Thursday, June 15, 2017

THE GILDED AGE

Now, seeing this post, one might think were in Newport, where I have visited several times, and would agree with you. But this is actually in an area of Philadelphia called Elkin's Park. Someone I just befriended a couple weeks ago, remembered me saying in conversation, my background is in interior design and love architecture, so she asked it I wanted to go have lunch then head over to the Elkins Estate, as she is an events coordinator, and wanted to survey the place for a proposal she's involved in. I must admit...one of the perks to not working lately as been the time to jump at things like this....so of course I went!!!!!!

The Gilded Age interiors of the Elkins Estate in Cheltenham is anything short of incredible, would be a crime against neoclassical architecture. The rolling, 42-acre property and its pairing of Italian High Renaissance-and Elizabethan-revival mansions, designed by architect Horace Trumbauer, come into frame at the front gate with the distinguished nobility of an English country manor.
The estate on Ashbourne Road speaks to a time when Philadelphia’s utility magnates treated themselves like royalty and had no problem showing their accomplishments in the grandeur of their manors. Today, like Trumbauer’s other residential masterpiece nearby, the dilapidating Lynnewood Hall, the mansions of the Elkins Estate are vacant and without a capable owner willing to reactivate the properties with a financially sustainable reuse plan, while attending to upkeep and preservation. For now, the future of this resplendent white elephant remains shrouded in uncertainty.
Elstowe Manor, the crown jewel of the  Elkin's estate, and was built in 1898 by William L. Elkins, the prominent Philadelphia businessman who, along with Peter A.B. Widener, built the Philadelphia Railroad Company and the streetcar monopoly, the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company. Elkins was largely responsible also for the production of the first gasoline ever refined from petroleum at Philadelphia’s Monument Oil Works, which was established and operated by Elkins until his partnership with John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil Company in 1875. The interior of the mansion, designed by esteemed French interior designer, Allard et Fils, is an architectural treasure chest filled with heavenly frescoed ceilings, carved mahogany panels, stately marble columns, and an eye popping of watering display of crystal chandeliers, gold leafing, and regal, gilded molding.
Beautiful gardens too.

The estate’s other mansion, Chelten House, was commissioned in 1896 for Elkin’s son, George. We saw only the outside of this one. Imagine having two mansions on the same grounds! The façade of the house is fortified in Wissihickon schist and dark timber. 
After Elkins died in 1903 the estate was passed down to his offspring. By the 1950s, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine de’ Ricci had acquired most of the property–they purchased Elstowe Manor from William L. Elkins’ grandson, and Chelten House from Stephen X. Stephano of Stephano Bros', Philadelphia manufacturers of Rameses cigarettes, in 1948. The Dominican Sisters used the two mansions as a religious retreat for women for over 75 years, while taking care of the properties and their original interior features through dedicated conservation. 

Due to the financial pressures of building maintenance expenses and dwindling retreat attendance, the Dominican Sisters closed the Dominican Retreat House in 2006 and sold the entire estate to the New Age nonprofit Land Conservancy of Elkins Park in 2009, which planned to use the property for a large-scale spiritual wellness center and special events venue. By 2010, the conversancy had so far executed a scattershot business plan pitted with small yoga retreats, wedding receptions, performance space for White Pines Productions, and a three-week photo shoot for Victoria’s Secret and was in mortgage default after missing nearly a year’s worth of payments. Possession of the estate was relinquished to the Dominican Sisters in January 2013 following a heated, three-year legal battle over $6.9 million in defaulted mortgage payments.

In 2014 the Cheltenham Township Board of Commissioners approved three zoning amendments to clear the way for luxury hotelier Apeiron to purchase the estate and convert Elstowe Manor into a boutique hotel with full-service luxury apartments. The project included using a portion of the 42-acre property for a public arts and cultural destination. To date, Apeiron’s plan has not moved beyond the proposal stage. I only hope one day someone buys it. I'd hate to see such craftsmanship disappear.

21 comments:

  1. I can see you as the lady of this manor. such a gorgeous property!

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    1. we're going to need a lot more houseboys.......

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  2. Too bad so much financial troubles. Hope they straighten it out. Thanks for the tour! :-)

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  3. The address is in the article – I remember it well, as I grew up steps away from it when I lived home still with my parents – but I had no idea what the interiors looked like till several of us symphony members performed a wedding there. – This is mind-blowing! The pictures are stunning , and don't do the scale of this place justice.

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  4. Wow! This would be the perfect setting for a Hollywood movie. Surprised no one has jumped on it already!! Nice too you were able to tour it at your leisure. Incredible.

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  5. AMAZING! You sure don't see places like that on the West Coast. I need a tour! There has to be a use for a building so beautiful?

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  6. As a big fan of Philly mansions, Lynnewood, Whitemarsh Hall and Trumbauer I was thrilled to see these pictures to say the least. I’ve got to somehow see this in person.It’s got to be saved and restored to past beauty. Thanks for the pictures and post…get me in!!!!

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  7. These are some well kept secrets. I never knew they existed.The most beautiful mansions I have ever seen in Philly.....Breathtaking.

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  8. This is the stuff that architectural dreams are made of. Fantastic photos - - I absolutely LOVE it!!!

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  9. Ah! My old home (under the stairs... and even that would be a dream). But as my mother would have said, "So much to dust!"

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  10. What a magnificently beautiful estate. It must have been magic to live there. Thank you very much for the tour Mistress, fantastic pictures. Fascinating post to with the history bits. I hope that the hotel manages to execute its plan. Will be lovely. We certainly don’t want demolition.

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  11. That place is simply stunning! Your so lucky to have been asked to go see it. I sure hope someone can save it, but at least it is still in excellent shape. The Europeans have no problem saving and keeping old and ancient buildings "alive". Americans tear everything down and put up hideous buildings with no form. Some things are worth saving. We erase our history for the sake of greed. We have little pride in our historic buildings and give little thought to the treasures we give up to the, unfortunate wrecking ball. Shameful!

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  12. I adore guilted age estates. Thanks for sharing that one.

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  13. Oh my is this place beautiful! We need to have a retreat there, if only we could find someone to buy it... 🤔

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  14. I love architecture. I think the main mansion is more glorious on the rear side - more interesting aesthetically.

    MM#1F is absolutely correct. We rip things down too fast. We need to find ways to save places like this - it's our history, after all. Oh, wait, that's right. What was I thinking? We prefer to erase our history, and replace it with things we wish had been. (Sorry, my anti bigotry is showing again.)

    Have a beautiful weekend, mistress. HUGS!

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  15. When William and I first marries we lived right by Elkin's Estate. It's a fabulous mansion, definetely one of the biggest and most lavish ever built I have ever seen in Philadelphia.The other contenders are the WhiteHall mansion which was even bigger, now demolished, the Schwab, and the Trumbauer Mansion itself. There is also the Androeasn Estate on the Main Line.Anyway,notice how these Gilded Age mansions despite being very large each had its own unique characteristics & layouts.Unlike the houses built now....which are all the same boring floor plan,same rooms,same architecture,same everything. We become like robots with no character. A real nice post Mistress.

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  16. It's such a beautiful place and you have been lucky to be able to be there, look around, and take it all in. At first glance I thought it was a Newport mansion. I remember those posts well.

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  17. Found your blog yesterday...it is interesting and addictive.. never know what's coming next.Have hours of interesting reading ahead of me....thank you for such a fabulous blog.

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  18. Thank you for this wonderful piece. Love seeing the photos of the houses and the gardens. Not even our rich could afford such luxury now.

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  19. Wow! Incredible! I don't think I ever, ever stepped foot in a house that big. I would love to see NewPort sometime though.

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  20. This is part of America that is gone and will never be back. Excellent post. I wish I had known of these gems when I lived in Philly.

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Go ahead darling, tell me something fabulous!

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