Art dealer W. Graham Arader specialises in antique maps, books, and prints, and he has a side interest in antique houses. “I own the seventh-oldest house in San Francisco,” he says, “I own the only pristine beaux-arts mansion on Madison Avenue, and I own George Washington’s home in Virginia.” Also in his possession is a 19th century Victorian house in Nyack, New York.
Arader bought the home, roughly a 40-minute drive from Manhattan, for about US$6 million in 2005. “I bought it for the beauty of the house,” he says. “I’m an art dealer. I like things that are beautiful, plus I bought it for my seven children to use on the weekends.”
After 13 years, though, four of those children have left New York, and he has decided to put it on the market. It’s listed with Richard Ellis at Ellis Sotheby’s International Realty for US$4.75 million. “I’m taking a loss,” he says, “but I’m not using it any more.”
The house, known as “Pretty Penny”, was built in the 1850s for a local merchant and was bought in 1932 by actress Helen Hayes, who lived in it for more than 60 years. “She had all kinds of unbelievable guests,” Arader says.
Visitors to the home included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Marilyn Monroe, and Ronald Reagan. “Sometimes, her children and grandchildren come by to tell me how much they love the house,” Arader say.
Charles MacArthur, Hayes’s husband, commissioned Edward Hopper to paint the home; she later donated the work to Smith College, where it’s currently on view.
Shortly after Hayes’ death in 1993, it was bought by Rosie O’Donnell, who reportedly poured more than US$2 million into restoring it. “Honestly, Rosie did such a good job that I would not have changed any of her extremely wise, sophisticated, and elegant decisions,” Arader says. O’Donnell installed steel girders throughout the house and, among other touches, updated the rose garden Hayes had planted.
O’Donnell sold the house in 2000 to a buyer who sold it to Arader five years later.
Given O’Donnell’s “masterful” renovation, Arader says, he did very little to the interior, aside from filling it with art and furniture from his gallery. The house, which covers about 6,000 square feet, is built in the “Italianate Victorian” style, with a variety of ornamental flourishes.
The ground floor is primarily devoted to entertainment spaces. There’s a massive living room, kitchen, and formal dining room; in the basement is what Arader calls “the Helen Hayes bar”, which he says hasn’t been touched since her death.
“That’s where Marilyn Monroe, John Steinbeck, Orson Welles, and Frank Sinatra would all go to drink,” he says. “And Madonna would come over when Rosie owned it.”
There’s an en suite bedroom on the first floor and five more upstairs, three of them en suite. In total, the house has five full bathrooms and three partial bathrooms. O’Donnell, Arader says, “wisely” elected to put the air-handling units in the building’s widow’s watch, while the kitchen, he says, is another “Rosie O’Donnell masterpiece, with wonderful, new appliances.”
No less (if not more) important, Arader says, he put close to US$2 million into the landscaping.
The house sits on 1.2 acres (52,270 square feet) and Arader – whose first job was working as a tree surgeon (“I guess I switched to art because I kept cutting my leg with a chainsaw,” he says) – has a passion for rare trees. Every six months, he would take an order of “60 to 70 trees that would be driven across the country by my nurseryman”, he says.
The estate now includes redwoods, sequoias, spruces, hemlocks, and dozens of other species that thrive outside their native habitats with “intelligent irrigation”, Arader says. “I’ve had about an 85 per cent success rate.” The secret, he says, is watering the trees only twice a week – 30 minutes at a time – so it saturates the ground, “and the roots go down, not out”.
Along with the rose garden, the property contains a swimming pool and pool house, rolling gardens, and views of the Hudson River.
Given the US$2 million that Arader says he put into the landscaping, plus the US$6 million he says he initially paid for the property, the US$4.75 million price tag might give someone pause – particularly because, he says, “The chandeliers come with it and, if someone asks me nicely, a lot of the furniture will, too.”
“It’s worth much more, but I’ve done extremely well,” Arader explains. “I’ve had my fun, and yes, cash is cash, and I’m taking a terrible whipping on it. But if someone buys this because they can say they beat Graham Arader? Then great. I’ll take my whipping.”