Historic Lynnewood Hall Faces Uncertain Future

     As taller and more expensive buildings spring up in Philadelphia’s ever-growing grand skyline, many historians have called attention to the overlooked buildings that have withstood the growing pains of our flourishing city. The most notable of these in recent news is Peter A. B. Widener’s massive Gilded Age mansion, Lynnewood Hall.

     To say the grand Lynnewood Hall, nicknamed “The Last of the American Versailles,” is a potently historical estate would be a vast understatement. In 1912, George D. Widener, the immediate heir to the estate, perished in the tragic destruction of the Titanic, and the complex lineage of fortunes being passed through generations continued. In 1952 Lynnewood was sold to Faith Theological Seminary, and it began a slow decline. However, it was  not until 2013, more than a century after George D. Widener’s grim passing, that the mansion stood abandoned. This empty estate leaves the city of Philadelphia, specifically the town of Elkins Park, with a few different options. Unfortunately, none of the options is realistically attainable for the vast majority of Philadelphia residents. The building, as colossal and stunning as history flaunts, is not anywhere near its prime; it is in dire need of restoration and is in much danger of demolition. Though many preservationists are more than interested, restoration of the grounds and exterior alone would cost upward of $10 million, following the $16.5 million that it would cost to purchase this 70,000 square foot, 110-room, 34-acre iconic giant.

     At the turn of the 20th century, Horace Trumbauer, well-known architect of the Gilded Age, designed this estate for Peter A. B. Widener and his family to live in. It is now considered among the finest houses built in America. With a grand ballroom in which Gatsby-style parties were hosted, and at one time holding one of the largest private art collections in the world, it undoubtedly must have been a sight to behold. Though these lavish gatherings no longer enchant the ballroom floors of Lynnewood Hall, the stories of these walls, floors, doorways and gardens do not have to wane to an end; history dies when we let it die.

     It would be practical, of course, for a company to buy this rich land and use it to its advantage. However, one must never turn a blind eye to the simple beauty held captive in the resuscitation of a building that holds more history than one could ever wish to rebuild. Philadelphians have a large question to ponder: whether action is in their power to demolish this mansion to mere acreage and start anew. Perhaps they could consider building a structure taller than the newest Comcast Innovation and Technology Center and enhancing the impressively high skyline—or find a creative, innovative way to preserve one of the few fading gifts we have left from the past. This would mean accepting that perhaps there is something grandiose in abstaining from this rapid “bigger and better” mindset and recognizing the potential for beauty that lingers readily in our present state.

     Sources: lynnewoodhall.wordpress.com, Philadelphia Magazine

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