Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Notes on Architects Responsible for Structures in the Town of Pelham: Part I

There are, of course, thousands of residential and commercial structures located within the Town of Pelham. Many of those structures were designed by notable architects. Today's Blog posting will list a few of the architects and the structures they designed.

Three of the most famous and notable architects known to have designed structures located in the Town of Pelham are William Augustus Bates, Lewis Bowman and Electus D. Litchfield. So far, the only known example of work by Bates is 219 Pelhamdale although a number of other structures are suspected to be homes designed by Bates. To learn more about Bates and the home located at 219 Pelhamdale, see the May 10, 2005 posting to the Historic Pelham Blog entitled "Pelham's Only Known Example of a Home Designed by Master Architect William A. Bates".

The noted architect Charles Lewis Bowman is known to have designed numerous structures located in Pelham. To learn more about Lewis Bowman, as he was known, see Village of Bronxville, Prominent Village Architects: Charles Lewis Bowman (visited Nov. 21, 2005). Bowman is believed to be the architect of the following structures in Pelham:

Boulevard - 189 Boulevard
Country Club Lane - Addition to 127 Country Club Lane
Eastland Avenue - 261 Eastland Avenue
Elderwood Avenue - 216 Elderwood and 236 Elderwood Avenue
Monterey Avenue - 401 Monterey Avenue
Pelhamdale Avenue - 110 Pelhamdale and 244 Pelhamdale Avenue
Priory Lane - 4 Priory Lane

So far, noted architect Electus Darwin Litchfield is known as the architect of only one structure located in Pelham: 20 Beech Tree Lane in the Village of Pelham Manor.

Litchfield was a political force in New York City. For years he served as President of the powerful Municipal Arts Society. He designed many spectacular cooperative apartment buildings on Fifth Avenue and elsewhere on the upper east side of Manhattan. A number of his works are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places as specified more fully below.

Litchfield’s Early Years

Electus Darwin Litchfield was born in New York on April 25, 1872. See University of Minnesota University Libraries, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota – Title: Electus Litchfield Papers (visited Nov. 21, 2005) http://special.lib.umn.edu/findaid/html/mss/nwaa0062.html (brief biography of Litchfield). He graduated at the age of 17 from the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute in 1889. In 1892, he attended the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Litchfield reportedly worked for two years at one of the leading Beaux-Arts architectural firms, second only to McKim, Mead & White. The firm, Carrère & Hastings, was founded by John M. Carrère and Thomas Hastings and won the competition to design the New York Public Library.

Litchfield was a dashing young professional with society ties. As early as 1900 he served on the Floor Committee of the 41st annual Charity Ball attended by the cream of New York Society. See The Annual Charity Ball, N.Y. Times, Feb. 2, 1900, p. 7; Some Happenings in Good Society, N.Y. Times, Jan. 21, 1900, p. 17.

Litchfield became a partner in the architectural firm of Lord & Hewlett and remained a member of the firm from 1901 to 1908. That firm designed a number of well-known buildings including Brooklyn Masonic Temple (1909), Brooklyn Hospital (1920), St. John’s Hospital in today’s Long Island City and the Danbury, Connecticut Hospital. See id. See also Public Art in the Bronx – Lehman College Art Gallery The City University of New York, Biographies (visited Nov. 21, 2005) http://bronxart.lehman.cuny.edu/pa/biography.htm (scroll down to “James Monroe Hewlett”).

Litchfield Marries Elizabeth Rodman and Becomes Partner of Firm

While with Lord & Hewlett, the young architect became engaged to Miss Elizabeth Burnham Rodman, daughter of Mrs. Thomas Hardy Rodman, Jr. of New York. See What Is Doing In Society, N.Y. Times, Jul. 13, 1906, p. 9; Society at Home and Abroad, N.Y. Times, Sep. 23, 1906, p. SM10; Berkshire Hunt Meet, N.Y. Times, Sep. 26, 1906, p. 9 (paragraphs near end of article). The couple married on October 6, 1906 at St. Paul’s Church in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Married, N.Y. Times, Oct. 7, 1906, p. 9. Rev. Arthur Lawrence, D. D., performed the ceremony. Id.

Even as a young architect, Litchfield showed a knack for attracting media attention with interesting and creative ideas – a talent that would serve him well for the rest of his career. For example, Litchfield attracted attention with a plan to beautify the Williamsburg plaza of the Williamsburg Bridge by erecting aerial gardens over the plaza. According to a news report in The New York Times, Mr. Litchfield had been requested by Commissioner Stevenson to design a passenger shelter for the plaza “but had gone further than he had been directed”. Plan For Aerial Gardens, N.Y. Times, May 7, 1906, p. 18.

In 1908, Litchfield became a partner in the firm of Tracy, Swartout & Litchfield, where he remained for five years until 1913. University of Minnesota University Libraries, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota – Title: Electus Litchfield Papers (visited Nov. 21, 2005) http://special.lib.umn.edu/findaid/html/mss/nwaa0062.html (brief biography of Litchfield). That firm is known for designing such buildings as the Byron White United States Courthouse in Denver, Colorado (1916). U.S. General Services Administration, Historic Preservation: Region 8 Rocky Mountain Region http://rmrpbs.gsa.gov/historicpreservation/linkpages/denver.htm (visited Nov. 21, 2005).

At about the time he became a member of Tracy, Swartout & Litchfield, Electus Litchfield seemed to make an effort to raise his visibility in New York City. An example is a letter to the editor that he wrote and that was published in the August 13, 1908 issue of The New York Times. In it he urged the New York City Code Commission to consider regulating population per lot in connection with the construction of skyscrapers so as not to overtax local transit facilities. Skyscrapers Overpeopled – Population Per Lot Must Be Gauged to Traffic Facilities, N.Y. Times, Aug. 13, 1908, p. 6. Another example involves speaking engagements such as his presentation to the Municipal Club on October 20, 1908 regarding “A City Plan” based on a report prepared by the City Improvement Commission by New York City Mayor McClellan. Tell How To Make The City Beautiful, N.Y. Times, Oct. 21, 1908, p. 4.

Litchfield Leaves His Firm and Gains National Prominence

In 1913, Litchfield left Tracy, Swartout & Litchfield and set up his own architectural practice. He practiced in this fashion until 1919 when he established the firm Electus D. Litchfield & Rogers. University of Minnesota University Libraries, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota – Title: Electus Litchfield Papers (visited Nov. 21, 20052) http://special.lib.umn.edu/findaid/html/mss/nwaa0062.html (brief biography of Litchfield). At about the time he left Tracy, Swartout & Litchfield, he seemed, once again to raise his profile in the New York City architectural world. He was elected as a delegate of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects to attend the 47th annual convention of the AIA in early December 1913. Architects To Meet, N.Y. Times, Nov. 30, 1913, p. XXI.

By 1918, Litchfield had risen to such prominence that he was provided “an opportunity no other architect ever had” as he once described it. He was instructed with the job of designing an entire town as quickly as possible – Yorkship Village, near Camden, New Jersey. (For more about Litchfield’s design of Yorkship Village – now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and known as Fairview in Camden, New Jersey – see the section below entitled “Architectural Designs of Electus D. Litchfield”). Yorkship Village, it seems, was Electus Litchfield’s “big break” – it made him a successful and wealthy architect of national renown.

In 1926, Litchfield seems to have returned to solo practice. Throughout his career he was a major force in shaping New York City. Indeed, he served as President of the Municipal Art Society (“MAS”) for a number of years. He died in New York on November 27, 1952.

Architectural Designs of Electus D. Litchfield

Electus Litchfield designed numerous grand buildings and notable monuments, a number of which are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Yorkship Village - He designed and planned Yorkship Village (now known as Fairview in Camden, New Jersey). Yorkship Village was an industrial town built during World War I to house persons affiliated with the Emergency Fleet Corporation, New York Shipbuilding Company. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. He designed the town to house workers employed by New York Shipbuilding Corporation as they built the ships necessary for the United States to fight in World War I. The name of the town is formed from the company’s name. According to one report, even before Yorkship was completed, Litchfield and his assistants, in the course of their work, “turned out tow and a half tons of blueprints!" Model Towns for Uncle Sam’s Shipworkers, N.Y. Times, Jul. 14, 1918, p. 55. In a published interview, while work to build Yorkship was underway, Litchfield said:

“It isn’t only houses that we must think of – hand in hand with the actual building work goes the construction of suitable streets, roads and sewers. At present we have 3,500 workmen on the job. Already more than 400 dwellings are built and the number is increasing by twenty to thirty a day.

Yorkship will be laid out on a plan providing for broad streets and boulevards. The streets will all be named after American naval heroes or ships famous in our naval annals – there will be a Paul Jones Street, a Constitution Stree, an Albemarle Square. When completed the place will house 10,000 shipworkers.

Don’t forget that Yorkship will not be just a lot of workers’ homes. It will be a real town. I have already mentioned how we are making provision for churches; in addition to that branch of our work, we are now arranging for a police force, with suitable accommodations, a well-housed Fire Department, a Red Cross station, moving-picture theatres, and other things that go to make up a well-regulated town. The workmen who live in Yorkship will have a real share in the happiness that comes from accomplishment.” Id.

United Sates Post Office, Courthouse and Custom House in Albany - He designed the United States Post Office, Courthouse and Custom House in Albany, New York. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Astoria Column - Other of his works listed in the National Register of Historic Places include the Astoria Column in Astoria, Oregon built as a tribute to the pioneering spirit that populated the western United States and the Franklin Pierce Tate House, a private residence in Morganton, North Carolina.

There are a number of other such works for which Litchfield was responsible that appear on the National Register of Historic Places.

Litchfield was prolific. Besides his works listed above, he also designed notable public buildings in Denver, Colorado (the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse) and in St. Paul, Minnesota (the St. Paul Central Library and James J. Hill Reference Library. He designed a number of buildings in New York City including 79 East 79th Street and 381 Park Avenue (since demolished), as well as the City Club, 800 Park Avenue and the Brooklyn Masonic Temple. He designed other monuments found in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota for the Great Northern Railroad.

Tomorrow's Blog Posting will list additional architects who designed structures located in the Town of Pelham.

Please Visit the Historic Pelham Web Site
Located at
Please Click Here for Index to All Blog Postings.


Post a Comment

<< Home