Ann Cefola never met her grandfather, but she knew his work. She’d think of him when trotting down village streets and seeing the small medieval revival cottages, grand Tudor revival houses and large colonial revival homes dotting the landscape. Whenever she entered the village’s downtown, she was greeted by 1 Chase Road and was enamored with its gleaming slate gables and timbered stucco — the cornerstone of the village’s Tudor-style theme.
“Where did he get the inspiration for that?” she would think to herself. “Was it a trip to Europe?”
It was always so mysterious and wonderful to her, living her own personal history through Scarsdale’s streets. Almost century-year-old structures still standing, with her grandfather’s mark still on them. All were designed by him. It was all that was left of him.
During the summer, Cefola, who has lived in Scarsdale for most of her life, decided to Google her grandfather’s name. She always liked to search, just to see when new information would pop up about him. But this time she came across something she didn’t want to see. Someone had put in an application to raze a house on 11 Dolma Road, a 3,391-square-foot L-shaped brick French farmhouse. The house had been designed by her grandfather.
“Steam started coming out of my ears,” said Cefola, who immediately picked up the phone to speak with Frank Diodati, Scarsdale’s building inspector. Diodati informed her that the demolition application was going to be revisited in September and that she would have the opportunity to speak to the board prior to a vote.
“I knew I had to get working,” she said. “So, I really spent the entire summer researching.”
Almost three months after the initial hearing, the Committee for Historic Preservation voted 5-2 to deny the applicant’s petition to demolish, a major win for architectural preservationists in the village.
Julius Gregory, Cefola’s grandfather, was one of the leading architects of suburban homes in the metropolitan New York area throughout the 1920s. A prominent designer with a wide range of specialties — from English cottage style to Tudor revival — his work can still be seen all across Scarsdale, including his own medieval French style house at 3 Church Lane, dubbed “The Gregory House,” which he lived in for about a decade.
Dolma Road, a short street lined with exclusive houses on large lots, was originally conceptualized by Walter J. Collet, a leading Scarsdale builder throughout the 1920s and 1930s who was known for founding the Collet Construction Corp. According to Jonathan Lerner, a member of the Committee for Historic Preservation, Collet was responsible “for building half of Scarsdale,” including multiple residential homes, the municipal garage, banks and the Weaver Street Bridge.
Almost half of the houses on Dolma Road were designed by Eugene Lang, and life insurance dealers, publishers, tobacco merchants, Wall Street brokers and one noted epidemiologist lived on the block.
William Wallace Lyon, a financier, purchased the lot at 11 Dolma Road in 1927 and a building permit was issued in January 1928.
Andrew Dolkart, a professor of historic preservation at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation who was contracted by the village in 2012 to create a survey report on the village’s architectural history, said 11 Dolma Road was “one of the finest houses of the type in Scarsdale” with its “polygonal corner tower and an entrance set beneath a shed hood, a sophisticated rendition of vernacular rural French design.”
Since the house was built, it changed hands four times until it went on the market in 2019 and sold for $7.8 million to local residents Sarah and Steven Binetter. The pair also purchased the sports house on 100 Mamaroneck Road, which is adjacent to the property and on a separate tax lot.
According to a listing on Estately, the almost 5 acres of property includes a pool and pool house, tennis court, half-court basketball court, a gym, a lower level media room with theater seating and a putting green.
At the first meeting with the Committee for Historic Preservation on June 30, Steven Binetter, who has lived in Scarsdale for almost five years and currently lives on Stonewall Lane, said his family bought 11 Dolma Road to live there for decades.
“I have absolutely no intention to submit for a development along the lines of a commercial application to make a buck,” said Binetter.
The Binetters haven’t moved into the house since it was bought in 2019 because the rear of the house had significantly deteriorating steps and their oldest son was not able to navigate them due to a condition.
“The house as it’s currently configured and built is completely unsuitable and unfortunately because of our son’s development and our greater appreciation after spending some more time there, that’s what leads us to that conclusion,” said Binetter.
Binetter said the family had no plans to demolish the house at 100 Mamaroneck Road.
When the applicants decided to submit a demolition application in June, they retained White Plains law firm Cuddy and Feder to argue for the house’s demolition, noting that the house did not meet the qualifications for preservation set out in the village code.
According to the village’s code on historic preservation, in order to demolish a house an applicant must prove the building is not associated with events that made a significant contribution to broad patterns of village, regional, state or national history, that the building is not associated with the life of a person or persons of historical significance, that the building is not the work of a master, that the building doesn’t embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction that possess high artistic value and that the building has not yielded or may be likely to yield information important in prehistory or history.
To assist in the committee’s decision, Committee Chairman Adam Lindenbaum said the group had requested an expert opinion from Dolkart on the application. Lindenbaum told the Inquirer that Dolkart sent a four-page opinion shortly before the June 30 committee meeting and another nine-page letter in mid-September where he opined that Gregory was a master and that the house was worthy of preservation under village code.
Lawrence Graham, an attorney with Cuddy and Feder, had Dr. Emily Cooperman, a senior architectural historian with PS&S, a New Jersey-based architecture and engineering firm, present at the meetings to argue that the house on 11 Dolma Road had been altered so much that it had lost its integrity of design, that Gregory was not considered a master architect and that the house didn’t possess details necessary to elevate its artistic value to “high.”
Graham didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.
According to Cooperman, the house received its first alterations in 1941 and 1946, with the vast majority of changes coming between 1995 and 2004.
The alterations included an added and altered dormer with an addition to the northern wing of the house, the relocation of the main doors and replacement of side and door lights on the western wing, and a substantial addition on the back of the house, with replaced windows and doors.
“In my opinion, it’s lost integrity of design because it no longer has its historic volumetric organization,” said Cooperman. “Which I think is substantially important.”
Cooperman said from her research she believed that Gregory was “a very competent architect” but did not rise to the level of master, despite being recognized by the press for his architectural skill.
“It’s not that he wasn’t recognized, not that he wasn’t competent, not that he didn’t create pleasant buildings, but that he does not rise to the level of greatness,” said Cooperman.
She followed up with the argument that if members of the committee did in fact consider Gregory to be a master, then they also needed to decide what Gregory was a master of.
Cooperman said that with a few exceptions, Gregory was recognized for his small, compact houses, not large expansive manor houses, such as the one on Dolma Road.
“If you’re going to say that he’s a master, then you have to be careful about understanding what he was a master of or defining of what he was a master of,” she said.
According to village code, a master is defined as a figure who is generally recognized for their greatness in a field, a known craftsman of consummate skill, or an anonymous craftsman whose work is distinguishable from others by its characteristic style and quality.
Mark Behr, a member of the committee, said Gregory was considered Scarsdale’s master, because his buildings could be seen across the village.
“I don’t think that we should be classifying architects as masters of one style or another style,” said Behr. “Some architects get into niche design … but as an architect I don’t like to say I only focus on one style of design.”
Committee member Lerner said that having Gregory be designated only a master in one type of design was “the wrong argument.”
“If you’re saying he only did small houses then the large house would be even rarer,” said Lerner.
Cooperman said that although the house included many period details, the house, in her opinion, didn’t rise to a high aesthetic level.
“This building is not exceptional. It’s nice, I’m not saying it’s not nice, but it is not exceptional,” she said.
In a comparison to another one of Gregory’s houses at 53 Old Orchard Lane, Cooperman said the richness of details in the Old Orchard house didn’t compare to craftsmanship in the Dolma house.
“It’s got a much more interesting plan with much more of a sense of movement,” she said of the Old Orchard Lane house. “There’s a flatness and an awkwardness to the form of 11 Dolma that I don’t think rises to criterion 4.”
When Cefola first saw the meeting, she was offended by the characterization that her grandfather wasn’t a master. She started researching her grandfather in depth to find out how to combat the narrative.
“Any slight on the patriarch reflects on us, on our family,” she said.
Her family had never been braggadocious, so she never learned much about her grandfather, other than the fact that he was a well-known architect. With all the information she compiled a 47-page essay arguing that Gregory was an architectural master, that 11 Dolma Road had won instant recognition when it was built and that the first application submitted from the applicant included factual errors that impugned Gregory.
Cefola listed several buildings designed by her grandfather which helped him rise to the status of master, including the Grand Central School of Art, 1 Chase Road in Scarsdale and houses in Fieldstone, Purchase, Ossining and Dobbs Ferry.
Cefola described her research as a personal journey. Learning about her family history and all the connections her grandfather had made in the industry was rewarding.
“My whole journey this summer of architectural research was fascinating and really thrilling,” she said. “In the end I was really grateful for discovering the [demolition] case.”
After the votes were cast and Cefola found out the house wasn’t going to be demolished, she said she felt “like a million bucks.” Her nerves had finally dissipated. But although this house had been preserved, many others on the docket had been approved for demolition.
Houses from the 1910s, 1920s, 1930s and 1950s, with unknown architects all meeting the fate of a bulldozer.
Cefola said she was discouraged by the demolitions and recommended that the village create a database of architects for people to research and find out the people who designed their own houses.
“I don’t know that I can do anything except tell people the fascinating narrative of my grandfather,” she said. “Maybe that will inspire them to research their own architects.”