P. A. B. Widener II wrote these words in his autobiography, Without Drums, published in 1940.* In 1942, the large private art collection once housed at Lynnewood Hall, his family’s 110-room residence in suburban Philadelphia, went on public display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. In 1944, the Wideners sold Lynnewood Hall and auctioned off the rest of the estate.
Today, the 115-year-old mansion still stands on about 34 acres of property, but it’s little more than a ruin in need of a $50 million renovation. It was last sold in 1996 to a church, which has been looking for a new owner in recent years.
The original owner of the property, P. A. B. Widener I, died exactly 100 years ago today, November 6th.
According to his obituary in The New York Times, Widener was a “capitalist and philanthropist, art collector and lover of children” who died at Lynnewood Hall at the age of 80, having been in poor health exacerbated by the loss of his son and grandson in the Titanic a few years prior. The obituary describes Widener’s vast art collection, stating: “Apart from the art galleries, Mr. Widener’s marble mansion at Elkins Park is full of art treasures. The ceiling of the library is a painting by Tiepolo, from an Italian palace.”
His Lynnewood Hall — and its slow decline — was one of the inspirations for the unimaginatively named Woodlynne Hall, the home of the wealthy Elkins family in Amelia Elkins Elkins (my modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion).**
In Amelia Elkins Elkins, the owners of Woodlynne Hall — much like the owners of Kellynch Hall in Persuasion — face financial trouble after the loss of the prudent matriarch. With the silly patriarch in charge, the Elkins family home has fallen into disrepair:
Amelia Elkins, a modern Anne Elliot, hopes to save her family’s home from the fate of the real-life “Treasure House” on which it is partially based.
*Quoted in Esmée Quodbach, “The Last of the American Versailles”: The Widener Collection at Lynnewood Hall, 29 Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art 42 (2002).
**The Wideners were affiliated with a real-life Elkins family. They lived across the street from Lynnewood Hall.
***The top picture, taken last week, is Lynnewood Hall.
****To follow-up on my last Amelia post, the ginkgo leaves in my backyard have finally turned yellow!