Behind The Golden Shadows Door

Treasure trove from the 1950s — or just a tired, dilapidated old house?

That’s what a group of Westporters — members of the Historic District Commission, town officials and others — tried to figure out yesterday.

Third Selectman Helen Garten led a tour of “Golden Shadows” — the “mansion” built by perfume magnate Baron Walter von Langendorff and his wife on South Compo Road.

The outside of the baron's

The baron’s “mansion.” The architectural style has been called “Hollywood Colonial.”

The baron and his wife bought the property in 1941. The original home had been built by Angus McDonald. The baron tore it down around 1958, and built the current house. (It was not their main residence, though; that was New York City.) He died in 1983. His wife pre-deceased him.

The town now owns it, with the rest of the 22-acre “baron’s property.” We bought it in 1999, and haven’t yet figured out next steps. We’ve batted around ideas — event venue? rental property? museum? — and it’s been (among other things) a crash pad for homeless people. But right now it’s used only to store thousands of books for the annual Westport Library sale.

An HDC subcommittee is considering whether to apply for historic designation for the baron’s home, and several accessory buildings. Here’s some of what they — and I — saw on yesterday’s tour of the mansion.

Golden Shadows 2

The terrazzo entryway leads to the curving stairway above. First floor features include parquet flooring, original fixtures, bleached mahogany walls and pocket doors.

Yes, that's an old computer monitor being stored inside the Italian marble fireplace.

Yes, that’s an old computer monitor stashed inside an Italian marble fireplace.

The architect and builder are unknown.

Though musty, the building is in “better shape than one would think,” Garten says. The HVAC ducts are probably workable. The finishes look good. The floors should be polished, and electrical work is needed. Only one room has sustained water damage.

“It’s got steel girders,” Morley Boyd notes. “It was overbuilt, but that’s allowed it to withstand a lot of abuse.”

A bay window looks out over a beautiful dell.

A bay window looks out over a beautiful dell.

The dining room is tiny. Apparently, the baron and baroness did not entertain much. Guests stayed in other houses on the property.

The formica-filled kitchen features stainless-steel cabinets, lit from within. There’s also a classic, pink 42-inch push-button stove — now worth quite a bit of money.

Golden shadows 5

Interestingly, there are only 2 bedrooms — his-and-her (non-adjoining) suites on the 2nd floor, with French doors leading onto terraces.

There are, however, 5 1/2 bathrooms. All retain their original fixtures.

You don't see free-standing sinks like these every day.

You don’t see free-standing sinks like these every day. And check out the floors!

The house was semi-air-conditioned. Awnings kept out the heat. From the 2nd floor, the baron and his wife enjoyed terraced botanical, English and sunken gardens — and views all the way to the Saugatuck River.

There was a greenhouse, but it no longer exists. This fountain is believed to have been brought to the property from the other land the baron owned -- what we now call Winslow Park, across the Post Road on North Compo.

A greenhouse no longer exists. This fountain is believed to have been brought to the property from the other land the baron owned — what we now call Winslow Park, across the Post Road on North Compo.

The town has cleaned up some of the house — including mold in the basement. The lawn is mowed from time to time, and beams that bent under the weight of the stored books have been shored up.

Eventually, we’ll figure out what to do with the baron’s house. It may be renovated or restored. It may be designated a historic property — or torn down. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, here’s a view the baron and his wife often enjoyed, outside the back of his house.

Golden shadows 8 - barons south

Any non-baron can now enjoy it too — at least from sunrise to sunset, when our baron’s property is open to all.

10 responses to “Behind The Golden Shadows Door

  1. WOW !
    And a 4 bolted toilet in pale green !
    This dude was out there then. 😉

  2. Mary Ann West

    It will be torn down, it’s the Westport answer to almost everything.

  3. Of behalf of the administration, Third Selectwoman Helen Garten is working hard repurpose this robust survivor in a way that conserves its cool stuff but doesn’t put the town on the hook for the building’s future maintenance. The Operations Manager, the Maintenance Study Committee and the Department of Public Works have all stepped up to address drainage, mold, and other issues; the Tree Warden has seen to it that overhanging hazard trees have been removed; the Police have increased patrols; the RTM just gave the OK for a historic designation study (paid for with a grant)(the historic designation would, among other things, relax certain code requirements); and the Westport Library made the responsible choice to look for more appropriate storage and will be vacating the premises by August 1st. All together, this looks like a pretty good start. A tip of the hat to Selectman Marpe for wading in and dealing with an issue that has been festering for almost two decades.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Morley. The Mark Twain house in Westchester was turned into a house that is used for events. The people run the property, maintain it beautifully and it used for receptions, weddings etc.

      If the twin did this, we could have someone maintain the property, use it appropriately in my opinion and the town make some money.

      Is that something we would think about doing?

      By the way, the Watson House in New Canaan is also be used the same. And I believe the grounds a public park.

      • Morley Boyd

        Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Bart. This structure lends itself to a number of possible uses – it is the site that presents some challenges; including parking and public access requirements. All can, of course, be addressed, it’s just a matter of finding a use that doesn’t overwhelm this fairly compact and intimate setting. Given the close proximity of residential neighbors, I believe it is critical to be mindful of the intensity of use. At present, one of the low impact uses being explored is the gentle conversion of the structure for use by one or two small businesses or non-profits. This would preserve nearly all the building’s historic fabric and place the responsibility for maintenance upon the tenant(s). I used to think that our model should be Waveny Park but after quite a bit of thought have come to believe it should maybe be Fodor Farm in Norwalk – where the principle historic building was repurposed as a small business incubator.

        • Why spend taxpayer dollars, yet again, to subsidize private entities? We should have learned a lesson from the recent attempted Baron’s South land grab. Once public money has been sunk into the structure, how do you propose to eliminate the temptation to award access on the basis of cronyism?

  4. Beverly Breault

    whatever you do, please, please don’t tear it down.

  5. Karen kosinski

    New Canaan took the mansion at wavenly and turned it into a beautiful place for weddings and functions. The town could lease it out

  6. Just sayin — love that pink stove with the push buttons — brings back memories of a wonderful time of life – childhood. How much is it worth, if you can post it here?

    • Morley Boyd

      Antiqueappliances.com currently has a 36″ 1954 GE pushbutton electric in white for $4,600.00 (inclusive of restoration). The one in Golden Shadows is likely a 1958. These are really fine machines with a build quality that will never be equaled.