Architectural Sites

Villa Charlotte Bronte

One of the area’s most charming residencies is Villa Charlotte Bronte. Located along Palisade Avenue in Spuyten Duyvil, this unique manor was designed, like many of the Riverdale residencies, to be a pastoral escape from the noise and rush of the city. It was constructed in 1926 by John J. McKelvey, a lawyer, writer and developer, as a place for someone whose “soul is hungry for the majesty of the river,” according to his ad for the place in the New York Times. True to its description even today, the house offers unobstructed and picturesque views of the Hudson River.

McKelvey constructed this house as an answer to the mass construction of buildings on Manhattan, what he described as “city ugly.” Designed in the style of an Italian villa, Villa Charlotte Bronte was made up of 17 co-op apartments connected by walkways, stone arches, and staircases, with two sections separated by a central courtyard. The exterior, made from stucco, features brick and stone ornamentation and multi-colored tiled roofs.

Each apartment has its own unique floor plan and view of the Hudson, adding to their incredible cost. These apartments today sell for upwards of $1 million.

As for the complex’s name, McKelvey picked Charlotte Bronte because of his love of literature. The theme follows after his first project in the area, Villa Rosa Bonheur, a seven co-op apartment complex constructed in the same style as Villa Charlotte Bronte.

Fieldston Historic District

The plot of land that would later become Fieldston was originally purchased by the Delafield Estate in 1829. When the Interborough Rapid Transit subway caught up to West 242nd, the Delafield heirs realized that the time was ripe to develop the area. In 1909, the Delafield Estate used money from a sale of a few acres to fund the building of plots. As each plot was sold, money was applied towards grading streets and installing utilities, slowly creating a “country in the city.”

The secret to Fieldston’s bucolic charm is embedded in the vision of its architects. Surveying the area in 1876, Frederick Law Olmsted (of Central Park fame) and James R. Croes recommended a layout that complemented the natural contours of the land. Bucking the standard neat-grid plans of the city, engineer Albert Wheeler designed a final plan in 1914 that worked around Fieldston’s  “wooded knolls, dells and hillocks,” keeping things interesting by varying plot size.

As for the houses, an Architectural Committee approved designs based on a list of architects (prominent architects Dwight James Baum and Julius Gregory were especially popular). The resulting landscape was a collection of revival styles: Medieval, English Tudor, Mediterranean, Dutch, and Georgian Colonial. The Fieldston Property Owners Association relaxed its design standards in the 1950s, and some formal modernist houses slipped in. Nevertheless, more traditional revival styles dominate the landscape: more than 200 of over 260 houses in the district were built before 1940. For a detailed listing house-by-house, check out the designation report, complete with architect biographies and addresses.

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