Listing of the Day
Location: Nyack, New York
Price: $4.75 million
This charming old house overlooking the Hudson River in Nyack, N.Y., was the longtime home of the legendary stage actress Helen Hayes and her husband, the playwright Charles MacArthur, and later the actress and media personality Rosie O’Donnell.
Hayes, who was known as the “First Lady of the American Theater,” and MacArthur, who is perhaps best known for writing “The Front Page” with Ben Hecht, bought the 1858 Italianate Victorian on North Broadway in 1932. Right from the start, “Pretty Penny,” as it was known because of the high cost to buy and maintain it, was a magnet for celebrities.
Over the years, Hayes and McCarthy entertained the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Cole Porter, Ronald Reagan, Marilyn Monroe, Rosalind Russell, Ed Sullivan, Noel Coward, John Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the famous couple Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, who lived a few miles downriver in Snedens Landing, N.Y., according to listing agent Richard Ellis with Ellis Sotheby’s International Realty. John Barrymore was said to have once stopped by for a pack of cigarettes and left three days later. The great American artist Edward Hopper, who grew up a few houses away in Nyack, famously painted the house in 1939.
Hayes and MacArthur’s son, the actor James MacArthur, who played “Danno” in U.S. television’s original “Hawaii Five-O,” grew up in the house.
“Pretty Penny” has been listed for sale a few different times in recent years. Russell Crowe rented the house for six months while filming “American Gangster” in 2006, according to Hamid Moghadam, an agent with Ellis Sotheby’s International Realty who has handled three previous sales of the home.
“What I love about ‘Pretty Penny’ is not only its vernacular Italianate Victorian architecture and its wide-open views of the Hudson River, but I love the stories and people who visited the home most,” Mr. Ellis said. “I believe houses can have an energy and this one has a strong, positive energy of love and happiness.”
“Helen Hayes lived here for 61 years—it was an important part of her life,” Ellis said.
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The current owner, art dealer W. Graham Arader III, purchased the six-bedroom home in 2005. He is a huge fan of conifers and has added more than $500,000 worth of rare specimen trees and shrubs to the grounds that slope down toward the river, including one-of-a-kind firs, cedars, hemlocks, spruces, sequoias and false cypresses.
“With all of the conifers, you feel like you’re walking through a jungle,” Mr. Ellis said. But the conifers can be removed if the next owner wants a more traditional yard.
Hayes was known for her rose garden, and at one point she had 350 rose bushes in the backyard, including the red-tinged yellow Helen Hayes rose, named in her honor.
Ms. O'Donnell, who was then the host of a popular television talk show, bought the house in 1996, three years after Hayes’ death.
The house was in very bad shape when Ms. O'Donnell bought it, and she spent two years and more than $2 million on repairs and renovations, according to Mr. Moghadam. The entire house was tented while asbestos and lead paint were removed.
Ms. O'Donnell made many structural improvements, including rebuilding the front and back porches, installing new heating and central air conditioning systems, replacing roofs and windows, stripping and repainting the clapboard, and installing new floors that had been damaged by termites.
She is also the one who added the electronic privacy gate and eight-foot brick wall along North Broadway.
“Rosie did a really great job with the renovation,” Mr. Ellis said.
She opened up the former dining room to create a large, open family room and kitchen that face out to the river, he said. Then she converted a former den into a new dining room.
On the second floor, Ms. O’Donnell refashioned seven ordinary smallish bedrooms into a large master suite plus three en-suite bedrooms, Mr. Ellis said.
One of the most interesting features of the home is that it has two distinct entrances, one at the front of the house and another on the northern side, where there was room to drop visitors from horse-drawn carriages.
Hayes loved the northern entrance and had a Hollywood set decorator install a gray, white and black marble floor in the oval-shaped, double-height entrance hall. It’s now lined with bold gold- and cream-striped wallpaper.
If you enter from the front, you step right into a center hallway with stairs to the second floor. The formal dining room, painted raspberry red by Ms. O'Donnell, sits to the right.
Straight ahead is the gracious and large double parlor, or drawing room, that is the centerpiece of the first-floor public rooms. It has a set of French doors that open to the river and a pair of floor-to-ceiling double windows that also open wide. A pair of fireplaces with elaborate Italian marble mantels bookend the room.
The house features a rich array of interesting architectural and decorative touches, including ornate wood and plaster moldings and door surrounds, built-in bookcases, ceiling rosettes, arches and elaborate crystal chandeliers. Exterior features include a flat roof, overhanging eaves, large columns and a widow’s perch.
The 7,000-square-foot house has six bedrooms, five full bathrooms and three partial bathrooms. It sits on a 1.15-acre lot.
Amenities include a 60-foot-long swimming pool, cabana, security and irrigation systems, wine cellar, eight fireplaces, patio, four-car garage, and terraced gardens with a Koi pond and fountain overlooking the Hudson River.
“F. Scott Fitzgerald thought of Charlie MacArthur as his good friend and protector from their expat days in Paris in the 1920s, and was a frequent visitor,” Mr. Ellis said. “One night the three of them went out in Charlie’s boat up river to Sing Sing [prison] and the guards put search lights on them and told them to leave the area—Helen Hayes loved that story.”
Nyack, which is about 22 miles north of New York City, is known for its easy walkability. “The house is within easy walking distance to the village—it’s very accessible,” Mr. Ellis said. “And there are nice houses all around it. You can get a bus to New York City right there.”
Agent: Richard Ellis, Ellis Sotheby’s International Realty
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