If you were flush with some new money in the early 20th century and looking to build a home within commuting distance of Manhattan, you might consider hiring architect Lewis Bowman.
A native of Westchester County and a resident of Bronxville, Bowman was a prolific architect, designing grand homes for the Wall Street wealthy in a variety of styles. His Tudor homes — a style known popularly as Stockbroker Tudor — were particularly favored. Impressive examples of Bowman homes can be found scattered across the suburbs of New York, including in Scarsdale, N.Y.
Bowman’s domestic designs in Scarsdale include a grandly scaled English cottage-style house at 12 Dolma Road. The house was completed in 1929 for Forest W. Wallace.
According to a Cultural Resource Survey Report of Scarsdale by Li Saltzman Architects and historian Andrew S. Dolkart, 12 Dolma Road is sited on “a short street lined with exclusive houses on large lots, most erected between 1926 and 1929 (one dates from 1935), primarily for wealthy businessmen and their families.”
The mansion is currently listed for sale with a note that it has been approved for demolition. And there is quite a preservation tale behind that approval.
The saga of 12 Dolma Road started in 2016, when the owners submitted an application to the Scarsdale Committee on Historic Preservation (CHP) for demolition of the house. The CHP determined that the house met the criteria for a building of historic importance and denied the application. The owners appealed that decision to the Scarsdale Village Board of Trustees, but the trustees upheld the CHP’s decision.
Scarsdale’s historic preservation code, adopted in 2015, allows owners to file a hardship application to appeal preservation decisions. Applicants must be able to prove that the property can’t be adapted for another use, that they have been unable to find a purchaser interested in preserving the property, or that the preservation of the property will not provide a “reasonable return.”
The owners of 12 Dolma filed a hardship application with the Village Board of Trustees in the summer of 2017, asking that demolition be allowed to proceed. In support of their application, they submitted written testimony from several professionals, including a broker and an architect familiar with the property.
According to minutes from the trustee’s meeting where the case was heard, issues related to the structural condition of the property didn’t enter into either argument — rather, both the broker and architect focused on what they felt was the incompatibility of the house with modern lifestyles and the pricey alterations that would be required to make it appealing to a buyer.
Among the issues cited in trying to sell a house with a multimillion dollar price tag were the absence of a three-car garage (the garage fits two cars); the lack of a finished basement with top-of-the line amenities like a gym, playroom or screening room; and the siting of the house towards the rear of the property, making extensive additions to the 4,000 square foot-plus house difficult.
The house was first put on the market in 2015 and since then there had been only one written offer — and that offer was contingent upon being able to demolish the house, noted the broker.
The Village Board of Trustees approved the hardship application on October 24, granting permission for the demolition. The trustees noted in their findings that the owners explored other uses, such as a school, but found them not feasible and said even with a renovation it may not yield a “reasonable return.” The experts agreed the house was “functionally obsolete.”
Reactions to that decision were swift: By the end of November every member of the CHP had resigned. According to the two resignations letters that were published by community website Scarsdale1083.com, while the resignations were spurred by the 12 Dolma Road decision, previous preservation battles and the difficulty of enforcing preservation also played a role.
“Tearing down and building new homes in Scarsdale is a lucrative business,” acknowledged the resignation letter signed by the CHP Chair and five members. By allowing the demolition of 12 Dolma, they wrote, “the Trustees have set a dangerous precedent because they have, in effect, made preservation virtually impossible in Scarsdale.”
While the preservation fallout continues in Scarsdale, a new owner can choose to demolish the historic house — but, they don’t have to. So, if you are tempted to bring a Bowman classic back from the wrecking ball and make a preservation statement, here is a perfect opportunity. The listing has a “contingent” banner, which may refer to the hardship application or mean a sale is pending, but nothing appears to be in contract yet.
The white stuccoed house sits on on just over an acre of land, with a sweeping front yard. As noted, the house is more than 4,000 square feet in size. The first floor includes a soaring entry hall, a wainscoted library, a dining room, family room, half bath and kitchen.
For most historic house buffs, it would appear to be move-in ready, although some updating might be warranted. The kitchen appears to be in fine shape, although perhaps last updated in the 1990s.
Upstairs are five bedrooms and four full bathrooms, including a master with en-suite bath and a dressing area.
Like the kitchen, the bathrooms haven’t had recent updates, at least going by the two photos included in the listing.
Out back there’s an in-ground pool, a whirlpool spa and what the listing calls a “custom brick deck for fabulous entertaining.”
The house was listed in March for $2.775 million by Carol Crane of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage; the price increased to $3.25 million on the broker site after demolition was approved.
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