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 married (Lena Curtis Dye)|
|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 large enough for 1000 guests, swimming pool, wine cellars, a farm, carpentry and upholstery studios, and an electrical power plant.
A 2014 Philadelphia Inquirer article described the mansion as "dripping with silk, velvet, and gilded moldings, the rooms furnished with chairs from Louis XV's palace, Persian rugs, and Chinese pottery, the halls crammed with art by Raphael, Rembrandt, El Greco, Van Dyck, Donatello." TIME magazine published an account of a lavish party held at Lynnewood Hall in 1932.
Art Collection at Lynnewood Hall
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. The paintings donated included Raphael's Small Cowper Madonna, Bellini's Feast of the gods, eight van Dycks, two Vermeers, fourteen Rembrandts, and a series of portraits by Gainsborough and Reynolds. The sculptures donated included Donatello's David and Desiderio da Settignano's St John the Baptist.
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 of renovations will be determined by the Buyer. 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.
This property is currently on the market for $16,500,000 as of July 2015. A historical restoration architect estimated in 2014 that it would take about $50 million to restore the mansion its former glory.
George Dunton Widener and Harry Elkins Widener, the eldest son and grandson of Peter A. B. Widener respectively, both perished in the 1912 sinking of the Titanic. George and his wife, Eleanor Elkins Widener, traveled to Europe with their son Harry in 1912, booking a return passage on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. George hosted a grand dinner party aboard the world's most luxurious cruise ship. The ship's captain, E.J. Smith, had to leave the party early to check on reports of icebergs up ahead. George, his valet, and Harry died in the sinking, while Eleanor and her maid survived by boarding a lifeboat with other First Class women.
The library in Lynnewood was turned into a ballroom after the sinking of the Titanic. Peter A. B. Widener died in his bed at Lynnewood Hall just three years later. The New York Times reported that he succumbed to "old age and deep sorrow caused by the loss of his son and his grandson in the Titanic disaster."
- 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
- Parks, Jessica (11 August 2014). "The clock is ticking for Lynnewood Hall". The Philadelphia Inquirer.
- Time Magazine
- Quodbach, Esmée (2002). ""The Last of the American Versailles": The Widener Collection at Lynnewood Hall". Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art 1/2: 43. doi:10.2307/3780924.
- 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.
- March 30, 2012.
- Jennings, James (2015-07-17). "Updated: Will Someone Please Buy Lynnewood Hall Already?". Philly Magazine.
- Whitmire, David. "The Wideners: An American Family". Encyclopedia Titanica.
- http://nookstowersandturrets.blogspot.com/2012/04/homes-of-titanic-lynnewood-hall.html. Missing or empty
- 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
- Aerial Video of Lynnewood Hall
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Lynnewood Hall.|
- Site dedicated to Lynnewood Hall and its preservation.
- Photographs of the main house and grounds
- Historical Information
- Historical aerial photos of the estate in the 1920s and 30s