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Posted on: November 27, 2018

NRFD Battles Blaze at Wildcliff

Wildcliff, a historic mansion overlooking Long Island Sound at Hudson Park, was severely damaged in a three alarm fire yesterday. New Rochelle firefighters responding to the blaze fought it back for over three hours during a severe wind and rain storm. 

“While we are grateful that no lives were lost and that the surrounding neighborhood was spared damage by the excellent work of our Fire Department, we mourn the destruction of one of our community’s true historic and architectural treasures, a structure much beloved by many generations of New Rochelleans,” said Mayor Noam Bramson. “In the weeks ahead, we will further assess conditions and options at the site.”

“With the revitalization of the Hudson Park Bathhouse, Bandshell, and Greenhouse, the next step was to find a sustainable reuse for Wildcliff,” noted City Manager Chuck Strome. “Now we will begin the process of evaluating property conditions and determining the cause. I want to thank Chief Sandor and our Fire Department for their exceptional work in containing the fire and the police, public works and parks departments who worked through very difficult conditions to support and protect the neighborhood.”  The New Rochelle Fire Department was assisted by fire companies from Yonkers, Pelham Manor and Greenville.

Below is the history of Wildcliff from Historian Barbara Davis:

Most likely built as a wedding gift in 1855 for Cyrus Lawton and his wife, Sarah Marie Davenport, Overlook, (as it was first called,) was designed by one of the leading architects of the day. Alexander Jackson Davis was noted for connecting his residential works with the landscape, giving it a variety of textures and appeal.  

Wildcliff, as the Gothic cottage was later renamed, was gifted to the City of New Rochelle by the Julius Prince family in 1940. After having been utilized for city offices the building has housed a variety of not-for-profit groups and functions, including Wildcliff Natural Science Center, East Coast Performing Arts and Wildcliff Center for the Arts. The interior of the building has not been used for several years; the exterior was restored with funds from the sale of adjacent property. It was listed on the National Register of Historical Places in 2002. 

Wildcliff was one of at least six New Rochelle residences designed by Alexander Jackson Davis. Sans Souci, which was built for Newberry Davenport and located just down the hill at 157 Davenport Avenue, is the only other extant Davis-designed building in New Rochelle. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a locally-designated site.

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