What Will Become of Lynnewood Hall?
One of Pennsylvania's most beautiful old mansions has been in the news recently after an AP story on Lynnewood Hall came out. Once one of America's grandest homes, the mansion is over 100 years old but has not been given the love received by some other older homes of its size. The huge building that once welcomed presidents and the wealthiest and most aristocratic of guests is now an elegant crumbling ruin.
The 110-room mansion is said to be the largest surviving Gilded Age mansion in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. It is built from Indiana limestone and was famous for its large art gallery. The home's collection was on public display at Lynnewood Hall from 1915 to 1940 but in 1940, the collection of more than 2,000 sculptures, paintings, decorative art, and porcelains were donated to the National Gallery of Art. The home also had a ballroom, swimming pool, wine cellars and its own electrical power plant.
The home was designed by architect Horace Trumbauer for industrialist Peter A. B. Widener between 1897 and 1900. He died at the home in 1915. His son, George Dunton Widener, his grandson Harry and their valet all died when the RMS Titanic sank in 1912. John Jacob Astor IV, the owner of Astor Courts, also perished when the Titanic sunk.
After Peter A.B. Widener's son, Joseph, died at the home in 1943 much of the acreage was sold to developers and the furnishings were auctioned off. Lynnewood Hall was later owned by the Faith Theological Seminary which purchased it in 1952 for $192,000. At that point, some of the home's beautiful interior was dismantled and sold off to raise money. The home 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 currently is owned by the First Korean Church of New York which bought its mortgage in 1993 for $1.6 million but the home has remained vacant.
The recent attention has been good news for those interested in drawing attention to the home. Stephen J. Barron, Jr. runs a website and Facebook group to save Lynnewood which has nearly 1500 members. But at a time when state and city coffers are low it would likely take a deep-pocketed investor or corporation to revive the columned manse.
According to the AP article, six years ago, it was estimated that it would cost $12 million to restore the home. Similar homes of this size and grandeur have been pressed into service as hotels, country clubs and private schools, or like some of New York's Gold Coast mansions, rented out for filming. But far too many have met a similar fate to Lynnewood, either lingering on the real estate market looking for an angel, or sinking slowly into faded disrepair.