Main house from Ashbourne Rd. - May 2007
|Architectural style||Neoclassical Revival|
|Address||920 Spring Ave.|
|Town or city||Elkins Park, Pennsylvania|
|Client||Peter A. B. Widener|
|Floor area||70,000 square feet|
|Design and construction|
Lynnewood Hall is a 110-room Neoclassical Revival mansion in Elkins Park, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, designed by architect Horace Trumbauer for industrialist Peter A. B. Widener between 1897 and 1900. Considered the largest surviving Gilded Age mansion in the Philadelphia area, it housed one of the most important Gilded Age private art collections of European masterpieces and decorative arts assembled by Widener and his younger son Joseph.
Peter A. B. Widener died at Lynnewood Hall at the age of 80 on November 6, 1915 after prolonged poor health. He was predeceased by his elder son George Dunton Widener and grandson Harry Elkins Widener, both of whom died when the Titanic sank in 1912.
Built from Indiana limestone, the "T"-shaped Lynnewood Hall (dubbed "The last of the American Versailles" by Widener's grandson) measures 325 feet (99 m) long by 215 feet (66 m) deep. In addition to 55 bedrooms, the 110-room mansion had a large art gallery, a ballroom, swimming pool, wine cellars, a farm and an electrical power plant. From 1915 to 1940, the spectacular art collection at Lynnewood Hall was open to the public by appointment between June and October. In 1940, Joseph E. Widener donated more than 2,000 sculptures, paintings, decorative art, and porcelains to the National Gallery of Art.
Lynnewood Hall after Widener ownership
Lynnewood Hall suffered a general decline under the ownership of the Faith Theological Seminary, a religious group headed by Carl McIntire, which purchased it in 1952 for $192,000. During that ownership much interior detailing, such as mantels, walnut paneling, and landscape ornamentation was sold off in order to raise funds. This is evidenced by the 2006 auction of a French bronze figural fountain—one of only two major surviving Henri-Leon Greber commissions in America—originally installed at Lynnewood Hall.
Lynnewood Hall was added to the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia's 2003 list for most endangered historic properties and is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It is cited in Cheltenham Township's Comprehensive Plan as one of the township's cultural and historical resources, and in the township's Open Space Plan as a priority for preservation, warranting a conservation easement. The seminary and property was eventually foreclosed upon by the second-mortgagee, reportedly a one-time follower of McIntire.
At 33.85 acres (according to Montgomery County Board of Assessment data), Lynnewood Hall currently is owned by the First Korean Church of New York. However, Lynnewood is not in use by that church and remains vacant. As of 2007 no significant stabilization or repair efforts have been evident. On June 25, 2007, the Cheltenham Township Planning Commission reviewed and denied a submitted request (Appeal No. 3225) by the First Korean Church of New York, Inc., owner of premises known as 920 Spring Avenue, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania from the Decision of the Zoning Officer for a variance from the rules and regulations of the Class R-2 Residence District as outlined in CCS 295-14. for the use of the premises as a Church and a Domicile for a Caretaker/Assistant Pastor instead of one of the permitted enumerated uses.
This was the second such request, the first submitted in 1998, for a variance. That resulted in a lawsuit [see First Korean Church of New York v. Twp. of Cheltenham Zoning Bd; submitted to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court May 2001], which upheld Cheltenham's denial of the request.
There have been negotiations ongoing of new ownership and possible renovations to the estate. Parties had hoped to have a plan finalized by the end of 2011. The proposed renovation could take the estate back to a private residence, and offer guest rooms to social elite and that of a high society bed and breakfast. Ongoing searches for previous pieces of the estate that belonged to Lynnewood Hall have been undertaken, and the total cost to the renovation and landscaping is ranging in the near 12 million dollar mark.
In a state court decision handed down in February 2012 by Judge Norma L. Shapiro, the court ruled the First Korean Church of New York, Inc. did not qualify for tax exemption. In a rare interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer after this court ruling with Dr. Richard S. Yoon, video cameras were permitted inside Lynnewood Hall and the original seminary chapel. Dr. Yoon stated, “We have no choice (but) to relocate. We don’t want to fight any more.”
The mansion's grounds, bordered by Ashbourne Road, Spring Avenue and Cedar Lane, are surrounded by their original wrought-iron fencing and gates with stone base and pillars, in marked contrast to that of nearby Trumbauer contemporary Whitemarsh Hall whose similar fencing (which encompassed a much greater acreage) was sacrificed for wartime scrap and rapid postwar development. A gatehouse and another staff outbuilding, of the same materials as Lynnewood, also still exist within the fence. The property within the fence has remained contiguous, never having been subdivided.
- Anonymous. P.A.B. WIDENER, CAPITALIST, DIES. The New York Times, November 7, 1915, Picture Section Rotogravure: Part 1, Page 5.
- Boston Evening Transcript - November 6, 1915
- Time Magazine
- Bonhams - Headlines
- Cheltenham Township Comprehensive Plan February 2005
- Cheltenham Township Open Space Plan February 2006
- Court document, First Korean Church of New York, Inc. v. Cheltenham Township Zoning Hearing Board and Cheltenham Township, Doc. No. 65-6389, February 29, 2012.
- http://www.philly.com/philly/video/BC1523010076001.html, March 30, 2012.
- Lynnewood Fountain Auctions for $392,250 at Bonhams Garden Statuary Sale, 2006
- New York Times P.A.B. Widener Dies, November 7, 1915
- Images from Life magazine of Lynnewood from 1938 by Hansel Mieth
- Site dedicated to Lynnewood Hall and its preservation.
- Photographs of the main house and grounds
- Historical Information
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