Sunday, April 1, 2012

"Villa Maria" on the Dunes - Southampton L.I.

THE designing of a building to conform with its natural environment is about the most important problem which an architect has to take into consideration for solution when the problem of designing is presented. 

Some of the facts coming under the head of natural environment are those of elevation and contour of the property, as well as the coloring, character, and atmosphere of the property in question and surrounding properties. This problem of the relation of a building to its natural surroundings has been successfully solved by the architect, E. P. Mellon, which is clearly demonstrated by the result obtained in the Villa Maria, at Southampton, Long Island. 

The property on which this building is erected is a narrow strip of rough and rugged sand-dunes lying between the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and those of Shinnecock Bay, the average width of this strip being about 850 feet. This particular piece of property, comprising about six acres, has a frontage on both of these waters of 300 feet. The highest dune, which is on the west of this property, rises to a height of 52 feet, sloping gradually to the east and to 
the south to the sand of the beach. To the north there is a gradual slope to Shinnecock Bay. 

The erection of a house on this wild, narrow strip of sand-dunes was a pioneer undertaking, as never before had any of this strip of land been used for building purposes, and there was no means of access through the deep sand until after the building was started, when Meadow Lane, 50 feet wide, was built to and through the property. 

All possible means were used while planning the house and during its erection to preserve the natural contours and beauty of the property as well as the natural growth, which is composed mostly of beach plumb, beach grass, and wild sweet pea. 

In the selection of the site for the location of the house consideration was taken of the location of the high dune and its protection of the house from the westerly winds. From the sea side of the house the walls were designed to conform with the natural undulation of the dunes, with the result that the house on this side appears to be only two stories in height, the service court and entrance floor here being below the level of the top of the dune. From the north or entrance side the house shows the full three stories, the service court being on the level of the entrance story. 



The driveway running from the main entrance, directly to the entrance of the service court, follows a natural depression in the dune, and swings around the dune, of about 12 feet in height, to the main entrance. Directly from the axis of this main entrance, running straight to the main road, there is a tapis-vert of 30 feet in width, bordered on either side by a high hedge. This being the only lawn on the property, it gives a strong and very pleasing contrast to the otherwise ruggedness of the property, and helps to heighten the Italian character of the house itself, the Italian character being considered the most suitable and harmonious for this wild natural setting. 

The unusually intense blue of the Southampton skies, which blueness is reflected in the ocean, has exactly the same character and feeling as the skies and sea of the Mediterranean. While the brilliant sunlight reflected by the sea and sand casts similar shadows to those found on the borders of the Bay of Naples and the Adriatic Sea, on which shadows Italian buildings are so dependent. 


The color of the stucco used is about the same as the sand, being of a deep cream tone, varying from light to dark, and has already been delightfully streaked by the winter storms. Around the smaller windows the raised stucco frames have been stained a dark brown. 

The stone work around the main entrance also has the worn brown soft tone, while the plaster panel back of the bas-relief of the Virgin and Child is colored a sky-blue. 


The walls surrounding the property, as well as the garage and chauffeur's cottage, maintain the same color as the main house, and the three buildings are roofed in the most careful way possible, with old color-worn Italian tile, which is laid with an irregular ridge grouted by cement. All iron used on exterior and interior is hand-hammered. The building has taken upon itself the look of ages. 

The construction is of terra-cotta block. The floors are of concrete, so that the house is virtually fireproof, and absolutely dry, even during the dampest and most foggy weather. The secret of this dryness is due to the fact that no portion of the house anywhere touches the sand-dunes, the architect having constructed a 10-foot area-way, surrounding the entire house, between the house and the dunes, over which loggia overlooks the sea.


The floor of this loggia is about 40 feet in elevation from the high-water mark, this being the same height as the main floor of the house, which gives every window on this floor and the floor above the full command of exceptionally wonderful views, every window having an outlook over one of the waters. 



On the interior the same character is followed as on the exterior. The floors of the main rooms and hallways are of old worn black-and-white marble, retaining its beautiful antique patine. The walls are rough-plastered and vary in their delicate dull tinting in the same tones, colors, and variations as those of mother-of-pearl. The plaster is returned into the window-frames, and there is no trim used around the windows or doors, nor is there any wooden base. The window-sills throughout the house are of dark-red tile, the same tile being used on the floors of the bathrooms. 

The stairway is semicircular, being completely of cement, rubbed to worn and uneven edges. This cement is painted white. The simple hand-wrought iron railing makes a complete contrast in color with the white of the stairway. The circular walls of the stair-well are penetrated here and there by simple niches. 

The stone mantels of the house are imported from Perugia, and the very rare and wonderful eighteenth-century frieze, which is placed on the wall of the dining-room, directly under the ceiling, was imported from the Palazzo Torlonia. 

The planning of the different floors of this home was not done with the idea of monumental effect, but was planned wholly to suit the needs of the owner and for the sake of convenience. 

***Edward Purcell Mellon was the grandson of Thomas Mellon, founder of Mellon Bank and patriarch of the Mellon family of Pittsburgh. It appears he worked as an associate architect for a number of firms including Trowbridge & Livingston and York & Sawyer. A number of Pittsburgh properties are attributed to Mellon including the former Gulf Tower. Edward P. Mellon was born March 13, 1875 and died April 10, 1953. Married to Ethel Churchill Humphrey.

THE properties history beyond this 1919 Architecture article is unknown to me. The gardens are gone along with the bay-side boathouse and deck/pavilion. Garage stands, chauffeurs cottage demolished, looks like it stood into the 1980s. A complete redo to main structure sometime after 1994. BlockShopper list a Stone as current owner - same family? Next door to "Villa Maria" is the Reginald Fincke Estate by Peabody, Wilson & Brown. Mellon also designed a mansion at 700 Meadow Lane for Mrs. Duncan Ellsworth in 1925. I can't confirm if it still stands or went through a remodel. Next door stood  "Elysium".  Along with "Oceans Castle" these properties where part of the Beach Road Historic District. Questionable the value this held for the Mellon designs and "Elysium".

"Villa Maria" at

Click HERE for a 1954 aerial showing house before additions and gardens still intact. 

Current Bing view.***


  1. Such beautiful drawings...especially the site plan.

  2. Marvelous and interesting house---very personal. The photographs are amazing.

    Pity about the current version---that double tier Taco Bell arcade wing is just painful

  3. Great post! Diego Suarez owned it later on.

  4. GL do you have a timeline for when Suarez lived at property? I'm wondering how it correlates to his marriage to Mrs. Field and/or his work at "Vizcaya".

  5. Mr. Mellon was not married to Marion Stone. Mr. Mellon's wife was Ethel Humphrey of Louisville. Her father was Judge Alexander P. Humphrey; her grandfather was the Reverend Edward P. Humphrey and her great grandfather was Heman Humphrey, the second president of Amherst College.

  6. And our Grandmother died in 1938. Next to our grandfather's house was Mr. DuPont's house. It was bought by Calvin Klein and razed to build his own house. I came upon this site researching the great hurricane of 1938. This house was sandbagged in 1984 so I have no idea how it made it through the hurricane of 1938.

    1. I made the correction, thanks. His son Edward II married Marion Stone(and two others). Is it a coincidence that a Stone is listed as the current owner? Was their children between the two?

  7. Edward Mellon did not have a son, two daughters: Mary and Jane both now in the Southampton Cemetery with their parents. I learned from my sister that Marion Stone was first wife to Ned Mellon, also named Edward Purcell Mellon but II, nephew to Edward Mellon, Probably son of Thomas Mellon III or something like that. I'm trying to find the right books to look that up.

  8. Thomas Mellon came to this country as a small boy in the early 1800s with his farming parents.
    His oldest son was Thomas Alexander Mellon who married Mary Caldwell.
    They had three children: Edward Purcell Mellon, Thomas Alexander Mellon, Jr and Mary Caldwell Mellon.
    Ned Mellon was son of Thomas Alexander Mellon, Jr. And you can see where the name Villa Maria came from.