Baron’s South Committee: Golden Shadows Needs Work

Every few years, the First Selectman’s Maintenance Study Committee issues a report on the condition of Baron’s South.

The latest draft — delivered recently, following similar reports in 2014, 2018 and 2019 — was based on an inspection of Golden Shadows, former home of Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff. It was conducted by committee members 2nd Selectwoman Andrea Moore, committee chair Joseph Fuller, John Broadbin and Jack Klinge.

Golden Shadows: in 2015. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The report called for more frequent reviews of the building. Now used by the town for “light storage of first aid and critical response items,” it is one of several buildings in the 22-acre park between Compo Road South and Imperial Avenue. The rest is open space.

The report noted that apart from minor maintenance and renovations, Golden Shadows has not received any attention since the town took possession more than 20 years ago. The town spends approximately $50,000 a year on maintenance, the report said.

Since then, “major cracks” have appeared and grown. In addition, the report said:

  • Bricks are deteriorating
  • Front steps are spalling
  • The front stone patio is leaking, and has become a liability issue.

Golden Shadow patio and front steps.

  • The site and grounds remain “somewhat overgrown.”
  • Chimney repainting is warranted.
  • Caulking is peeling.
  • The heating system is functioning.
  • Most of the walls are in satisfactory condition, though some sills are rotting.

Peeling wallpaper, inside.

  • Woodwork appears satisfactory, though ceiling paint is peeling.
  • Floors need cleaning.
  • Roof slates appear to be in good shape, though gutter work should be done.

A drone photo in the draft report shows where gutter work is needed.

The committee recommends consideration of  exterior improvements “almost immediately.” The same recommendation was made in 3 previous reports.

Interior work is needed too, “if the building is to be kept.” Costs are mounting: “A simple residential renovation” today would be over $1 million.

The report also recommended site work, including driveway repairs, grass cutting, and removal of one large tree.

Finally, the report noted that a restored building “could be rented like 3 other adjacent residential buildings on the property.”

1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker is reviewing the report.

Westporters toured Golden Shadows years ago, after the town bought the property.

24 responses to “Baron’s South Committee: Golden Shadows Needs Work

  1. The town often spends a million on things a lot less important than repairing an historic mansion that belongs to every Westport resident…if a good reno cost TWO million, that would be about $77.00 per person…why would Tooker even delay an immediate redo of the wonderful structure.

  2. It’s a beautiful piece of property. Surely the town can do better than leaving it to crumble.

  3. Golden Shadows is listed on the Connecticut State Register of Historic Places and is therefore eligible for grant opportunities. It’s shocking that a municipality could allow an entire public park, together with the buildings standing thereon, to fall into a state of disrepair. These assets belong to the taxpayers. And they are being actively wasted. Although one hopes that the Tooker administration will be more responsible than those of the past, it’s hardly encouraging to read recently that the new Parks Superintendent has been directed to stay away from this 22 acre open space park in the heart of downtown Westport.

  4. Wendy Crowther

    For the 20+ years since the town took ownership of this property, I’ve been trying to advocate for its preservation and care. I’ve invested hundreds of hours of time to research its fascinating past, to speak to town departments, commissions and committees, and to provide my own sweat equity clearing the overgrowth that the town has allowed to encroach upon Golden Shadows.

    To say that I’m disappointed that the town continues to neglect this amazing house and property is an understatement. I would like to see documentation that the town spends $50K a year there on maintenance for Golden Shadows. There’s no way this can be true.

    If anything, Golden Shadows is actually an amazing survivor. Despite the town’s neglect, it is in astoundingly GOOD shape. This is a testament to its sturdiness and good bones. I’ve been in it many times, including yesterday, and can attest to this.

    It’s inexcusable that years of Maintenance Committee reports have been ignored and/or expenditures deferred. Minor issues are allowed to grow bigger.

    The town can only blame itself for this neglect. But, this latest report is not a death sentence. These things are fixable. A priority list can be developed, the projects can be phased to spread out costs, partnerships can be developed with residents, local businesses, local organizations, trade schools, etc. We can do this. Town Hall, please stop turning your back on the investment we taxpayers paid for 20 years ago.

  5. The above comments say it all! This property belongs to the taxpayers and this and past town administrations have done nothing to protect and preserve this historic buildings and grounds. The town is more interested in giving out parking tickets, buying new vehicles for Animal control, Parks and Rec ( which they use for personal use as well) than keeping this important free space and buildings in suitable condition. Shame!

    • Annelise McCay

      Maybe it could be a lovely art gallery or small museum to showcase historic & present local artists? Maybe some art workshops? Small Chamber music concerts?

  6. Bobbi Essagof

    Is the building ever used for anything? If we are going to use it as a museum or place for education or events then fix it asap. Of course, use as many grants as possible. If it is going to remain unused and can’t even be seen then why invest money that can be used for so many other repairs that are needed. How many other “Hidden” gems are there around town? Somewhere George Washington slept perhaps?
    Happy June 30th or July 4th!

    • mary schmerker

      George Washington did visit Westport and was known to have a meeting in a Tavern close to where Christ and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church is today.

      • slept here — he slept everywhere. In 1780 he is said to have discussed war strategy with the Marquis de Lafayette and Comte de Rochambeau at the Disbrow Tavern (where Christ & Holy Trinity Church is today). He returned twice in 1789 as president, coming and going on an inspection tour of the Northeast. He spent 1 night at the Marvin Tavern — located on the Post Road, opposite King’s Highway South — but did not have a bang-up time. In his diary, he called it “not a good house.”

  7. Nina J. Marino

    It is really shocking that the town has allowed this building to deteriorate and to be used for storage ? What an absolute waste of a beautiful building and such a peculiar thing to happen in Westport, a town that prides itself on valuing it’s history.

  8. Richard Johnson

    I’m all for preserving historic buildings. Golden Shadows isn’t historic by any measure. It was built in 1959 and designed by an unknown architect (but certainly not a significant one, or else his or her identity would be known). Objectively, it is just a nice house built in the 1950s. The only hook for its historical significance is its owners, but they are minor figures compared to others in Westport. Who were they? The owners of a now-defunct perfume company who likely faked their nobility. In essence, just some rich people who settled here, like so many others. The ancillary buildings, by contrast, date from pre-war era and do have some historical significance.

    That’s all to say, figure out something useful to do with this property. I’m all for preserving the building if there is some use for it and it can be done in an economically rational way, but I’d much rather the town spend the money on preserving and protecting the many ACTUAL historic structures in town from rapacious developers and realtors.

  9. I agree emphatically with R. Johnson. The building is poorly designed and
    is cheaply constructed with plywood walls, tiny bathrooms and very little
    “historic” style. Should be razed.

  10. Bill Strittmatter

    Why not renovate and convert to affordable housing? Probably could fit at least 4 apartments in there.

  11. Tom Duquette, SHS '75

    Looks like it will be a future ‘teardown of the day ‘ the way things are going.

  12. Totney Benson

    For years we have lamented the loss of lovely buildings around town (many but not all antiques), but consistently our local regulations seem to prevent either alternative uses or the requirements for use/renovation, which are too onerous to work. Thus the building is demolished. Daily, I drive by the charming cottage on the Terrain property that is suffering a similar fate – Terrain not allowed to use it for more than storage (I understand), so why take care of it. Can we not find ways to accommodate uses that save these structures?

  13. Walking through the structure feels like strolling through history. THE BARON!!! His wife! Everything about the Baron,s south screams Westport history… it should be a history museum and gallery.

  14. Michael Calise

    Before anything is done it should be conclusively proven that the building has a viable and sensible use and an actual plan is developed to implement that use. We must never overlook the fact that Baron’s South is public open space which will become increasingly important in future years. For my money a patch of grass and a few trees will be a better long-term solution for this footprint.

    • As has Ridgefield used a beautiful house as a community center, wedding venue etc. the Baron’s home should be transformed to do the same.
      It’s criminal that past administrations have allowed this to happen.

  15. maryschmerker

    I thought about this post all day. I try not to comment unless I really think I have a contribution. Someone dated the house to 1959. That surprised me. Is there another large structure on the property? Long before 1959 I attended two separate musical events on what I thought was now Baron’s South. I remember my grandmother taking me and being in awe of the property, a long driveway off South Compo and driving up to a large home. The second event my grandmother took me to was a Piano Recital. I met Ruth Stein Krause who was the hostess. The first event was so exciting for me. The Von Trapp Singers were performing. This was long before the movie and their home in Vermont. Ruth Steinkrause Cohen also hosted this event. I would place it in the early 1950’s. By 1959 I was in college. Anway from following different posts about the property it does seem that it is a treasure that is often neglected. What a shame. Westport, you can do better!

    • Wendy Crowther

      Mary S., your comment is fascinating to me on numerous levels. My impression (based on my own research) has always been that Golden Shadows was built earlier than 1959. Evidence is weak as to its exact build date. It makes tons of sense that Westport resident, Ruth Steinkraus Cohen, would have hosted the musical events you’ve described because she was a Julliard-trained musician and a musical ambassador. She was also highly active with the United Nations as we all know. It’s especially intriguing that the Trapp Family Singers were among the performers you remember because the Baron hailed from Austria and, of course, so did the von Trapps. The Trapp Family stopped performing in 1957 (per Wikipedia). Therefore, your memory of being younger than college-aged when you saw them perform at Golden Shadows seems to be supported by this fact and also provides some evidence that Golden Shadows was built prior to 1959.

      Thank you for sharing your memories. These further strengthen the case for preserving Golden Shadows and all the great, local history it embodies.

  16. mary schmerker

    Wendy, I can come close to describing two of the rooms of the building where the events were held. Also, back in my grandmother’s day there was a group of women who were very active in planning and hosting musical events some small and just for members and others were large. Would any further memories, or names of people be helpful?
    I do know that there may be relatives that are still living in Fairfield County that might provide other clues. But that information should probably be sent privately.

    • Wendy Crowther

      Mary, further memories and the names of the people involved would be very helpful, especially as they relate to these two particular concerts and the layout of the house as you remember it.

      Dan could you please provide Mary with my email address and/or vice versa?

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