Wave Hill (675 West 252nd Street, Bronx NY) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
"Wave Hill, once a private estate and now a property of the City of New York, is a twenty acre expanse of unspoiled scenic highlands overlooking the Hudson River in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Within its fieldstone walls, which extend along Independence Avenue from 252nd Street southward to Spaulding's Lane, are broad tree-shaded lawns and landscaped gardens, winding footpaths, terraces offering majestic views, three greenhouses, and two fine country manors: historic Wave Hill house, whose central section dates to 1843, and Glyndor II, a Georgian Revival mansion erected in the 1920."
The National Register listed area consists of the twenty-acre core of the Wave Hill property as it existed in 1903 when the two central estates were combined, extensively landscaped and surrounded by a fieldstone wall with wrought-iron entrance gates to create a unified complex.
Wave Hill House
Wave Hill house consists of an original, late Greek Revival core, a matching late 19th century extension to the north, a 1929 neo-Gothic armor hall, and a southern extension and sun porch, art of an early 1930s "restoration" of the house which included the addition of Georgian Revival trim to the original core.
The original structure, built for William Lewis Morris in 1843-4, was a two-story Greek Revival house with a hip roof, built of common local fieldstone. Part of this survives today in the exterior of the central section of the house, two stories of randomly laid fieldstone. A central angular bay extending from the house contains the entrance, a 1930s Georgian Revival doorway composed of two Corinthian columns supporting a broken segmental-arched pediment. The double-hung window above has very narrow sidelights. The single bays on either side of the entrance bay have double-hung windows at the first and second story levels; all thee windows have louvered shutters.
Everything above the second floor windows dates from the early 1930s renovation, including the neo-Classical wooden bracketed cornice with carved swags, the wooden parapet with carved intersecting circles, the slate-covered hip roof and dormers with elliptical recreate the original Greek Revival building. The western front of the original house now has three French doors and a larger entrance at the north.
The present roof treatment replaced the first major alteration which had been made to the house in 1866-69 for publisher William Henry Appleton, who added a third story under a mansard roof, topped by a small rectangular conservatory. Appleton's later alterations to the house still survive and include the addition of the two-story northern wing, built in early 1890 by Babb, Cook & Willard. Constructed of fieldstone to match the original house, the wing is a rectangle, with elliptical ends at the north and south, placed perpendicular to the house and attached to it by a small joining bay. It has two double-hung windows at the second story level and one tripartite window at the first floor; the side facing the Hudson has two windows and a large entrance in place of the tripartite window. A chimney rises at either end of the slate roof.
To the north of the Appleton addition is the neo-Gothic armor hall extension built in 1929 for Dr. Bashford Dean, partly to his own design but largely designed and carried out by Riverdale architect Dwight James Baum. Dean based his original notions on a medieval panel painting from his collection; Baum integrated the wing into the house by constructing it of the same randomly laid fieldstone used in the original structure and the 1890s addition. The long, narrow hall extends to the north, where it terminates in a round apse-like shape. Its walls have fieldstone buttresses and tall pointed windows. The hall is topped by a slate-covered peak roof.
The service wing to the south of the original house was designed by Oliver Perry Morton as part of the restoration of Wave Hill house completed in 1933; it was intended to balance the Armor Hall on the north. The wing is of fieldstone, two stories high with double-hung windows on both stories and a slate hip roof with chimney matching the new roof of the central portion. A smaller one-and-a-half story sun porch extends still further to the south; it is covered with latticework.
The eastern front of Wave Hill house opens onto a grass and flagstone terrace enclosed within low fieldstone walls and looking out over the sloping grounds to an unparalleled view of the Hudson River and the Palisades. The terrace can also be reached from the grounds via an unusual set of concave and convex flagstone steps on its southern edge.
Except for Bashford Dean's armor hall, the interior of Wave Hill house dates from the 1930s renovation. Its decoration includes neo-Georgian moldings and carved panels, arched entryways, consoles, carved friezes over the French doors opening onto the terrace, elaborate door surrounds, and excellent carved balusters and riser ends on the staircase leading to the upper floors. The Appleton dining room was originally decorated in intricately carved teakwood commissioned from India by Lockwood DeForest, a partner of Louis Comfort Tiffany. The teakwood has been removed, however, and is now in part on display in the basement and in part in storage, and the dining room is now simply wood paneled. The most notable feature of the armor hall is its hammer beam wooden roof, painted with Gothic motifs. In addition, Spanish 15th century fireplace capitals and a European frieze of the Resurrection were incorporated by Dean into the hall. The original leaded glass of the pointed windows has unfortunately been removed.
The building now known as Glyndor II is a brick Georgian Revival house built to replace the fire-damaged original Glyndor, which itself was a 1903-05 renovation of an old Victorian style villa. Glyndor II was designed by the New York firm of Butler & Corse.
The house's east front features a two-story main section whose most prominent features are a central entrance with an open Ionic portico and a monumental pediment above the second floor. The portico is decorated with a carved wooden frieze; the entrance way is neo-Federal in style, with fanlights and sidelights. Within the pediment is a large horizontally set elliptical window. To either side of this central section is a slightly recessed bay; the northern bay contains a secondary entrance. All the windows are simple rectangular openings, double-hung and with louvered shutters. Attached to the southern end of the house is a sun porch with large round-arched windows; at the northern end is a projecting wing. Along the river front the house is surrounded with an open porch, from which twin curving staircases descend to a grassy terrace; this porch has two elaborate wrought-iron lamp posts. The interior of Glyndor II is embellished with Georgian Revival style decoration including wood paneling, moldings, door and window surround and fireplaces.
The recreation building was built in 1909 to the design of Robert M. Byers, about whom little else is known. The building is almost entirely hidden underground beneath a grassy terrace running between Wave Hill house and Glyndor — only a balustrade marking the far edge of the terrace can be seen from the grounds above; nevertheless, it is a very large two-story structure. The exterior wall is visible on the western front as the land around the building rapidly descends to the river; this wall is constructed of rustic-looking fieldstone. The central portion of the wall is wide and rounded with large windows on the upper floor; the side wings are flat with small windows. The wall is partly covered with ivy. The lower story of the building is used for storage. The upper portion originally contained the various recreation facilities but is today also used for storage. Its major space is one large room, with a rounded wall containing large triple windows on either side of a fieldstone fireplace. The eastern wall, opposite the fireplace, has a large mural, attributed to Samuel Dellenbaugh, showing seven scenes of Hopi (native American) life. Beneath the mural are unusual iron wall lamps with frosted glass. A corridor leading from the recreation building to Glyndor's basement is vaulted in Guastavino tiles.
Other contributing outbuildings on the estate include a large greenhouse originally built in 1906 by Lord & Burnham of Irvington, New York. This was recently rebuilt largely along the original lines; surviving from the first structure is the stone Doric portico leading to the central raised aluminum and glass section. Directly behind the greenhouse on the north is a terraced fieldstone garden. Abutting that is a one-story garage designed by Heins & LaFarge, c.1905; it is a brick structure with an over-scaled wooden cornice and a segmental-arched entrance with a giant keystone.
The Wave Hill estate contains acres of woods, a rose garden, wild garden, herb garden, and aquatic garden, and plantings of many different kinds. The estate has some of the finest views of the Hudson River and the Palisades anywhere in New York City.
Wave Hill, the southernmost of the nineteenth-century Hudson River Valley estates, is significant for its associations with a number of notable figures in American history over a 150-year period. In addition, the estate contains a number of architecturally distinguished structures, some representative examples of the work of prominent architects and a series of gardens and landscaping improvements which together illustrate the evolution over time of an early nineteenth century manor into a turn-of-the-century estate and finally a public park and environmental center.
Wave Hill's earliest period of significance dates from its construction in 1843 as the home of William Lewis Morris, a member of one of the Bronx's founding families. Wave Hill is the last surviving residence associated with the Morris family in the Bronx. Between 1866 and 1903 Wave Hill house which had been substantially embellished to reflect Victorian taste, was used primarily as a summer retreat. During this time its occupants included Theodore Roosevelt (1870-71) and Mark Twain (1901-03). The present 20-acre estate was consolidated and unified in 1903 under the ownership of George W. Perkins, an important conservationist. Besides commissioning the existing landscaping of the property, Perkins was responsible for construction of several architecturally significant components of the estate including greenhouses designed by Lord & Burnham in 1906 and an unusual early example of an underground building built as a recreation center in 1909. Other improvements to the estate during this period include a Georgian Revival style country house in 1927. In the early 1930s Wave Hill house was again extensively renovated on the interior and exterior in the Georgian Revival style, attaining its present appearance. Since then, Wave Hill has served as the residence of Arturo Tocanini (1942-45) and the British delegate to the U.N. (1950-56). The estate has been preserved today as a city owned park and environmental center.
Wave Hill house (1843-44) was once a lone country manor, preceding the community of Riverdale by a decade; later, however, it became a choice villa property in the very center of the original Riverdale and the fates of both have been linked inextricably ever since. In 1836, William Lewis Morris, a New York City attorney, bought from the heirs of William Ackerman the lower portion of their land, fifteen acres of which make up the northern section of the present Wave Hill complex. The name Wave Hill once applied only to the Morris land. Wave Hill house is the last survivor of several notable Morris manors that once graced the Bronx. William Lewis Morris was the grandnephew of Lewis Morris, signer of the Declaration of Independence, the grandson of Richard Morris, who succeeded John Jay as Chief Justice of New York State in 1779, and one of eight children of Robert Morris, who inherited the family estate of Mount Fordham overlooking the Harlem River.
Judging from the tax records of Yonkers, what is now the main section of Wave Hill house was erected in 1843-44 and was far enough along by July of 1843 to become the residence of the Morris family. It was a Greek Revival two-story rectangular fieldstone manor with a hip roof, very similar to the Bartow-Pell Mansion in the Pelham Bay Park section of the Bronx. Its architect is unknown.
In 1866, two years after Morris's death, his heirs, while retaining most of the estate as an investment, sold the homestead as a separate parcel to William Henry Appleton, senior member of the New York publishing firm of D. Appleton & Company. The firm had been founded by Appleton's father, Daniel, in 1830, but it was largely under William's leadership that it grew to be prosperous, successful and well respected. The Appletons, who used Wave Hill as a summer retreat, modernized the house from a Greek Revival residence to a Victorian villa between 1866 and 1869. They added a mansard roof, a hallmark of the popular French Second Empire style, which gave a third full story to the house. The house was topped by a small rectangular conservatory and renamed Holbrook Hall. The Appletons have used Wave Hill as a summer gathering place for the various branches of their large clan.
The Appletons may have been abroad during 1870 and 1871, for they leased Wave Hill house to the New York banker, Theodore Roosevelt Sr., for both summer seasons. It was among the craggy hills and woods of Riverdale that Roosevelt's son, Theodore Jr., the future president of the United States, developed his intense interest in natural history and the great outdoors.
In 1890, Appleton sold his Madison Square townhouse and moved permanently to Riverdale. That same year he hired the New York firm of Babb, Cook & Willard to add to the house a two-story wing constructed of fieldstone. The first floor was given over entirely to a dining hall which, as with a room in the Carnegie mansion, was executed in intricately carved teakwood. The carvings were commissioned from India by Lockwood DeForest, a leader in the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century who had founded, with Louis Comfort Tiffany, the first interior design studio in New York. The principal rooms of the house were embellished with such Victorian architectural accessories as heavily ornamented gas chandeliers and wall sconces fashioned of gilded metal and elaborately sculpted marble mantels from Italy, all of which were transferred from the Appleton townhouse on Madison Square before its demolition.
William Henry Appleton died at Wave Hill house in 1899. From October of 1901 to June of 1903 the house, with its furnishings intact, was leased to America's famous writer and humorist, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, or Mark Twain. After the Twains left, the house was bought by George Walbridge Perkins, a New York financier who held posts at the National City Bank of New York and the New York Life Insurance Company and was a partner of J.P. Morgan. Perkins had moved to Riverdale in 1893; as he and his wife grew to love Riverdale, they dreamed of creating a compound for their family and friends. Between 1893 and 1911 Perkins acquired a total of eighty acres of land, from Riverdale Avenue to the Hudson and roughly from Spaulding's Lane to West 254th Street. The compound included Wave Hill house, bought in 1903, and the Oliver Harriman residence, Nonesuch, south of Wave Hill, bought in 1895, as well as the Spaulding Estate and the Robert Colgate villa, Stonehurst. Perkins chose the Harriman villa, rather than Wave Hill house, for his own family and the Colgate villa for other relatives, leasing the other houses, including Wave Hill house, to friends or to people he met and admired. Besides creating for himself a whole neighborhood of friends and family by this consolidation of property, Perkins effectively prevented real estate speculators from profiting from a grid system proposed by the newly created Department of Street Improvements to replace an earlier plan by Frederick Law Olmsted — curvilinear roads and irregular plots in keeping with the natural contour of the land; the city ultimately abandoned the newer scheme.
Perkin's actions in Riverdale were just a part of his second career as a conservationist and public benefactor. He retired from active business after 1910 and devoted himself to public causes for the last ten years of his life, including industrial problems and food supply, the Red Cross Liberty Loan and the Untied War Work Campaign. He was especially interested, however, in the field of natural conservation and was involved most notably in the creation of a public park to protect the endangered Palisades, just across the Hudson from his Riverdale estate. Perkins, serving at Theodore Roosevelt's request on the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, personally raised money from private contributions and masterminded the complex scheme of buying up individual parcels of land one by one over a period of years until a complete park covering over 700 acres was created.
In Riverdale, centering his vision on the Harriman villa he had purchased in 1895, Perkins created a property which also included the Appleton estate and part of the Spaulding land between them, and in 1903 surrounded this estate (the present day Wave Hill complex) with a low fieldstone wall with wrought-iron entrance gates. He used extensive landscaping to effect this change from two separate villas to a single unified estate.
His first major project was to renovate and enlarge his own home, the old Victorian Harriman villa. After planning the arrangement of the rooms with Mrs. Perkins, he called in the New York architect Christopher Grant LaFarge, of the firm of Heins & LaFarge, architects for the choir of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The rebuilt villa, a many-gabled mansion of light stuccoed brick with a neo-Classical interior, was named Glyndor.
Between 1906 and 1910, Perkins built two sets of greenhouses, a swimming pool, recreation building, tennis court, terraces, and garage. The first set of three greenhouses was built in 1906 by Lord & Burnham, renowned builders of greenhouses including the New York Botanical Garden's Conservatory and the green house at Lyndhurst. The recreation building (1909) is important architecturally as a very early example of underground building. For the convenience of the Perkins family and guests, an underground tunnel led directly from the recreation building to the Glyndor basement. This tunnel, lined with white and green tile, was built by the Guastavino Company, the introducers of thin masonry vaulting to this country from Spain in the late 19th century. Following a trip to Alaska for J.P. Morgan, Perkins commissioned a mural of Indian scenes in seven panels on a long wall above the bowling alley in the recreation building; the mural is attributed to Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh. No other examples of Dellenbaugh's mural paintings are known to exist in their original settings.
The last important project Perkins undertook was the construction in 1910 of an additional three greenhouses north of the original 1906 set under the supervision of R.M. Byers. These structures are no longer extant.
In 1909, after the Perkinses were settled comfortably in Glyndor, Wave Hill house and its immediate grounds were leased for life to an eminent New Yorker and scholar of international reputation, Dr. Bashford Dean, Professor of Zoology at Columbia University, Curator of Reptiles and Fishes at the American Museum of Natural History, and Curator of Arms and Armor at the Metropolitan Museum of art. Dean, the first curator of the Arms and Armor Department, brought the collection from its very meager beginnings to one of the top three or four in the world. During the same time he continued his own private collection, in such a way that it complemented rather than competed with, that of the museum. He decided to build an addition to Wave Hill house — a huge armor hall in the style of a medieval Gothic chapel, which he hoped might someday serve as a local museum for Riverdale. Having received permission from the Perkinses to construct the addition at his own expense, he did much of the designing himself, inspired by a medieval panel painting in the 14th century Spanish Franco-Gothic style from his collection; the painted architectural elements of the panel determined the interior arched beam construction of the armor hall. Dean also incorporated a number of original elements, including 15th century Spanish Gothic fireplace capitals. To complete his design he called in Dwight James Baum, the well-known Riverdale architect. After Mrs. Dean's death in the 1950s, most of Dean's collection went to the Metropolitan Museum.
In 1926, Glyndor was severely damaged by fire after its roof was struck by lightning. Mrs. Perkins had it demolished and hired the New York architectural firm of Butler & Corse, especially noted in the 1920s for country house design, to build a smaller but equally fine residence, the present Glyndor II, a red brick Georgian Revival mansion that was completed in 1927.
At Wave Hill house, meanwhile, Mrs. Dean had left after Bashford Dean's unexpected death in 1928, and Mrs. Perkins turned over the house to her own daughter and son-in-law, Dorothy and Edward Woolsey Freeman, with the understanding that they make it their home. The Freemans considered the 19th century Victorian "improvements" to its principal section ugly and depressing. They turned for advice to a most knowledgeable architect of their personal acquaintance — a cousin by marriage of Mr. Freeman's — Oliver Perry Morton, then associated with the Boston firm of Putnam & Cox. Morton recommended the removal of all Victorian features to reveal the strong classical lines of the house and the building of a new service wing on the south is a balance to the armor hall on the north. This extensive renovation, completed in 1933, saw the venerable old structure returned once more to a classical country manor house, this time in the English Georgian tradition in keeping with the estate as a whole. In addition, Mrs. Freeman chose to revive the name Wave Hill.
From 1942 to 1945 Wave Hill was home to the famed conductor Arturo Toscanini and his family. From 1950 to 1956 the house was leased, fully furnished, to the chief British delegate to the United Nations; the house served as the official residence and such honored guests as Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan, John Foster Dulles, Antoine Pinay, Konrad Adenauer, and the Queen Mother Elizabeth were received there. In the late 1950s, the Perkins and Freeman families made a decision to continue George Perkins's "mission" at Wave Hill by giving the property to the New York City Parks Department, and the estate was finally transferred to the city in 1960.
Wave Hill today serves Riverdale as its major open space and New York City as a park combining gardens, greenhouses, and nature walks with the historical exhibitions, concerts, and lectures held in Wave Hill house.
A more complete bibliography may be found in the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission research file: Wave Hill.
Kellerman, Regina M., and DeNooyer, Ellen. "The History of Wave Hill." Wave Hill, New York, 1978. (Typewritten.)
† Gobrect, Larry E., New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, Wave Hill, nomination document, 1983, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.