Click on photos to enlarge.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Lynnewood Hall

Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, PA (1897-1900), Horace Trumbauer, architect.
Anyone wanna buy a nice, 110-room mansion? It's located in the northern Philadelphia suburb of Elkins Park and occupies some 34 acres of prime real estate. The place is a real bargain, the asking price only $15.5-million, marked down from $20-million just a year ago. What's the catch? Well, if you've got the purchase price, you'd better also have that much more in the bank with which to restore the historic landmark (estimates range from $3-million to $50-million). Lynnewood Hall was designed by the relatively well-known (at the time) architect, Horace Trumbauer, who made his reputation by stoking millionaire egos and building them luxurious, pretentious, Neoclassical Revival mansions steeped with lavish interior details and unholy extravagance.
The original estate included properties more than doubling the area of Widener's showplace.
Built over a span of three years (1897-1900), Lynnewood's flamboyant millionaire patron was the streetcar magnate Peter Arrell Browne Widener (P.A.B Widener for short) founder of the Philadelphia Traction Company as well as an investor in several other public transportation endeavors in major cities across the country. He began his rise to the great wealth during the Civil War by selling mutton (at a substantial profit) to the Union Army. Widener is considered one of the top 100 wealthiest men of his time, leaving a fortune of some $31-million ($763-million today) when he died in 1915. On the side, Widener also put down bets on U.S. Steel, Standard Oil, American Tobacco Company, and (along with J.P. Morgan) the International Mercantile Marine, owner of the White Star Line and thus the ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic.

Widener scoured Europe, picking up art bargains with signatures later to become household names.
Although Lynnewood Hall possesses an eye-catching grandeur from the outside, what was inside was even more legendary. After Trumbauer satisfactorily completed his ornate pile of stone, Widener set off to Europe to decorate his palace with the finest paintings his burgeoning bankroll could buy. He picked up on Manet and Renoir before all the other robber barons in America did. His collection grew to more than 2,000 pieces of art, including two Vermeer’s, which would go on to make a significant chunk of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Of course if you’re gonna drop a few bucks on Raphaels and Donatellos you may as well cover up those plain plaster walls with bodacious royal swag. Widener collected in the princely tradition; antique furniture, tapestries, and other decorative art in creating a palatial setting for his Old Master paintings and sculpture. Widener's stash also included more than a dozen paintings by Rembrandt as well as works by Édouard Manet and Auguste Renoir.

The P.A.B. Widener Mansion, Broad St. & Girard Ave., Philadelphia, PA around 1887. It was demolished in 1980.
P.A.B. Widener already owned a massive eclectic Flemish style mansion in the city (above) when he chartered Trumbauer to build him something grander. Later Widener decided to build an addition to his palace just to house his art. So the Wideners built an art gallery for the mansion, which had a Rembrandt Room, a Raphael Room, plus a room dedicated to Anthony Van Dyck. Viewed one of the best collections of Italian art in the world the youngest son, Joseph, Widener bragged that his father got his bust of St. John out of Italy before Mussolini came to power. His guest responded that Mussolini would have gladly let it out if he knew how beautifully Widener planned to display it. Other notables that made house calls to Lynnewood include Beatriz, Infanta of Spain and Alonzo, the King of Spain’s bro. The Crown Prince of Sweden and the Grand Duchess Marie of Russia.

Over the top...several times over.
The walls were covered with red velvet and the floor sported a 17th century carpet from Isfahan. For the ceiling Widener bought a fresco from an Italian palace painted by Tiepolo. When Peter A.B. Widener and his three sons threw a party The New York Times covered it. One particular bash in 1911 included several two-and-a-half mile steeplechase horse races outside (the estate sported its own racetrack), and viewings of those Rembrandt paintings inside. The finest of East Coast socialites attended. One of them even got runover by a horse named Meltonere, which threw its jockey during a fall over a fence, then bolted into the crowd seriously injuring a lady around the scalp. She lived. The jockey died from his injuries.

The Gilded Age house had 55 bedrooms, each with its own bath. There were more than 100 servants.
Today, the once magnificent Lynnewood Hall is a mess. Joseph Widener did his best to maintain the estate until his death in 1943. The art collection was then broken up with pieces going to museums in Philadelphia, New York, and predominantly the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. With an art collection on the prodigious scale of the Wideners, they might well have turned Lynnewood Hall into an art museum to rival Philadelphia's own museum of art. However, it is here that the tragedy of the H.M.S. Titanic comes into play.

Almost eighty years of avarice and neglect have wrecked havoc as Lynnewood was gradually stripped of its interior embellishments by the religious groups which became its owners.
As mentioned earlier, the Wideners invested some of their fortune in the International Mercantile Marine (IMM), parent company of the White Star Line, which built the Titanic. P.A.B. Widener’s eldest son, George, was on the board of directors. Unfortunately, both he and his son, Harry, were on board the ship for its inaugural trip. The night the ship went down, Captain Edward Smith enjoyed a dinner given in his honor hosted by the Wideners. The ship's captain had to leave the party early to check on reports of icebergs ahead. It was the Wideners last meal. Captain Smith survived; the Wideners did not.

Eleanor Elkins Widener is shown in the top row, second from left.
P.A.B. Widener was devastated by the loss of his son and grandson. Despite reports saying there was no way they could have survived, Widener left Lynnewood Hall for New York to personally oversee the search for his family. The only family survivor was Eleanor Elkins Widener, P.A.B.’s daughter-in-law. She was prominent enough to be one of 13 survivors pictured on the front of the April 17 New York Times cover (above). After the disaster, she dedicated her life to philanthropy. P.A.B. Widener died at Lynnewood in November of 1915. Doctors attributed his death in part to, “...the deep sorrow caused by the loss of his son and grandson in the Titanic disaster."

Lynnewood's "chapel," a remnant from the mansion's seminary days.
Today the property has been reduced down from its original 200 acres. The area with the racetrack was sold off long ago, but the track is still clearly visible from above because the developer utilized it as a road. Like the Titanic, Lynnewood Hall slowly began to sink after P.A.B.’s son Joseph death. During the 1940s a developer purchased the bulk of the land (the racetrack area and more) for a little less than $660,000. That area is a housing development called Lynnewood Gardens today. The mansion, (something of a "white elephant" even when new) didn’t sell after years on the market. None of the Wideners wanted it. The same developer purchased it for $130,000 in 1948. He didn’t find a buyer until 1952. The Reverend Carl McIntire plunked down $190,000 for the title and kicked in another $150,000 to update the electrical system and repair some vandalism. Many of the walls were painted war-surplus battleship gray to save money. McIntire, used Lynnewood Hall as a theological seminary. Since 1996, the mansion has been owned by one of McIntire's former students, Richard Yoon and the First Korean Church of New York. Since then, a lot of time has been spent fighting with local authorities over taxes and zoning, as well as proposals for the preservation and eventual restoration of the "Last of the American Versailles."

Every self-respecting Gilded Age mansion had to have
an indoor swimming pool.


No comments:

Post a Comment