When my husband and I were looking for land to build the house that we designed, we knew that we wanted to avoid towns that had been “restricted”. Restricted towns, which came into being along the Connecticut shore and in northern Westchester County, New York in the 1940's and 50's, were towns that restricted home ownership by Jews, African Americans and Catholics. The most famous of these towns was Darien, Connecticut, which served as the backdrop for the iconic film depicting anti-Semitism, “The Gentleman’s Agreement”.
In our search we discovered a “non-restricted” town called Pound Ridge, New York, a town of 5,000 residents. Pound Ridge had been a haven for people who didn’t feel comfortable in the surrounding white protestant enclaves. Benny Goodman, Eartha Kit, Tallulah Bankhead and the real estate developer George Kaufman were a few of the people who enjoyed the community of Pound Ridge as a retreat from New York City, which was less than an hour away.
As luck would have it, we found 13 acres of land in this town and designed and built the house that we live in today. And we also discovered the rich history of Pound Ridge. It was a special non-restricted town because of a remarkable resident, Hiram Halle, who saved the lives of thousands of German Jews from the Holocaust.
In the early 20th Century, Mr. Halle was one of the wealthiest men in the country from his oil refinery businesses. He sold his companies in 1931 and devoted his time and wealth to philanthropy. A close friend of Alvin Johnson, the director of the New School for Social Research, Mr. Halle financed a program that allowed German Jewish scholars to come to the United States. Thousands were able to enroll in the program and avoid the horrors of the Holocaust.
My husband and I were delighted to discover that Hiram Halle was also an amateur architect. During the Great Depression, he purchased many of the farm houses that were in disrepair, renovated them, and rented them for little money, often furnished with his own antiques and furniture, to people whom he felt could make a positive contribution to the town and to society, regardless of their ethnicity or religious background. Mr. Halle bought homes from the 18th and 19th Century and added functional elements such as large windows and porches. The results range from acceptable (816 South Bedford Road) to English cottage sublime (66 Matthews Mill), but all are contextual and evocative of town hamlet life.
Today there are 36 Hiram Halle homes, privately owned and protected by the Pound Ridge Historical Society. It is a privilege to live in a town that is not only naturally beautiful, but also has such a rich history of humanity.
Elisabeth Post-Marner, AIA, LEED® AP, Principal