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Landmark Pelham Manor house on the market

By NOREEN SEEBACHER
FOR THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: June 18, 2005)

With its distinctive entry tower, mansard roof, and arched window tops, the house naturally attracts attention.

Even in Pelham Manor, where historic homes and unique architecture are typical and expected, the three-story house is nonetheless conspicuous.

It is one of the oldest houses in one of the first planned suburban developments outside New York City, meticulously restored to preserve the architectural details and grandeur from its construction in 1875.

Architectural experts describe it as an outstanding example of the Second Empire style, modeled after the opulent architecture of Paris during the reign of Napoleon III. Others are more likely to lump it under the general category of Victorian.

In the mid-1800s, when Napoleon established the Second Empire in France, Paris was transformed into a city of grand boulevards and monumental buildings.

Interest in mansard roofs — named for French architect FranCois Mansart in the 1600s — were revived. Steep and double-sloped, mansard roofs were characteristic of Italian and French Renaissance architecture, and were used for construction of the Louvre.

Second Empire architecture is tall and narrow, and usually includes dormer windows that project like eyebrows from the roof, rounded cornices at the top and base of roofs and brackets beneath eaves, balconies and bay windows

The style spread to England during the Paris Exhibitions of 1852 and 1867. From there, it migrated to the United States.

Second Empire architecture — along with Queen Anne, Eastlake and Stick style — were all popularized during the reign of Britain's Queen Victoria. While all of them are distinct, they fall nonetheless under the general category of Victorian.

The average person may not be able to identify the house on the Esplanade off Boston Post Road as Second Empire but would probably be able to define it correctly as a classic Victorian.

By any name, the house is a landmark everyone seems to know, and a surprising number instantly love.

The current owners, for example, decided to buy the historic home in 1992 before they even walked through the front door.

They weren't the first. Some 40 years earlier, the same thing happened to the previous owners.

Legend has it that the former owners first saw the house while they were walking down the street after dinner with friends.

"They supposedly took one look at the house, and vowed to return and buy it after they married," owner Pilar Souviron Bracero said.

Around 1950, Vincent and Mamie Flack did exactly that — and kept the house until they both passed away. Vincent Flack died in 1985, and his widow five years later.

By the time the Braceros saw it, the house had started to deteriorate. But the potential problems didn't dissuade them from making an offer. "The minute I saw it, I knew it was the house we wanted," recalled Luis Bracero.

It was the start of a long-term love affair. The Braceros are only reluctantly ending it now because of a work-related relocation. Luis Bracero, a physician, has taken a position as director of maternal-fetal medicine at Women & Children's Hospital in Charleston, W.Va.

His wife, a genetic counselor at Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center, and their three children, plan to join him in August.

Their house is on the market for $1.52 million with the Houlihan Lawrence office in Pelham.

"I have to start distancing myself," Pilar Bracero said. "I've worked my little fingers to the bone, and now it's time to start a new project. But I'm going to miss this house."

The 15-room house features a formal foyer with vaulted staircase, two parlors, a den, and a dining room and updated kitchen connected by an orangerie bay — a sort of interior greenhouse. There are seven bedrooms, plus a tower room, and three and 1/2 baths.

Listing agent Arthur Scinta describes it as "a museum quality restoration of one of Pelham Manor's most historic homes."

When the branch line of the New Haven and Hartford Railroad was completed in Pelham in 1873, a group of landowners formed the Pelham Manor and Huguenot Heights Association to develop the area near the train line.

At the time, the land was known as Prospect Hill Village, Town of Pelham. Once it was taken over by the Pelham Manor and Huguenot Heights Association, it was renamed Chestnut Grove.

Eventually, about 20 years later, the whole area would be renamed again — this time, as the Village of Pelham Manor.

The Pelham Manor and Huguenot Heights Association planned to develop a restricted village that would be entirely residential and free from business and factories. Original deeds filed with Westchester County specifically state the houses are strictly for residential use, and ban "dangerous, noxious, unwholesome or offensive" trades and businesses, including "the sale of beers or liquors" and any form of manufacturing.

The association, however, moved slowly. Its initial plans called for construction of only 17 structures, including the one now on the market on the Esplanade. Records show Tom DeWitt and his family may have originally occupied the house. Later, it housed Dr. Arthur C. McGiffert, a professor at Union Theological Seminary.

Over time, the house would change hands several more times. "It was vacant during the Depression," Pilar Bracero said.

In 1938, the house underwent a significant alteration. The upper portion of the front tower was removed, apparently because of damage. It was restored, however, in 1976 to "full glory," Scinta said, complete with a convex mansard, slate roof.

The Braceros said they have spent the past 12 years updating the house for a new century. "We updated the electrical and plumbing, and converted oil heat to gas," Pilar Bracero said.

The couple removed dropped ceilings, and restored original plaster, stripped paint from some of the woodwork, and renovated bathrooms with historically appropriate fixtures.

"It's been a labor of love," Pilar Bracero said. "But it has been worth it. The house, to me, is just majestic."