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America’s Gilded Age minted the country’s first multimillionaires, who bought up huge tracts of land and built country estates rivaling those of their European contemporaries. Over the years, many became museums or private homes, some were bulldozed, and an occasional few hit the market for private sale.
One mansion in search of a new magnate is in the Keystone State. Pennsylvania’s Lynnewood Hall is back on the market, now with an asking price of $17.5 million. Built in 1900 for trolley magnate Peter Widener, this 70,000-square-foot neoclassical estate features 110 rooms on 33.8 acres in Elkins Park, which is a short drive north of Philadelphia. It cost an estimated $8 million to build, or more than $200 million in today’s dollars.
In its prime, the home featured an indoor pool and squash court, a bakery, and dedicated shops for carpentry and upholstery. The family ran a 220-acre farm on the property that employed 100 people, according to the Associated Press. Widener had built an empire around public transportation, and parlayed that wealth into investments in American steel, tobacco, and other major industries.
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Exterior (1933)Library of Congress
Like many other Gilded Age families, the Wideners joined their friends on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. Widener lost his son and grandson in the disaster.
The family suffered a series of setbacks and was forced to auction off their possessions, more than 400 acres of land around Lynnewood Hall, and ultimately the home itself, for $190,000 in 1952. Subsequent owners stripped the rooms and closed the home to the outside world.
One photographer hopped the fence and dodged security to take a series of haunting photos of the home’s interior. They show stately hallways with tall ceilings, Roman archways, and marble floors. Intricate skylights illuminate rooms that otherwise sit dark and empty.
The home’s current owner is the Rev. Dr. Richard S. Yoon, the secretive leader of the Korean Church of New York (the church has no website or working phone number). He bought the property in 1996, and in 1998 argued that Lynnewood Hall was a seminary and he shouldn't be responsible for paying property taxes. He ultimately sued, but lost his case in 2006. For at least the past decade, Lynnewood has sat vacant.
Listing agent Frank Johnson says many articles about Lynnewood have focused more on its recent and past history, and less on its future potential, as a boutique hotel with five-star restaurants, an art museum, or an opulent private estate.
He painted a vision of Lynnewood Hall as a renovated landmark ideal for one of Philadelphia’s great families, ready to open its doors once again for conferences, weddings, and upscale events.
“The structure itself is phenomenal,” Johnson says. “Peter Widener shipped Indiana limestone to Pennsylvania—remember, he was one of the 100 wealthiest people in the country at the time—to construct a monument.”
What this monument becomes will be up to its next buyer. Johnson says a renovation of the building could cost as little as $3 million to $7 million.
Disclaimer: Currency shown is based on currency conversion, please refer to actual currency price of the property.