The Baron is back in the news.
For years, Westporters have talked about “Baron’s South” — the hilly, wooded 30 acres of municipal land, once owned by “the Baron” between South Compo Road and Imperial Avenue. (“Baron’s South” differentiates it from the old “Baron’s property,” the 32 acres across the Post Road on North Compo, renamed Winslow Park after the town bought it nearly 3 decades ago.)
The Baron’s house — Golden Shadows — is in the news too, as Westport debates what to do with that perhaps historic, perhaps blah 1959 home on Baron’s South.
But who was this guy? Was he a real baron? Or was this just a high-falutin’, self-styled nickname, the way Elvis Presley called himself “The King”?
He’s legit. His real name was Walter Langer, aka Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff of Austria. But I guess barons also need day jobs, so he became a chemist (and a Ph.D. doctor).
He founded Evyan Perfumes in the mid-1930s, bought the South Compo estate in 1967, and lived there until his death in 1983. Evyan was meant to “challenge the French perfume industry.”
His wife — the baronness — was British-born Evelyn Diane Westall. She was also known as “Lady Evyan.”
I know this thanks in part to Wendy Crowther. She loves the Baron’s property, and wants to preserve his home. She sent along a couple of fascinating articles.
One — from the “Vintage Perfume Vault” blog (“Where the scent of yesterday’s vogue lives”) — says that Evyan’s famed White Shoulders perfume was launched in the 1940s. It’s remained very popular, through Evyan’s sale to Elizabeth Arden. It may even be “the iconic American fragrance.”
(Fun fact: It was named, perhaps, for Lady Evyan’s beautiful white shoulders.)
Wendy also sent a link to a 1987 New York Times story. Back then, all eyes were focused on the baron’s North Compo Road land. A referendum — ultimately successful — was held on whether to acquire the property by condemnation.
The cost was $8.75 million, and the town wanted to act quickly. With the baron’s estate “tangled” thanks to 5 wills and many legatees, the cost was expected to rise in the future.
The baron had bought it in 1970 — 3 years after purchasing his South Compo estate. He was seen as a savior, since the previous owner — developer Albert Phelps — wanted to put a B. Altman shopping center there. (Click here for a fascinating story on the previous history of what is now Winslow Park, including a sanitarium and the most luxurious estate in Westport.)
But back to Baron’s South, and “Golden Shadows.” The estate — which at one point included not only his house but others on the land, plus magnificent gardens and arbors — got its name from another Evyan perfume.
Golden Shadows — the scent — was launched in 1950. The Baron created it himself. The New Yorker called it a “first cousin” to White Shoulders (with a “more nonchalant mien”).
Baron’s South will be a major topic of discussion in Westport, for months to come. We’ll talk too about the fate of Golden Shadows.
As we do, we should remember the man behind the land, the home, and the perfumes that provided the fortune that enabled him to buy — and preserve — such magnificent open space.