Friday, July 22, 2011

Bloomberg's grand new house

Empire State Building from 28th Street and 6th Avenue. 2:10 PM. Photo: JH.
Friday, July 22, 2011. Heat Wave. Last night around midnight it was 90 degrees (Real Feel according to AccuWeather: 96) with a warm breeze blowing.

Perfect News for the end of the week (in other words, nothing earth-shattering, dangerous, threatening or bizarre): Mayor Bloomberg is reported to have bought himself an estate in Southampton called Ballyshear for a reported price of $20 million – a drop in the bucket for him maybe – but something palatial in the traditional sense.

Charles B. Macdonald.
While the media has broadcast the news with the statistics and details of the quite grand house (22,000 square feet, swimming pool, formal gardens, stables), there’s another element that may have been what really attracted our mayor to this property. It’s almost as if the builder’s legacy has been awaiting him.

Ballyshear was completed in 1913, designed by architect Burrell Hoffman for a Wall Street tycoon named Charles B. Macdonald. The son of a Scottish immigrant and a Canadian who was part Indian and brought up in Chicago, Mr. Macdonald took the name of the place from an estate owned by an ancestor in Scotland.

Mr. Macdonald was famous in his world at the time he built Ballyshear. He had also founded the National Golf Links which the property overlooks. Macdonald was a championship amateur golfer, widely written about and widely known in the sport as a champion golfer as well as the designer of major courses.

He was intensely involved in the design and development of other golf courses including Piping Rock, the Greenbrier, and the Mid Ocean Club in Bermuda which Mr. Bloomberg has played at. Legend has it that Mid Ocean was built because of Prohibition in the United States.

Macdonald was one of the forces behind the founding of the Chicago Golf Club, another course he had a hand in designing, and the first course (9 holes) west of the Alleghenies. At that course (the second one, an 18 hole course) he had a plus 4 handicap. He also was one of the founders of The Links, buying the land on East 63rd Street on which the clubhouse sits today.
Betty Landreth Lebenthal, Jim Lebenthal
First and second (top) floor plans for Ballyshear. The three rooms on the left end are the two masters and the boudoir.
Betty Landreth Lebenthal, Jim Lebenthal
The front elevation of Ballyshear built in 1913 for Charles Blair Macdonald and Frances Porter Macdonald in Southampon, New York.
Betty Landreth Lebenthal, Jim Lebenthal
The rear elevation of the recently completed house.
Betty Landreth Lebenthal, Jim Lebenthal
a contemporary view of the rear elevation.
Born in 1856, Mr. Macdonald's relationship to golf started when he went away to school in St. Andrews, Scotland as a young man. While there he learned golf and became quite good. When he returned home to Chicago, he got a job in the commodity market.

By that time in his life, he had a well known reputation in the stock market as “one of the most active operators on the floor of the (NY) Stock Exchange.” This was in the late 1890s and early 1900s. The New York Times reported that he “got his speculative training, like a lot of other Western traders, in the wheat pit at Chicago. He was perhaps the most rapid trader the wheat pit ever produced. In an active market he could turn a million bushels without letting the crowd know his position .... Traders who watch him are never sure which side of the market he is on. He swings a big line of stocks.”
Betty Landreth Lebenthal, Jim Lebenthal
The central hall at the entrance.
Betty Landreth Lebenthal, Jim Lebenthal
The original living room.
Betty Landreth Lebenthal, Jim Lebenthal
The living room in contemporary times.
When he left Chicago to come to Wall Street, Macdonald joined C. Barney & Company (later Smith-Barney). His first 17 years working as a trader in commodities and then the stock market, he never played golf. When he began again, he pursued it intensely and regained his championship skills. From then on, he was a mover in American Golf, as well as one of the founders of the USGA.

Today, the National Golf Links are considered the “ultimate living example of CB Macdonald’s architecture.”

Macdonald was an energetic man who after making his fortune, continued to pursue his other interests with passion. He built Ballyshear, his castle on a golf course by the sea, when he was in his late 50s and died in his early 80s in 1939. Although he made his fortune on Wall Street, like Mayor Bloomberg, he made his name in an entirely different profession, in his case as a major designer of American golf courses. And as we know, Mr. Bloomberg is an avid golfer. Someone who knew Macdonald well remarked that “if he hadn’t been such a distinguished looking, financially solid citizen, he might have been referred to as bull-headed. As it was, he was respectfully termed opinionated.”
Betty Landreth Lebenthal, Jim Lebenthal
The library.
Betty Landreth Lebenthal, Jim Lebenthal
The dining room.
Betty Landreth Lebenthal, Jim Lebenthal
The sunroom.
When Charles Macdonald built Ballyshear he had a strong hand in the design of the property. There were 200 acres (the property Mayor Bloomberg bought covers 35 acres) overlooking the Peconic Bay and the National. Gary Lawrance and Anne Surchin write in their beautiful book Houses of the Hamptons, 1880 – 1930, (Acanthus publishers):

“In this beautiful setting Macdonald placed Ballyshear against a backdrop of protected woods and farmland. The gentle, winding, half-mile-long approach (to the house), laid out by Seth Raynor (Macdonald’s partner in design and building courses), recalls the English countryside in its tree plantings, rolling lawns, grazing horses and glimpses of a pond and the grand Georgian Colonial mansion in the distance."
Betty Landreth Lebenthal, Jim Lebenthal
The gardens designed by landscape architect Annette Hoyt Flanders and the original garden designer, Rose Standish Nichols.
Betty Landreth Lebenthal, Jim Lebenthal
The garden looking south from the terrace.
Betty Landreth Lebenthal, Jim Lebenthal
Another view of the garden from the terrace.
According to Lawrance and Surchin, the most recent owners of Ballyshear for the past two decades, had maintained the property in the tradition established by Charles Macdonald. It sounds like Macdonald’s vibes are still present, awaiting the house’s new owner and his family.

The Houses of the Hamptons, 1880 - 1930 by Lawrance and Surchin published by Acanthus Press is a beautiful photo driven history of what the authors call "The Architecture of Leisure." NYSD covered the book when it was published four years ago, in our HOUSE section. We are re-publishing the piece this week to give you a taste of delicious architectural fare.

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