“I had never been in this part of the country before and experienced all sorts of emotions as I clambered about over the rocks and through the blackberry bushes which had been allowed to grow at random for a generation or two, with only ‘cowpaths’ remaining through which we could find our way, which wound in and out through the undergrowth and rocks. To finish our tour, we climbed up the hill by the railway crossing, then simply a scrubby, rocky berry patch…I returned home wavering, for the property seemed worthless for either agricultural or town development.”
That was how our founder, William Van Duzer Lawrence, described his initial 1889 visit to Sunset Hill, which he’d soon purchase and develop into a community that became a prototype for the modern American suburb. Inspired by the artist’s colony Barbizon on France’s Forest of Fontainebleau, the neighborhood retains every bit of charm, elegance and relevance it did 130 years ago, from its architectural melange of Victorian-era sensibilities to serpentine yellow-brick carriage roads laid out by Lawrence himself.
On Saturday, June 24th, architect Anderson Kenny will lead a morning walking tour of the Lawrence Park hilltop for a program called “Breakfast with Mr. Bates,” organized by Bronxville agents Susan Law and Rita Steinkamp. The event will center around the neighborhood’s homes designed by William Augustus Bates, the architect from Lawrence’s hometown of Monroe, Michigan, who effectively became his partner in crafting some of Westchester’s most iconic dwellings.
Among the tour’s highlights will be three homes presently listed with our Bronxville brokerage, along with a handful of other Bates residences. The group will assemble on the green at Wellington Circle (named for Lawrence’s brother-in-law, who encouraged him to purchase the property), and end with breakfast on the porch at 7 Valley Road, which will be open for first-floor viewing.
The highlights couldn’t be more spectacular:
6 Chestnut Avenue
Among the hilltop’s best-known residents was Elizabeth Bacon “Libby” Custer, who had been Sarah Lawrence’s childhood best friend. After her husband’s legendary demise at Little Big Horn, Custer embarked upon a successful literary career, publishing three books that ultimately helped salvage her husband’s reputation. As an author, socialite and personal friend of the Lawrences, she was a natural fit for the neighborhood. Completed in 1902, “Laurentia,” which she named to honor William and Sarah, was actually the second home built for her by the Residence Company of Lawrence Park.
Set onto a spacious .62 acre perch, the home is considered by some to be Bates’ magnum opus, blending Shingle Style, Queen Anne and Dutch Colonial sensibilities for a truly original result. The home’s present owners performed a meticulous restoration on the home, which refreshed its period splendor while inviting contemporary comforts, like an outdoor kitchen and an espresso bar housed in the home’s original dumbwaiter. A original set of Custer’s books, which have remained in the library through most of the home’s existence, will be passed along to its next residents.
18 Gladwin Place
Architectural diversity was important to Lawrence, and his taste for variety is reflected by the melange of styles found on the hilltop. 18 Gladwin exemplifies this, a testament to Bates’ talent and his ability to adapt his craft on demand. While the Southern Colonial-style home is quite unlike its Shingle Style and Arts & Crafts-influenced neighbors, the home carries equal attention to detail, and like all homes was personally sited by William Lawrence himself.
A particularly unique aspect of the home is its two facades, affording it a Janus-like duality. The south facade boasts soaring two-story Ionic columns, with a porch view that overlooks a gently-sloping lawn. The north face (no, it’s not fleece) is exquisite in its own right, with a gabled center hall entrance flanked with an eyebrow dormer and a columned portico, articulating cohesion with the south face. Rather than the lawn, the south side overlooks a spacious parking area and large basketball court.
7 Valley Road
To the common passerby, 7 Valley might simply be a textbook Shingle Style home, albeit an exceptionally beautiful one. But to true apostles of architecture, this 1902 residence epitomizes the adventurous creativity Bates was known for. Upon entering the home via Dutch door, one is immediately released into a grand two-story entrance hall. Surrounding this center hub are an octagonal paneled library, living room with music alcove and a stone-walled sun room. Arguably the most brilliant space of all is the dining room, occupying the full height of the home’s turret. A curved bank of stained glass windows soar towards an ornate painted ceiling, with a minstrel’s balcony and a chimney breast paneled in milled hardwood.
The home sits diagonal from the hilltop’s oldest residence, Manor House. Completed by James Minot Prescott in 1845, the stone Italianate was the main residence on his farm, accompanied by a gate lodge (our historic headquarters at 4 Valley Road), casino, and scattered outbuildings. William Lawrence, who throughout his early development work remained a New York City resident, established it as an inn for residents to accommodate friends who might become prospective Lawrence Park residents, letting them sample the local lifestyle— this ultimately evolved into the luxurious Hotel Gramatan, which stood until 1970.