Transcribed from the “National Builder” volume 66 (2) p. 13, published February, 1923.
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There is a group of houses in Rye NY that automobile parties go out of their way to see – one of those local attractions to be shown wee-end visitors, as proof that “we live in the finest suburb of New York City.” Rye is a suburban city at the extreme eastern tip of Westchester County, on Long Island Sound. It is the last stop on the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad in New York State. Through this little city runs the famous old Boston Post Road, known to everyone in the New York district who owns an automobile. The houses that attract so much attention are near the Boston Post Road – probably the most traveled automobile tourist road in the United States. The landscape is rugged and rocky, quite heavily wooded, thus lending itself very readily to the character of the development.
Two brothers are responsible for most of the remarkably pretty houses which are ideally located on the rugged, rocky, wooded slopes. They are H. Leland Magill and Urwin J. Magill. Some of the work of H. Leland Magill is shown herewith…
H. Leland Magill is the younger of the two brothers. He attended Pratt Institute, Brooklyn NY, and studied both craftsmanship and architecture. With that fundamental training he soon found a opportunity to exercise his initiative. A very few years ago, with capital of about $6000 – just about enough to finance one house – he began designing and building homes.
Mr. Magill had not only a fundamental education in carpentry and house architecture and native initiative, but he had an idea. He realized that there are in every big city a great many salaried men who accumulate families and get tired of apartment house or city flat life; yet who, for one good reason or another, do not want to buy suburban homes. … however much they may be sold on suburban living.
Mr. Magill then set himself to the problem of supplying homes to this class of home believers. By purchasing land in large plots and developing the plots as a whole he was able to buy real estate to advantage, and he was able to develop his property in large units and not merely as individual narrow building lots. For example, building a group of houses forming a hollow square made it possible to develop the interior of the square as a community park or playground, and thus add many attractive advantages over the usual “backyard” with fences and ash cans.
The houses nestle into the landscape as if they were a part of it. They show originality of design, inside and out. They are designed to be real “homey homes.” They have to sell themselves although they can’t be bought.
Builds, Leases, and Operates
Mr. Magill has no building organization of his own, but buys all of the material and equipment. He sublets the work like masonry, plastering, electric wiring, plumbing, etc., in separate contracts.
He finances his house construction by first and second mortgages on houses as fast as they are completed. He finances his mortgages through a Westchester County trust company which charges 3 1/2 percent commission and 6 percent interest. Some of his material bills he takes care of with second mortgages and personal notes.
Mr. Magill does not sell a single house (he later sold several houses, one to the St. Claires). He leases them for two-year terms at rentals of from $1,600 to $2,100 per year (equivalent to $19,943-$26,175 in 2009 dollars). The houses on the lots represent actual investments of from $10,000 to $20,000 each (equivalent to $124,641-$248,282 in 2009 dollars). He handles some of the renting himself but some is done through regular real estate agency channels.
Of course, no small part of the success of such a colony is the exercise of discretion in making leases. He is not selling the houses, but operating them. Consequently he has to have a special talent as a landlord and manager as well as a builder.
He is incorporated as a company, but last year he bought the last outstanding share of stock. He is still a very young man. He was in the army during the World War and has since been handicapped a great deal by sickness. Yet today he is the proprietor and sole owner of a holding corporation which owns and operates scores of such houses as are illustrated in this issue.
In addition to the work described Mr. Magill also serves clients as an architect and building contractor.
Postscript: In October 1929 the stock market crashed sending the world into the Great Depression. Leland Magill’s business model did not fare well in this economic environment with renters losing jobs and no new renters to replace them. By 1935 after five very difficult years, Leland had lost his home and all of his investments in Milton Gardens. Nevertheless, many of the residents of Milton Gardens lived long and productive lives and remained life-long friends with each other. With the help of NY Congresswoman O’Day Leland was fortunate to secure an architectural position with the Veterans Administration in Washington DC where he remained employed until retirement in 1960.