Historic Designation Sought For Golden Shadows

The best use of the Baron’s South property is still a subject of debate.

But a group of Westporters want to make sure that whatever it is, it includes Golden Shadows.

The 1959 Colonial Revival-style structure — built as a private residence by the perfume magnate Baron Walter von Langendorff (hence the perfume-scented name “Golden Shadows”) — sits in the middle of the hilly property, between South Compo Road and Imperial Avenue.

It’s unoccupied — save for some books stored there by the library, and perhaps some woodland creatures — but it’s still in decent condition.

Golden Shadows, looking southwest. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Golden Shadows, looking southwest. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Golden Shadows is listed on Westport’s Historic Resources Inventory. Last April, the Historic District Commission voted unanimously to support its designation as a Local Historic Landmark Property. Now, concerned Westporters want the RTM to weigh in with their vote too.

“On the heels of the Planning and Zoning Open Space Subcommittee’s January 8 vote to recommend re-zoning Baron’s South as open space,” a petition submitted to the RTM reads, “we thought it might also be an appropriate time to establish similar protections for Golden Shadows.”

The petition says that the home could be re-purposed as office space, event space or some other municipal use. (New Canaan did something similar with Waveny Park; Norwalk did it with Cranbury Park.)

The “landmark” designation would help conserve the building’s historic features, preventing it from demolition or inappropriate alteration, while also permitting the town to earn a grant for a needs assessment and plan of preservation.

A view into the central parlor shows a chandelier and circular staircase.  (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

A view into the central parlor shows a chandelier and circular staircase. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The designation would not force the town to do anything. But it does raise Golden Shadow’s profile, and — if passed — flags it as something the RTM deems important.

2015 will see continued debate on Baron’s South. Now, that debate will include a possibly historic landmark home, standing right in its midst.

28 responses to “Historic Designation Sought For Golden Shadows

  1. Westporters would love to rent this building for occasions like weddings, sweet sixteens, Galas, fundraisers, etc.

  2. New Canaan’s Carriage Barn is a great space for the arts – http://carriagebarn.org. I believe the WAC is looking for new space. “Golden Shadows”?

  3. 1859?

  4. Assessor’s card for 60 Compo Rd S. lists this building as built in 1959, other buildings on the site as built in 1900,1910 and 1925

  5. Look again! The Baron’s Golden Shadows is a cheaply built 1959 building with only delusions of grandeur.
    The panelling in the ballroom is Philippine mahogany plywood and using for library storage seems about right.
    It could also be torn down. mmm

  6. I doubt it was cheaply built, but since when is a 1959 building that is clearly just another faux Colonial a “landmark” with “historic features?” Hundreds of bank branches, restaurant and funeral parlors across the state resemble this place, so why not make them landmarks too? Historic commissions discredit themselves by this sort of thing. They are abusing their power by arbitrarily telling property owners what they can and cannot do.

  7. Thanks for the nice post, Dan. And thank you to all the Westporters from various walks of life who signed the above referenced petition.

    Seventeen years and four administrations ago we bought the astonishingly beautiful wooded land in the heart of downtown Westport that surrounds this elegant residence. Town employees and others immediately offered to rent and maintain it until a new use was determined. All were turned away with the explanation that “we want to keep our options open…” Yes, I know, the last time you heard that expression you were 23 and the subject wasn’t real estate. Per se.

    In the intervening years, neighboring towns seemed to mastered the art of conserving landscapes together with the structures that lend context to their settings; Waveny, is the most obvious example. But Norwalk’s new Fodor Farm – with its riotously popular community gardens, greenhouses and test kitchen should not be overlooked. The farm’s beautiful vintage farmhouse has been restored and now is rented, I believe, to local non-profits and startups.

    With regard to Westport’s Golden Shadows, it think that it is fair to say that the statue of limitations has run out on “keeping our options open”. The unoccupied building, though in solid condition, has been vandalized (all the downspouts were stolen some years ago allowing water to flow into the basement; the front lamps were stolen leaving behind protruding live wires, etc., etc.) it is presently threatened by large,structurally deficient trees, and homeless individuals are often encamped on its enclosed glass porches. Plainly, “keeping our options open” is no longer an adequate response.

    In that regard, I applaud First Selectman Marpe’s promise to make Westport one of “the ten best places to live in the U.S.” and was cheered by his thoughtful comments reported in last week’s Minuteman regarding his administration’s commitment to the preservation of open space.

    With that in mind, I have every expectation that this petition will be received with an open mind and given the consideration that so many believe it deserves.

  8. New Canaan seems to have Westport beat when it comes to making good use of the properties they have purchased or been gifted, why can’t Westport do the same?

    Waveny House is rented for weddings and events almost every weekend and coordinated by the Parks & Rec dept. Residents always have the priority in booking, with non-residents with second or third choice. Rentals pay for staff and building costs with stringent rules to protect the town and property.

  9. This effort is a fine one and I was pleased to sign the petition to move it ahead. The historic and architectural analysis will be reviewed by the RTM and its appropriate Committee with meaningful analysis having already been the subject of the efforts of our Historic District Commission, Chaired by Randy Henkels. This is just one more positive item for the 2015 and beyond agenda for our terrific Town. Don Bergmann

  10. Vancouver has a similar, but truly historic, manor. Hycroft (1911) is now the home of the University Women’s Club, which also makes revenue from conferences, wedding receptions, a popular Christmas market and films (such as Little Women). Does Golden Shadows also have a garden?
    Lots of opportunities for a handsome building.

  11. “Golden Shadows” has delusions of grandeur. The ballroom is paneled in Philippine mahogany veneer just like every basement rec room built in the fifties. It would cost a fortune to bring it up to snuff. It can’t be compared to Waveny at all.

    Let’s store books in it or tear it down for more open space. mmm

  12. Golden Shadows is more than a building. When historic designations are considered, the original owner and possible importance to the site can be equally relevant. The Baron built a modest ‘mansion’ to his credit. The stunning land he chose and his mission to preserve open space are laudable. We have an opportunity to create uses that will benefit the town. Suggestions already made are viable and there is no lack of imagination in Westport.

  13. Well said, Ms. Block. As this citizen sponsored initiative moves forward, the public as well as town officials will have an opportunity to learn more about the fascinating social history associated with the Baron and Baroness – including their visionary conservation efforts. It is no exaggeration to say that downtown Westport would be radically different today were it not for the blood and treasure this couple committed to the preservation of precious open space.

  14. Stephanie Bass

    I’m confused about any historical status when the building is from 1959. How can it get historical status? Also,the construction is incredibly cheap. The kitchen and bathrooms are in disrepair, but the materials are crummy, none worth saving. Even the grand stairway is flimsy. Before anyone waxes, etc, on this property, they should visit the property and maybe bring a builder along to verify the condition of the building. It does look great from the outside, but I was incredulous when I entere.

    • I am now thinking that my friends (circa ’59) should also be given “historical status”!
      Having no memory of the building(s), the land is certainly a memorable asset.
      Then again, who draws the red line when social history is at issue?
      Confusing, indeed.

  15. For those less familiar with the thinking behind historic preservation standards, it helps to understand that the National Park Service guidelines state that, as a starting point, sites and structures fifty years and older are typically considered eligible for possible historic designation status. Of course, a structure younger than that could be considered as well. I believe the Paul Rudolph designed residence that once stood at 16 Minuteman Hill was built in the mid 70’s. Owing to a number of factors, it was found to be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

    Structures or sites that display “good integrity” (they haven’t been materially altered), are good examples of an architectural style (in this case Colonial Revival), or are associated with a person or persons important to the understanding of the history and development of the community are some of the other metrics that are commonly used to assess the quality and value of a historic resource.

    With respect to the build quality of the subject structure, it is not factual that it is substandard and, in any event, the present surface disarray has no material bearing on the matter at issue . Golden Shadows is robustly built – as evidenced by its ability to easily withstand nearly two decades of under maintenance by its present owner.

    As it happens, the Town of Westport hired a certified architectural historian in, I think, 2011 to assess the building’s significance. The net result of that investigation was that the structure was officially added to the town’s data base of important historic resources, known generally as the Historic Resources Inventory.

  16. Stephanie Bass

    It looked like crap inside to me but I’m not a certified architectural historian.

  17. Temporary surface optics can often be a distraction when explaining the essential architectural and cultural merit of potential historic properties – and I have seen many who are unaccustomed to the practice inadvertently conflate the two. In the broadest sense though, this is a conversation about the manner in which the town sustains its physical assets – the proposed historic designation is really only a sidebar. In light of the massive new public infrastructure that has just been proposed for downtown Westport via the draft Downtown Master Plan, it is, in the view of many concerned residents, a conversation worth having.

    • “…massive new public infrastructure…” as proposes by whom? For whom? If we are going to have a broad conversation, let’s start with first principles. Let’s ask for the justification for all of the planning and preserving and seeing and guessing. Let’s ask also on what basis we will judge the success or failure of all of the planning and preserving. Let’s ask what has been the result of all of the planning and preserving that’s has gone before the current waterfall of planning and preserving. Let’s ask what is the best use of scarce financial resources.

      The “many concerned residents” ploy has been used to justify any number of highly questionable decisions in the past. What are the concerns of these many residents? How do we know?

  18. I’ve yet to find the name of the architect (the Baron, himself?), and what other buildings on his/her resume.

  19. Nick Thiemann

    Well, it still looks a lot nicer than the Kemper-Gunn house we stuck in the middle of a parking lot.

  20. Mike, you may have perhaps misunderstood my comment regarding proposed new public infrastructure and I realize that I could have been clearer.

    Their basic merits notwithstanding, I too, am quite concerned – alarmed even – about the prospect of certain new public realm projects being encouraged in the downtown area when we seemingly lack the ability to sustain many existing public assets sufficiently. In mentioning the plainly unacceptable condition of a valuable town-owned residence (Golden Shadows) I was merely using it as an exemplar to illustrate that point.