As owner of The Woodshed, Sea Cliff’s best-known painted lady, Steve Tandy has gotten used to attention over the years. People circle the block to gape at his multicolored, stick-style Victorian. Some mount his porch and peer through his windows. Once, he discovered a woman sitting in the middle of his lawn, painting on an easel. When he asked why, she said she liked the vantage point. Since she wasn’t being too intrusive, he told her she could stay if she moved to a corner of his lot, thinking she would be gone the next day.
“She sat there for a month,” he says.
Painted ladies do have a come-hither look. The label refers to Victorian or Edwardian homes that have been historically preserved and decorated with three or more colors. Although Victorians often used polychrome paint schemes, the phenomenon was revived in the late 1960s, when a group of San Francisco artists began splashing colors on their old homes. The effect — frequently pictured in Bay Area postcards — highlights a structure’s architectural details, and it caught on.
Owning one is a distinct possibility in Sea Cliff, where a good number are on the market — including Tandy’s well-known residence.
Exactly how many painted ladies reside in the village isn’t known, but a good percentage, including Tandy’s, are among the 55 buildings that have local landmark status, says Leslie Guerci, chairwoman of the Sea Cliff Landmarks Association, which educates the public about the village’s architectural heritage and encourages the use of historically appropriate materials during renovations. The group’s local landmark designation means a structure has been deemed historically or architecturally significant and sets limits on exterior alterations.
Why so many historic structures can be found in this one-square-mile village is linked to a decades-long sequence of events. Perched on a 120-foot bluff overlooking Hempstead Harbor, the area attracted the attention of a Methodist group, which bought 240 acres in 1871 and established a summer camp for New Yorkers. The group added a steamboat pier, boardwalk and a 5,000-seat tabernacle. Later, secular visitors replaced the religious ones and the area became a popular resort destination filled with bungalows, hotels and boardinghouses. Wealthy families built elaborate homes, including many ornate Victorians, on the hillside to take in the panoramic views.
As cars expanded vacation options, fewer travelers visited. Revenue dried up. Many of the large hotels were torn down and the boardinghouses converted into private homes.
The result for the Victorians was “preservation by neglect,” says Guerci.
Eventually, newcomers, many of them artists who appreciated the village’s suspended-in-time atmosphere and bargain prices, began buying and restoring the homes. The result today is a movie-set environment of gingerbread-trimmed homes along narrow streets that were sized more for horses and buggies than for automobiles.
The area’s unorthodox charm was what attracted Tandy to his home, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is recognized as the grande dame of the village’s painted ladies.
Mr. Wood’s ‘shed’
The Woodshed was built in 1888 as a summer residence for John Wood, a wealthy businessman who opened the first gymnasium in New York City. Situated next to a neighborhood park, the home, with its soaring, steeple-topped tower, gabled roofline and an ornate porch, takes up an entire block with narrow roads on all four sides. The home was used as a setting for a 1981 made-for-TV movie starring Bette Davis.
“I’ve always liked different houses,” Tandy says, “not the cookie-cutter variety.”
Painted. And painted.
He says he purchased The Woodshed at a bargain price but then discovered that “it was falling apart.” Removal of the old paint, repairing or replacing the elaborate exterior wood moldings and repainting the home were the biggest projects. There were cracks in the plastered walls big enough to stick a fist in, Tandy says. All in all, the project took two years of labor involving teams of craftsmen at a cost of a half-million dollars.
“At one time, I have 15 people with heat guns hanging off the house like monkeys, removing old paint,” Tandy says.
On the first painting attempt, he had it decorated in the home’s original colors of robin’s egg blue, green and periwinkle, then decided to start over because direct sunlight made the house look like it was glowing. A trial-and-error period followed that entailed the use of 13 different colors, resulting in the final muted red, green and brown color scheme.
Walking through his home, Tandy points out Victorian features such as the 10-foot ceilings on the first floor, the pocket doors that lead into the living room and an array of working gas sconces. The pulled-plaster moldings were all restored by hand. At the end of the hall is the former library and music room where Mrs. Wood gave music lessons to her eight children. The home has mostly been furnished with period pieces from other homes, including the two fireplace mantels.
People still knock on his door occasionally, asking about the home. Tandy enclosed his backyard with a 6-foot fence when his children were born as a deterrent to inquiring minds.
“This has been a great place to entertain. A fun place,” he says. “But I’ve been here a long time. I’m ready for my next project.”
THE WOODSHED, 115 CENTRAL AVE., SEA CLIFF
On the market: Off and on for several years
What's for sale: This is a restored seven-bedroom, 4 1⁄2-bath Victorian built in 1888. It has a modernized, eat-in kitchen, formal dining room, two ornate fireplaces, an office, playroom and full finished basement with a guest suite. The home has a steeple tower and attic.
Listing agent: Maria Babaev with Douglas Elliman Real Estate, 516-621-3555
AND 3 MORE FOR SALE
52 18TH AVE.
On the market: Since December
What's for sale: This is a four-bedroom, 3 1⁄2-bath Victorian with a foyer, eat-in kitchen, living room and formal dining room. It has a master bedroom, full, finished basement and two wood-burning stoves. It has been renovated, but the owner preserved the original woodwork. The home was built in 1878 and has four covered porches, including one in the front, another off the upstairs master bedroom, one in back and another off the kitchen, accessible through French doors.
Listing agent: Terry Sciubba with Sherlock Homes Realty, 516-671-1717
90 SEVENTH AVE.
On the market: Since July
What's for sale: This is a fully restored seven-bedroom, 5 1⁄2-bath Victorian built in 1891 with a formal dining room, master suite, powder room, laundry room, large attic, eat-in kitchen and five fireplaces. There is a legal one-bedroom apartment in the finished basement, which includes a full kitchen. Original features such as pocket doors, mantels and woodwork were restored. The bedrooms on the second and third floors have French doors that open onto porches. The home was built as a summer residence for a Brooklyn inventor who later became a Sea Cliff village president, said the agent, Kevin Gilson.
Listing agent: Kevin Gilson with Cornell Realty Group, 516-318-9800
191 SEA CLIFF AVE.
On the market: Since November
What's for sale: This is a renovated four-bedroom, 3 1⁄2 bath Victorian with an updated, eat-in kitchen, formal dining room, full finished basement and master suite with a study and spa bathroom. The home, which was built in 1898, has pocket doors in the living and dining rooms. It has a large front porch, brick patio in back and is a block from the business district.
Listing agent: Terry Sciubba with Sherlock Homes Realty, 516-671-1717