Tuesday, October 25, 2011


A view of the terraced gardens at 'Meudon', the William D. Guthrie estate designed by C.P.H. Gilbert c. 1900 in Lattingtown. Click HERE and HERE for more on 'Meudon'. Picture from Architecture, 1903.


magnus said...

Great photo of a hugely ambitious, if not equally attractive estate. I find the image of Ella Fuller Guthrie, William's widow, living there as her 100th birthday approached with the house and property collapsing around her to be particularly haunting.

Gary Lawrance said...

Wonderful photo! One I haven't seen before.

The Devoted Classicist said...

While I appreciate the landscaping as an artistic expression and a reflection of the tastes of the times, I cannot help but think a different landscape scheme might have made a difference in the preservation of the house.

The Down East Dilettante said...

It is a wonderful photo, but I still stand firm that of the places lost, this one was not much. The house was stiff and awkward, as is the landscaping. Opulence and size alone do not beauty make.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Oops, not photo, rendering.

Anonymous said...

I heard that it was a myth that Meudon was crumbling. I hear from someone who say's they were there not much before it being raized, that it needed a bit of TLC, but in no way was collapsing around it's mistress.

The Ancient said...


For NYT subscribers:

His obit --


His estate --


Local color (plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose) --


The Ancient said...

1) The current Bing bird's-eye aerials give a very good view of the ruins.

2) How is it that the farm buildings survived?

Anonymous said...

Whether a fan of this mansion or not, it had one of the most spectacular and dramatic positions overlooking a beautifully terraced garden and toward Long Island Sound. The demolition of this house probably had to do more with the enormous size of the home, after future expansions increased the length of the facade to almost "palace like" proportiona. It unfortunately was simply too big to be a feasible private resisence in the 1960's. Would have loved to see the place in person.

magnus said...

Ancient- I'm jealous of your ability to "Link".

In the mid/late 1930's the NYTimes had an article about Guthrie's NY townhouse in the Murray Hill section of Park Avenue having been foreclosed upon and another, also from the 1930's that stated that Mrs. Guthrie and her daughter were being sued by neighbors over plans to subdivide and develop the Meudon property. Over the years, I have also spoken to a number of local "old timers" who remembered Mrs. Guthrie and the woeful state into which Meudon fell after her husband's death.

magnus said...

And Ancient- when I was a child, we all received our milk from the Armstrong Dairy- in a milk box by the back door (no, it was not delivered by a horse drawn van). The Armstrong Dairy was located in what I thought was the dairy of Peacock Point, but may, in fact, have been the farm buildings of Meudon. Mrs. Guthrie's grandaughter also converted one of the outbuildings to a house and her daughter lives there still. This may explain the survival of these buildings.

Security word of the day: "Plements"- cornice boards installed by a dyslexic decorator

Zach L. said...

Magnus...regarding your comment on the subdivision...a very kind contributor supplied with me the subdivision map of 'Meudon' dated 1940, more than a decade before the house came down.

I also have another aerial that will be posted soon that shows the house in what I believe is the early '50s with a number of smaller houses encroaching on the periphery.

The Down East Dilettante said...

All fascinating.

In the aforementioned Bing view, if one examines the south view, it is sort of interesting to note the relative elegance of the pavilion-like house on the actual site of the mansion---and one can't help but feel sorry for the owners, who keep their section of the terraces in good order, because the New McMansion on the terrace below them not only is directly in their axial view, but notice how, in true McMansion style, they bulldozed through the balustrades, excavated beneath the staircase from above, and now the stairs land rather oddly at the edge of the retaining wall. Such sensitivity :-)

magnus said...

Zach: I hope that you can post both the subdivision map and the 1950's photo. I have always thought that these Levitttown-esque subdicvisions were a post World War II phenomenon. I would be most interested to see if thougghtless planning and subdivision began even earlier.

Anonymous said...

10:50 DED......Unfortunately none of the later construction took any advantage of the incredible formality, structure and axial views that were inherent with the location. The former terraces, stairs, balustrades and rows of mature trees should have inspired someone to build a residence that incorporated the beauty that was already there instead of ignoring it entirely. What a lost opportunity. Also never realized how much of the garden walkways, stairs and terraces still remained after the demolition of the home.

The Ancient said...


Guthrie's boat, Maid of Meudon:


(Reported lost in the 1938 hurricane.)

More from the NYT archives:

Auction of Meudoon's contents:


Teardown of 28 Park Avenue (Stanford White Watch):


Subsequent legal action against 28 Park Ave. Corp.:


Anonymous said...

One summer, I believe it was either 1982 or 1983, a couple of my friends were caretakers of the Lattingtown Harbor Beach and in fact lived in the Meudon Bath House. I used to spend every Sundahy of that summer there. Oh I wish I knew the history of that place at that time. Now I know how special that beach cottage is. It was a great summer.

Zach L. said...

Magnus...your assumption is correct. The 1940 subdivision plan did not call for small lots but impressively large ones, beginning at 5 acres if memory serves me right. I believe the house was to be reduced to some 50+ acres. The map looks like more of a John Kean subdivision of today than that of a typical LI subdivision.

The plan is very large and I need to figure out how to shrink it while still keeping the image quality acceptable. Here's a cell phone shot of it...not very clear however:


wooded bliss said...

The Bentel's, of Bentel and Bentel, built a couple of the homes on the sub divided property.I think they were students of Mies Van der Rohe at Harvard. Thier own home is on the property and is very " Bau haus" inspired and quite fabulous. I cannot tell you thier intentions as it relates to vistas and site ; Although, I am sure, it was very well thought out.
Hooray for Armstrong dairy..your comment really brings me back to the good old days.. It's as if they were THE dairy for the Township of Oyster Bay.

Doug Floor Plan said...

Zach, I assume you have physical possession of that map, or can get temporary possession.

I recently took an old plat map I needed fresh copies of to a Kinkos where they were able to run it through a large scanner & make copies. I just phoned the Kinkos near me & was told they could also run a plat map through their “oversized scanner” to create a digital image rather than a copy … just bring in your jump drive. I didn’t ask the price because your price is likely to be different. The scanner would go a long way in smoothing out the creases in the paper, which is going to be difficult to smooth out if you photograph the map in sections. I hope this is helpful.

About 'Meudon' -- I agree with DED: "Opulence and size alone do not beauty make."

magnus said...

Have I done this right?


NYTimes article on the foreclosure of the Guthrie NY Townhouse against Ella Guthrie

The Down East Dilettante said...

By Jove, Magnus, I think you've got it.

As to the new house, it does enjoy and center on the balustrades to the North, but nevertheless, it is still such an American approach to building on old sites. How much more interesting it would have been to leave the Meudon terraces open and intact, and built houses around it, as common space.

Ah well....

Patricia said...

Now I'm all confused. I was curious as to the current status of Armstrong Dairy. Like others, we had milk delivered,at home in Mill Neck, sometimes even by Mr. Armstrong himself.

It seems as if Armstrong Dairy is now Armstrong Farm, selling free-range organic chicken eggs. There's an article about it in Newsday which says that "Frank" was killed by a bull in 1959 (not the Frank Armstrong I knew)and that his son "Eddie" took over. I wonder if Newsday got the father's and son's names reversed. Here's a link to the story:

According to Newsday, the dairy began in 1939 when Armstrong rented the land from the Guthrie family. I wonder if the Dairy later bought the land.

I still remember one time looking high and low for my mother's car keys which my toddler brother had gotten a hold of. He was too young to state where he'd put them, inside or outside even. The keys finally turned up inside the Armstrong Dairy milkbox that stood at the back door. It's amazing to think that 2 or 3 quarts would be delivered personally to your back door -- which reminds me that it was always a priority to "bring in the milk" during hot weather before it spoiled. Wow, I'm old!

Anonymous said...

My parents bought one of the lots in 1955 that was offered when the estate was being subdivided. It was the two acres which encompassed the entire front yard of the mansion. We built our house there in 1957, and the mansion was the view out our back windows. There were matching oak trees, sycamore trees and various other 'paired' growth from the mansion to Meudon Drive My dad kept an eye on the place for the Guthrie family after they stopped living there. Yes the grounds were overgrown, but the mansion stood the tests of time until it was demolished, because I walked through it many times before it was torn down.

Old Former Long Islander said...

Last Anonymous,

I was hoping you guys had discovered this blog. I still remember the carved wooden mantel, purchased from the demolished mansion that filled your entire bay window, reinvented as a window seat. It's size, relative to a normal home emphasized how large the mansion really was. I totally agree with your assessment of the mansion. The only time the house really looked forlorn was in mid-demolition. Overgrown and in need of some maintenance, yes, but not crumbling. The estate was well developed with nice houses on 2+ acre lots and with the integrity of original roads maintained (the polar opposite of the Oak Point exploitation).

One last question: '65, '67 or '69?

Many good memories at Meudon.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

Fond memories of the Armstrong Dairy and Mr. Armstrong himself delivering to our house in Locust Valley. I went to high school with The O'Connor twins, Debbie and Diane, who lived next door to the dairy. Peacock Lane was such a beautiful, narrow road, much like Sheeps Lane, such that the branches of the trees would swipe your car at points and the dairy horses would often be roadside as well. As I recall, and this would have been in the 1970s, at the end of Peacock Lane was the George F Baker estate. Meudon must have been off to the left. As a Brigati boy, I would deliver to Mrs. Bakers estate but not to Meudon. I did not realize the connections the Guthrie's had to St. Johns. You all have such a wonderful wealth of knowledge here!

HalfPuddingHalfSauce said...

Click on photo link to get a idea on the yellow tone to the brick used on the main house.



and matching Boarding House -


Next to the veggie garden -


Which is connected to(perhaps} one of the Bauhaus inspired homes. Several other outbuildings survive across the street.

Zach gave me contact info to a daughter of a Supervisor at Meudon, family name of Thompson. She's in her 90s and left the area in the 30s. Arranged flowers for the house and the local church where JP Morgan passed the plate. They were friends. Her grandfather was a vet at DuPont's Templton among others. Still a work in progress to get the whole story. Forty gardeners, twenty-two house servants, ornate ceilings. First marriage to Frances P DeVine{Funeral Home).

New comment for White Lodge from last year -


Annie said...

WWW 67...yes, I was going to talk about the mantle although it was a gift to us for keeping an eye on the place for a number of years. We also got the dining room table - 6 ft square, carved oak, with 2 24" leaves - my brother has it in his house. I believe some new photos are going to be published tomorrow that I have submitted -
OK, I give - you are??? I am Annie

HalfPuddingHalfSauce said...

Mansions of the Gilded Age has demo photos -


Annie said...

@ Zach-our house is about where the #12 is on your cell phone map picture that you posted...great map, can't wait to see if you can get it so we can see it clearly!

Anonymous said...

Annie and OFLI'er...thank you for confirming my acquaintance's assessement of Meudon, that it was not in ruines and could have been saved. I feel that happend with many of these estates. I remember reading on this blog about Roslyn House, that one of the floors was buckeled, but could have been saved and the rest of the house was fine, but demolished anyway. I also heard from a friend of a friend, that "Spring Hill" was in mint condition when torn down. I just don't understand if the estates needed to be subdivided, why couldn't they save the manisions and build around them...incorporating into the landscape.....

Annie said...

I believe that my dad told me that the taxes were astronomical and it was cheaper to have it torn down.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I believe that is the reason why many of these great mansions are torn down.

Anonymous said...

yes newsday had gotten the names wrong frank Armstrong ran the milk dairy for many years with his sons john jim and jeff Armstrong after his fathers death, eddie wasn't involved from what I herd he just recently started the egg farm on the other side of the dairy.

DJW said...

The elder Mr Armstrong was indeed killed by a bull on the farm.
There were 4 boys in the family and originally all four were involved in the dairy's operation with some of the not uncommon sibling rivalry and conflicts often found in families with a valuable land legacy.
Arthur left early on to move upstate NY and Eddie (the youngest) went off to work outside. Frank largely managed the dairy and Bobby was the mechanic.
After Bobby died, Eddie and Frank were involved in a contest over ownership of the land with it eventually being divided along the road between the large building and the northern buildings where Eddie now has his chicken farm. I now live elsewhere but I assume this was about the time that they stopped delivering milk.
Not related to the Armstrongs, I lived there from 1956-1966 and thought of it as a wonderful place. Frank was a man of excellent character and he ran the dairy well. I remember him fondly.
As I grew up there, I worked in the fields, the milking barns, the dairy plant and delivered milk, some of that labor was voluntary helping out the farm hands and some was real jobs of long duration, especially delivering the milk.
I learned to drive a milk truck ~age 12. I have not driven a stick shift (standing up) for so long, I suspect that I could not do that any longer.
The building to the northeast near the pond was then owned by the family of Mrs Guthrie's grand-daughter and I remember her talking about going to the mansion for Christmas with her Mother.
When I first saw the house, it was still in excellent condition (as I remember) and I always assumed that it was to big with too much upkeep to live in. Remember, those were the days of low property tax and no income tax when it was built.

Anonymous said...

Part of the land is still owned by the family of Marian Guthrie Willard Johnson, the granddaughter of William D Guthrie, who was herself a highly important and famous contemporary art dealer and art collector in the mid-20th century and who had a home built on the site of the estate's ice-house by the Spanish modernist architect Josep Lluis Sert. The Sert-designed modernist residence has been open to the public on at least one occasion for touring as a modernist architectural masterpiece.


As romantic as it may be to imagine the mansion collapsing around the aged Mrs. Willard, this was definitely not the case and the family was not impoverished. Even after Mrs. William D Willard died, the descendants of the family retained the house until they had it demolished so they could sell off the land in pieces. The family was not financially ruined by the time the redevelopment happened, but instead turned the money-draining mansion into a profitable asset by carving up the estate. They subsequently built a very important collection of Modern art and their descendants remain prominent in the art world today. A detailed discussion of the estate and its redevelopment plans by the Willard family can be found here (the site of the village of Lattingtown):