Friday, June 14, 2013

"LA SELVA" The Residence of Henry Sanderson, Esq. at Oyster Bay, Long Island


Henry Sanderson 1868-1934

   "La Selva" is an Italian Renaissance mansion designed by Joseph Hunt of the architectural firm of Hunt & Hunt for investor Henry Sanderson. According to his early Bio,  Sanderson lived in Locust Point, N. J. and had a townhouse at 130 East Sixty Seventh Street in New York City(now location of a Charles Platt designed apartment building c. 1907) before building in Oyster Bay. Married three times it was his second wife, Elizabeth Fairchild of New Orleans, who he built "La Sleva" for. In 1915 during the planing and construction the Sanderson's leased "Sunset House" from George Thebaud Maxwell. Historical tidbit - "La Sleva's" phone number was -100- in 1919. 

Frederick Seymour Wheeler 1861-1936
     Frederick S. Wheeler, the president of American Can Company purchased the mansion from the Sanderson’s in 1927. He renamed estate "Delwood".  In 1960 Mrs. Wheeler sold the property, mansion and all out buildings on the 25 acres to the Glen Cove Hospital. It was then sold in 1960 to the Catholic Church, who maintained it as the Franciscan Monastery and Retreat House.

   House next went to Sylvia Kumar, wife of imprisoned former Computer Associates chief Sanjay Kumar. Sanjay Kumar was ordered by a federal judge to pay back $798 million to shareholders after he pleaded guilty to securities fraud. The home was bought(conveniently) by Sylvia Kumar from St. Francis Monastery for $6.75 million in 2001. The plan was to refurbish the property and allow public charitable functions to be held. Listed again in 2009 at $17 million then went to $14.5 million, dropped below $10 million before finally selling in 2012 for $7.25 million. It was feared property would be subdivided. Upkeep reported to be  $20,000 a month for taxes and staff.

  During 2009 Mansion & Millionaires held their annual Designer Showcase. Most of the following color photos are from this time period or before. Some during the ownership by Kumar others just after St. Francis vacated. Interspersed with the  black and white photos are beautiful glass lantern slides from 1930.   

"La Selva" HENRY SANDERSON, Long island, Upper Brookville/Oyster Bay, N. Y.
The approach to the mansion wanders through a cluster of pine trees and ends in front of the

"La Selva" HENRY SANDERSON, Long island, Upper Brookville/Oyster Bay, N. Y.
Within the interiors are extraordinary works of art where craftsmen from Europe and the United States detailed the rooms with carvings, intricate plaster ceilings, delicate iron grillwork and rare stone embossing. The philosophy of eclecticism practiced by the original owners in the design of this estate (the belief that one could create a new whole by bringing together fragments from other times and places) is true elegance at its zenith 

Aerial view - NOTE the skylight that provides illumination to the domed stair hall

The house, as its name would intimate, is pure Italian in character. Like all Italian villas, it is of stone and steel covered
with stucco and is built long and rambling, with a tile roof colored as though covered with lichens and low in pitch. Although not yet five years old, the house has already acquired a rare atmosphere of age and quiet

The house is approached by a broad circular-forecourt. The stucco has a pebble-dash finish
Front approach to house - Butterfly or open-arms design

Matured landscape
Panoramic view
Designer Showcase 2009

Front entrance

Entrance detail
Silver door-knocker

Vaulted ceiling vestibule 
  From the vestibule, across an expansive hallway to the loggia, each room defines detail and drama and contains many artifacts centuries old

The vista from this loggia is especially pleasing.   One looks along a tapis vert (shown below) to a fountain whose jet of water is thrown high against a background of surrounding columns overhung with wisteria
Wrought iron screen with the estates grapevine motif 
During the Kumar ownership

Designer Showcase 2009

Outdoor terrace - Designer Showcase 2009

Seating area - Designer Showcase 2009
Steps to the tapis vert

View from the fountain between columns topped by merman and mermaid figures, along the tapis vert to the house

Clematis borders the tapis vert - glass lantern slide 1930

Wisteria in full bloom - glass lantern slide 1930
View into Roman cirque - 1915

Tapis Vert - 2003

From the Olmsted files - model showing formal garden, tapis vert and Roman cirque - 1915

The view in 2009

Merman and Mermaid
The Roman cirque - TOO shady for wisteria to bloom
  Past this cirque is a walled vegetable garden and an orchard of espaliered fruit trees. Flowers from the walled garden filled the  200 vases that were changed each day throughout the house.

The walled garden is entered through an ornamental iron gate decorated with a lifelike grapevine motif

Ornamental iron gate decorated with the etsates grapevine motif

ABOVE the loggia, overlooking a delightful bit of garden, Mr. and Mrs. Sanderson have their breakfast each fine morning
Mrs. Sanderson's bedroom terrace above the loggia
Designer Showcase 2009

View from bedroom terrace showing the well-worn  tapis vert

View from bedroom terrace - 

This view is taken from the edge of the pool that forms the centre of a delightful little water garden. The richness of color of the various blooms makes it look as though some artist's palette had suddenly become animate

Spring time at "Dellwood" - Glass lantern slide 1930

Spring time at "Dellwood" - Glass lantern slide 1930
  Garden and house tours were common events at "La Selva' and "Delwood".  Alex Sheriffs  was superintendent for Sanderson from the beginning of 1915, continued  with Wheeler, and then  stayed with the Franciscans as superintendent and later as resident until he died in the mid-1980's. His stewardship on the Olmsted Brothers designed property still can be seen today. Lewis & Valentine installed the plantings. 

Formal garden during the Kumar ownership

View to corner loggia,during the Kumar ownership
Corner loggia during the Kumar ownership

Corner loggia seen in above B\W photo

Corner loggia - Designer Showcase 2009

Formal garden - 2009

Formal garden  - 2009

Raised seating area overlooking formal garden and pool - 2009
Bench in formal garden

North-east side or library side - 2009

Terrace off loggia

Terrace off loggia
North west or dining room side

A deeply overhanging roof of reddish-brown terra-cotta tiles.

Back of house - 1915

Back of house - 2009

On each side of the lawn terrain sharply slopes to the forest edge below
   On the sloping ground beyond the balustrade enclosing the flower garden are the informal gardens: the rhododendron walk and heather garden and below these an open glade. On the far side of the house is a wide lawn.

The rhododendron walk and heather garden - Glass lantern slide 1930

    According to Monica Randall - " Gardens were ablaze with colorful orange, red and pink azalea bushes, dogwood trees, and 20,000 daffodils that were planted along one sloping lawn." 

Northwest or dining room side. Servants wing on the left

A closer view

Entrance into service court

The living room is a magnificently proportioned room, and its furnishings are quite in accord with its vast size. Carved ceiling beams are an unusual note as are the chandeliers, brought from Italy by the late Stanford White. The treatment of the walls, covered by tapestries at the far end of the room, is interesting in that they converge toward the doorway, instead of being at a right angle to the side walls

Designer Showcase 2009 

Living room - Designer Showcase 2009

The dining room is typical of the best of the old palaces of Italy. The floor is of dark Levanto marble, while the walls have a faint design in color worked into their rough finish. More than forty coats were applied in order to achieve the present satisfactory tone of the walls. The paintings above the doorway on either side of the fireplace are recessed and come from an old palace in Florence
    In the dining room are a pair of hand-carved 15th century Italian oak doors depicting mythological scenes, armorials, griffins and lions. 

Empty - painted panels over the doors are gone???

Designer Showcase 2009 

From the 2009 show - original embed painting intact
Designer Showcase 2009 
Side room off dining room - this room in turn connects to the bayed morning room
Designer Showcase 2009 

Bayed-morning room with an ornate plaster relief vaulted ceiling

   In the breakfast room is a domed plaster filigree ceiling in the classic mode.

The circular hall with its winding stair is perhaps the focal point of the house. The softness of the color of the travertine walls, the grace of the curve of the self-supporting staircase, and the delicacy of the wrought iron rail and door make a picture difficult to describe. The tapestry hanging above the stairs is from the Morgan Collection; it represents Emperor Otho's Judgment and dates about 1495. It hung for 300 years at Knole Castle in Kent. The diameter of the well is twenty-five feet and it extends almost to the roof.   The hallway is topped by a circular dome of plate glass of cerulean blue which is nine feet in diameter

Designer Showcase 2009 
   One of the most memorable sights on the interior is the main rotunda stair-hall, a circular space of over two stories with an outstanding sweeping curved staircase of stone. Delicate ironwork spirals along the edge of this sculptural centerpiece of the mansion. A sunken living room only a few steps down creates additional architectural interest. The original furnishings were artifacts from the early Italian Renaissance. The floors are exquisitely paved in marble 
patterns with a special red Levanto marble installed as a border in the dining hall.

During the Kumar ownership 
The circular hall
  The mansion has a domed rotunda with a winding travertine staircase.
 Circular dome of plate glass of cerulean blue which is nine feet in diameter

In the library, surrounded by examples of the old masters on the walls, one has perfect seclusion and quiet, for there is but one door to the room. The handles and locks for the doors, as well as all the ironwork in the house, are particularly noteworthy, having been especially designed. The rug is from the celebrated Salting Collection
During the Kumar ownership

The library - Designer Showcase 2009
The library - Designer Showcase 2009

Looking down the hallway from the entrance to the main circular stairway. The walls are of carved Yorkshire stone, especially imported from England. The choir stalls date from the fifteenth century and are from an old Italian church.    The rug is a splendid Ispahan

Opposite view - looking down hallway into reception room, main loggia on the left

View into circular hall
Detail of carving

Loggia  1915



Designer Showcase 2009 

Decorative panel - hallway into loggia

Designer Showcase 2009
  Many architecturally significant bedroom suites are on the second level.

Mrs. Sanderson's bedroom - Designer Showcase 2009

The mural in the bed alcove(in  hues of aqua, ochre, and green)  features a Chinese pavilion, mountains, and exotic birds original to the home’s 1915 decor. The technique used is called marouflage, a 3,000-year-old technique whereby artists adhesives were applied to both the wall and the canvas before adding paint.

I'm guessing - Mr. Sanderson's bedroom? Empty 

Redecorated for the 2009 show

Painted panel over doorway
  In 1928 the Olmsted firm returned to design a large oval swimming pool. 

 Oval swimming pool - 2003

Oval swimming pool - 2009
  The grounds are entered from the south and immediately to the left is a range of garages. To the right is a large walled vegetable garden with an intricate iron gate and espaliered fruit trees. 

Original stables and servant quarters - later converted for automobiles - 2003

Original stables and servant quarters - later converted for automobiles - 2003

Original stables and servant quarters - later converted for automobiles - 2003
Backside of the stables/garage complex - 2003

Superintendents house - 2003

Superintendents house - 2003

Greenhouse and potting shed with root cellar - 2003
Mrs. James Byrne  property owner in 1914. James Byrne owned the property across the street now occupied by "Coe Hall". Byrne's home was "A Country House of Character".

Henry Sanderson ownership 1927

Property owned by Charlotte Putnman Wheeler , widow of Frederick, 1939

Click HERE to see "La Selva" at wikimapia. BING

  The Sanderson family has connections to my area - James Reed Sanderson, first son of two from Henry's first wife, married Dorothy Dickinson, daughter of Albert G. Dickinson founder of  Grand Rapids Sticky Fly Paper Co. and Dickinson Brothers Inc. both still in business.

Still made today!


  1. Great "Then and Now" collection. I like it much better than I did before! Hope it can survive.

  2. Do I dare say If laid at my feet the opportunity to pick "Winfield Hall" or "La Selva" I would pick the later! Has anyone heard what the future holds? Can anyone say what the spaces were at the front of the house opposite the loggia and library. Faculties for guests?

  3. Had a chance to tour the entire property when the Franciscans were in residence. They did an excellent job of maintaining and preserving the property and buildings. One brother passed his time by trying to srtip off layers of green paint from the second floor bedroom doors. Underneath the paint layers were elaborate painted scenes and floral designs. I dont know if any of those original doors have been preserved by the later owners. Also in the basement were the original canvas architectural and landscape drawings of the house and grounds, pieces of artwork themselves. Hopefully they have remained with the house as the brothers had wished.

    Now about that decision? La Selva would be obvious because of the magnificent intact grounds, peaceful setting and the beautiful interiors have all fared so much better than the abused Winfield hall. Plus oddly enough the interiors of La Selva were warm and comfortable, at least when I last saw them.

    And I agree a wonderful then and now feature. Archibuff

  4. I attended a retreat here several years ago when it was owned by the brothers. It was an incredible experience and I am so sorry that they no longer own it. They ran it so well and were wonderful people. The place has magical qualities and I would give anything tobe able to go back tothosedays in that magnificent setting. Thank you for providing this memory. deece lambert
    peterboro, n.h.

  5. What is the current status of La Selva? I am particularly interested in the Mermaid/Merman Olmsted sculptures.

  6. My Uncle was a Franciscan who lived there, and my family spent Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easters etc there. It was and is a beautiful place. As a retreat house, the bedrooms had a somewhat dorm like quality and smell to them but what can you expect. My cousins and I would go up to the attic, where they had a pool table and you could actually see the space between the sunlight and the dome in the rotunda/staircase. Even as far into the 1980's, some of the original owners's belongings were in the house, I "inherited" a leather suitcase from the 1920's or 30's and in the wine cellar in the basement, there were still had books from the original owners. I have Arthur Ellison Wheeler's yearbooks from Pawling Prep School from 1914 and 1915. And when the pool was filled, we would swim in it, it was incredible. Recently I asked my sister (she is archiving our parent's photos) to find "that picture of me in front of the house in Oyster Bay". If anyone wants to see it, email me at

  7. Glad you enjoyed the pics I got at the show house. I truly love this place and glad to hear its been purchased by private owners. Enjoy! Liz Cordeiro

  8. I ran tours through there during the DS of 2009. The home was in good condition, as well as the immediate grounds. The grounds beyond the house, not so much so.
    The present owner could be difficult. There was talk of permission being granted to sub-divide the property into good sized parcels. The house would remain. Nothing has happened and it remains empty behind closed gates. Do I trust the present owner with the future of the house? Not one bit.

  9. Imported Italian items so rich

  10. This place is magical - it does not get any better than this. I attended the Showcase in 2009 and it was an awesome experience. It is now owned privately and the owner has put much love, attention and money into it. I cannot imagine such incredible wealth to own this and maintain it. It is my favorite North Shore mansion...a fairy tale property. I live not far and am so glad that it remained intact with the last change of hands. I am amazed that with all the turnover that so many fittings remained and did not "walk".

  11. I, too, went to that showcase. I, too, live very nearby and I am so grateful that this house is being cared for by the present owner. Your post was wonderful. I will reread it and refer to it often in the years ahead. Thank you for it!

  12. Back in the 1980's while a seminarian for the Diocese of Paterson (NJ) we gathered together here for our annual seminarian retreat every August before returning to our respective seminaries. I attended in 1984, 85, 86 & 87. They were memorable moments of fellowship and spiritual renewal with my brother seminarians. We even had one day when the priests of the diocese would join us for a barbecue. Staying in this amazing estate was breathtaking. The rooms were basic in those days and we shared bathrooms in the larger dorm style rooms upstairs, but the old world charm of the house was simply wonderful. Some of my best moments of reflection were on walks around the beautiful grounds. I used to befriend the college students who worked in the kitchen to prepare our meals. They were always full of fun stories about the place. Beautiful memories of a beautiful estate. I'd love to visit it again.

  13. All,
    I am the current owner of La Selva and have been restoring the home and gardens for the past 8 years.
    It is a majestic property. Thank you sharing your love and knowledge.

    1. Hello, I was a Franciscan brother, and resided at La Selva from July 1963 to January 1965. My time spent there as a brother was outstanding. The building, the grounds, the history behind the house, only added to it's charm and beauty. I frequently worked on the grounds under the auspices of our caretaker, and found that work extremely rewarding. I also spent time working in the garages. I have not been back to the property since 1965, and would very much love visit. If you could advise me as to how to set up a date and time to visit, it would most appreciated.

  14. I drove by on Sunday after a visit to Planting Fields. The stucco walls look great and the grounds look very well kept. I too saw the house during the designer showcase and you’re lucky to own such a gem. And your honey is delicious! It’s great that you’re raising bees. Thank you for all you’re doing to keep a very special property intact.