This magnificent neo-classical revival masterpiece is regarded as one of America’s finest remaining Gilded Period houses.
The majestic property was once one of Pennsylvania’s finest pieces of real estate, but owing to a complicated and sad past, the gorgeous house fell into disrepair – yet it still has its fair share of mysteries. From opulent rooms and underground passageways to its sad Titanic link, explore the mysteries of this fascinating abandoned house…
The birth of Lynnewood Hall
This turn-of-the-century home in Philadelphia, known as Lynnewood Hall, was erected between 1897 and 1900 for US businessman, prolific art collector, and Titanic backer Peter Arrell Browne Widener. The property was originally built on a massive 480-acre estate in Elkins Park, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
Lord of the manor
Peter A.B. Widener’s wealth and impeccable taste are reflected in the magnificent architecture of his old house, which is now recognized as one of the wealthiest Americans in American history. John Singer Sargent, widely regarded as the finest portrait painter of the day, created this painting of him.
Born out of grief
Lynnewood Hall, as photographed by Leland Kent of Abandoned Southeast, is a tragic estate. Widener’s wife Hannah died on board the family’s boat off the coast of Maine in 1896. In the midst of his grief, Widener intended to leave their home on Broad Street in Philadelphia and devote his time to building a grand family seat. Of course, this was not the only mishap at sea that they would face…
A Horace Trumbauer design
After his wife died, Widener commissioned renowned American architect Horace Trumbauer to construct a new home for him and his children. Lynnewood Hall, which is 70,000 square feet and was built from limestone, was fashioned in a T-shape, as shown in this original floor plan.
Trumbauer is reported to have drawn influence for the estate’s design from two architectural treasures: Prior Park in Bath, UK, and Ballingarry in New Jersey, USA. This stunning facade demonstrates the house’s opulent grandeur, which rivals the world’s best stately mansions.
This image depicts Lynnewood Hall from the back, highlighting the house’s immense size. It is estimated that it cost $8 million (£7.1 million) to build and contains 110 rooms, 55 of which are beds and 20 of which are baths, as well as an art gallery and a ballroom that can hold 1,000 visitors.
A regal residence
Widener poured his heart and soul into the mansion, which was lavishly furnished. At its peak, it took 37 full-time personnel to administer it and another 60 to maintain the huge garden. He undoubtedly thought that the mansion would remain in the family for generations, but that was not to be…
Dripping with silk
The Philadelphia Inquirer once said of the interior of the property that it was “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, and Donatello.” Widener was an enthusiast for art and antiquities.
A grand entrance
Trumbauer recruited two interior designers to outfit Lynnewood Hall: Jules Allard et Fils and William Baumgarten. The home had two sets of doors, one in bronze and the other in gold. These magnificent doors lead lucky guests to the breathtaking grand hall.
The opulent corridor also had towering Renaissance-style columns and a central staircase, making for a truly regal entry. This snapshot depicts how the hall appears now. It is still one of the best-preserved rooms in the structure. Yet the family’s wealth came to naught, and the mansion became inexorably tied with sorrow…
This shot, which leads off from the main hall, displays the wonderful masonry throughout the home, from the elaborate archways to the intricate alcoves and columns. Vandals and trespassers are supposedly kept out by a caretaker and his guard dogs, who are claimed to keep watch over the property, which is still in surprisingly good shape.
A work of art
When Joseph E. Widener remodeled the home’s interior in 1915, he finished this first-floor Reception Room. It is decorated in the Louis XV style and features 24-karat gold. It would have been the ideal venue to greet distinguished guests.
The Baumgarten-designed dining room, for example, was initially paneled in beautiful French walnut and later adorned with green and white marble. The chamber included two Gobelin tapestries as well as The Grand Condé, a bust depicting 17th-century French military leader Prince Louis II of Bourbon.
A crumbling kitchen
The original butler’s pantry is situated adjacent to the dining room on the main floor. In this now-dusty location, we’re sure numerous sumptuous feasts and famous drinks were created. On a recently organized visit to the house, a group of people uncovered a massive silver vault in the pantry, not likely safely storing Widener’s collection of exquisite cutlery.
The Lynnewood inheritance
Widener and his family lived at Lynnewood Hall for 15 years, beginning in 1900. Widener died at the property in November 1915, at the age of 80, after a series of bouts of bad health that many attributed to sadness. His eldest son, George Dunton Widener Sr, was supposed to inherit the land, but tragedy struck the unhappy family just three years before…
Widener was an investor in the legendary passenger ship RMS Titanic. During a family vacation in Europe, George, his wife Eleanor, and their son Harry decided to return home on the ship’s inaugural trip in 1912. George is supposed to have organized a lavish dinner party onboard the ship to commemorate its magnificence (and his father’s investment). The Titanic’s now-famous captain, E.J. Smith, attended the extravagant celebration, whose death was never officially confirmed and was shrouded in mystery and intrigue.
Unfortunately, George (left) and Harry (right) died when the Titanic fell to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean. The historic passenger ship crashed with an iceberg, resulting in disastrous results. The Titanic carried 2,224 passengers, more than half of whom died, making it one of history’s most devastating maritime catastrophes. Eleanor was fortunate enough to survive by boarding one of the Titanic’s notoriously restricted lifeboats.
The house that art built
Unfortunately, neither George nor Harry survived long enough to inherit Lynnewood Hall. Widener’s sole surviving child, Joseph, took up management for the costly estate and got an estimated $60 million (£53 million). Joseph shared his father’s passion for art and oversaw the estate’s famed collection, offering the home’s private gallery to the public between 1915 and 1940. For this reason, the property became known as ‘the house that art created’.
The grandest room in the house
Following the sinking of the Titanic, the library was converted into an opulent ballroom. It was the largest area on the site, at a whopping 2,550 square feet. Walnut-paneled walls, fluted columns, and gold leaf accents adorned the room. Its lavish ceiling included gold leaf accentuated filigree plaster and floral theme moldings. This shot captures the original room’s magnificence.
Gilded Age Private Gallery
This vintage snapshot depicts the estate’s original Private Gallery, which originally housed a large art collection collected by both Widener and his son, Joseph. The collection was formerly considered the world’s most important private collection of Gilded Age European masterpieces.
The remarkable collection was exclusively exposed to the public by invitation from 1915 and 1940. In 1940, Joseph gave about 2,000 objects to the National Museum of Art in Washington, DC, including sculptures, paintings, and porcelains. The collection was appraised at $19 million (£16.8 million) the same year.
The estate’s gardens, which were previously meticulously groomed and covered 480 acres, have now been abandoned. Jacques Gréber, a French landscape architect, was engaged in 1916 to rebuild the gardens that surrounding Lynnewood Hall. This photograph was taken in 1927 and depicts the gardens’ absolute splendor.
Gréber designed a rose garden as well as a formal garden with a fountain, and a lengthy driveway ran around the estate, providing guests with the ideal regal welcome. He also decorated the garden with unique statuary, which added to the estate’s opulence.
Joseph died in 1943, but neither of his children wanted to take on the monumental task of running Lynnewood Hall. The original property was abandoned and soon deteriorated. If it hadn’t been for the Titanic, the home may still be in the Widener family’s hands today, but in 1948, a developer paid $130,000 (£115k) for the mansion and its acres.
Under New Ownership
The site was bought by the Faith Theological Seminary, an evangelical Christian school, in 1952. The group paid $192,000 (£170,000) for the mansion, but it was permitted to deteriorate further when most of Lynnewood’s prized assets, including more than 350 acres of land, were sold off. The home presently only contains 33 acres.
Stripped of its treasures
To raise finances, the Faith Theological Seminary also auctioned many of the home’s interior details, including its unusual mantels, walnut paneling, and landscape decorations. In fact, one of Gréber’s original orders, a French bronze figural fountain, was unearthed at an auction in 2006.
Donated To The Nation
The Dream of Rinaldo tapestry, produced by François Boucher in 1751, may be shown in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The sculpture was once displayed in the reception area of Lynnwood Hall. Ella Pancoast, Joseph’s wife, had her portrait painted in front of the tapestry by John Singer Sargent in 1903.
Replicating The Gallery
In reality, as a memorial to Widener, the gallery has endeavored to mimic the layout and aesthetic of the original chamber at Lynnwood. There contains a massive banqueting table in the center of the room, surrounded by family-gifted tapestries and artworks.
The Art Gallery Today
The art gallery is now a dismal ghost of what it once was. The inside is now a barren shell, stripped of all of its ancient and precious artworks, yet its elegant glass ceiling remains amazingly intact.
A Class Act
This room was converted into a school at some point, but it was once the sole art gallery on the mansion’s main floor. The Travertine chamber or Raphael room featured numerous famous works of art, including the Little Cowper Madonna, which was painted in 1505 by Italian Renaissance painter Raphael. The wood ceiling comes from the 16th century, but the room’s two medieval stained glass windows have vanished.
Stripped Of Its Splendor
This is one insanely costly abandoned home that has gone from amazing luxury to a horribly dilapidated state. Other rooms, like this deteriorating area, have met the same tragic fate as the lonesome art gallery, with many of their exquisite interior fittings being taken away and sold off over the years.
The ballroom today
The mansion’s enormous ballroom, pictured in 2021, is in remarkably decent form given the mansion’s years of neglect. The famed golden ceiling has somehow survived, and while repair work will undoubtedly be necessary, the area still has a lot of wow-factor!
One of the home’s 20 bathrooms, equipped with a mirrored alcove and marble bathtub, is shown here. Despite its deterioration, it’s easy to envision how lavish this exquisite place would’ve been in its glory.
This magnificent sleep chamber, one of the estate’s 55 bedrooms, has traces of its great past life. Despite the disintegrating painting and partially fallen roof, high society fittings such as cornicing and French doors, as well as Louis XVI-style furnishings, survive.
Relics of the past
Formerly a social centre for the well-to-do, the rooms are still littered with remnants of the Gilded Age mansion’s history, with luggage apparently waiting to be reunited with their owners. Throughout the years, the estate has entertained hundreds of guests from the upper crust – industry titans like as William Kissam Vanderbilt, Frank A. Seiberling, and Harvey Samuel Firestone are claimed to have been guests of the Wideners.
The wonderful bones that this big old lady of a building still has cannot be hidden by age. This was Peter Widener’s previous bedchamber, according to Abandoned Southeast. Despite the presence of the fireplace and chandelier, this was the only bedroom in the home that was stripped, and its elaborate wood panels were sold in the early 2000s.
This previously large reception room is in disrepair, despite its soaring ceiling and massive mirror over the fireplace. Lynnewood Hall was placed to the Preservation Association for Greater Philadelphia’s list of endangered historic structures in 2003, although this designation does not protect it from degradation. The property is now one of America’s largest historic residences and has been dubbed “the last American Versailles” owing to its architectural magnificence.
Unfortunately, the estate’s once-beautiful swimming pool has also been demolished. Back in 1910, the pool was surrounded by a cutting-edge squash court and changing rooms. The home used to have its own power plant and water supply from its own reservoir. Yet there’s more to Lynnewood Hall than its once-opulent facilities and sparkling formal halls, for an unexpected surprise awaits beneath ground level…
As Abandoned Southeast’s Leland Kent examined the property, he discovered a secret underground tunnel deep in the mansion’s basement. Nothing is known about the secret feature, and it’s unclear what it was utilized for, however it could’ve provided a way for servants and workers to navigate the home away from the Wideners and their visitors.
Delving into the unknown
The underground tunnel, which branches off in several directions, is said to go to the estate’s carriage house and the gatehouse in the grounds. Although only exploring a few feet of the subterranean path, Leland claims it seemed to continue on forever. The area is littered with rubbish, indicating that no one has been down here in quite some time.
On and off the market
Lynnewood Hall and its interesting mysteries have been on the market several times throughout the years. After being on the market for some years, the historic mansion was advertised for $20 million (£14 million) in 2014. The property was relisted in May 2017 for $17.5 million (£12.4 million) before being lowered to $16.5 million (£11.7 million).
The magnificent mansion was listed for sale again in 2017, this time for $11 million (£9.7 million). The house was on the market for more than two years before being removed, however it’s unclear whether a deal was reached. Having said that, the current owner of the home, according to Hidden City, is Dr. Richard Yoon of the Korean Presbyterian Church of New York, although it’s unclear what Yoon’s intentions are with the property.
Yet, there is renewed optimism for the ancient stately mansion. Recently, a group of people from all around the country banded together to save Lynnewood Hall. Dubbed by Hidden City as “probably one of the greatest fundraising and conservation initiatives ever conducted by a newly-formed non-profit organization”, the group has been mobilizing to buy the building and return it to its previous splendor.
Lynnewood Hall Preservation Foundation
The Lynnewood Hall Preservation Foundation is claimed to be collaborating closely with Dr. Yoon, who has granted the group weekend access to the property and its estate. During these trips, volunteers from the foundation meet to clean up, take stock, and do any necessary repairs. The organization hasn’t established a fundraising target yet, but its top aim at the moment is to spread the word that the property is not a wreck and can be rebuilt.
The gang discovered numerous fantastic hidden surprises throughout these excursions. For example, they discovered a location near the family bedrooms that contained 14 safes. This section of the home also has a hidden chamber that was not included in the original floor plans. Given the scale of Lynnwood Hall, we’re confident that many more astonishing discoveries will be found as preservation efforts continue…
Real estate history
The organization is looking for “preservation-minded investors” to support its restoration efforts and is working on a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places to help safeguard the site. One thing is certain: the organization will require a substantial amount of assistance. A historical restoration architect estimated that restoring the mansion to its former splendor would cost around $50 million (£44.4 million). But how can you place a price on history?