"Pelham Gardens"

In the economic boom of the post WWI "Roaring '20s," owning a home became a possibility for rising middle class New Yorkers.  "Pelham Gardens" was developed by an Italian-immigrant builder named John Altieri, who acquired a large tract of land between Clay and Washington Avenues in Pelham Manor.  Urban dwellers were lured by advertisements describing a neighborhood "thick with giant oak, beech, elm and chestnut" tress into which the homes were carefully inserted.  The forest-like setting also offered an easy commute, just a few blocks from Pelham Manor's train station (then located at the south end of the Esplanade). 

While more modest in size than many of the big "Stockbroker Tudors" built in Pelham in the same era, Altieri hired a local architect named Robert Kilmartin to design each home individually, with no two being alike.  A common service lane provided driveway access to garages, keeping cars and driveways off the front of the homes. 

Today the homes retain their original English cottage form and comprise a distinct mews-like community.  While all of the homes have had their original windows replaced, 14 Garden stands unique in preserving one of its original steel casement windows in the second floor gable facing the street.  

Left:  1914 map showing the area between Clay and Washington Avenues before the "Pelham Gardens" subdivision.  Note the streets at bottom, "Terrace Way," which is now an extension of Grant Avenue and "Business Place," most of which was taken for I-95.  "Union Street" is now Oak Lane and "Pelham Street" was extended and is now Monroe Street (and Pennfield Place)

Map from "Atlas of Westchester County, N.Y., Volume I, 1914, G.W. Bromley & Co., New York

Above:  Original advertisement for the "Pelham Gardens" development as it appeared in
the Mount Vernon Argus, September 26, 1925

Altieri seems to have done well as the developer of Pelham Gardens.  He went on to build the Tudor Revival Building at the corner of Wolfs Lane and Boulevard, which he called "Parkview Apartments" (recently renovated and re-branded as "The Fairchild," named after the original Pelham Heights developer and Congressman, Benjamin Fairchild).  He also built the row of stucoo townhouses at the end of the Esplanade (nos. 442-456).   In 1928, Altieri built the enormous "Pelham-Biltmore" apartment building (now a co-op) on Boston Post Road.  Sadly, he was bankrupt by the end of that year.

Left:  Ad for Pelham Gardens from the Mount Vernon Argus, October 3, 1925, p. 3

Robert "Catch-Me-If-You-Can" Kilmartin

Pelham Architect Turned Fraudster

Getting the commission to design more than a dozen houses in a new development in Pelham Manor would seem to be enough to make life exciting for most architects. But apparently not for Robert Kilmartin. After designing the homes of the “Pelham Gardens” development in 1925, he left Pelham and became a fraudster that rivaled Frank Abagnale as played by Leonardo DiCaprio in "Catch Me If You Can."

Married to the daughter of a well-off businessman from Westfield, New Jersey and with a son, Robert Jr., Kilmartin moved his family to Champaign, Ilinois in 1926 for a job as an architect with the University of Illinois. That August his wife reported him missing after he drove off in a Studebaker Roadster. A month later he was arrested in Nevade. He had bought the car with a bad check and kited many more all the way to Las Vegas.  Having abandoned his family, his wife had him held for failure to pay child support and asked that he be extradited back to Illinois.

In 1928, the American Bankers Association put out the equivalent of an “all points bulletin” to its members, reporting that Robert Kilmartin “who was first heard of in 1924, when his worthless check operations were reported at Mount Vernon, New York has again become active…. Kilmartin is an intelligent criminal believed to be well educated and generally gives his occupation as artist or architect….”  

Kilmartin seems to have skated free until 1935 when he was arrested in New York. Operating under at least ten aliases, he was wanted on a charge of transporting a stolen automobile. He was caught in a cafeteria by cops who posed as busboys handing out water to every patron, and then checking fingerprints on the glasses. On the twentieth glass, the fingerprints matched to Kilmartin. Somehow he slipped away again until later in the month where he was arrested in San Francisco and charged with driving a stolen car from Minneapolis, bouncing checks all along the way. In February 1935, he was sentenced to 12 months on a plea of forging numerous checks over the prior 15 years. He reportedly “asked to be sent to prison.”

Somehow Kilmartin managed to return to being an architect and, by 1939, had gotten himself hired as the architectural superintendent in the construction of a new civic auditorium in Santa Cruz. In July of that year, he lay in a hospital bed with a fractured skull and internal injuries from a car accident. (Reports did not indicate whether he had stolen the car.)

News accounts go quiet about Robert Kilmartin (possibly because he worked under an alias) until 20 years later when in January, 1959, he was accused of transporting a fraudulent check to Minnesota.

 Left: Photo of Robert Kilmartin (#28) attending a reunion dinner of alumni of the New York architectural firm Schwartz & Gross.  Pencil Points, Vol V, No. 3, March, 1924, p. 79

Kilmartin’s trail goes dead, except for a photo decades later in a California newspaper in 1973 of a well-dressed, elderly man named Robert Kilmartin. There is no mention about his past, reporting only that he enjoyed solitude at a senior citizen center, not far from his prior reported address.   The photo caption says (apparently not aware of the irony) "A Quiet Nook Away from the Action."  The Robert Kilmartin in the photo bears a resemblance to the Pelham architect by the same name.  The photo shows him reading a bible, leaving open the question of whether this was a case of true redemption -- or just another fraudulent act by Robert Kilmartin.

 Left: Photo of a man named Robert Kilmartin, who, despite his advanced age looks much like the architect who designed Pelham Gardens.  (From The San Francisco Examiner, February 20, 1973, p. 17)

Arthur L. Scinta, Town Historian

Mailing Address:
Pelham Town Hall, 34 Fifth Avenue, Pelham, NY 10803
Office Address:

Daronco Town House, 20 Fifth Avenue
Pelham, NY 10803, US

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