Mrs. Joseph E. Widener by John Singer Sargent

Mrs. Joseph E. Widener was painted in 1903 by the premier portrait painter of the Gilded Age, John Singer Sargent.

Mrs. Joseph E. Widener was painted in 1903 by the premier portrait painter of the Gilded Age, John Singer Sargent.


Aerial video of Lynnewood Hall

This video clip was posted by the listing agent for Lynnewood Hall.  It is taken by a small drone.  Lynnewood Hall still looks majestic.  It needs a proper owner.  Others have restored magnificent mansions to their original splendor, and this needs to happen to Lynnewood Hall.

Lynnewood Hall listed for $20 million by Berkshire Hathaway Fox & Roach

On July 11, 2014, Jessica Parks writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer reported the sale listing on for Lynnewood Hall at $20 million.  The listing by Fox & Roach for his incredibly historic estate has a description like any other high-priced Pennsylvania property.  Below is the screenshot from the listing.

Lynnewood Listing July 2014

One can only hope a private buyer will take over the property and not a developer.  There are certainly enough wealthy individuals in American who see the historic significance of Lynnewood Hall and would work with John Milner Architects, Inc. of Chadds Ford to restore the mansion and grounds.

What happened to the Widener fortune?

The founding of the Widener dynasty and  the fortune that resulted is described in this blog.  This post will examine, briefly, what became of the Widener family and the fortune behind the name. Confusion as to the heirs of the fortune arise because it involves family names other than Widener.  It can be conjectured that if George D. Widener, son of Peter A. B. Widener, and George Widener’s son Harry had not perished in the wreck of the Titanic in April 1912, there might be Widener heirs today overseeing the maintenance and expansion of the family fortune and a family benefactor overseeing the restoration and operation of Lynnewood Hall.

There were other surviving Wideners. One of the children of George Widener was his other son George D. Widener Jr.    George became famous for his horse breeding and it was his love.  He died in 1971.

Peter A. B. Widener II, most famous actually for his autobiography with the curious book title, Without Drums and published in 1940, lived until 1948. He had at least one son, Peter A. B. Widener III. This third generation Widener attended the University of Kentucky and according to the university, had to stop his studies to take over management of the family fortune upon the death of his father in 1948.  Did George D. Widener Jr. and P.A.B. Widener III jointly manage the family holdings?  I have not been able to determine this.

Peter A. B. Widener III lived until 1999 and yet the fortune did not remain in his control, apparently.  As a result of marriages and curious machinations of family wills and trusts, control of the Widener family fortune shifted to others.

One of the grandchildren of the family patriarch was Josephine “Fifi” Widener. When she was 17 years old, she married a college freshman by the last name Leidy.  They had one child, Joan Widener Leidy.  In 1941, when Joan was also 17 years old, she married George E. Paine Jr.  Joan became the heir to the Widener fortune.  She divorced George Paine in 1950, and Joan married  James Chandler Ray, a former Air Force pilot and a rancher.  This couple had two children: a daughter by the name of Joan and a son–James Widener Ray born in 1952.

Here is where the story of the Widener fortune gets very strange. When James Widener Ray turned 21 he became an heir and received an annual stipend of $1 million from the Joseph E. Widener Trust.  Later, Joseph Ray was diagnosed with what would later be identified as bipolar disorder. Stories circulated that whenever his Mercedes broke down, he would not have it repaired, he simply bought another new one.

James Widener Ray suffered from mental illness and had to undergo repeated treatment.  His father assumed control of his son’s finances. However, when Joan Widener Ray died in 1988, James inherited  roughly $38 million.  Up to that point, Ray did not even have an attorney.  Ray got a knowledgeable estate attorney, who recommended a new professional guardian instead of his father. Ray hired the services of Guardianship Services of Seattle.

Through proper treatment for his bipolar disorder, James Widener Ray was able to get control of his mind and behavior.  He lived in Seattle, Washington.  His looks were unassuming and few would have thought he was such a wealthy man. He never married, but he had a circle of friends and traveled around the world.  In 1994, he started the Raynier Foundation to support various charities and other causes.

Ray’s will originally listed his estate to go to family members, but it was revised in 1998 so it all to the Raynier Foundation.  When Ray died of a heart attack in 1999, his half sister Joan went to court over the will.  An out of court settlement was finally reached in 2006 that put Joan on the Board of the Foundation. However, she died in 2009. The foundation today  is primarily involved with homelessness, alcohol and drug addiction, and contributing to art and music causes.


Lynnewood Hall has entered a New Era

Sometime during the latter half of 2013, Dr. Richard S. Yoon and his small group of members of the First Korean Church of New York quietly left Lynnewood Hall.  The Philadelphia Inquirer never reported this significant event in the history of this storied mansion.  That may have been by design.  For the first time in its more than 100 year history, Lynnewood Hall is now abandoned.  This is, in fact, a very positive development.

As long as Lynnewood Hall was owned and occupied, the preservation efforts of Cheltenham Township were thwarted.  However, what will the township and the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, which has a page devoted to Lynnewood Hall, going to do to secure the mansion and the grounds from potential vandals and possibly suffer the same fate as Whitemarsh Hall?

Evidence that the First Korean Church of New York had left the mansion came in the form of photos posted on the Save Lynnewood Hall Facebook page by Zuke Photography.  These photos were taken in November 2013 by the photographer inside the mansion; the photographer found no one in residence.  The photographs also revealed Dr. Yoon’s church members had done nothing with respect to maintenance.  The worst of this neglect was the damaged doors and windows that were never replaced, with many remaining open to the elements and others simply boarded up with plywood.

In March of 2014, an amateur photographer simply walked onto the property through one of the unlocked gates and took some photos of the exterior and then some interior photos.  In his closing post, he wrote, “Some people consider this breaking and entering.  I call it illegal house sitting.”  This man was not a vandal; he wants to see Lynnewood Hall secured, restored and preserved for future generations, just as all of us do who have followed this mansion’s saga.

Benjamin Leech, who is Advocacy Director for the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia in a phone conversation with this blogger said that he was not aware that ownership of the mansion had been transferred.  It is clear however, that Dr. Yoon and his church left the property months ago.

There are many preservationists around the country, not just in Philadelphia, who have followed the Lynnewood Hall saga for many years.  There are many fine examples of successful preservation efforts and subsequent restorations that give one hope that his can be accomplished with Lynnewood Hall as well. It has been estimated by John Milner Architects Inc. of Chadds Ford, PA that an exterior restoration of the mansion and grounds alone would cost approximately $10 million.  JMA performed the spectacularly successful restoration of the DuPont Nemours mansion and grounds in Wilmington, Delaware.

One can only hope this firm will one day also perform the same splendid work on Horace Trumbauer’s Lynnewood Hall.

The Enigma of C.P.H. Gilbert

Charles Pierrepont Henry Gilbert was a contemporary of Horace Trumbauer, the architect of Lynnewood Hall and Whitemarsh Hall (which was razed years ago) in Pennsylvania.  Trumbauer was perhaps the most prolific architect of neoclassical architecture, although his long list of clients requested homes in various different styles.

The next chapter I am researching and writing of my forthcoming book, Architects of the American Neoclassical Period, 1880-1935, will be devoted to C.P.H. Gilbert.  Unlike Richard Morris Hunt, who left a vast collection of drawings, papers, journals, account books, letters and other vital documents regarding his architectural practice (and to a lesser extent, Horace Trumbauer), Gilbert mysteriously did not.  There is no “Gilbert Archive” at Columbia University where he first studied, or at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris where he continued his architectural studies.

While Gilbert designed residences in various different styles, many of which fortunately are still standing and in use today in various capacities, his most rewarding and impressive homes are in the neoclassical style.  Outstanding Manhattan examples are the Morton F. Plant House on the corner of 52nd Street and Fifth Avenue occupied today by Cartier, and the Otto H. Kahn House also on Fifth Avenue at 91st Street and today is the home of the Convent of the Sacred Heart.

Gilbert started his architectural practice in the late 1880s and became a member of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1887.  For many years he had his architectural offices in the Townsend Building located on the corner of 25th Street and Broadway.  He, his wife and two children lived in residences on Riverside Drive and at 300 Park Avenue.  In May of 1920, he announced the relocation of his offices to the Metropolitan Tower at One Madison Avenue.

Gilbert closed his practice in the late 1920s and he retired to Pelham Manor, New York.  What happened to all the drawings, ledgers, and other documentation when he closed his office is a question mark.  Months of searching on my part has turned up very little.  The archivist at the AIA informed me they had fewer than a dozen letters and his brief obituary published in The New York Times when he died in 1952 at the age of 92.

How such a prolific and prominent architect could leave virtually nothing behind other than his magnificent buildings is, indeed, an enigma.  Perhaps he did not see the historical significance of donating it all to a museum, and he destroyed all his drawings and files.  However, I am hopeful that something will surface as I continue my research.

The Architectural Preservation of Lynnewood Hall

For those architectural preservationists who admire the work of Horace Trumbauer and have watched for years the battle over Lynnewood Hall, our concern is saving this magnificent neoclassical landmark.  The ownership of Lynnewood Hall by Carl McIntire’s ministry for many years and ultimately the First Korean Church of New York has been a mixed blessing with respect to the survival of the mansion.

The occupancy of Lynnewood Hall these past 30 to 40 years has prevented the mansion from being vacant and a tempting target of vandals bent on destroying even further the condition of the building. This was the fate of Trumbauer’s equally beautiful Whitemarsh Hall which lay vacant for years with no buyer to save it, restore it and preserve it.  Ultimately, Whitemarsh Hall became so decrepit and beyond restoration, it was torn down and all that remains of that architectural legend are its six columns and portions of its former structure.

As the same time, the McIntire and FKCNY years have not been kind to Lynnewood Hall.  The proper maintenance of the building and the grounds truthfully requires the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year at a minimum, and this has clearly not been done.  Among the most shocking instances of neglect are the boarded up window openings or even the open window openings allowing the weather to enter portions of the mansion.  Apparently, judging from the complete lack of news regarding the departure of the FKCNY from Lynnewood Hall, they are still in ownership of it and have not left.

You can be certain there are more than a few on the board of Cheltenham Township who want Lynnewood Hall saved, but this cannot be done as long as the First Korean Church of New York remains in ownership of the property. How can a church of only a few dozen members remain in control of such a vast and priceless architectural landmark?