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Remembering the Hotel Gramatan PDF Print Email

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Gramatan Tower, 2019. Photo by N. Bower     

By Marilynn Hill, Lifetime Co-Chair, The Bronxville Historical Conservancy     


Mar. 13, 2019:  “If ever there were a Bronxville landmark, the Hotel Gramatan is it. For who comes to our community and fails to see it sitting high and proud on a rocky hill overlooking the village? And what resident has not had the secure sensation of being ‘home’ as he steps off the train and feels it hovering over him?”

These remarks, written by a Bronxville historian shortly before the 1972 demise of the Hotel Gramatan, capture the sentiment of villagers both then and now regarding the place held by that grand hostelry in the minds and hearts of local residents. Today, mention the hotel to almost anyone who lived in the village before the 1970s, and the name immediately elicits a personal memory associated with the landmark.

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Gramatan Tower, March 2019.

Built in 1905 by William van Duzer Lawrence, the large Spanish Mission-style building with its arches, creamy stucco exterior, and red-tile roofs exuded grandeur in both size and luxury. Designed to incorporate three significant architectural elements, the hotel at the top of the hill visually cascaded to the Gramatan Arcade of shops below, and these two structures were connected by the stately Gramatan Tower, which housed an elevator for guests to descend to the street or train. 

With 300 guest rooms, a grand ballroom, three dining rooms, a 125-carriage stable, and piazzas, or porches, on all sides, the resort hotel attracted a national and international clientele. Some of its more well-known guests included Theodore Roosevelt, Mrs. Jefferson Davis, the Barrymores, Greta Garbo, Gloria Swanson, Theodore Dreiser, and Eleanor Roosevelt, to name a few.


Hotel Gramatan, circa 1920s.

But more important and enduring for village citizenry was the hotel’s role as a local social center. Wedding, birthday, and graduation celebrations; service organization meetings; family dining excursions; and adult balls and youth dance classes were all held at the hotel. Most notable among the latter was Miss Covington‘s weekly dance class attended by, among others (and much to his distress), the young, shy John F. Kennedy. 

The Hotel Gramatan was also a part of a cluster of buildings that made up Bronxville’s early civic, service, and commercial center. Guests at the hotel had easy access to the new village hall, library, police department, bank, train station, and hospital, where they met and mingled with local residents.

By the end of the 1930s, however, the great depression of the previous decade had dimmed the grandeur of the hotel, and gradually, the glamorous guests were replaced by less well-off pensioners. (Some years later, with stealth, mischievousness, and a bit of irony, a group of teenagers climbed the scaffolding atop the hotel to the large illuminated marquee and removed enough light bulbs to beam out across the community the words “Hot Grama.”)

By the 1960s, in spite of the fact that the exterior still projected grandeur, the hotel had fallen into disrepair and needed renovation. Minimal work was done on the hotel building, but the repair needed on the Gramatan Tower required simplifying and reworking the roof and replacing the mission arches with a flat, more neutral-style ridge design. However, the original slim profile of the sentinel tower continued to blend with the arcade and hotel architecture of the past, as it would with the Gramatan Court townhouses that eventually replaced the hotel. (Later, in the 1990s, because of further deterioration that threatened the safety of the elevator and passengers, additional restoration was required on the tower’s upper walls and roof.)

Although villagers knew well that the hotel had seen better times, the 1972 Lawrence family decision to tear down the magnificent building still came as a shock. Its total destruction took a mere two days; villagers’ adjustment to the barren hilltop took many months. A building so deeply embedded in community history, however, is also deeply embedded in communal memory, and the sight of the Gramatan Arcade and the Gramatan Tower extending toward the hilltop can still easily conjure up memories and that “secure sensation of being ‘home’” – of being part of a community  that our early historian invariably felt when in the shadow of the old Hotel Gramatan hillside.

Hotel Gramatan property after demolition; all that stands is the Gramatan Tower, circa 1970s.

Gramatan Tower with new Gramatan Court townhouses, circa 1990s.

Author's note: The sources for this article are articles written by Hill, Marcia Lee, and Ann English in volumes 1, 3, and 4 of  The Bronxville Journal, published by The Bronxville Historical Conservancy, and the conservancy's book Building A Suburban Village: Bronxville, New York, 1898-1998, edited by Eloise Morgan. The quotation at the beginning of the article is from the book Bronxville in the Good Ol’ Days by Anita Inman Comstock. The last three photographs were provided courtesy of the Bronxville History Center.  

Editor's note: As a public service, MyhometownBronxville publishes articles from local institutions, officeholders, and individuals. MyhometownBronxville does not fact-check statements therein, and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily reflect the thinking of its staff. 

 
Huge Fire Tuesday, March 12, in Building at Border of Bronxville and Yonkers PDF Print Email

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By Staff


Mar. 13, 2019: Smoke blanketed the west side of downtown Bronxville on Tuesday, March 12, from a large fire at 15 Parkview Avenue, which is a six-story apartment building at the border of Bronxville and Yonkers. There was an odor of smoke throughout Bronxville.  

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View looking down Palmer Road toward Parkview.

Streets near the blaze were blocked off, and as of 8:20 pm, smoke could be seen billowing from the top of the building as firefighters battled the blaze. No information was available about how the fire started.  

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View from Pondfield Road West looking toward Parkview, where smoke billows out from the building.

As of this writing at 11:15 pm on Tuesday, March 12, helicopters are still circling the skies in Bronxville.

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Smoke-filled streets on the west side of Bronxville at around 8:00 pm.

15 Parkview the morning after the fire

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15 Parkview the morning after the fire

15 Parkview and nearby building with fire escape the morning after the fire


Photos taken at night of the fire by E. Clifford


Photos taken the morning after the fire by N. Bower

 
False Alarm About Armed Intruder at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital PDF Print Email

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By Staff


Mar. 13, 2019:  According to Bronxville Chief of Police Christopher Satriale, at approximately 9:04 pm on Sunday, March 10, the Bronxville Police Department received a call from the nursing supervisor at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital indicating that she had received a call from two patients on the sixth floor who said they had seen a gentleman on the floor approaching the elevators with a shotgun. 

Bronxville Police responded along with other local police from Tuckahoe, Eastchester, and Yonkers. The police interviewed the callers and the hospital staff and conducted multiple searches of the hospital. They did not find a person in the building with a gun. Police also reviewed video footage of the sixth floor and did not see a person with a gun in the footage. No shots were fired. According to Chief Satriale, “This was not a malicious call,” and the women “truly believe they saw a man with a weapon.”

In recounting the events at the hospital at the Monday Bronxville Village Board of Trustees meeting, Chief Satriale said that in a situation like this where it can be chaotic and there is limited and conflicting information, the best thing to do is to “shelter in place” until you hear more news. 

Satriale also acknowledged the “tremendous response” from other local police departments and was pleased with the efforts of the Bronxville Police Department. 

Satriale and his team will be conducting a review of the incident with the staff of the hospital and will recommend safety improvements.

Pictured here: NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital.

Photo by A. Warner

 
Renaissance in Tuckahoe: New Apartments, Restaurants, Hotel, and More PDF Print Email

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By Susan Miele


Mar. 13, 2019:  Sandwiched between Bronxville and Scarsdale—both ranking high on Forbes magazine’s list of the wealthiest zip codes in the country—Tuckahoe is a diamond in the rough. Like Bronxville, Tuckahoe is a village within the town of Eastchester; both occupy about one square mile and lie along the Harlem line of the Metro-North railroad. But Tuckahoe’s previous lack of development left the village out of the limelight. Now, opportunists are taking note.

While Tuckahoe’s transformation began some 15 to 20 years ago, its growth in the past five years has been substantial. Several high-end apartment complexes have been built—most recently, 100 Main Street and The Quarry—and even studio apartments have been readily snatched. Tuckahoe Mayor Steve Ecklond reported that this housing expansion has been attracting downsizers from Bronxville and Eastchester, as well as those migrating from Brooklyn and Manhattan, whose customary reliance on public transportation makes downtown Tuckahoe an easy switch.

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100 Main in Tuckahoe.

Slated to open this year is a Marriott SpringHill Suites, which will offer 153 guest rooms and amenities that include a small swimming pool, street-level parking, and a stand-alone restaurant. While the Marriott has been tight-lipped about the third-party operator of the restaurant, Mayor Ecklond reiterated the village’s ban on fast-food establishments. Adding to that, he urged the hotel’s development team to avoid pizza. “We have 11 pizzerias,” he noted.

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Marriott SpringHill Suites under construction.

There are two train stations that serve residents of Tuckahoe, the Tuckahoe station and the Crestwood station, on either side of the village. The MTA has recently elected to renovate the Crestwood train station, committing approximately $30 million to the project, according to Ecklond. The project is intended to improve the station’s aesthetics, including walkways, entrances, platforms, and foliage. Ecklond characterized the scope as “a complete overhaul.”

While the rate of business turnover in Tuckahoe appears unremarkable, the number of vacancies has been kept low. The current mix is reflective of both the village’s forward-looking development—such as the recent opening of Orange Theory Fitness—and the needs of its diverse population, including a bodega and a laundromat. Ecklond reported that a new high-end restaurant is heading to Main Street. The Generoso Pope Foundation, a private philanthropic foundation that funds education, health, cultural, human service, and civic organizations, also remains a prominent mainstay.

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Orange Theory Fitness.

Beyond commercial development, Tuckahoe has recently experienced a boost from the Eastchester-Tuckahoe Chamber of Commerce, whose new leadership—co-presidents Karina Wyllie of Koala Park Daycare and Juan Gonzalez of I Train With Juan—has infused a new vigor into the chamber’s activities with the creation of community events held in 2018 and a heightened presence on social media.

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Main Street, Tuckahoe.

Ecklond, who recently announced his decision not to seek re-election after twelve years in office, admits to a bittersweet sentiment about stepping aside but feels upbeat about the state of Tuckahoe’s affairs. The Ecklond family roots run deep; his son is a fifth-generation Ecklond being raised in the same house.

Upon running for office over a decade ago, Ecklond learned that his great-grandfather, Charles Ecklond, had also served as Tuckahoe mayor around the turn of the century. Whereas Charles Ecklond oversaw the electrification of Tuckahoe, Steve Ecklond oversaw the submergence of electrical wiring underground as part of the streetscape development plan.

Pictured at top: Steve Ecklond, mayor of Tuckahoe.

Photos by N. Bower



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From the Mayor: Conserving and Enhancing Bronxville's Natural Environment PDF Print Email

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By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville


Mar. 13, 2019:  Mayor Nancy Hand, my mentor, guiding light, and dear friend, noticed that in my comprehensive plan summation in last week’s column, I glossed over one of the most important aspects of the village – our historic natural landscapes as nature has greatly influenced village life and even our material culture. 

As Marilynn Wood Hill wrote in the introduction to The Bronxvlile Historical Conservancy’s latest publication, Defining the Landscapes of Bronxville, “It is the close interrelationship of natural and man-made environments that has given identity to this special place of Bronxville, and we need to exercise a greater stewardship in preserving the whole so that what we leave for future generations will not only be a place to live, but also a place to love.”

The Conservancy publication investigates first the natural features that have determined the character of the current landscape within the village – subsurface geology, hydrology, slopes, soils, and vegetation.

As example, the village has four distinct landscape types: the valley and the village center, the hilltop, the hillside, and the plateau – all of which are very distinct. As a direct result of the sloping land, the hilltop and the hillside are characterized by winding streets to accommodate the change in grade and exposed rock outcrops.

In contrast, in the plateau landscape, where the topography is relatively flat, the street arrangement is more grid-like and homes situated with respect to each other.

Only by understanding the underlay of the village can we develop strategies to conserve and enhance our surrounding environment. As illustration, with regard to vegetation, the Village of Bronxville was originally native woodland and houses were built under a canopy of deciduous trees. Many of these trees have been lost and replaced with ornamental trees, which do not restore the canopy.

Our flooding issues are the direct result of the soil type, ten varieties of which are in the village. Most of Bronxville’s soils are well drained, fine, sandy loam, but soils near the Bronx River are poorly drained because of the high salt content and the high water table.

Other areas of poor drainage include sections along Midland Avenue, the eastern section of Concordia College property, and the area near The Bronxville School.

Early on, these three poorly draining areas most probably were wet meadows or places where ponds formed with spring snowmelt. The name “Pondfield Road” supports this theory.

In contrast, if everyone in Bronxville decided to stop mowing lawns, the land would ultimately revert to forest. Abundant rainfall, temperate climate, fecund soils, and ample growing season assure this inevitability.

What we have to plan for is the proper balance between lawns and a tree canopy. This is particularly important, as the village’s one square mile – 640 acres – contains only a total of 70 acres of parkland. Questions to be asked – do we want more open space, do we need more, and, if so, how do we convert into public ownership?

If we as a community were to reduce the areas of open lawn and replace portions with native ground cover and trees, our soil would be significantly more pervious. The replanting of native canopy trees when one is lost or taken down would help preserve our original natural character.

As an added sustainable bonus, one large hardwood canopy tree can provide one day’s supply of oxygen for four people. Placing no-mow grasses, which are also more pervious, could be used at the edges of fields and in other areas where mowed lawns are not essential. Less lawn area also calls for less irrigation, which would help to reduce the overall runoff, as well. This practice is most important in flood-prone neighborhoods.

Bottom line, planting expansive lawns, raking and blowing leaves, and removing organic matter in the spring and fall are antithetical to nature and the original landscape blueprint of our village.

So as we make changes to land use laws, parking configurations, and permit requirements, the “underlay” of the village must be an integral part of our decision-making as we strive to maintain an authentic, sustainable village.

Note:  Most of the above material was sourced from The Bronxville Historical Conservancy’s, Defining the Landscape of Bronxville, co-authored by Mayor Nancy Hand and architect Peter Gisolfi. This publication now serves as the bible for municipal plantings and can be purchased at the village hall front desk and Womrath Bookshop for $30. 

Editor's note: As a public service, MyhometownBronxville publishes articles from local institutions, officeholders, and individuals. MyhometownBronxville does not fact-check statements therein, and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily reflect the thinking of its staff. 
 
 
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