475 W. Hartsdale Ave., Hartsdale, near White Plains, Westchester Co., N.Y.

Built in 1904, for Felix Moritz Warburg (1871-1937) and his wife, Frieda Schiff (1876-1958). Felix grew the estate from 30-acres to 500-acres on which he kept Guernsey cattle and his own private polo field. The estate holds an important place in the history of American Ballet as it was here that Balanchine - brought over from Russia by Eddie Warburg and Lincoln Kirstein - first performed "Serenade," now a regular fixture in the repertory of the New York City Ballet Company. It was also here that James Warburg met and fell in love with the Jazz Age composer and lyricist, Kay Swift, "the most important woman" in George Gershwin's life. The Warburg family are famous for their philanthropy (the Felix Warburg House in Manhattan is home to the Jewish Museum) and after Mrs Warburg died she gifted the Woodlands to the school district....

This house is best associated with...

Felix Moritz Warburg

Felix M. Warburg, Financier & Philanthropist, of New York


Frieda (Schiff) Warburg

Mrs Frieda "Fanny" (Schiff) Warburg


The Warburgs built their sprawling 35-room Tudor-Revival summer home next to the Germans' Century Country Club, and as at the Felix Warburg House on Fifth Avenue, Felix had an indoor squash court built here too. The estate - maintained by their superintendent, William B. Jones - featured fountain sculpture by Edward McArtan, an indoor palm court with indoor swimming pool designed by Charles W. Leavitt, and farm buildings designed by Elisha Harris Janes who may also have designed the mansion itself.

When Felix's brother, Paul, brought his wife, Nina, here, she thought it was "lovely" but preferred something with a view over the water like at Kosterburg - Max Warburg's 16-acre estate on the Elbe River near Hamburg where many of the German Warburgs kept summer homes. Felix opened up a mile-long vista through the woodland, giving a view directly across to the Hudson, satisfying Nina so that she and Paul built a house here too.

Creating vistas here then became something of a habit. When city life got too much, Felix would make a call up to the Woodlands and have one of the gardeners erect a wooden platform in one tree or another on the estate. Driving up from Manhattan, he'd settle himself on the platform for several hours, unwinding as he contemplated his next vista.

Balanchine's Serenade

It was decided by the Warburg family in June, 1934, that the School of American Ballet would come to perform here for Edward Warburg's 26th birthday, both to his bemusement and surprise. It came to mark a significant event in Balanchine's career and American Ballet as it was the first time that he would perform Serenade - the first entirely new ballet created by him. Having built a stage on the lawn especially, everyone was hoping for a full moon, but it rained, and they had to hold the performance the next day. Balanchine would later perform both Mozartiana and Dreams here too.

Kay Swift and George Gershwin

Another significant event for the American arts occurred here in 1916. The aspiring pianist, Kay Swift, had met Bettina Warburg while playing a concert at the Adirondacks estate of Bettina's relatives, the Seligmans. She and Bettina got on so well that Bettina invited her to Woodlands for the rest of the summer. There, she met Bettina's brother, James, and the three of them performed together. James and Kay were engaged by 1917 and married the following year. They had three children together but after she met George Gershwin in 1925 the two Jazz Age musicians became intensely devoted to one another. While Gershwin remains almost a household name, it is often overlooked that Kay's music had a huge influence on the development of the American musical.

On the Farm with Old MacDonald

Among the many distinguished visitors who came to repose here or with whom Felix hoped to use his influence to advance his philanthropy and bring social change, was the British Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald. In 1929, Felix invited him to the Woodlands in an effort to derail the Balfour Declaration - the first public expression of support for Zionism by a major political power. Felix was one of the greatest Jewish philanthropists of all time, but he was not a Zionist - he believed in uniting races and nations, not dividing them. He opposed the creation of a Jewish state, but nonetheless strove to see Palestine become a refuge for oppressed peoples in Eastern Europe, believing it afforded, "a unique opportunity to prove that Jews and Arabs could work co-operatively together".

Woodlands Today

After Felix died in 1937, Frieda downsized to Meadow Farm for her summers while Woodlands was retained for her extended family who built houses here. When she died in 1958, she gifted the estate's remaining 150-acres to the town of Greenburgh on which to build a public school. The land is now home to the Greenburgh Central School District and Woodlands High School while the mansion itself served for many years as the school district headquarters. Sadly, it was announced in 2019 that the mansion was "unsafe" being in need of a new roof and some exterior work. Its future remains unclear.

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 13/07/2021 and last updated on 16/07/2021.
Image Courtesy of Pamela Geiger


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