Saturday, Aug 13th

Iconic 1914 Mansion at 2 Cooper Road to be Demolished

2CooperRoadWhat are the criteria for preserving homes in Scarsdale? Though Village Code outlines five criteria that qualify a home to be preserved, these requirements are clearly open to interpretation.

That’s what the Committee for Historic Preservation wrestled with at their March 23, 2021 meeting when they cleared the way for the demolition of a Scarsdale landmark at 2 Cooper Road (now 2A) but held over decisions on applications to demolish two Colonials, one at 3 Richbell Road and another at 40 Mamaroneck Road.

Why the confusion?

The Scarsdale Board of Trustees recently heard an appeal to the CHP’s decision to deny permission to raze a historic home at 11 Dolma Road. In their decision, they cited three reasons that the home should be preserved:

-The home is the work of a master

-The home embodies distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction that possess high artistic value

And …..

-That the building is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to broad patterns of Village, regional, state or national history

The Board of Trustees went beyond the CHP ruling that hinged on the first two criteria, finding that 11 Dolma Road met three criteria in that it contributed to broad patterns of history, specifically, “The building style and design of the home are important to this historical significance of the building of the town of Scarsdale, and it is emblematic of the suburbanization process that made the town what it is today.”

With that decision in mind, the Committee for Historic Preservation considered their March applications through this new lens. Specifically, even if the home did not qualify as the work of a master or was the home of a notable person, it may have contributed to the broad pattern of Scarsdale history.

On their agenda were applications to raze 40 Mamaroneck Road, 3 Richbell Road and 2 Cooper Road, all large Colonials on sizable lots.

The home at 40 Mamaroneck Road was built in 1916 and was once the home of the Ford family and Arthur Rosenthal, a noted publisher. It sits on 2.83 acres where there is a large American Chestnut tree, a species that has now become extinct.40MamaroneckRoad40 Mamaroneck Road

Considering the merits of the home, CHP Board Member Lauren Bender read from historian Andrew Dolkart’s 2012 survey of Scarsdale where he outlined the importance of the Colonial Revival style home in Scarsdale. It says, “While these academic examples of Colonial-inspired design indicate the level of interest in studying early American architecture, the majority of Colonial Revival buildings in Scarsdale cannot be associated with particular homes, but use features from Colonial design in a freer manner. The Colonial Revival houses in the village are quite varied, in scale, ranging from modest to grand, and in materials, with examples clad in clapboards, shingles, brick, and even in stucco (a material rarely used during the Colonial period). The wooden houses were invariably painted white, generally with green shutters, window trim, and doors, since early twentieth-century designers believed (erroneously, as it turns out) that all Colonial-era houses of wood had been white with green trim.”

“The earliest Colonial Revival houses, erected in the first years of the twentieth century, tend to use Colonial motifs in a free manner. These houses are often large structures on substantially-sized plots.”

Similarly, 3 Richbell Road, a large Colonial built in 1922 on 1.83 acres was also discussed. Again, architect Irvin Smith could be identified, but was not determined to be notable. The front of the home was in original condition and stands as an example of large homes built as Scarsdale developed.

Architect Bana Choura, who filed the application, argued that there was nothing notable about the home and that in fact, by today’s standards a 4,356 square foot home was too small for the lot. Bender replied saying, that the problem is that developers are replacing existing homes with new homes that are far too large for their lots. She said, “We have to be sensitive to the demolition of these homes that define Scarsdale. If they keep being torn down, there will be no evidence of that time when Scarsdale was built. This is evocative of what made Scarsdale is what it is today.”

3RichbellRoad3 Richbell RoadAfter much discussion about the merits of each home and the interpretation of the Village code, the Committee voted to refer the applications for these two homes back to expert Andrew Dolkart for clarification on the criteria and an opinion as to whether these two homes merit preservation.

Later in the meeting they turned to the reconsideration of the application to demolish 2 Cooper Road. The home was originally on 3.75 acres with a rolling lawn down to a fountain, facing Cooper Road. That property had already been subdivided with two new homes planned for the right and left portions of the property.

At their last meeting, the CHP referred the decision on this home to Dolkart who surprisingly voiced his view that the home did not merit preservation, partially because the subdivision of the property compromised the setting.

Dolkart’s letter was not available to the public. However CHP Chair Lindenbaum read portions of it which said, “I visited 2A Cooper Road on March 3, 2021. I am an architectural historian from Columbia University. It is a large Colonial Revival built in 1913-14 dramatically situated on Cooper Road and Murray Hill Road with extensive grounds, fountains and trees. He said it was “symmetrically” sited and “largely intact.”

Discussing the provenance of the home he said, “it was built for John T. Kelly, a prominent industrialist and the house is fireproof. It was built “early in the suburban transformation,” and designed by architects Kirby, Petit and Green who also built the American Bank Note building and the Hearst Building in San Francisco as well as many other suburban homes. However, Dolkart said, “It lacks the originality of some of their other works,” and “architecturally it does not rise to the quality” for preservation. He said, though it had interesting owners, none rise to significance.” He felt that the site had been compromised by the subdivision and did not believe it met the criteria for preservation.

Dolkart’s letter seemed to surprise the committee who then wondered why 2 Cooper did not “make a contribution to the broad patterns of suburbanization,” as in the case of 11 Dolma Road. Bender said, “The architect was prominent and the house itself was referenced in two New York Times articles. I have been inside the house and it is a landmark in Scarsdale.”

CHP member Kevin Reed noted the disconnect, saying, “I cannot see how we can hold over the first two homes while letting this one be demolished. There is no rationale…. We want to make sure we have a solid basis for our decisions and that houses are treated in the same way.”

Bobby Ben Simon, the developer who applied to raze the house was outraged. He said, “I am glad that the Village hired the expert. I am glad the public is listening. People are not going to spend money on homes that are historic. Don’t refer to me as an applicant – I am the owner of the property. The house was out there for anyone to purchase.”

As his comments were not germane to the decision, he was muted and continued to rail though he could not be heard.

Despite the inconsistencies of the code, the Board members discussed the fact that Dolkart had ruled on the home and decided that it was not worthy of preservation. The application had already been held over from a previous meeting and the committee did not feel they had any grounds on which to preserve it. CHP member Jonathan Lerner said, “This house has been to the professor. He has looked at all the criteria and doesn’t think it is historic.”

They ultimately voted 5 to 1 to approve Ben Simon’s plan to take it down – and presumably build a third large home on the lot.

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