Halcyon Place Historic District
The Halcyon Place Historic District [†] was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.
The Halcyon Place Historic District is located in a residential area of the city of Yonkers, a community of 195,351 inhabitants just north of New York City on the east side of the Hudson River in the southwestern corner of Westchester County. The Halcyon Place Historic District includes all of Halcyon Place and contains 12 primary properties. Sixteen buildings are located within the Halcyon Place Historic District; 11 of which are contributing freestanding dwellings, and one of which is a contributing garage. The four non-contributing buildings are small garages set at the rear of the properties.
The Halcyon Place Historic District is a residential cul-de-sac constructed by one developer at the turn of the century. All of the modest frame and masonry dwellings in the Halcyon Place Historic District were constructed between 1901 and 1924 for middle-class buyers and exhibit the prevailing architectural styles of the period. Many of the dwellings employ simplified Neoclassical ornamentation and feature Foursquare configurations or massings derived from the late Queen Anne period. Relatively narrow, rectangular lots with regular street frontages averaging 40 feet and depths of 100 feet distinguish most of the Halcyon Place Historic District. Residences are uniformly set back from the front lot line approximately 25 feet.
The primary thoroughfare leading to the Halcyon Place Historic District is Warburton Avenue, an important north-south street which runs from Getty Square (Yonkers' historic center, located approximately one mile south of Halcyon Place) to the northern border of the city. To the west of Warburton Avenue, the land slopes down to the Hudson River. In the vicinity of Halcyon Place, Warburton Avenue is generally characterized by severely altered, two and three story, brick or frame residential buildings which date from the second half of the nineteenth century. Interspersed with these altered residential buildings are a few small commercial buildings built in the second half of the twentieth century and a number of vacant lots.
East of Warburton Avenue and set on an ascending slope is Halcyon Place, a small cul-de-sac which runs up the slope perpendicular to the Avenue. Number 1 Halcyon Place, a two and one-half story, frame, shingled, late Queen Anne style residence featuring Neoclassical detailing is located on the southeast corner of Halcyon Place and Warburton Avenue. The northeastern corner is marked by a modern, non-contributing gasoline station which is not included within the district boundaries. On the north, south and east sides of Halcyon Place are sited small, two story residential buildings which face one another. At the eastern-most end, beyond the Halcyon Place Historic District's boundaries, is located the embankment of the Old Croton Aqueduct (National Register Listed: 1974). The siting of these houses around a cul-de-sac provides Halcyon Place with a sense of closure from the surrounding neighborhood. Due to the slope of the land, views of the Hudson River and Palisades are afforded from Halcyon Place.
The majority of the residences were built in the first decade of the twentieth century in the Queen Anne and Shingle styles. Houses such as numbers 8, 9 and 2 Halcyon Place represent the late Queen Anne style and incorporate characteristics usually associated with later architectural styles, such as simplified massings, rectangular plans, prominent gable roofs with exposed rafter ends and Neoclassical detailing. The Shingle style is best represented by numbers 1 and 7 Halcyon Place, large gambrel roofed residences which feature rough fieldstone in their designs. Other Shingle style houses in the Halcyon Place Historic District include numbers 11 and 12 Halcyon Place, both of which incorporate roof massing and details associated with the late Queen Anne style. Numbers 3 and 5 Halcyon Place, two houses built in the second decade of the twentieth century, feature elements associated with the Mission and Colonial Revival styles, respectively.
The Halcyon Place Historic District is unified visually by the similar size, massing and scale of its buildings, as well as by their regular siting along the street. All contributing properties were built between 1900 and 1934 as private, free-standing, single family residences two stories in height. One of the properties, 9 Halcyon Place, features a contributing garage. Although a number of houses feature similar massing and plans which contribute to the visual cohesiveness and architectural qualities of the district, individual details such as moldings, applied ornament, and the use of a variety of materials reflect the diversity of architectural expression current during the Halcyon Place Historic District's period of significance, 1900-1934. Despite some minor alterations to a few of the buildings, an overwhelming majority have been well preserved and the district retains the scale and character of an early twentieth century residential neighborhood. Originally planned as a suburban development for the middle class seeking to escape the inner city, the Halcyon Place Historic District maintains its distinctive ambience and high quality of workmanship and design, while most of the fabric of the surrounding area has witnessed extensive alterations, deterioration and twentieth-century intrusions.
The Halcyon Place Historic District includes 12 architecturally and historically significant properties dating from the late nineteenth century to the early years of the twentieth century. Together, these properties reflect the transformation of Yonkers from its mid-nineteenth century prominence as an industrial center to its later role as a suburban community. Distinctive examples of a broad range of architectural styles survive intact and illustrate changing ideas concerning the form and function of the suburban house as well as the tastes and prosperity of the local citizens. As a residential area that possesses integrity of location, design, setting, workmanship and association, the Halcyon Place Historic District attests to the regional prominence that has characterized Yonkers since its first settlement.
Initially settled in 1646 as Westchester County's first patroonship by Adrian Van der Donck, whose courtesy title "Jonkheer" (Dutch for "young gentleman") later became the city's name, Yonkers served as the administrative center for the vast Philipse Manor estate created by the British Crown in 1693 until the manor's dissolution by New York State after the American Revolution. In the early nineteenth century the hamlet's advantageous situation at the confluence of the Nepperhan and Hudson Rivers and position on the New York-Albany Post Road led to its development as a locally important transshipment center. The advent of the Hudson River Railroad in 1849 was responsible for Yonkers' subsequent transformation into an industrial center. Within a few years after the opening of the Yonkers railroad depot, a number of industries sprang up within the village. Most of these new industries located around the Nepperhan River where a series of mill ponds and dams were constructed to provide power. Land values in the center of town, i.e., the Getty Square area, increased dramatically during this time and Yonkers' population grew substantially. In less than ten years, as workers flooded the community, the census recorded a tripling of the town's population from 4,160 in 1850 to 11,848 in 1860.
At the close of the Civil War, Yonkers was one of the largest towns in Westchester. In 1870, two years before its incorporation as a city, Yonkers boasted a population of over 18,000. Although most growth during this era was concentrated in the downtown area, increasingly the sections north and south of the city's historic nucleus witnessed residential development. Along Warburton Avenue, a major north-south thoroughfare, many fine Italianate, French Second Empire, and Gothic Revival style dwellings rose on the Avenue's newly subdivided western side.
Unlike the western side of Warburton Avenue, which had been subdivided into small plots for middle class residential development by the mid 1860s, the higher eastern side of the avenue remained less densely developed wall into the opening years of the twentieth century. On this side of the thoroughfare, set on spacious lots, were located the imposing houses of many of Yonkers' most prominent citizens.
In 1892 the Warburton Avenue horsecar route was converted to electric trolley operation. With this change, an efficient and reliable route into the center of Yonkers, as well as New York City, was assured. The trolley was a distinct improvement over the horsecar, and the middle class was particularly well suited to take advantage of this new means of mass transportation. Changes occurring in the downtown areas traditionally occupied by the middle class prior to the turn of the century precipitated a desire among the middle class to seek new residential areas. As the central city became increasingly crowded with native and foreign workers drawn to local factories, it began to exhibit such social problems as disease, crime and other problems associated with overcrowding and poverty. Due to this transformation, the middle class sought to isolate itself from the increasingly industrialized inner city. Rapid improvements in mass transportation during the era enabled the middle classes to flee the overcrowded and industrialized inner city for new residential areas located at some distance from the urban core. With the traditionally close locational ties between business and residences severed, employment and important commercial functions remained in the downtown, while new suburban neighborhoods sprang up around the periphery of the old, urban core.
In 1900, Harry Woodhouse, a local carpenter and builder, purchased the estate of Rosewell Douglass Sawyer. The Sawyer estate, located at 272 Warburton Avenue on the east side of the thoroughfare, was approximately two acres in size and contained a large wooden house and outbuilding according to municipal tax records. Woodhouse wasted no time clearing the land and laying out a new street, Halcyon Place, which was deeded to the City of Yonkers in January, 1901. In developing the former Sawyer estate, Woodhouse found his inspiration in the design of contemporary suburban communities.
A desire for stability, security, and status was reflected in the design of these new residential suburbs. Nineteenth century upper class railroad suburbs like Llewellyn Park, designed by Alexander Jackson Davis in 1853 in West Orange, New Jersey, with its gatehouse as a symbol of security and boundary and its substantial, picturesque houses set on intimate, curving streets, served as the prototype for subsequent suburban developments. The new upper middle class suburbs built in the late nineteenth century, such as Rochelle Park (c.1889) in New Rochelle, Park Hill (c.1889) in southern Yonkers, and Lawrence Park (1892) in Bronxville, took their cues from such developments, providing the same sense of refuge, and displaying a certain level of accomplishment through design elements, on a scale which the upper middle class would find both acceptable and affordable. The new subdivision of Halcyon Place was an excellent reflection of this spirit.
Coeval with the growth of these suburban communities were new ideas concerning the form and function of the house, which began to effect its design by the opening years of the twentieth century. Residential architecture increasingly began to forego the elaborate surface treatment and varied ornamentation that characterized earlier dwellings. The complex, irregular plans of the third quarter of the nineteenth century became the object of scorn among architectural progressives who, influenced by new ideas in industrial management, demanded efficiency and simplicity in the home as well as the workplace. Moreover, women began to assert the right to develop interests outside of the house, and therefore sought houses which were easier to maintain, especially as domestic help, in competition with factory wages, became increasingly expensive. A major factor in this transformation of domestic architecture was also cost. New household technologies, such as plumbing, electricity and central heating, considered mandatory by the turn of the century, along with improved building materials, raised construction costs 25 to 45 percent. To keep expenses down and the price of new houses affordable, the amount of space in the average house was cut nearly in half. In 1905, a $3,000 house contained approximately 1,000 to 1,500 square feet. In the 1880s, a house for that same price contained 2,000 to 2,500 square feet of space. As a result of this drastic reduction in built area, the coast of new dwellings rose moderately, from $2,400 in 1891 to $2,650 in 1910.
Woodhouse's design for the Halcyon Place subdivision was influenced by these new trends which were reshaping American cities and residential architecture of the time. The siting of the houses on Halcyon Place facing one another served to define the development from neighboring areas in much the same way that gatehouses and walls did in more exclusive suburban communities. Rather than the vistas presented by Yonkers' older established streets, the entire development was defined on three sides by houses. The tightly knit design layout of the Halcyon Place cul-de-sac evoked the feelings of security and enclosure sought by the middle class.
Despite the rising costs of land, Woodhouse maintained the traditional spatial relationships that characterized the siting of dwellings in suburban communities. The image of the landed country estate so central to the suburban conception and the freestanding house — the symbol of middle class independence — was preserved by incorporating small front, rear, and side yards in the landscaping of each lot. To accommodate the houses to the relatively small parcels of land, however, the dwellings were built in rectangular shapes with their short sides facing the street.
Architecturally the Halcyon Place Historic District is characterized by several popular architectural trends of the period. These styles include Shingle which, is represented in numbers 1, 2, 6, 11 and 12 Halcyon Place; Foursquare, which is represented by numbers 4, 5 and 10 Halcyon Place; and Mission which is represented by 3 Halcyon Place. Similarly, the design of the houses on Halcyon Place reflects not only new aesthetic concepts but also rising construction costs. Less siding material and fewer decorative details answered the call for stripped-down "modern" facades as well as reduced building and maintenance costs. Nevertheless, the use of a few well-chosen decorative elements emblematic of previous eras, especially Neoclassical motifs that were associated in the public mind with the architecture of the nation's colonial period, were retained.
The Halcyon Place Historic District is distinguished by visual cohesiveness and a high level architectural quality. Individually and as a group, the buildings embody a variety of distinctive characteristics associated with late nineteenth and early twentieth century residential architecture. Characteristic of the type and period, the buildings are primarily two and one-half story frame residences distinguished by cubic massing and the use of Classical and Shingle style ornamentation, particularly along the cornice lines and porches. Dating primarily from 1900 to 1905 the residences display a general consistency in scale, form, massing, setbacks from the street, materials (primarily frame construction sheathed in wood shingle and clapboard with wooden embellishments and a variety of cast concrete block elements) and continuity, yet variety, in design. The focal points of the Halcyon Place Historic District include 10 Halcyon Place (1900) and 278 Warburton Avenue (1901), both designed by George S. Cowles, and 9 Halcyon Place (1900). These residences are representative examples of period taste and style that dominated residential architecture at the turn of the century. These dwellings were designed to retain the comfort of the larger houses in which most middle class home buyers of the period had grown accustomed to, while at the same time adding a dimension of modern appearance and efficiency. This meant less applied detailing (with the attendant reduction in construction and maintenance costs), and a different form of ornament representing the positive associations most Americans held regarding the country's colonial era, which by now had taken on the almost mythic qualities of an American "golden age."
The Halcyon Place Historic District remains today as an exceptionally well-preserved example of late nineteenth and early twentieth century planned suburban development in the city of Yonkers. As one of the city's earliest planned subdivisions, the self-contained, architecturally unified district illustrates the changing ideas concerning the form and function of the suburban house as well as the tastes and prosperity of the local citizens.
Clark, Clifford E., Jr. The American Family Home. 1800-1960. Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press, 1986.
Cole, D. "Yonkers" in J. Thomas Scharf, History of Westchester County, New York. Philadelphia: L.E. Preston & Co., 1886.
Cotton, J. Randall. "Ornamental Concrete Block Houses." The Old House Journal, vol. XII, number 8; October 1984.
The New York Times. January 4, 1944.
Wright, Gwendolyn. Building the Dream. New York: Pantheon Books, 1981.
Yonkers City Directories, 1877-1936.
The Yonkers Herald, August 18, 1917.
The Yonkers Herald Statesman. January 3, 1944; October 27, 1947; December 27, 1951; November 23, 1960; October 3, 1969; and August 31, 1982.
† Adapted from: John A. Bonafide, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Halcyon Place Historic District, Yonkers, New York, nomination document, 1990, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.