Bell Place-Locust Hill Avenue Historic District
The Bell Place-Locust Hill Avenue Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Bell Place-Locust Hill Avenue Historic District is located on a prominent hill in southwestern Yonkers that overlooks the city's downtown business district. Approximately two square blocks in area, the Bell Place-Locust Hill Avenue Historic District consists of a one block stretch of Locust Hill Avenue — a major north-south residential thoroughfare that provides access to the hill from the city's business section — and Bell Place — a short residential street that runs parallel to Locust Hill Avenue. The Bell Place-Locust Hill Avenue Historic District's boundaries were drawn to exclude intrusions and are clearly delineated by changes in terrain and the distinctly different character of the surrounding area: to the west by a steep escarpment that runs along the rear property lines of 1, 7, and 17 Bell Place; to the north by a massive 11-story apartment tower on Cromwell Place; to the east by a grouping of twentieth-century multi-family residential structures situated on the eastern side of Locust Hill Avenue; and to the south by severely altered mid and late nineteenth century buildings. Within the boundaries of the Bell Place-Locust Hill Avenue Historic District are 11 historic features, of which eight are primary structures and three are subsidiary buildings (carriage houses), which contribute to the integrity of the district. Three non-contributing subsidiary buildings, all modern garages, are located within the Bell Place-Locust Hill Avenue Historic District at 1, 12, and 17 Bell Place.
Stylistically, the residences and related outbuildings in the Bell Place-Locust Hill Avenue Historic District were designed in the various revival styles popular during the second half of the nineteenth century. There are three examples of Italianate style residences (1, 7, and 12 Bell Place) and two examples of French Second Empire style dwellings (17 Bell Place, 39 Locust Hill Avenue), with the remaining houses exemplifying the High Victorian Italianate style (57 Locust Hill Avenue), the High Victorian Gothic style (45 Locust Hill Avenue), and the Queen Anne style (53 Locust Hill Avenue).
The Bell Place-Locust Hill Avenue Historic District is unified by the similar size and scale of its buildings as well as by their regular siting along the street. All contributing buildings were constructed between 1855 and 1887. They consist of medium sized, freestanding single-family residences between two and three stories in height; some feature original carriage houses. All of the buildings are sited on small speculative lots that feature narrow frontages on orthogonally plated streets. Although the styles of individual buildings vary, they illustrate the progression of American architectural styles popular during the second half of the nineteenth century. The Bell Place-Locust Hill Avenue Historic District as a whole is unified by the high quality of workmanship and design as well as by similarities in details and material. The majority of the structures are constructed of brick, although two examples of wood frame residences can be found at 12 Bell Place and 53 Locust Hill Avenue. Many of the dwellings feature wide verandas, architectural moldings that articulate the buildings, and round and segmental arched windows that contribute to the visual cohesiveness and architectural quality of the area. Despite the altered appearance of a few of the structures and the conversion of several to multi-family dwellings, most of the buildings in the Bell Place-Locust Hill Avenue Historic District have been well-preserved and the district remains one of the few residential sections of Yonkers that retains the scale and character of a fashionable nineteenth-century neighborhood. Developed in the second half of the nineteenth century as a residential enclave for some of Yonkers's more prosperous merchants — many of whom contributed to the commercial development of the city, the Bell Place-Locust Hill Avenue Historic District still retains its distinctive nineteenth century ambience while much of the fabric of the surrounding area has witnessed extensive twentieth century intrusions and has suffered from urban blight and decay.
The Bell Place-Locust Hill Avenue Historic District is architecturally significant as one of the last relatively intact and cohesive mid-nineteenth century residential neighborhoods remaining in Yonkers. Developed between 1855-1887, the area's location near the commercial center of Yonkers contributed to its growth as a residential enclave for prosperous middle-class citizens. Architecturally the Bell Place-Locust Hill Avenue Historic District contains middle-class residences in a variety of picturesque styles including Italianate, French Second Empire, High Victorian Gothic, and Queen Anne. Despite alterations to buildings within the district and the blighted condition of the surrounding community, the area retains the scale and ambience of a distinctive nineteenth-century neighborhood.
As part of the lands that constituted the original Philipse Patent, the Bell Place-Locust Hill Avenue area remained undeveloped until the mid-nineteenth century. At that time, the opening of the Hudson River Railroad in 1849 transformed Yonkers from an agricultural port to a bustling commercial and industrial center. Concomitant with this transformation of the town's economy, Yonkers witnessed a substantial population increase and building boom. Surprisingly, the area never attracted the people with great industrial fortunes that were making the surrounding neighborhood their home; instead, even at this early date, it was developed as a residential enclave for the village's merchant class. The Bell Place-Locust Hill Avenue Historic District's proximity to the village's commercial center doubtlessly made it an ideal site for the residences of more prosperous middle-class citizens, North Broadway and Getty Square being located just below the steep escarpment that delineates its western boundary. Just prior to the erection of the area's first structure, the land was divided into 25 by 100 foot lots for speculative purposes by its owner, William W. Woodworth, president of the village of Yonkers between 1857 and 1858. Many of these original lot divisions remain today as property boundaries, although, in a few cases consolidation has increased their size.
One Bell Place, the Deyo House, was the first dwelling to be erected on this land. Constructed in the Italianate style popularized by A.J. Davis, it features pairs of round-arched windows with bold enframements, paired carved brackets projecting far beyond the face of the wall plane, a columned bracketed veranda, and a shallow gable roof with wide, low cross gable — all of the style. It was built by Philip A. Deyo, a prosperous merchant who moved to Yonkers in 1853 and established a small grocery store that later expanded into a thriving coal, grain, and feed business; Deyo was also a conspicuous member of the New York Produce Exchange as well as a trustee and director of the Citizens National Bank and Peoples Savings Bank. The house remains representative of a mid-nineteenth century middle-class dwelling.
Built slightly later than the Deyo House, the 1860 Christopher House at 7 Bell Place, represents a more vertical variation of the Italianate style. Also graced with round-arched windows and a particularly fine veranda, it boasts a rather unusual modified Palladian window in the attic story. An especially handsome High Victorian Gothic style carriage house, which was erected in 1861, stood to the rear of the house until it was destroyed by a fire in 1983; its foundations, however, are still visible.
Another house executed in the same style is located at 12 Bell Place. Despite modifications and alterations, its extant round-arched windows and flat roof reveal it as a cube version of the Italianate style. Built ten years later than Bell Place's first house, early tax records indicate that it was owned by Lucius E. Clark, of the New York City firm Clark & Maynard, who resided nearby at 114 Locust Hill Avenue. Clark conveyed the property to Peter J. Elting in 1882; Elting, a prosperous Yonkers merchant and vice-president of Citizens National Bank, was a partner in his brother's dry goods store — E.J. Elting & Brother, located at 16 and 18 North Broadway. Both brothers had originally boarded at Yonkers's most famous hotel — the Getty House, presumably until able to purchase their homes. His brother and business partner, Ezekiel J. Elting, built an imposing Italian Villa mansion at 57 Locust Hill Avenue. Although constructed a full decade after the Deyo House, the Peter J. Elting House attests to the popularity of the Italianate style, with its bold volumes and simple detailing, among the prosperous merchants of the time.
In 1873, John Wheeler built his home at 17 Bell Place. Following the latest fashion set during the reign of Napoleon III by Visconti and Lefuel's new addition to the Louvre (1852-57), the building's high mansard roof and spacious veranda mark it as an Americanized version of the urbane French Second Empire style. Its strikingly vertical emphasis is a distinct departure from the low, cube-like volumes of the neighboring Italianate houses.
The persistence of the Italianate style until well after the close of the Civil War is apparent in the design of the 1878 Ezekiel J. Elting house at 57 Locust Hill Avenue. Almost identical to the cube-shaped Italianate buildings that were built in Yonkers twenty years earlier, its well-defined rectangular block is emphasized by a low-pitched roof, restrained ornamentation confined to quoining, and a projecting pedimented central bay. However, the Elting House's later date is indicated by the use of segmental-arched, instead of round-arched, window openings and the pierced gable trim that embellishes its central bay. Sited on an unusually large lot for the area, its carriage house matches the main dwelling in material and detailing but on a smaller scale.
Although enlarged and altered since its construction in 1879, the Alexander House at 39 Locust Hill Avenue retains its French Second Empire style character and original stable and, therefore, contributes to the district. Prominent as an attorney in Yonkers during the 1880s, John W. Alexander, the original owner, lived here until 1888. At that time, his fortunes must have improved greatly, for not only did he acquire the Alexander Building, which housed his law offices, but he also moved to a larger dwelling (61 Locust Hill Avenue — demolished) located just north of the Bell Place-Locust Hill Avenue Historic District. The house was then acquired by Henry J. Fegan, partner in the firm of J. Fegan & Co. — purveyors of hardware, plumbing, and house furnishing goods, located at 14 Palisade Avenue.
One of Yonkers's finest High Victorian Gothic style houses can be found at 45 Locust Hill Avenue. Built in 1879 for Joseph A. Lockwood, who, like the Elting brothers, boarded at the Getty House until his move to the Bell Place area, its exterior remains relatively untouched by any modern alteration. The Lockwood House displays the standard features of Gothic Revival architecture — pointed openings, steeply pitched gable roof and coupled chimneys; however, here they are combined in a novel way with varying materials to create a distinctive stylistic mode that was fashionable in the years following the Civil War. A particularly fine veranda with well molded supports, pierced gable trim, and polychromed decorative board-and-batten gable and frieze siding distinguish this structure. Lockwood, its original owner, was a civil engineer who worked as an assistant at the Yonkers Water Works until his promotion in 1888 to superintendent of the city's water board.
Also basically unaltered, although suffering some interior and exterior damage from a fire, is 53 Locust Hill Avenue, built by Ezekiel, J. Elting on the southern portion of his large lot in 1889. Its irregularity of plan and massing and variety of color and texture characterize it as representative of the Queen Anne style. Employing the style's full vocabulary, it features several different wall surfaces — brick for the first story, scalloped shingles for the second and half-timbering for the attic — as well as a variety of window shapes, turrets and towers, oriels, and multiple dormers.
With its fine vistas of the Hudson River and Palisades, the Bell Place-Locust Hill Avenue Historic District remains a unique example of an early middle-class community in Yonkers. Once that residential area of some of the merchants who helped transom Yonkers from a small village to the fourth largest city in New York State, it boasts a progression of examples of the major stylistic currents that affected the design of the American house during the second half of the nineteenth century.
Allison, Rev. Charles Elmer. The History of Yonkers. New York: Wilbur B. Ketchum, 1896.
Cole, D. "Yonkers." in J. Thomas Scharf, History of Westchester County, New York. Philadelphia: L.E. Preston & Co., 1886.
Cornell, Thomas C. Map of the Village of Yonkers from original surveys. August, 1851. (Map on file at the Yonkers Planning Bureau.)
"Necrology — Phillip A. Deyo." The Yonkers Gazette, September 30, 1890.
Third Annual Sale of About 250 Desirable Village Lots and 25 Villa Sites in the Village of Yonkers at Auction by Anthony J. Bleecker on Wednesday 23rd May at 12 o'clock at the Merchants Exchange, N.Y. (Map on file at the Yonkers Planning Bureau.)
"Yonkers Tax and Assessment Records for the Second Ward." 1856-1898.
Yonkers City Directories. (1860, 1877-78, 1882, 1887-88, 1888-89)
† Neil G. Larson, New York State Division for Historic Preservation, Bell Place-Locust Hill Avenue Historic District, nomination document, 1985, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.