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Majestic Scarsdale Tudors Saved From Wrecking Ball… For Now

1 Hickory Ln3 of 19.jpg3 Hickory LaneOn Tuesday March 19, the Scarsdale Committee for Historic Preservation (CHP) denied applications to raze two significant Tudor homes, located at 3 Hickory Lane and 75 Morris Lane.

Previously, the owners of 3 Hickory Lane received permission to subdivide the property and plan to build a new home on the empty lot at the intersection of Hickory Lane and Olmstead Road. According to architect, Bana Choura, who is a former member of the Committee for Historic Preservation, the owner had hoped to renovate or sell the existing house at 3 Hickory. However, right before the owners closed on the property in 2017, the home’s water heater malfunctioned, and pipes and radiators burst throughout the structure, causing significant water damage. Faced with the added work and cost of cleanup and repair, the owners now are seeking to demolish the house. Currently, it sits vacant and is listed for sale by Houlihan Lawrence for $2.350 million, which is $50,000 more than the price the developer paid for the home and the additional lot. The house and remaining .84 acres of land are currently assessed at only $1.359 million, so the asking price is $1 million more than the assessed value.

Choura, a former member of both the CHP and the Scarsdale Board of Architectural Review, reported that the home requires a gut renovation and said, “I know this committee’s responsibility is to assess and evaluate the exterior aspects of the house, and its historic relevance, not the interior conditions. I do respectfully request that you consider the hardship due to the cost of repair, not only to replace the full heating system but to the damage to all the structural elements, both visible and invisible… After obtaining preliminary estimates for the repairs and to bring the house up to date… it was very clear the excessive cost is not justified, nor does it make economic sense.”

Masterful or Not?
Choura then argued that the structure did not meet any of the village’s five criteria to determine historic value. “I examined closely 3 Hickory Lane and applied all the criteria contained in village code… to this home… It is my professional opinion that none of the criteria set forth… is satisfied, and that the CHP, hopefully, will issue a certificate of appropriateness...”

As published previously, the home was designed by noted architect Charles Lewis Bowman, a onetime McKim, Mead & White draftsman, and built in 1929. Much of the Tuesday’s discussion focused on whether Bowman could be considered a “master” (even though the CHP and trustees considered him as such in 2017), and whether the structure truly embodied “distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction.”

Choura began her presentation by stating that, “This home, like thousands of other homes, was built in the village during the most prolific building period in village history, and hundreds of those homes have far more intricate design, detailing and craftsmanship than this home.”

Bowman, a resident of Bronxville, was a highly regarded architect in his time, and designed 53 homes in Bronxville, 52 of which still stand. Known for his “Stockbroker Tudors” and “Cotswold Cottages,” he designed houses in accordance with his clients’ wishes. However, Choura argued that Bowman was not considered an expert who produced work of “high artistic value.”

One of the CHP members countered by reporting that Professor Andrew Dolkhart, the architectural historian, had described Bowman as “an important talent and leading figure in the design of historically informed suburban residences that were popular in the New York Metropolitan Area in the 1920s,” and that Bowman’s “designs received recognition during his lifetime, and were published in most of the common and professional popular architecture and design magazines.”

Another committee member who visited the property stated, “Going and seeing it, it’s truly the work of a master. The detailing, the construction techniques… the exterior is… largely intact. While there might be some interior damage that requires a gut rehab, the exterior does not present itself that way. With (Dolkhart’s) report stating that, not only was the architect recognized during his lifetime… it goes on to list all the elements of the building, and says the entire design holds together in a highly successful manner… I think it is representative of a work of a master.”

While Choura agreed with Dolkhart’s general observations, she maintained that the professor did not use the term “master” in his description of Bowman, and did not refer to the home as “historic.” Further, she asserted that the building did not represent the best of Bowman’s work, nor did it rise above the level of other Tudor homes of the same period.

Going Public
Before beginning the public comment session, the CHP clarified Choura’s assertion that the owners would not have made the application had there been no water damage. Then, the current real estate listing for the property, which states “…Water damage limited to a few secondary rooms…” was entered into the record.

Then, nine residents urged the CHP members to reject the application and save the building. Among those who spoke was Lisa Kleinow, who lives next door to the property. She pointed out that in a previous real estate listing, the home was promoted as “… designed by noted architect Louis Bowman, who is credited with having created the Tudor style in Bronxville and Scarsdale.” She continued, “They used the Bowman name as a noted architect and the reason that this house is what it is. For it to be torn down now… is just a travesty.”

Emily Kronenberg, an architect who lives in Scarsdale, said, “I went to see this house three times, in it’s damaged state. Luckily, the water damage was only in some back, servants’ rooms and some hallways, and none of the exquisite architectural details of the living room, entryway, powder room… the dining room… It’s a very minimal area that’s damaged... This house is exquisite…. In my humble opinion, it is architecturally significant and masterful.”

Lee Miller, who is an architectural woodworker, stated, “I find (the house) breathtaking…” Referencing his firm’s recent renovation work at the Cartier mansion he said, “I can attest to the fact that the woodworking, the joinery, the quality of the wood... (are) superior. It’s not something I see every day and, on some level, it eclipses the woodwork that I saw at the Cartier mansion. Bowman did 53 homes in Bronxville… 52 of those 53 homes are still standing. It speaks volumes about him and what he’s done.”

Soon after public comment and discussion among themselves, the six CHP members who were present voted unanimously to reject the application, and were met with applause.

An “Ordinary” Tudor…75MorrisLane
Next, the CHP heard from John Cotungno, the architect representing the owners of 75 Morris Lane, which was designed by architect Franklin P. Hammond. In justifying the application to demolish the home, also listed for sale by Houlihan Lawrence, Cotungno was brief and to the point: “This is a decent house, but I don’t agree with the report I received yesterday from the professor…. In looking at (the house), it’s an ordinary Tudor. It looks no different from any other Tudor I’ve been doing additions to… I do agree that they use four materials – brick, stucco, stone and timbers – and it does have a slate roof, but that’s true of just about every Tudor.”

He went on to say that he has worked on many Hammond houses in Scarsdale, and he didn’t believe the architect was particularly noteworthy or famous. “He’s a good architect; I even compared him to myself… He definitely wasn’t as famous as Bowman.” When discussing 75 Morris Lane, he asserted that the home possessed details “here and there that are OK, but not out-of-this-world, not totally unique.”

When asked about Professor Dolkhart’s statement: “The juxtaposition of large and small stones in different colors and textures, and red bricks on the main façade is highly unusual, and appears to be unique in the village.” Cotungno said that he couldn’t say if the façade was planned or if it was the result of Hammond simply using materials that were available at the time. He added that he didn’t believe the design was noteworthy, despite the fact that Dolkhart asserted that it was extraordinary and wrote,“75 Morris Lane is a significant house in Scarsdale.”

The CHP members then reviewed the history of the home and its various owners, including its first owner, entertainment lawyer Arthur F. Driscoll, who also served as mayor of Scarsdale for a year. While discussing that the home may not rise to the level as 3 Hickory, one of the committee members noted that it probably was more of a prototypical example of Tudor architecture, rather than exemplary. However, at 6,267 square feet, the house is quite large for the time period, and, since no significant alterations have been made to the building, it is in its original state. This, along with Dolkart’s statement, seemed to sway the committee toward preserving the home prior to public comment.

Residents Weigh In
Sara Hawkins provided additional information on the home’s history, including details on Driscoll’s legal career. One board member then responded by saying, “When we talk about a high-level executive… certainly it’s interesting… and should be considered.“ Another added, “Does that mean the house has historical significance? I don’t know. “

Eric Lichtenstein pointed out that 75 Morris was proposed as a Scarsdale landmark in the village’s 2012 Cultural Resources Survey, conducted by architects Li/Salzman and Dolkhart, yet 3 Hickory was not. Therefore, if the application to demolish the Hickory home was denied, certainly, Morris should be preserved as well.

Jack Miller, a former, longtime member of BAR then said, “Contrary to what John says, there is corbelling and usage of materials in this house… I’m an architect and I don’t know how this house was constructed. I don’t know how some of the brickwork was done, how some of the timbering was placed, or how some of the stonework was incorporated. It is marvelous… It has such incredible detail and work. As far as its siting and floor plan goes, it’s a meandering wonder on the lot; it’s really interesting to see.” Miller then went on to question why the owners are refuting the architectural value of the house when their real estate listing states, “One of Scarsdale's premier properties with fabulous curb appeal… Built in 1929, this majestic estate offers exquisite architectural details and remarkable craftsmanship.”

In response, one of the CHP members stated that, while informative, real estate listings do not determine a home’s significance, and that factual information and expert opinion, such as Professor Dolkhart’s, is more important in assessing each property. Further, each property is judged on its own merits, not compared to other structures. However, another member noted that a real estate listing can be considered a statement from the owner, and conflicting statements should be noted in the review process.

After a brief discussion, the committee voted to deny the application to demolish 75 Morris, with five members agreeing, and one abstaining.

Will the Other Shoe Drop?
As they consider their next steps, the owners of each home have a right to appeal the CHP decision and may file a petition of hardship. So, either or both of the homes are still in danger of being lost. Given the Scarsdale Board of Trustee’s track record of granting past hardship claims, and recent protests of CHP members, what happens next is anyone’s guess. However, recent changes to village preservation code and efforts to draft new, landmark preservation legislation may make a real difference in retaining the village’s architectural history in the future. Stay tuned.

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