Pelham's Most Celebrated Architect

C. Lewis Bowman (1890-1970)

The New York Times once said of the architect, C. Lewis Bowman: "owners of Bowman houses announce the fact in rather the same tone that a Rolls-Royce owner might use with the owner of a Ford." He was arguably both the most talented and the most prolific architect in lower Westchester in the 1920s. While his fame largely rose from his work in the Village of Bronxville, his career began in Pelham.  

A graduate of Mount Vernon High School, Bowman attended Cornell University in 1908 at a time when the architecture program, led by a graduate of the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, was being reorganized to focus more on art than science and where design detail took precedence over plain engineering. Bowman spent his summers working at America’s most famous architectural firm: McKim, Mead & White. He graduated first in his class, winning multiple awards and a fellowship, and completed his masters degree in one year.

Had Bowman joined the McKim firm, he might have worked on some of the most significant commissions in the country, but likely would have toiled away in relative obscurity as one of many in the firm’s huge drafting room. Instead, he became the chief architect for a small home-building firm in Mount Vernon called “Gramatan Homes.” His suburban home designs while substantial, did not rise to the level of McKim’s Gilded Age clients, but the job provided him with complete responsibility over the construction of a slew of homes, including several in Pelham. Among them was the house at 236 Elderwood Avenue, built for G. Vernor Rogers (General Manager of the New York Tribune newspaper), and 101 Witherbee Avenue, for George Brehm (the famous illustrator, whose work was often seen on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post).

Left: C. Lewis Bowman.  Photo Courtesy of Sarah Bowman Brady and the Bronxville History Center

Above:  Bowman's drawings as architect at Gramatan Homes for the design of 236 Elderwood home for G. Vernor Rogers.
From Village of Pelham Building Department.

Upon the death of his father in 1918, Bowman inherited several lots in Pelham Heights (then its own village), providing an opportunity to leave Gramatan Homes and open his own practice. He couldn’t have picked a better time. With a laissez-fairre government policy, the administration of Calvin Coolidge ushered through a substantial cut in federal taxes, spending, and debt. The “Roaring ‘20s” were on and New York was becoming the financial capital of the world. It was also a time when the restrained Shingle Style Victorian and Colonial Style homes of the prior decades were giving way to new, revivalist styles, including what was dubbed “Stockbroker Tudor” for all the Wall Street tycoons buying homes in the style. Bowman designed in Pelham the “Cotswold Cottage” home for L.A. Van Patten at 214 Elderwood in 1920.  He completed the Tudor Revival home at 189 Boulevard (which appears to have been his first “spec” house), and designed right next door at 261 Eastland a companion Tudor Revival house that became his own home.  Other Pelham homes that he designed were: 270 Highbrook Avenue (1921) for Caroline and Anthony Longo (the contractor who built many of Bowman’s houses) and 110 Pelhamdale Avenue (1921) for Mrs. J.E. Duff (divorced wife of real estate developer John Ewing Duff).  In 1923, he designed the sprawling Spanish Colonial Revival house at 244 Pelhamdale Avenue for Roy W. Howard (president of the Scripps-Howard newspapers).

Above:  Lewis Bowman's Pelham Home at 261 Eastland Avenue as published in The American Architect & Architectural Review

Bowman moved his studio from Mount Vernon to Bronxville, which had substantial vacant land likely to generate major commissions. The studio (which also later became his home) still stands on the southwest corner of Pondfield Road and Route 22. He designed scores of magnificent Tudor Revival homes in Bronxville and surrounding communities in lower Westchester. While no longer physically in Pelham, Bowman returned to Pelham to complete a significant commission for the home of Clifford T. Weihman (1907-1983) at 401 Monterey Avenue.  

Clifford Weihman was a Wharton and Sorbonne graduate. He served in World War I as part of the American Expeditionary Force, and was highly decorated, receiving the Croix De Guerre after he crawled behind enemy lines while under machine gun fire to save a wounded soldier.  He made his fortune early in the importation of vegetable oils and, as his obituary noted, “devoted the remainder of his life to civic and social affairs.”  In Pelham he was active in the Pelham Community Trust, served as president of Mount Vernon Hospital (leading the institution in becoming (at that time) one of the largest and most fiscally sound in Westchester), and donated the funds to create the “Martha Weihman Memorial Park” in Pelham Manor.  For fun, he was a wine connoisseur rising to the level of Grand Pilier of the Conferie des Chavaliers du Tastevin, Brotherhood of Wine Tasters (which dedicated a room to him in the 600-year old Chateau du Clos de Vougeot in Burgundy, France).

Left:  Clifford Weihman in front of 401 Monterey in 1975.  Photo by Peter Flagg Maxson, "Lewis Bowman and the Jacobethan Revival," Masters Architectural Thesis, University of Virginia (1975)

Built of native granite with graduated slate roof, the Cifford Weihman House was among Lewis Bowman’s first designs in what became called the “Jacobethan Revival” -- a hybrid style that crossed the medieval architecture of Jacobean England with the more classically-influenced period under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.    In the Weihman House, Bowman masterfully combined more rustic materials and forms with such classical elements as limestone quoining, window surrounds, and a pointed arch front door.

Clifford Weihman lived at 401 Monterey for almost half a century until his death in 1983, changing almost nothing about the original design. With only two owners since then, the house is remarkably in tact, retaining all its original leaded, cross-hatched, steel casement windows that are so closely associated with the style.

Left:  401 Monterey on April 27, 1927.  Photo from Pelham Town Historian "Montgomery Slide" Collection, digitized no. 3-076.

While Bowman’s practice exploded, satisfied clients retained him to design second homes as far away as North Carolina. He completed one more Pelham project late in his career:  the impressive Colonial Revival Home at 4 Priory Lane for Francis Marion Flynn, owner of the Daily News newspaper. The house is a departure from the Tudor Revival homes so closely associated with the bulk of his work, but he again employed the use of native granite to define the front pedimented and protruding entrance bay and adapted his talent and attention to detail in working in the new popular style of the time.

Arthur L. Scinta, Town Historian

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