houses slated for demolition carefully. These houses all add up to the overall look, feel and character of the town.
#4 SolGoldstein 2013-10-18 08:13
I am sad. I am sad. These wasted funds could have been used to build settlements in Israel and thereby minimize Palestinians' claims to our Promised Land.
#3 I Like New Houses 2013-10-17 23:33
Buyers who spend their money buying a house should be able to do as they please--refurbi sh, demolish, live in it as-is, etc. Those opposed to demolishing old houses should pool their money and BUY THE HOUSE and then do as they please--turn it into a old house museum. Let the rest of us who couldn't care less about saving old houses enjoy the added tax dollars a new house would generate.
#2 scarsdale resident 2013-10-17 06:02
I totally agree with the comment above. why is "new" always considered worse? new houses are more efficient and less of a drain on our natural resources. Furthermore, new construction brings in a CONSIDERABLE amount of tax money to the village.
#1 Scarsdale 35 year resident 2013-10-17 05:47
Is this supposed to be a news column or an editorial?? Clearly this is not balanced reporting. Its obvious that if it were such a great house on 5+ acres it would have sold after over 1 year and several price cuts. Why if its old, does it mean that it has to be better than something new. It can't be subdivided and there are bulk and landscaping rules to prevent a monstrosity from ruining the Heathcote Association. Do you drive a model T or something that is more efficient and with newer technology, perhaps even more safe. Although this home was updated recently, it probably is still missing the items that today's wealthy consumer covets. Get over the love of old inefficient homes that were built without the modern amenities of the 21st century and let the market work. The seller should be entitled to sell at the best price he can to a customer that is paying for what they want, if its the house great, if its the land, so be it. Our zoning and planning rules are plenty tough enough to ensure we get a decent home on a site of that size.

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