A mansion’s former grandeur and its historic significance are often not enough to save it from deteriorating beyond repair, or from a date with the wrecking ball. Preservationists may rally and circulate petitions, but it often boils down to cost—not just to purchase a troubled estate, but to restore it.
Even when mansions of a certain age do have owners keen on preservation, the structures and their grounds have massive upkeep costs. For example, the owners of the circa-1896 Blauvelt Mansion in Oradell, NJ say it costs $100,000 a month to maintain, so they had to put their home on the market.
Steve Jobs didn’t see the worth in keeping his former Spanish colonial mansion in Woodside, California. After it stood abandoned for nearly a decade, and despite preservationist efforts, it was torn down in February. More recently, Land's End, the vacant 1902 Long Island mansion thought to be the inspiration for Daisy Buchanan’s home in The Great Gatsby, was torn down to make way for five McMansions.
The following structures, compiled using suggestions from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, have ties to tycoons, to the Carnegies, to the Titanic, to the Gilded Age. Although many are landmarks and make it onto lists of state and national historic places, they are still threatened by developers or simply the ravages of time.
By Colleen Kane
Posted 1 Apr 2011
Location: Astoria, Queens, New York
Year built: 1858
Original occupant: Benjamin T. Pike, Jr.
Owned by: Michael Halberian, deceased/ off market
Status: This 27-room granite Italian villa is named for its second occupant, William Steinway, son of Henry E. Steinway, the prominent piano-maker. Steinways summered and then lived there from the 1870s until the 1920s. Owner Michael Halberian lived at Steinway Mansion his entire life until his death at 83 in December. The collection of unusual artifacts from the house is being auctioned off (including voodoo dolls and masks and the home is currently off the market.
Location: Pasadena, Texas
Year built: 1929
Original occupants: Lumber, oil, and ranching tycoon James Marion West and wife Jessie Dudley
Owned by: Former Houston Rockets basketball player Hakeem Olajuwon
Status: This 17,000 square-foot Italian Renaissance house was once the anchor of a 30,000-acre ranch, but the home has been for sale for several years, and various apartment and townhouse developments are closing in on the remaining property (about 3.8 acres). Many original details of the mansion remain intact, like the wood paneling and flooring designs of limestone and cast concrete.
Location: Elkins Park, Pennsylvania
Year built: 1898
Original occupant: Industrialist Peter A.B. Widener
Owned by: Dr. Richard Yoon
Status: This enormous, nearly 70,000-foot 110-room Gilded Age Georgian palace is one of the last of its kind—an “American Versailles,” built for $8 million for the Widener family. Two Wideners perished in the sinking of the Titanic, and when Joseph Peter Widener died in the 1940s, Lynewood Hall began changing hands. Present owner Richard Yoon keeps his property extremely private, he’s not willing to sell, and he rejects offers from volunteers to clean up and maintain the property. No one lives at Lynnewood Hall other than a caretaker and guard dogs, and no one is allowed on the property. Much more information is available on the Lynnewood Hall website, maintained by “passionate advocate” Stephen Barron, Jr.
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
Year built: 1870s
Original occupant: James N. Gamble, the son of the co-founder James Gamble of Proctor & Gamble
Owned by: Greenacres Foundation
Status: This 2,644 square-foot Victorian Italianate villa was last used as a home in 1961 and was kept up through 1992. It is now owned by the nonprofit nature and arts group Greenacres Foundation, which wants to tear down the house, claiming that repairing, restoring and maintaining the structure is not economically feasible, and the organization has rejected two offers to purchase the home. While the case of the Gamble House is being fought out in the courts, eleven other Cincinnati Victorians are facing potential demolition as well.
Location: Millbrook, New York
Year built: 1893
Original occupant: Publisher H. J. Davison Jr.
Owned by: Assets were seized from a failed bank by the FDIC
Status: This campus of buildings was built as a resort and then became Bennett College, which closed due to bankruptcy in 1978. The Queen Anne style Halcyon Hall has long languished in ruins. Despite attempts at a revival in the 1980s, the water damage and structural deterioration is likely too severe to ever restore it.
Location: Carmel, California
Year built: 1923
Original occupant: WWI Navy Captain Paul Flanders and wife Grace
Owned by: City of Carmel
Status: The Flanders Mansion and its former property makes up part of Carmel’s largest park, Mission Trail Park, since the city purchased it in 1972. Originally called Outlands, the English Cottage/ Tudor Revival home is made of the fireproof and seismic-resistant thermolite block, with a Berkeley tile roof. The home has had several city uses since the death of Grace Flanders, and today Flanders Foundation remains embattled with the City of Carmel over the future of the property.
Location: Cresson, Pennsylvania
Year built: 1887-1888
Original occupant: Iron Industrialist Benjamin Franklin Jones
Owned by: Andrew Dzaibo
Status: Benjamin Franklin Jones Cottage, also known as Braemar Cottage, is a three-story 14-room Queen Anne Victorian. The summer cottage in this railroad town counted the Carnegies among its neighbors. But the once-grand structure has fallen into semi-ruin and was another embattled mansion in immediate danger of demolition—it was slated for demolition in May 2011. Fortunately, Braemar was recently purchased by Cresson resident Andrew Dzaibo.
Note: Inset photo depicts a similar Cresson house.
Location: Oakland, California
Year built: 1868
Original occupant: Mayor/ Assemblyman/ Senator Enoch Pardee
Owned by: nonprofit foundation
Status: This Italianate villa was built for Enoch Pardee, an eye doctor who struck it rich in the Gold Rush, who came West seeking a better climate for his tubercular wife. Enoch was succeeded in the home by his equally political son George, Governor of California, and wife Helen Pardee, and finally their spinster daughters took over, with Pardees occupying the home for almost a century. Pardee Mansion is a museum, but as of 2009 the foundation that runs the museum had dwindling funds and could no longer support the only paid staff member. Helen Pardee stated in her will that if the foundation dissolves, Pardee Mansion goes to the UC Regents and its collection of unique knick knacks from around the wolrd would go to the Oakland Museum.