The Goren Group has its hands full renovating William Boyce Thompson’s 25-bedroom Alder Manor, judging by a recent visit to the once glorious, now dilapidated Yonkers estate.
Very little beyond the most basic preservation work has been done in the last 30 years to Italian Renaissance Revival home. The tile roof, many of the window and door casings, and some of the hardware needs to be replaced. Ornate ceilings and wood floors in the main rooms need to be restored. The list goes on and on….
The Goren Group, which paid $5.5 million for the 5.5-acre estate last year, plans to spend $3 million to renovate the North Broadway building, and another $500,000 on furnishings. Designed by Hastings and Carriere, which also did the New York Public Library and the Frick mansion in Manhattan, Alder Manor was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
The home was completed in 1912 for William Boyce Thompson, a copper magnate and Wall Street financier who founded the Newmont Mining Corporation, a multi-billion-dollar public company still traded today. Thompson, who died in 1930, was only 42 years old when the home was built.
Since Goren intends to take federal rehabilitation tax credits, the State Historic Preservation Office must approve the restoration work. The developer has already done some minor work – removing at least one wall put up by previous occupants — to return the floor plan to its original design.
The developer plans to rent the estate for photo shoots, movies, weddings, and other events. That’s how its previous owner, Tara Circle, an Irish fraternal organization, used it. The brotherhood was overseeing an electrical upgrade when I visited six years ago. Alder Manor has been the set for a Victoria’s Secret catalog, the movies Crocodile Dundee and A Beautiful Mind, and innumerable weddings.
In 1950, Thompson’s wife, Margaret Hickman, willed the home, its furnishings, and its art to the Archdioceses of New York, which for many years operated Elizabeth Seton College there. The sisters told the New York Times in 1986 that they would occasionally sell a “small” work of art from the house as they did restoration work.
During Thompson’s time, the home contained a wide variety of murals, chandeliers, stained glass, sculptures, and other art treasures. The family no doubt removed some furnishings and art before the building was willed to the Archdioceses. But many items remained until the church sold them at auction in October 1995. Later that year, the home was sold to the city of Yonkers, which sold it to Tara Circle in 1997.
Alder Manor sits on a precipice, 300 feet above the Hudson River. The Archdioceses in 1962 put an elementary school and dormitory on the site, interrupting views of the Hudson River. Goren plans to “partly demolish” the volunteer buildings to restore the view from the house and use the remaining level ground on the hillside for restaurant or event space.
The estate, set back 600 feet from the street, is approached from a curving driveway, flanked by shrubs and small trees, ending in a paved forecourt with a splendid stone balustrade. A brick terrace surrounds the 2-and-a-half story limestone home, with loggias on two sides. Remarkably, the north facade of the home incorporates a church facade from 16th-century Italy.
The river façade is equally impressive. The central design element is a Palladian arcade with arched recessed porch. It connects to a balustrade terrace that spans the back of the house. French doors in most of the public rooms open to the terrace.
The home makes a very strong first impression. A wrought iron front door leads to a baronial entrance hall, complete with a marble floor, marble columns, and a plaster ceiling designed by Hastings. The grand foyer meets Thompson’s direction for “space so you can move about with knocking against the other fellow.”
Most of the art the home once contained – with the exception of reliefs in walls, fireplaces, and other built-ins – is gone. When Elizabeth Seton operated out of the building, the front hall still contained large Italian Renaissance chests, paintings done in the Titian style (a color style popularized by Tiziano Vecellio, the greatest Venetian artist of the sixteenth century), and several Ming Dynasty vases, one measuring more than three feet in diameter.
The four major public rooms on the first floor contained English, French, and Florentine pieces, along with several glazed terracotta reliefs by Luca Della Robbia, a sculpture who worked in 15th-century Florence.
What’s most notable about these public rooms today is their dire need of restoration, especially the ceilings, each done in a different ornate style. The faded ceiling in the drawing room, for instance, is done in a rare English-style trompe-l’oeil. Though the floors, doors, and windows in the walnut-paneled room all need work, the bolection fireplace – complete with carved birds, flowers, and swags – is still in pretty good shape.
The highlight of the home may be its three-story marble staircase, located on the west side of the entrance hall. “The main stair has a carved iron and wood rail, and the walls feature pilasters, entablatures, and railings, all forming low colonnades at each level,” according to the historic register application.
From the ground floor, the pipes of a Welte Philharmonic Organ, arranged in the shape of a window frame, are visible at the top of the stairwell. The actual organ, which can be played with music scrolls, anchors the second floor landing. There are additional pipes in the basement.
The first room at the top of the stairs is an indoor pool with a tiled basin. Tara Circle began the restoration of this room, painting the ceilings and walls; ten years ago it was notable for the size of pealing paint chips. Unfortunately, a Tiffany-style stained glass window at the far end was either sold or vandalized.
The Archdiocese altered most of the home’s bathrooms, so that multiple students and staff could use them. That makes it difficult to fully grasp the configuration of the master bedroom suite. The Thompsons slept in separate bedrooms connected by an immense hallway closet system that remains intact. Gertrude’s suite included a sitting room with an imported fireplace.
The third story of the home was originally separated into two wings — one for children and guests, the other for servants. The Archdiocese renovated the floor for the nuns who lived there.
The basement, a great example of an early 20th-century industrialist man cave, needs a lot of work. Originally, there were a series of rooms – including one that housed Thompson’s gem collection and others for playing cards, bowling, and watching movies — down here done in an elegant Chinese style, some with brilliant ceilings designed after the Imperial Palace of Beijing. The Archdiocese used the rooms for a chapel, office space, and storage.
The house is surrounded by formal gardens with Roman artifacts and a reproduction of the theater of Diogenes, where outdoor plays and pageants were performed. Though the gardens, like the house, could use some love and attention, many of the structural elements, including statutes and reliefs, are still intact.