In case you need another reason to love New York City, this singular gem of a seven-unit apartment building perched on a wild cliff overlooking the Palisades where the Harlem River meets the mighty Hudson just hit the market. Built in 1924 as a co-operative by a super-literary lawyer/developer who also happened to be the first editor-in-chief of the Harvard Law Review, the Villa Rosa Bonheur at 2395 Palisade Avenue in Riverdale, the Bronx, is one of three; her sister buildings go by Villa Charlotte Brontë and Villa Victoria. Their creator, John J. McKelvey, was looking beyond the bottom line when he built what would be the first apartment buildings in the Bronx. Ms. Rosa is now on the market for a mere $2.595 million. There’s more: Her current owners are the family of the late “Beatlemania” creator Robert Rabinowitz.
This listing is definitely not one you see every day, even in historic Riverdale. McKelvey was, in his day, becoming horrified by the “city ugly” creeping steadily up the isle of Manhattan in search of developer gold. According to a story on the three buildings in the New York Times, the now-historic district of Spuyten Duyvil was at the turn of the 20th century the extreme southwestern tip of the Bronx and an isolated spot on a rocky cliff a hundred feet above the Hudson.
McKelvey had fallen in love with the sweeping views, and, with some equally smitten neighbors, began buying property in this remaining slice of heaven to keep the tacky towers of the day at bay. In addition to a handful of private homes, he built the Villa Rosa Bonheur at 2395 Palisade Avenue in about 1924. It consisted of seven co-op apartments within what appeared to be a huge country cottage with Harlem River views to the south.
Villa Charlotte Brontë circa 1998; Image: William Meyers, NYPL Digital Collection
Villa Charlotte Brontë; image courtesy of CityRealty
His more notable effort came two years later in the form of the 17-unit co-op Villa Charlotte Brontë, named for the “Jane Eyre” author and perched on a 65- or 70-degree slope with unobstructed views up and down the Hudson. Both were designed by Robert W. Gardner; the Brontë was comprised of two sections separated by a courtyard; individual apartments are connected by a web of walkways, freestanding stairs, stone arches and other details. On the next lot, McKelvey erected a third apartment house, called the Villa Victoria, in 1926.
The petite Villa Rosa Bonheur, named after a radical 19th-century French painter and characterized by its stone exterior and gabled copper rooftops is now on the market as an investment property consisting of seven distinct apartments with breathtaking views of the river. The apartments consist of two triplexes, three duplexes and two simplex units.
Given the building’s vintage and the fact that it isn’t exactly on the path of the average renovation-mad apartment flipper, we’re guessing the interiors need some updating, though they look like they’ve got plenty of charm and potential–especially given the fact that the entire 9,876 square-foot cliff-hanging river-cottage is asking less than the average two-family Park Slope townhouse.
The surrounding Spuyten Duyvil neighborhood is today a desirable and well-heeled residential enclave; the Villa Rosa Bonheur is located within steps of the Spuyten Duyvil Metro North train station.
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Images courtesy of Sothebys.