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Delavan Terrace Historic District


Charles Otis House, ca. 1904, Delavan Terrace Historic District, Yonkers, NY, National Register

Photo: Charles Otis House, ca. 1904, Delavan Terrace Historic District, Yonkers, NY. The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Photographed by User:Daniel Case (own work), 2009, [cc-by-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed September, 2013.

The Delavan Terrace Historic District 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 © 2010, The Gombach Group.

Description

The Delavan Terrace Historic District is a small enclave of large turn-of-the-century residences. The Delavan Terrace Historic District's boundaries are clearly delineated by the distinctly different character of the surrounding community — to the west by the steep drop of the hill behind 323 Palisade Avenue and the mid-twentieth century apartment complex, "Hillcroft Town Houses," located at 355 Palisade Avenue; to the north by the modern residential units of the "Palisades Garden Apartments" and by severely altered older houses at 159 and 169 Park Avenue; to the east by contemporary tract houses along the east side of Park Avenue; and to the south by modern structures built in the 1970s. Within the boundaries of the Delavan Terrace Historic District are located eleven houses which are architecturally and historically significant and are visible from public thoroughfares. Initially the site of the residences of Yonkers industrial gentry (of which two remain within the confines of the district), most of the structures date from the early twentieth century when the land was developed as a middle-class suburban community. While a few of the houses have been altered over the years, on the whole, the Delavan Terrace Historic District retains its original character.

Significance

The area encompassed by the Delavan Terrace Historic District is notable as an intact and cohesive turn-of-the-century residential neighborhood in Yonkers, New York. Within the boundaries of the Delavan Terrace Historic District can be found good examples of early twentieth century domestic architecture as well as one of the few surviving Eastlake interiors in the municipality. The houses that compose the Delavan Terrace Historic District embody the distinctive characteristics of the period in which they were constructed and, in a few instances, are associated with the lives of persons significant in shaping the history of Yonkers and Westchester County. The major stylistic currents represented include: Queen Anne, Shingle style, Bungalow, Tudor Revival, and Spanish Colonial Revival. Despite alterations to several buildings within the district, the area retains the scale and ambience of an early residential development.

As part of the lands that comprised the original manor granted to Frederick Philipse I in 1693 by the British Crown, most of the area now known as Delavan Terrace remained pasturage until 1843 as part of Lemuel Wells's 320-acre estate. Wells, who owned most of central Yonkers, made it a general policy to keep his estate, as far as possible, undivided and could not often be induced to sell or lease any part of it. With the death of Wells in 1842, his heirs partitioned the estate and once "released from the hand that had so long kept it out of the market, and, catching the spirit of the enterprise, the land so long unused, or, where used, devoted to farm purposes only, was quickly laid out in streets and lots, became the scene of busy activity and was soon dotted with beautiful residences."[1] The opening of the Hudson River Railroad in 1849 also heralded Yonkers's entry into the industrial community and transformed the town from an agricultural port to a bustling commercial and manufacturing center. Concomitant with this transformation of the town's economy, Yonkers witnessed a substantial population increase (from 4,160 reported in the 1850 census to 11,848 in 1860 and 18,318 in 1870) and building boom. In 1886 the Reverend David Cole would write of the period: "The industries of the place...began to loom up and to give lively promise of that strength and promise to which in later days they have attained. There was great activity in all departments of enterprise and work, in mills and factories, in stores and shops, in real estate, in surveying, in outlaying, in grading, in building, in boating and trucking. The place that had been so long retired and dormant came into notice and was wide awake."[2]

The Delavan Terrace Historic District's proximity to the village's commercial center and to the industrial complexes located along the Nepperhan River undoubtedly made it an ideal site for the building of the residences of Yonkers's more prosperous citizens and industrial leaders. By 1876 the land was divided into large tracts and boasted some of the more imposing houses of the village.

323 Palisades Avenue, the Smith-Collins House, remains one of the oldest extant structures in the area. Built circa 1854 for L.F. Wheeler, the land and house were conveyed in 1873 to Alexander Smith. Two years later, in 1875, village tax records indicate that the assessed valuations of the house and land increased from $7,700 to $21,500 — indicating the construction of a new dwelling or the substantial alteration of an older structure. Although difficult to determine without a thorough structural analysis, old illustrations of the house would seem to indicate that an Italianate style building of cubical configuration with a central tower was remolded in 1875 in the then fashionable High Victorian Gothic style. Featuring projecting bay windows, carved ornamental braces and vergeboards, steeply pitched irregular, intersecting gable and hipped roofs sheathed in polychromed shingles, and an open hipped-roof belvedere, the composition of the building strongly resembles that published as "Design XXXII — A Lake or River Villa for a Picturesque Site" from Alexander Jackson Downing's The Architecture of Country Houses. First published in 1850, Downing's book went through numerous editions and was quite influential in shaping the course of American architecture during its time; this particular design, he noted, was especially suited for: "scenery which exists in many spots in America besides the banks of the Hudson — wherever, indeed, the wildness or grandeur of nature triumphs strongly over cultivated landscape — but especially where river or lake and hill country are combined — it is there that the highly picturesque country-house or villa, is instinctively felt to harmonize with and belong to the landscape. It is there that the high tower, the steep roof, and the boldly varied outline, seem wholly in keeping with the landscape..."[3]

Although slightly different in execution then that depicted in the published design, the Smith-Collins House features the "delicious curve" of the roofline which Downing recommended and of which he wrote: "belongs to many of the Rhine buildings (and) is, in fact, a repetition of the grand hollow or mountain curve formed by the sides of almost all great hills rising from the water's edge, and it forms the connecting link that unites and brings into harmony the opposite lines, perpendicular and horizontal, which are found, the one in the tower and the other in the water or landscape level at its best."[4]

Downing's choice site for his picturesque villa closely resembles the hill-top location of the Smith-Collins House, which commands a panoramic view of the Hudson and Palisades and which steeply slopes down to the river on its west side.

Lending further support to the attribution of Downing's pattern book as the inspiration for the Smith-Collins House is "Design XIV — A Cottage in the Rhine Style" published in his 1873 edition of Cottage Residences. In this work, a porte-cochere similar to the one depicted in old illustrations of the Smith-Collins House is shown as well as the surmounting window with its ornamental hood. Downing notes in Cottage Residences that both the porte-cochere and surmounting window were alterations he designed in 1871 for an older house.[5]

While the floor plans of both Downing houses differ from that of the Smith-Collins House, the latter's plan bears a great similarity to that of "Glenview," the John Bond Trevor House.[6] Built in 1876 by Charles W. Clinton and based on the above-mentioned Downing sources, "Glenview" employs similar cornice consoles, belvedered tower, and porches with roof balustrades. Both "Glenview" and the Smith-Collins House are entered through their towers and feature Eastlake interiors. The Smith-Collins House boasts fine dark wood paneling and trim, a massive staircase accented with carved newel posts and balusters, and coal-burning fireboxes surrounded with glazed tiles and Eastlake mantels. The spatial sequence of rooms within the house reflects the period's increasing concern with specialization of interior spaces and the exclusion of "social" spaces from utilitarian, functional areas.

In 1873 the house was annexed to Alexander Smith's estate located on the adjoining property at 355 Palisades Avenue. Smith (1818-1878) was the founder and president of the Alexander Smith Carpet Mills, one of Yonkers's earliest and largest industries.[7] Although there is no remaining documentary evidence, it is posited that the Smith-Collins House was the residence of Warren Baldwin Smith (1848-1903), Alexander Smith's eldest son. With the death of Alexander Smith in 1878, Warren B. Smith succeeded to the presidency of the family's carpet mill and under his direction the firm enjoyed the status of the largest carpet manufacturers in the United States, second in the world only to the John Crossley firm of Halifax, England.[8] In 1878 the house was sold to Charles Collins (1817-1891) and Warren Smith took up residence in the estate's main house, "Hillbright." Collins, a successful dry goods merchant from Hartford, Connecticut, moved to Yonkers to retire. During his remaining 13 years of life, Collins became a prominent citizen of Yonkers and an active member of the First Presbyterian Church.[9] Collins' son, Clarence L., is known to have lived at 323 Palisade Avenue between 1881 and 1886. Clarence Collins (1848-1922) was senior member of C.L. Collins & Co. of New York and the representative of many Connecticut cotton mills.[10]

In 1910 the house was conveyed to Isidore J. Beaudrias, a prominent, turn-of-the-century Yonkers lawyer.[11] During this period, the building's exterior was greatly altered by the application of a stucco covering to the facade, the removal and remodelling of many of its porches, and the removal of its decorative trim; the interior of the dwelling, however, remained virtually intact. Despite these alterations to the structure, the house remains important as the last extant dwelling associated with the Smith family and for its connection with many of Yonkers' more prominent 19th century citizens as well as for its intact Eastlake interiors.

The Law-Baldwin House at 354 Palisades Avenue dates from 1886. Originally the home of Walter W. Law (1837-1924), the design of the house represents a distinct departure from the High Victorian Gothic style employed at the Smith-Collins House. Executed in the Shingle style popularized by Henry Hobson Richardson and John Calvin Stevens during the 1880s, it features the shingle-clad exterior, broad overhanging roof, and general volumetric quality that are the hallmarks of the style. Though rooted in the shingle-clad architecture of 17th century New England, it represented, at the time, a reaction to the structuralism of the preceding decade and was responsible for introducing a new freedom and openness into the planning of the American house. Law, president of the Fernbrook Carpet Company of Yonkers, lived at the house until 1889 when he moved to New York as vice president of W. & J. Sloan Carpet Company. Law was best known as "The Laird of Briarcliff Manor," as his friend Andrew Carnegie called him. In 1894 Law purchased several thousand acres north of Yonkers and developed them into the village of Briarcliff Manor.[12]

In 1894 the house was enlarged by the Bradley-Currier Co. and sold the following year to William Delavan Baldwin. Baldwin, treasurer and general manager of Otis Elevator Company, succeeded to the presidency of the company in 1900; he was also vice-president of the First National Bank of Yonkers. Active in local politics, Baldwin was nominated by the Republican Party in 1892 to Congress; he, however, declined. The Baldwin estate, "Hillcrest," occupied most of what is now Delavan Terrace. In 1904 the estate was divided into lots and sold. The same year also witnessed the opening of a new private street in Yonkers — Delavan Terrace.[13]

Among the first houses built in the Delavan Terrace Historic District after its division into speculative lots in 1904 were 5, 9, 10, and 23 Delavan Terrace and 139 Park Avenue. All of these buildings, with the exception of 5 Delavan Terrace, retain much of the asymmetrical massing which distinguishes the Queen Anne style. However, these early 20th century buildings reflect the change in architectural taste that was occurring at the time. Eschewing the elaborate surface treatment, decorated vergeboards, and gable ornaments that characterize the Queen Anne house of the 1880s, these later houses employ undecorated clapboarded facades or shingles to achieve simpler effects and rely on rooflines and massing for visual interest. Despite the absence of applied ornamentation, vestigial remains of the Queen Anne style are still notable in their modified towers, oriel and bay windows, continuous porches, and over-sized gable roofs. The use of fewer siding materials and the elimination of most applied ornamentation not only made these houses cheaper to build (and, therefore, within reach of the middle-class buyer) but also gave them a stripped-down "modern" look that echoed the avowed utilitarianism espoused by turn-of-the-century critics.

The Borland House at 10 Delavan Terrace is a particularly fine example of an early 20th century middle-class residence. Incorporating characteristics from the late Queen Anne with detailing from the Shingle style, the building features stone-faced lower walls, shingled upper stories, and a broad intersecting gambrel roof. Reuben Borland, president of the Alexander Smith & Sons Carpet Mills between 1916 and 1925, was well known in industrial circles during the first quarter of the century for his phenomenal rise from a bobbin boy earning $8 a week at the mills to the presidency of one of the largest carpet manufacturers in the world earning a salary estimated at over $100,000 a year. According to an article in the New York Times, few of the many articles written about him did not bear the caption "From Bobbin Boy to $100,000 a Year."[14] A native of Yonkers, Borland's career was considered one of the great success stories of the period.[15]

The Charles E. Otis House at 5 Delavan Terrace (built for the grandson of Elisha Graves Otis — inventor of the safety elevator) and the Alexander F. Denniston House at 6 Delavan Terrace are almost identical in execution, though built in 1904 and 1911 respectively. Possibly designed by the same architect, they represent trends in American residential architecture that were to culminate in the flowering of the "period house" during the 1920s and 1930s. Though often regarded by many historians as the fruits of stagnation in domestic architecture for their reliance on past styles for their detailing, these houses took over with little modification the most advanced planning concepts of the shingled houses of the 1880s, and, as far as the treatment of plan was concerned, represent virtually no break between the styles. As Jonathan Lane noted in his article "The Period House in the Nineteen-Twenties," these buildings often incorporate spacious interior arrangements and were responsible for the evolution of the modern American residential spatial plan. Lane further writes: "A new concept of the kitchen as a small compact space — a concept fundamental to twentieth century residential planning — emerged; entry halls were generally reduced in size where they did not disappear, and secondary living spaces were ruled out unless the house was relatively large. All of these changes left more space for the living room, which was now the chief feature of the plan. The series of small spaces of more or less equal size which occupied the ground floor of the Victorian house has given way...to an arrangement composed of a dominant living room area surrounded by several minor spaces — the basic arrangement of the modern house."[16]

Both of these houses are early examples of a new type of suburban dwelling that would become very popular after World War I and reflect a new concept in the design of the suburban house, which was now treated as a country residence on a small property rather than as a modified city dwelling.

Reminiscent of buildings from the English Elizabethan period, the houses feature ornamental half-timbering, stuccoed walls, gables edged with vergeboards, clustered chimneys, and oriel windows. To emphasize the houses' associations with the Elizabethan style further, diamond-paned casement windows and hewn consoles are introduced into the composition. Outdoor living areas are also incorporated into the design — a distinctly modern arrangement — though drawn in under the second storey to maintain the over-all Elizabethan silhouette. The house built in 1915 at 149 Park Avenue represents a more modest variation of this basic theme.

Similar in concept, though quite different in execution, are the houses at 147 Park Avenue and 4 Delavan Terrace. Built in 1926, the Neo-Federal house at 4 Delavan Terrace features a symmetrical facade, classically inspired detailing from the Adamesque period, and hipped roof topped with a deck surrounded by a balustrade. Popularized by McKim, Mead and White, Charles C. Platt, William A. Delano and Chester H. Aldrich as early as the last decade of the nineteenth century, the style borrowed heavily from America's Georgian period and embellished contemporary interior plans with detailing associated with the East Coast's colonial period. A particularly fine example, its progeny can be found in the numerous "Williamsburg" type houses that dot America's suburban developments.

Counterpart to the Georgian-inspired revival that had its roots in the early architecture of the East Coast, the 1908 Mission Revival style house at 147 Park Avenue emulates the buildings of the Spanish colonial period in California. Square in plan with red tile hipped roofs and plain unrelieved stuccoed walls, the house reflects the American middle classes' preoccupation during the early part of the twentieth century with period architectural styles in the designs of their suburban homes as most expressive of their search for stability and legitimacy — no matter how far removed or inappropriate, the building form was to geographic and climatic factors.

The Knap House at 14 Delavan Terrace represents another stylistic current imported to Yonkers from California and found in the historic district. Built in 1907, this example of the Western Stick style is quite unusual in Yonkers. Featuring broad and gently pitched hipped roofs — the eaves of which project beyond the wall plane — exposed rafters, shingle-clad facades, sleeping porches, and a general horizontal emphasis, the building traces its stylistic roots to the Stick style of the High Victorian period and the shingled dwellings of the 1880s. First appearing in California in the late 1890s, the style reached its zenith in the large, rambling Bungalows of the Greene Brothers during the first decade of this century. Closely allied to the Arts ad Crafts movement of the period, the apparent structuralism of the style and its projecting, shadow-providing rafters made it quite suitable for the brilliant sun-drenched landscape of the West Coast where it soon became known as the "Bay Region style." Although a geographic misnomer, its presence in Yonkers remains something of an anomaly and underscores the eclecticism of early twentieth century residential architecture.

The Delavan Terrace Historic District is historically and architecturally significant as a small, largely intact, turn-of-the-century residential enclave in the city of Yonkers. Distinctive examples of early twentieth century domestic architecture can be found within the district, and many of the residences were the homes of persons significant in the development of Yonkers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Endnotes

    [1]D. Cole, "Yonkers," in J. Thomas Scharf, History of Westchester County, New York (Philadelphia: L.E. Preston & Co., 1886), volume II: p.23.

    [2]Cole, page 23.

    [3]Andrew Jackson Downing, The Architecture of Country Houses (New York: Da Capo Press, 1968; reprint of the 1850 edition), p.344.

    [4]Ibid., p.345.

    [5]Andrew Jackson Downing, Victorian Cottage Residences (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1981; reprint of the 1873 edition), pp.174-78.

    [6]The John Bond Trevor House, "Glenview," now the Hudson River Museum, is a National Register property.

    [7]The Alexander Smith Carpet Mills have been nominated to the National Register.

    [3]Charles E. Allison, The History of Yonkers (New York: Wilbur B. Ketchum, 1896), p.356; also see the National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Alexander Smith Carpet Mills Historic District.

    [9]In Memoriam — Charles Collins," The Yonkers Gazette (December 5, 1891).

    [10]The New York Times, (September 30, 1922), p.13:6.

    [11]Allison.

    [12]"Walter W. Law Dies in the South," The New York Times (January 19, 1924), p.13:4.

    [13]Allison, pp.402-04.

    [14]The New York Times (December 13, 1925), p.13:1.

    [15]The Yonkers Statesman (December 12 and 14, 1925).

    [16]Jonathan Lane, "The Period House in the Nineteen Twenties," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, vol. XX, no.4, (December, 1961): 169-178.

References

Allison, Charles E. The History of Yonkers. New York: Wilbur B. Ketchum, 1896.

Cole, David. "Yonkers" in J. Thomas Scharf, History of Westchester County, New York. Philadelphia: L.E. Preston & Co., 1886.

Downing, Alexander Jackson. The Architecture of Country Houses. New York: Da Capo Press, 1968; Reprint of 1850 edition.

Downing, Alexander Jackson. Victorian Cottage Residences. Dover Publications Inc., 1981; Reprint of 1873 edition.

Austin O'Brien

Lane, Jonathan. "The Period House in the Nineteen Twenties." Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, volume XX, number 4; December, 1961.

The New York Times. January 19, 1924; December 13, 1925.

The Yonkers Gazette. December 5, 1891.

The Yonkers Statesman. December 12 and 14, 1925.

Austin O'Brien, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Delavan Terrace Historic District, nomination document, 1983, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Delavan Terrace Historic District Map

Street Names
Delavan Terrace • Palisades Avenue • Park Avenue

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