Committee Holds Over Decisions to Raze 19 Dolma Road, 1 Obry Drive and 76 Birchall Drive

76BirchallDrive76 Birchall DriveSome interest in preserving a few Scarsdale homes was sparked at a meeting of the Committee for Historic Preservation at Village Hall on June 28, 2022 when the committee had four applications to demolish homes on their agenda.

Only four of the seven members of the committee were present. Since an approval requires four votes, an applicant for 19 Dolma Road asked to move their hearing to the following meeting.

That left consideration of:

-16 Butler Road
-1 Obry Drive
-76 Birchall Drive

An application to take down a split level home, built in 1952 at 16 Butler Road was filed by developer and contract vendee Shlomo Friedfertig who quickly received approval.

Next the conversation turned to 1 Obry Drive where architect Bhana Choura, representing Angela and Gary Retelny explained why they wanted to tear down the 1915 house which sits on 1.5 acres next to the Scarsdale Woman’s Club at the corner of Drake Road and Obry Drive. She said, “We had all intentions to expand and renovate the property. We were going to do a total gut renovation but when we opened up the walls we found there is a lot of damage and it would be very costly to renovate. By the time we do all the demolition we would be over 50% of the house. We are still planning on building the house that was approved by the Board of Architectural Review.”

1 Obry Drive1 Obry DriveThe applicants provided no engineers report or documentation of the damage.

CHP member Jonathan Lerner provided some historical information about the house. He said, “This may be part of the Scarsdale Woman’s Club which was the Rowsley Estate. We know that Mrs. Crane lived there. It was known as the Dognin estate. Jean Dognin had many patents and was in the fabric lace business. The family was from Paris. He lived there from 1931 to 1952.”

Another member indicated that CHP Chair Adam Lindenbaum had asked architectural historian Andrew Dolkart for an opinion on the house. To provide him with time to do the research, the decision was held over to the July 19, 2022 meeting.

Next, attorney William Maker Jr., representing PIM holdings presented an application to tear down 76 Birchall Drive, formerly the home of the Milstein family. The home is a midcentury modern on 3 acres with a pool, tennis court and out buildings. He called the home, “Obsolete my modern standards.” He said it was designed by Architect Simon Zelnik and added, “I don’t believe there are any significant architectural elements. The architectural features are not distinctive. There were two renovations to the property. The swimming pool and tennis court were not built until 1989.”

About the former occupants, Jonathan Lerner said, “George Farkas bought the property in 1949 and built the house in 1949. Farkas was the developer of Alexanders Department Stores. In 1962 they had two fires and one of them was a serious fire. The Milsteins bought the house in 1975.”

Committee member Lauren Bender offered some information about architect Simon B. Zelnik and said he is known for his design of synagogues and other notable buildings including the Elgin Theater, now the Joyce Theater. She cited an article about him in US Modernist. She said that the Barricini House, which he also designed in Scarsdale, was featured in the journal and mentioned that another one of Zelnik’s homes on Morris Lane had recently been torn down.70MorrisLaneAnother midcentury modern home designed by Zelnik at 70 Morris Lane was recently torn down.

About 76 Birchall she called it a good example of midcentury modern architecture where “form follows function,” and said it was an extremely luxurious house with a five car garage. She said, “Zelnik is a named architect and we don’t have many of them left.” She discussed the way it is sited on the property and said “midcentury modern architecture is important. There are only a handful of these homes.”

Speaking to whether or not he was a master she said, “he worked for Rosario Candela, designed a playhouse in Washington DC, and the RiverdaleTemple.” Lerner said, “He is in the Cooper Union Hall of Fame, taught at NYU” and discussed additional honors.

At that point, the applicant asked if the decision could be held over to the following meeting.

During public comments, Jackie Cutler of 75 Birchall said, “Everyone notices 76 Birchall. It is an example of fine midcentury modernism on a beautiful 3 acre setting.

Ariel Stillman said, Birchall Drive is a special street.

Gayle Helman of 62 Birchall said, “The applicant and builder don’t believe this committee has any merit.” She produced a real estate listing for a new home at 78 Birchall Drive, priced at $8.7 mm. It demonstrated the builders intention to purchase 76 Birchall, subdivide the property and build two new homes on the lot. He listed it before he owned the property, had permission to tear down the existing house and subdivide.

The builder, who was present at the meeting, objected. Turning to Helman he said, “this is a personal attack.”

She continued, “The photos in the application are unbalanced – most are of the tennis court and the pool. The house was well taken care of. There are fourteen 80 year old Japanese Maples on the property. About the former owners she said, “Ruth Farkas was the Ambassador to Luxembourg. The Milsteins are a significant family who built a pavilion at Columbia Hospital, endowed a division of the New York Public Library, the whale room at the Museum of Natural History.

The application was also held over to the July 19, 2022 meeting.


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