Wednesday, May 8, 2013

From atop The Towers: The Strauss Mansion, Atlantic Highlands

From atop The Towers: The Strauss Mansion, Atlantic Highlands
Written by NJ Historian

Overlooking the Sandy Hook Bay with views of the New York City skyline, in Atlantic Highlands, is a most pleasant Victorian home known as the Strauss Manion. Stately and majestic, this two-tower Queen Anne style home was built on the side of a hill in a neighborhood full of similar older homes. Constructed during the Gilded Age, this home exemplifies the grandeur and opulence that wealthy businessmen demonstrated in this bayside community, only a few miles from Sandy Hook. 


This twenty-one room summer cottage was designed by architect Solomon H. Cohen for Adolph Strauss and his wife, Jeanette Rosenthal in 1893. Adolph Strauss was born on June 20, 1830 in Weiher, Germany. Adolph and Jeanette married in Germany before 1852 and settled in New York City before 1858. Adolph was an importer and dealer of "notions," which include small, useful items such as needles and harmonicas, according to an 1895 directory. His office was located at 120 Broadway between Cedar and Pine Streets. He may have also had a second office at 412 Broadway at Canal Street in a retail commercial district. Together, Adolph and Jeanette had seven children, the first born in 1858 and the last in 1872. 

Adolph was friends with many other wealthy New York businessmen who lived on 49th Street in New York City in brownstones. These men, collectively called the "49ers", all built homes in the rapidly growing town of Atlantic Highlands.
Adolph Strauss
Building a "summer cottage" near the seashore in New Jersey was a common trend in the late 1800s. During this Gilded Age, opulence was at an all-time high and no expense was spared to create lavish, and often unnecessarily large structures with multiple rooms and wings. In 1879, a surveyor was employed to lay out roads and lots for a permanent community in Atlantic Highlands. The Atlantic Highlands Association was formed by prominent members of the Methodist Church. This organization was influential in developing the com­munity. The roads around where the Strauss Mansion would later be built were designed in concentric circles of streets, due to the topography of the area. The property that Adolph bought consisted of three lots, two owned by John L. Perrine and one owned by Thomas Henry Leonard, who would become the first mayor of Atlantic Highlands in 1887. Between 1880 and 1900, the majority of Atlantic Highlands was constructed. Hotels, cottages, rooming houses, and private homes were built on handsome and well-appointed lots. A substantial pier was built extending into the bay to accommodate steamboats from New York City bringing wealthy travelers to their summer homes.

The home that architect Solomon H. Cohen designed in 1893 featured twenty-one rooms, sixty-nine doors, and seventy-windows. Reaching three stories in height, the exterior is decorated with fish-scale and pointed cedar shakes. A two-story wrap-around porch envelops two-and-a-half sides of the home, offering views of the surrounding area, Sandy Hook Bay, and the New York City skyline. Two towers, one round, and one six-sided, are found on the western corners of the house. These unique towers caused the home to be nicknamed "The Towers." The steep roof features many peaks, dormers, and gables, adding to its complexity. Three years after its completion, a news brief appeared in Monmouth Press noting that it was being expanded and remodeled. The expansion may refer to the kitchen, where it appears that what was once an outside porch was enclosed and opened to the interior. After the Strauss' ownership, another porch off the kitchen was built but has since been removed.

The fish-scale and pointed cedar shake motif on the Strauss Mansion.
A Dutch door with recessed panels on the bottom half and glass and prairie style grids on the upper half greets visitors upon arrival. The transom above the door is stained glass and features the initials A.S. (Adolph Strauss) in it. The door opens into a grand foyer decorated in hardwoods, including original chestnut paneling, a mahogany staircase, and a parquet floor featuring black walnut and golden oak. Five stained glass windows, four of which are original, cast a warm amber glow in this entrance to the home. To the right, a corner fireplace and mantel add a welcoming touch. The first floor contains a formal parlor with pocket doors, a dining room, breakfast room, butler's pantry, and kitchen. The second floor of the mansion contains four bedrooms and a bathroom. The third floor contains additional rooms and access to the rounded tower via a small staircase. 

A small staff of servants would have attended to the day-to-day operations of the home. An 1896 census lists two servants, Rosa Suchanita and Beatrice Snee. Most likely, local men were hired to care for the grounds and other locals may have been hired to serve as cooks and butlers. In 1900, the Strauss' were listed  in the U.S. census as employing five servants in their New York City residence, therefore it is possible that some of these employees made the trip with them to Atlantic Highlands for their summer stays but were not recorded.
The entrance foyer and mahogany staircase.
Adolph Strauss died in New York City in 1905 and buried in Ridgewood, Queens, New York. His heirs sold the property in 1907 to Ferdinand Minroth who owned the home into the 1930s. Between the 1930s and 1980, twelve subsequent owners used the home in varying capacities, including as a year-round residence, an apartment building, and even as the setting for a mystery movie. 

By 1980, it had fallen into deplorable condition and was condemned by the town. Unwilling to let this majestic structure disappear, the Atlantic Highlands Historical Society purchased it for $26,000 and took ownership on January 22, 1981. The Society planned to transform this former Queen Anne masterpiece into a museum, library, and headquarters. 

One of the first tasks at the Strauss Mansion was to reacquire the original stained glass windows that the previous owner had removed. For the sum of $1,500, the original windows were returned to the mansion. Asbestos siding was removed and underneath revealed a fish-scale and pointed cedar shake pattern, which has since been restored. After almost five years of volunteer restoration and clean-up, the first floor reopened as a museum on June 8, 1986. The second floor opened in 1989. In 1996, a portion of the third floor was opened to the public, allowing access to the beloved tower room. The mansion was added to the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places in 2012. The mansion is still not fully restored, but little by little, through grant monies and volunteers, evidence of renewal is noted in the halls and on the porches of the former Strauss "cottage" by the sea.


Additional photos of my trip to the Strauss Mansion on Pinterest

Audio
Strauss Mansion Podcast (right click and choose "save target/link as" to save to your hard drive)

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