IF YOU'RE THINKING OF LIVING IN: TUXEDO 

By ANTHONY DePALMA
Published: June 12, 1983

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AT dusk, when a light fog unfurls across Tuxedo Lake and fishermen c ast from small boats dwarfed by the surrounding hills, Tuxedo Park i n Orange County resembles a quiet Scottish loch a century ago.

That scene has changed little since 1885, when Pierre Lorillard, scion of the wealthy tobacco family, decided to fence in 4,000 acres of hilly, wooded land and build an elegant hunting and gaming retreat for his family and friends.

Today Tuxedo Park remains quiet, sporty and most of all secure, its famous guarded front gates still barring all but those who either live inside or have been invited.

Because of its reputation as a playground for millionaires from New York - just 40 miles away - Tuxedo Park scares away many prospective homebuyers who assume that prices exclude them. In truth, however, although some mansions and estates are on the market for $1 million or more, many of the 300 houses in Tuxedo Park, today an incorporated village, are reasonably priced and in line with the rest of the New York-Northern New Jersey market.

''There's a real misconception that you have to be loaded to live in Tuxedo Park,'' said Andrea Bierce, a management consultant in New York City. Mrs. Bierce and her husband, Alexander, who has a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, purchased a 1.4-acre lot near one of Tuxedo Park's three lakes in 1979 for $25,000, and built their own Georgian-style, solar-enhanced house on it.

The Bierces are typical of a number of professional couples in their mid-30's who have moved into the village over the last few years, either building their own houses or purchasing smaller buildings, former servants' quarters and carriage houses.

When Frank S. Bell, the Mayor of Tuxedo Park, moved in from New York City in 1966, the atmosphere was quite different, with roughly half of the homes either abandoned or vacant.

''When we first looked at Tuxedo Park, the realtor showed us 30 houses for under $30,000, and not one of them had fewer than 10 rooms,'' said Mr. Bell, the president of an engineering company in Mahwah. ''It doesn't sound like it today, but buying in Tuxedo Park then was a gutsy thing to do.''

The colorful past of Tuxedo Park - now listed on the National Registry of Historic Places - reflects the ups and downs of the American economy over the last century. During its heyday, roughly from the turn of the century to the Depression, Tuxedo Park reigned as one of industrial America's most prestigious private enclaves.

Tucked away in the woods and with the powerful presence of the Tuxedo Club -an exclusive social spa restricted to residents - Tuxedo Park was a bit less stiff-necked than Newport but no less elegant. In fact, it was at the community's first annual Spring Ball in 1886 that a tail-less formal jacket was first worn, establishing a fashion - called the tuxedo - that remains popular today.

The Depression hit Tuxedo Park harder than other places and recovery was slow. By 1950, many families were gone and some of the larger mansions had been abandoned or deliberately burned. In 1953, no longer able to sustain its services - including its own school, police force and crews for 30 miles of roads - Tuxedo Park incorporated as a self-governing village within the township of Tuxedo.

Restrictions determining who can purchase a home in Tuxedo Park have been abolished. The admissions criteria for the Tuxedo Club also have been loosened. Although membership is still by invitation only, it is no longer limited to residents, and only half of Tuxedo Park's population belongs to the club.

Homeowners in Tuxedo Park pay four sets of taxes - village, county, town and school taxes - a combined rate of about $41 per $1,000 of assessed value. On a house with a market value of $150,000, the taxes, assessed at roughly 60 percent, would be $3,690. There are roughly 1,000 people living in the village, constituting about onequarter of the population of the entire township of Tuxedo, which surrounds it. Taxes in other Tuxedo communities range from $32 to $42 per $1,000, depending on school district. LOCAL brokers say that there usually are no more than 25 houses a vailable in the village at any one time. Margaret S. Mason, p resident of a local real-estate company, said that prices ranged f rom $150,000 to $1 million, and that most homes had substantially a ppreciated in value over the past few years.

Two recent sales give some indication of the market. A contemporary five-bedroom house built on part of the stone foundation of a much larger one that burned years ago sold in March for $230,000. The house, on two acres of land, carries yearly taxes of $4,500.

Also in March, a converted stone carriage house on seven acres on Lookout Road sold for $275,000. Taxes also were about $4,500. House styles range widely, but the heavy stone-and-shingle architecture of Bruce Price, Pierre Lorillard's architect, is most characteristic. One curious feature of many of the grand homes is that they lack the sweeping front lawns that might have been expected had they been built on flat ground rather than the ridges of the Ramapo Mountains.

Tuxedo Park is considered one of the first planned communities in the United States. As laid out by Price and Lorillard, it had its own water supply, hospital, prison and even its own fish hatchery.

The Tuxedo Park School, with grades K through 9, is now a private academy of 130 students that charges up to $3,500 a year in tuition and accepts students from outside the community. Residents also have the option of sending their children to the 450-student Tuxedo Union Free Schools District, which has a high school and a K through 6 elementary school on Route 17 just south of the Tuxedo Park gates.

The township of Tuxedo covers 31,000 acres stretching from the Rockland County border to Monroe and encompasses large sections of Harriman State Park and Palisades Interstate Park. The residents of Tuxedo and Tuxedo Park rarely mingle. The one exception comes during the summer, when township residents can buy passes to swim at the beach on Wee Wah, one of the village's lakes.

There are several older hamlets in Tuxedo Township, such as Southfields, Arden and Eagle Valley, along with newer enclaves in the Sterling Forest Corporation developments of Laurel Ridge and Clinton Woods. Brokers say house prices in these areas range from $90,000 to $175,000.

This area of Orange County is more rural than neighboring Rockland County, but it still is within easy reach of New York. The train ride on the former Erie Railroad - now the N.J. Transit's Bergen/Main Line - from Tuxedo Park to Hoboken takes about an hour, with a monthly ticket costing $113. The Short Line Bus Company route, through the Lincoln Tunnel into the Port Authority Bus Terminal, also takes about an hour and costs $126 for a monthly ticket.

A small shopping area on Route 17 near the Tuxedo Park entrance offers a variety of small stores, but many residents travel into Bergen County to shop. No stores of any kind are allowed in the village, which has remained strictly single-family residential (with just a few two-family exceptions) since 1885.

Tuxedo Park Associates, a general partnership that owns about 2,800 acres in and around Tuxedo Park, plans some development outside the village, but maintains that there are no plans to build inside. So as the village approaches its 100th anniversary, it seems that the tranquil woods, the abundant deer and the evanescent aura of a bygone age will continue to predominate for some time in Tuxedo Park, the world with the fence around it.

Tuxedo Park's future includes further scattered development on about 38 lots held by Tuxedo Park Associates, a general partnership that owns 200 acres inside the village and 2,600 more outside the Tuxedo Park gates.

George H. Boynton Sr., a principal of Tuxedo Park Associates, said that plans for a 200-unit development in Eagle Valley, outside the village, had received preliminary approval, but that a proposal to develop 40 acres just outside its northern boundary was still in the formative stages.

Despite rumors that have worried many local residents, Mr. Boynton insisted that there were no plans to build condominiums or apartments in the village.

Illustrations: map of Tuxedo, New York photo of houses on a hillside photo of guarded gate at lak
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