Dean Alvord, Belle Terre’s prince charming, came along in approximately 1903. To him we owe the concept of Belle Terre, as well as its most beautiful architecture. Son of a well-connected family in Syracuse, New York, Alvord moved to New York City for a career in real estate development. His keen aesthetic sense drew him to the “City Beautiful” movement, New Yorkers having realized that buildings could be beautiful as well as utilitarian. Alvord first won fame with his creation of Prospect Park South, a housing development in Brooklyn. Luxury homes in varying styles of architecture were required to be set back from the street to allow for large front lawns, utility lines had to be buried, and meridians filled with greenery were essential to beautify his development. These homes, now restored, have today become prime real estate. Prospect Park South was followed by the equally successful Roslyn Heights in Nassau County, to this day an upscale community.
As one reporter put it, however, Dean Alvord’s heart belonged to Belle Terre. In 1902 he was one of the five directors of the Port Jefferson Company which purchased Oakwood from the Strong family for the purpose of development. Successful at attracting investors, Alvord was chosen president of Belle Terre Estates, incorporated in 1906. It was in Belle Terre that Alvord built a home for himself which he named Nevalde and into Belle Terre (French for “beautiful land”) that he poured all his resources and his passion for architecture, nature and for life on a grand scale.
The focal point of his enterprise was the Belle Terre Club, a members-only organization designed to attract well-heeled New Yorkers. Alvord sat on various boards with the Whitneys, the Vanderbilts, the Astors and the Belmonts, all of whom were charter members of his club. The Club overlooked Port Jefferson Harbor and offered accommodations for 100 guests. In addition to a fireplace in every room, it boasted an eighteen-hole golf course, tennis courts, miles of bridle paths, a private bathing beach, and a service garage for those who arrived by motor. For a short time the Club even had its own post office. Elegant brochures were printed advertising Belle Terre as a place where one could achieve the ideal of a “perfect home in perfect surroundings.” Alvord championed refinement and good taste. He was careful to point out in print that membership in Belle Terre did not depend solely upon wealth, but on refinement. “Here,” said he, ”are scores of people of moderate means whose recognized social prominence is due to their refinement and lovable personality.”
With his friend Ralph Peters, President of the Long Island Railroad, Alvord arranged for a railroad car to be reserved exclusively for guests of the Club. The neoclassical railroad station at Port Jefferson where guests were met and driven to the Club was designed by Alvord’s architects Kirby, Petit & Green. To make the drive along Belle Terre Road attractive, Alvord gave homeowners near the Belle Terre gates seedlings of privet hedge. Some of those hedges still exist today.
Kirby, Petit & Green, designers of the Club and gatehouse, were likewise the architects of two white neoclassical pergolas erected on the cliff overlooking Long Island Sound and of Alvord’s private residence which overlooked the mouth of Port Jefferson Harbor. Both the pergolas and Alvord’s home contained pillars like those used in the railroad station – the upper two thirds fluted, the bottom, smooth.
In a part of Belle Terre called the English section Alvord created eight Tudor homes. Designed by the British architect Frederick Sterner who had already made his mark in New York City, the houses bore names such as Teignmouth Hall, Dawlish House, Malmesbury House, place names that reflected Sterner’s affection for his homeland to which he eventually returned.