Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What's in a Name?

People give their houses an infinity of odd names. A cursory internet search produces examples like Apple Drop, Beatle Fields, Clover Stump, Dingle Dell, Creeping Snails, Old Wob, Pratty Flowers and Frosty Cottage, the latter an good alternate for my own, what with November approaching.

I suppose there's nothing that unusual about Hathaway, the name attached to a large, Delano & Aldrich designed, Catskill Mountain summer house on the outskirts of Onteora Park, NY. Local legend attributes its construction (or construction of the wall in front of it, depending on the version you hear) to a spoiled wife. Offered the choice of a European tour or a big summer house (or a wall in front of it) the wife chose the tour. She then secretly had the house (or the wall) built while she and her husband were away. Presented upon arrival home with a fait accompli, the indulgent husband described his wife as a woman who always "hath her way." (Get it? 'Hath her way'...'Hathaway?') I've spent enough time around rich people to say with authority that if there's one thing they pay very close attention to, it's their money. I don't know if this story is charming or simply ridiculous. It may contain a kernel of truth somewhere, but one kernel is probably the extent.

V. Everit Macy (1871-1930), seen in the image below, was what my late father would have called "a helluva nice guy." He earned a degree in 1893 from Columbia's School of Architcture, where he studied alongside Chester Aldrich, architect of his future house. Macy himself never practiced professionally. Instead, this amazingly busy and selfless man spent his entire adult life improving the lives of others, mainly in Westchester County. He was commissioner of Charities and Correction, then of Public Welfare, and at the time of his death Commissioner of Parks. Macy also owned the Yonkers Statesman in the north, where he published his progressive opinions, and supported Tuskegee and Hampton Institutes in the south. As Parks Commissioner he was the organizing force behind two of Westchester's most recognizable features, the Hutchinson and Saw Mill River Parkways. It helped that he was rich, far more so than his collateral relatives, the department store Macys. The money came from the family oil business which, thanks to the efforts of Macy's father, was rolled into John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil in the 1870s, to the great benefit of the Macy family.

Mrs. Macy, the former Edith Carpenter, gave her husband two sons, ran his households in Manhattan, Briarcliff Manor and Onteora Park, and spent her obligatory charity efforts on the Girl Scouts of America. From 1919 until her death in 1925, she chaired GSA's Board of Directors. You like Girl Scout cookies? Thank Mrs. Macy; her gift to us all is the annual cookie drive.

The Macys weren't a long-lived group. Everit Macy's father died at age 38; he himself succumbed unexpectedly at age 59 to pneumonia, while visiting the Ingleside Inn in Phoenix, AZ. County leaders, Supreme Court justices and lifelong friends like John D. Rockefeller Jr. joined Macy's sons and their wives for the funeral at Chilmark, the family estate at Briarcliff Manor (or actually Ossining, if you want to split hairs). In 1932 Westchester County named a 200-acre tract in the Town of Greenburgh "V. Everit Macy Park" in his honor. If you live in Westchester and thought that name came from the department store, consider yourself corrected.

Hathaway remained in the family, carefully maintained, through most of the Depression, but in 1938 it was finally put on the market. This was a better year than 1930 to try and sell a big house, but not by much. The Macy estate made a yeoman's effort to sell, as evidenced by the sale promotion literature. However, due to a scarcity of interested buyers, they put it up for auction in 1940.

At the auction, a pair of modest city types named Isadore Malvin and Max Reizen bid $12,500 for house, furniture, outbuildings and almost 600 acres of land - an won. After renting the place out for a season (interestingly, to a doctor who became President Nixon's psychiatrist), Reizen and his brother-in-law Sam Davis opened the Hathaway Lodge. A house containing 8 to 12 bedrooms (depending how you count them) plus another 12 servants' rooms would seem ideally suited for a career as a small Catskill Mountain Resort. From 1941 until the mid-1960s the Hathaway Lodge was a junior version of "Dirty Dancing." It advertised the usual golf, tennis, ping pong, horseback riding, swimming and "Super American-Jewish Cooking."

By the mid-Sixties, Catskill Mountain resorts were in economic freefall. In 1965, Annabeth and Mansfield Showers bought the by then already empty Hathaway Lodge for $39,000, moved in, and reopened it as a bed and breakfast. According to their brochure, "The Hathaway Inn offers Gracious Living for Adults" and "Daily rates without meals begin at eighteen dollars." The Showers converted the carriage house into the Snowdrop Chalet, where $15 bought you two nights in a dorm. For those who slept together, the cost was $19 for the same two-nights in a private Chalet room.

Here's what all the shootin's about, Hathaway, as it appears in the fall of 2013.

Hathaway, in the words of my friend, "New York Times" columnist Christopher Gray, "settles down into the hillside like a Great Dane getting ready for a nap." A big dog, I'd say, and one that's suffered more than a few kicks. Hathaway's not-so-vaguely Arts and Crafts design is a departure from the high style, uber-elegant Georgian Revival flash of so much of Delano and Aldrich's other work (think Knickerbocker or Colony Clubs, or grand Long Island mansions). It was, of course, an early contract, the firm being barely a year old when Macy hired them, probably because he'd gone to school with Aldrich. Hathaway's low to the ground architecture, its general Japanesey air, and unadorned pebbledash stucco exterior is said to be an homage to its owner's desire for Quaker-like simplicity. Personally, I find it hard to credit a man with a 20-room apartment at 845 Park Avenue, a 250-acre estate in Briarcliff Manor, and 12 servants' rooms in his Onteora summer place as being too big on "simplicity."

A sight we see on many a big old house (including my own); a beautiful copper leader "sans" connection to the gutter above which, we may also mention, is missing as well.

Hathaway is in remarkably unaltered condition - with certain exceptions. Prime among these is an awful wooden deck grafted onto the mountain view facade. This looks to be a product of the late Sixties or early Seventies, I can't tell for sure. Fortunately, deck, porch enclosure, and railing above, have simply obscured - as opposed to destroyed - the original architecture.

The Macy family has been in America since the 17th century. They were the original owners (non-Native American, that is) of Nantucket Island. People with pedigrees like that - plus money - could usually go pretty much anywhere in early 20th century American society. Macy had a cousin at Onteora, who may have introduced him to the area. Alternately, Onteora Park's reputation as a center of arts and culture may have made it more attractive than Newport or Saratoga, whose reputations, while impressive, had little to do with art or culture. To build a house with all those bedrooms suggests a serious commitment to enjoy the place with friends.

Another bane of big old houses - the aluminum storm door.

A good place for firewood, although it didn't live here in Macy's day.

The heart of the house is an enormous living hall, which you can can see on the plan at the end of this post. When first built, Hathaway was filled with Gustav Stickley furniture appropriate to the Arts and Crafts motif. With the exception of very few items, everything was stolen in 1990. Perhaps the table in the image below, which was placed here in 1906 when the house was completed, wasn't Arts and Craftsy enough to warrant a place on the bandits' van.

Hathaway's entire interior is paneled floor to ceiling in American chestnut, a breathtaking tour de force, even if most people have to be told what it is.

At the west end of the living hall is the library. At one point, this room was converted to a bar, in the process of which some of its original bookcases were removed. What hasn't been removed is the extraordinary overmantel frieze, a sort of Elgin Marbles comes to the Catskills affair looming over the Greene and Greene-looking fireplace. Equally remarkable is the central chandelier, minus an original glass bowl but orbited to this day by matching electrified outriggers. I have the identical Victorian sofa in my house and having sat - or tried to sit - on it for almost 40 years, understand well why no thief in his right mind would try to take it.

The door to the left of the fireplace leads to a small study, seen in the second image below, which has evidently doubled as bedroom.

The rest of the western end of this floor is a short series of bathrooms and bedrooms that circle back to the big hall.

The wagon wheel chandelier hung over the last bar, which occupied this former bedroom. The living hall is through the open door, and the window in the distance overlooks the porch.

Balancing the library on the east is the dining room on the west. Talk about "Dirty Dancing," how cool is that sign? Like most of what we've seen so far, it wouldn't take much to restore the dining room to original condition - save for the fireplace, where what appears to be a new heating flue has been shoe-horned into the original opening.

Next to the dining room is the former serving pantry, connected in the past by dumbwaiter to the kitchen below. It has been combined with an adjoining maid's room - one of six on the main floor - to create a new upstairs kitchen

What was once a pressing room, flower room, and the five other maids' rooms have been combined (none too gently) into an awkward apartment.

My hostess, Iliana Moore (that was Iliana's arm holding the storm door, and this is the back of her head) is leading us to the basement, which is only excavated under the service wing. It contained the original kitchen, servants' hall, wood storage, wine cellar and, according to the 1938 sale brochure, a shoe shine room.

This is why I love writing this column. What may look like a dog's dinner to some is to me a dazzling discovery. Put the pieces of the puzzle together (they're all here), fix everything up (entirely doable), and you'll have the sort of antique mansion kitchen of which big old house dreams are made. Cabinet work? All here, right down to the dishes on the shelves. Vintage ice box? Antique stove hood? (Admittedly the stove itself is a replacement, but still fits in). Celotex on the walls and windows? Rip it off and let that dazzling southern sunlight stream back in. And how about those fantastic tables, one of which probably came from the servants' hall? Or the electric refrigerator, apparently with all its original pieces. Too much fun.

Time to go back upstairs, and detour quickly onto the porch.

The glass enclosure, the odd partitions and the deck outside are of course all new. I'm inclined to think the treillage on the walls, or at least some of it, is original. The view, like the rest of the place, is easily restorable.

Let's have a look at the second floor.

At the foot of the bedroom corridor in the image below is what appears to be a 3-room, 2-bath owners' suite, located at the western end of the house. Mrs. Macy's bedroom would normally be the larger of the bedrooms, with the better view, bigger bathroom, and adjoining boudoir. Her husband's presumably overlooked the drive, had its own smaller bath, and was attached to his wife's rooms by a small internal hall.

I'll tell you the truth; when I first saw it, I thought it was pine.

Outside the owners' suite, ranged along both side of the bedroom corridor, are six additional bedrooms - all paneled in chestnut, most with fireplaces and/or approximations or substitutions, and interspersed with not very elaborate old bathrooms that probably only myself and 8 or 9 other people in America could actually love.

Down a few steps at the eastern end of the family wing are a sewing room, 6 more second floor maids' cubicles, one bath, and a service stair that connects to the floor below. In this part of the house, chestnut is limited to doors alone.

Let's head back to the main part of the house...

...and take a quick peek in the attic, where generations of probably fascinating junk is piled practically to the rafters. It would be fun to spend a few days up here, but I gotta get back to Millbrook and write this all up.

Here's an evocative image from the original sale brochure, showing the carriage house in better days. This is the building that became the Snowdrop Chalet. According to the brochure, "It has space for seven cars, stalls for three hunters, and on the second floor is an apartment with five bedrooms."

I'm afraid it looks just as bad inside.

Mrs. Showers died in 2003 at the age of 91. In 2005, Hathaway was purchased by the Hunter Foundation, which has restoration plans in mind, if not as yet fully articulated. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.


  1. The frieze over the mantel in the library is a cast of the cantoria or singing gallery decoration created for the Florence Cathedral by Lucca della Robbia. It depicts the 150th psalm. (I only know this because I discovered that Reverend Hutchinson, pastor of our neighborhood church and builder of Villasera, lost Platt masterpiece, donated some of these panels.) This might suggest that is was a music room and library.

    Use of this frieze rings a bell with other visual cues, esp. on the exterior -- arts and crafts, certainly, Japanese, perhaps a bit, but to my eye overwhelmingly that teens and twenties odd mash-up of Italian villa style closest to what is imagined to have existed in Tuscany but never really did. All that stucco, the arches supported on brackets, the long low roof, even the exterior integration of trelliswork. I suspect D&A were channeling a fantasy of Tuscan summer villas, at least on the exterior.

  2. Very interesting---as is Nick Heywood's comment.

    Everit Macy maintained a considerable summer presence up our way also. His sister Kate Ladd owned an Italian palazzo in Bar Harbor, and four or five estates down the street, Editha Macy's mother, and sister, Mrs. Miles Carpenter and Miss Agnes, lived in great style in an English Tudor with 18th century French drawing room. The Macys were fixtures of the yachting scene. Sister-in-law Agnes Carpenter was one of the last of the grandes dames to hold out in changing Bar Harbor, even as the Bar Harbor fire wiped out everything across the street--except her stone garage---and motels moved in, and as the Stotesbury estate next door was destroyed and replaced by a Ferry Terminal, with the giant Ferry daily docked at the foot of her garden. It is now the site of the Holiday Inn where Pres. Obama stayed a couple of years ago.

    But I digress. Great post as always.

  3. I'm not very enthusiastic about the Arts & Crafts style (or lukewarm sort-of Italian villa exteriors) but this house is very interesting. All that Chestnut woodwork! It's amazing that the interiors are in as good a shape as they are, given the varied owners and uses over the decades. With all the interest in Arts & Crafts and Stickley, a full restoration would probably generate a lot of interest.

  4. I wanted to name our humble home 'Whining Pines' but my wife wouldn't let me! Reminded me of Fibber McGee's street, Wistful Vista!

    Jim Morgan
    Olympia, WA

  5. I could get lost in there and with a lot of money, time & help... restore it .
    How cool would that be? What a GREAT find, and a view too....

  6. Hi John,

    A wonderful post as always. The library frieze appears to be the same as the one that was recently recovered, after being hidden for decades, in the restoration of Iviswold, the wonderful "castle" on the Felician College campus in my home town of Rutherford, NJ.

    Felician College is to be congratulated for such an excellent restoration of a Rutherford treasure. I hope that one day you will make Iviswold the subject of one of your posts. Thanks again for all of your wonderful postings!

    Cheers! Brendan

  7. My wife came up with "Scurvy Oaks" for our house, and it stuck.

  8. John, as a real estate man you must be aware that the Hunter Foundation has been offering this property for years with 200 acres. A tough sell in any market, though they should get more than $12,500.

  9. You missed the fact that in 2010 I think it was, The Jr class from HTC held the prom at the Hathaway!

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  13. Funny, we are looking at a house for sale across the road, but all I could see from the street view map was that stone wall that went on and on! I spent summers in a Victorian farmhouse in Lexington NY (until one of my fathers friends set the house on fire during a winter hunting trip). After that we spent summers in Palenville, next to Tannersville. After all these years, I guess I never lost the yearning to return to the area.

  14. So how much do you think it is.

  15. Whatever happened to this house? And can I go take a tour of it, too? I'm completely enamoured of it.

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  17. My grandfather, Max Reizen, purchased the Macy estate, with the intent of converting it into a resort, with my Aunt Molly and Uncle Sam Davis, cooking and running the show, respectively. I lived at Hathaway many summers, and at the farm house down the road, across from the swimming pool for the lodge.

    It seemed that the stone wall ran for miles down to the river(creek) bridge, and then the farmhouse. I used to walk on that wall the entire way. At one time my grandfather put in a ski lift, hoping to attract winter guests, but that didn't work out well.
    I do recall beautiful beams in the first floor bedrooms with German gilded writings on them. I don't know what happened to them.
    There was a water buffalo head over the fireplace but that appears to be gone also.

    I have many happy memories of Hathaway, Tannersville and Haines Falls. I thank the author for a well written and researched article.

    Mark Reizen

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