By Maddie Orton
It took eight years and its own dedicated train line to build. The Straus family, owners of Macy’s, spared no expense to create their massive French-Norman-style estate. And now a large portion of that, Cobble Close Farm, will be sold in its entirety for the first time since the family auctioned it off in 1949. And — for $10.9 million — it could be yours.
Herbert Nathan Straus and his wife, Therese Kuhn Straus built the estate in the 1920s. Herbert’s father, Isador, was the Macy’s co-owner and U.S. congressman, who perished on the Titanic, famously, with his wife Ida by his side. For Herbert and his wife, Therese, the estate was to be their own piece of France in Red Bank.
“She loved everything French, so she sent an American architect to Europe, and he came back with about a hundred masons and artisans. And they brought back with them materials from disassembled estates in Normandy, and they built what you see here,” said resident Jeffrey Mindham.
After Herbert’s death in 1933, Therese put the estate up for sale in large sections. One of those was this “Gentleman’s Dairy Farm.”
“And nobody wanted it. ‘What am I going to do with all these buildings,’ you know?” asked resident Fred Century.
Century and his partner, Woody, bought Cobble Close Farm from the Straus family.
“It would have been killed [for] financial reasons. It would have never existed, so I’m really, really happy that we managed to give it some vitality and a long lifespan,” Century said.
Much of the property was farm-assessed, which meant lower taxes. And the men turned the other buildings on the farm into homes.
Five residences sit on the 13 acres that make up Cobble Close Farm.
Since that transformation, it’s housed Nadia Gray from the film La Dolce Vida and Stephanie Von Hohenlohe, a former princess-turned Nazi spy-turned U.S. informant on Hitler. It’s also been a location for everything from a 1970s pornographic film set to a Brooks Brothers catalogue shoot. But for the most part, it’s been a home for people like Mindham. He lives in what once was the cow barn.
“I’m standing in where the trough used to be. There was a trough that ran down the center of the living room,” he said.
While the purposes of buildings have changed, overall preservation of the property remains a priority.
“We’ve tried to preserve as much as possible,” Century said.
“We don’t throw anything away — not even a doorknob of a light socket. We keep everything and try to refurbish it,” said Mindham.
And even though Mindham, Century and their fellow historic homeowners plan to sell Cobble Close, they take comfort in knowing the compound configuration makes it sustainable for the long haul.
When asked if he thinks that’s going to be able to keep Cobble Close alive, Century said, “Oh sure. Yeah. The way it’s set up now, there’s no reason it can’t go into perpetuity.”
Who will grab the baton though, has yet to be decided.