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OPULENCE & SPLENDOUR

Luxury and the artsFrom houses to cars and from Hockney to van Dyck, a profile of the best and the worst

America’s Downton

An opportunity to buy an American equivalent of Downton Abbey

 

Downton Abbey returns to our screens this autumn and one has to ask whether its writer Julian Fellowes was at all influenced by the story of the story of Peter Widener of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania whose son and grandson both died in the sinking of the RMS Titanic.

 

Lynnewood Hall
Lynnewood Hall
Peter Arrell Brown Widener (1834 – 1915)
Peter Arrell Brown Widener (1834 – 1915)
Lynnewood Hall in its heyday
Lynnewood Hall in its heyday

 

The estate is an American equivalent of Buckingham Palace in terms of its size
The estate is an American equivalent of Buckingham Palace in terms of its size

As happened to Widener, a merchant and successful businessman, the first series of Downton Abbey began with the news that Lord Grantham’s heir presumptive and his son both died aboard the ill fated vessel. Three years later, Widener is said to have died of “deep sorrow” caused by the loss.

 

Widener comes to attention again now because one of the neoclassical revival mansions he built – Lynnewood Hall – has come to the market for £11.9 million ($20 million) despite requiring at a renovation budget of at least a further £29.8 million ($50 million). Featuring 110 rooms and an astounding 70,000 square foot of living space (including 55 bedrooms) on 33.85 gated acres, Lynnewood Hall is being sold by a New York urologist and pastor of a Korean church named Richard S. Yoon.

 

Constructed circa 1900 at a cost of $8 million (or £126.3 million or $212 million in today’s money) to house three generations of Wideners and one of America’s largest private art collections, the décor of the mansion was described as being “leaving no doubt as to the family’s wealth”. One writer commented that it was:

 

“Dripping with silk, velvet and gilded mouldings, 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 and Donatello”.

 

The grandeur of the interior is illustrated in this image
The grandeur of the interior is illustrated in this image
Surprisingly some of the rooms seem to be in reasonably good condition
Surprisingly some of the rooms seem to be in reasonably good condition
Lynnewood Hall was effectively built as a private museum by the Widener family
Lynnewood Hall was effectively built as a private museum by the Widener family

After Peter Widener’s death, his only surviving son, Joseph, took over the family empire and “perfected his father’s vast art collection”. In 1932, Fortune magazine described it as “the finest private collection of past art to be found in the U.S.”

 

Other parts of the building show signs of significant decline
Other parts of the building show signs of significant decline
The once spectacular grounds of Lynnewood Hall need considerable work also
The once spectacular grounds of Lynnewood Hall need considerable work also

Joseph Widener’s son, however, did not like Lynnewood one bit. In his 1940 memoir, he wrote: “It’s a museum, not a home. It’s as cold and as formal as if real people didn’t live here”. He converted the stables to create a more comfortable residence for himself and after his mother’s death added: “She had died alone in that great lonely house”. In time, Joseph Widener donated the family’s art collection – then valued at an astounding  $20 million (£172 million or $290 million in today’s money) – to the National Museum in Washington.

 

With the art collection gone, the great era for Lynnewood was over and the Widener family auctioned off the estate in 1944. The buyers wanted but failed to build a Protestant university and decades of bankruptcy proceedings and repossessions followed. In 1952, for example, the mansion was then sold for just $192,000 (the equivalent of £1.02 million or $1.7 million in today’s money). During this time, the neglected mansion fell into significant decline but maybe now it has been brought to the market by Frank Johnson of BHHS Fox & Roach Realtors, it could just be time for a new ‘Gilded Age’ at Lynnewood Hall.

 

Internal photographs were taken by @AustinXCO4 on Instagram.

 

 

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Comments

4 comments on “America’s Downton”

  1. This for me is a wonderful article; a house like the one Jay Gatsby bought………

    Like William Randolph Hearst, J Peirpoint Morgan, Andrew Melon, John D Rockerfeller, Samuel H Kress and Henry J Frick; Widener was a major client of the ‘ Great Duveen ‘…..Lord Duveen of Milbank that is

    The above article adds a lot for me, as I have had a lifelong interest in Duveen’s amazing career;the scale of it all is breathtaking and brings another dimension to the Titanic disaster

    If anyone wishes to share in my interest; put Lord Duveen into Google, and note that Widener doesn’t even get a mention

    Duveen was a major force………..the major force, a major player and completely ruthless;

    Duveen had an enormous overdraft facility with Parr’s Bank, and people like J.P.Morgan and Widener could never understand how Duveen’s cheques always got met

  2. I read a lot of interesting articles here. Probably you spend
    a lot of time writing, i know how to save you a lot of work, there is an online tool that creates readable, google friendly posts in seconds, just type in google
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