Tag Archives: Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff

Photo Challenge #238

At first glance, last week’s Photo Challenge was impossible.

Molly Alger’s shot showed some beautiful wineberries. They looked delicious — and it seemed they could be anywhere.

Lurking in the background, though, was a small part of a building.

It was easy to miss. But Andrew Colabella saw it — and recognized it as part of Golden Shadows, Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff’s 1950s-era “mansion.”

Today, we’d call it a “house.” It’s still there, on the now-town-owned property called Baron’s South.

Click here to see the photo. To see it in real life, use the South Compo Road entrance (or walk through from Imperial Avenue). Most people don’t know, but the park is open from dawn till dusk.

Here’s this week’s Photo Challenge. If you know where in Westport you’d see this, fire away!

(Photo/Lee Scharfstein)

Unsung Hero #11

Lois Schine has done many things in her long life.

A mechanical engineer at a time when nearly all her peers were men, she helped found the Society of Women Engineers.

She served 18 years on Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM). She chaired our Human Services Commission, and was a member of 1st Selectman Diane Farrell’s Land Use Committee.

Today she’s an active member of the Westport Downtown Master Plan Committee, and a Friend of the Senior Center.

But of all she’s done, Schine says her “crowning accomplishment” is helping the town keep Winslow Park as open space.

Lois Schine

Following its days as the Westport Sanitarium — and after B. Altman abandoned its plans to build a department store there — the 32-acre site of woods and meadows just north of downtown was owned by perfume executive Walter Langer von Langendorff (aka “the baron”).

First selectman Jacqueline Heneage asked the baron if the town could buy the land. Schine’s husband Leonard — a noted attorney and judge — negotiated with the owner.

The baron backed away, offended by the town’s “low” offer of $2.38 million. Schine planned to return to the issue in a while. But he died — and so did the baron.

The baron left several wills. It appeared his land would be tied up in court — then sold, to satisfy his various estate obligations.

In 1987 the RTM voted 26-8 to condemn the land. Citizens opposed to the deal brought a referendum. Lois Schine, Joanne Leaman and Ellie Solovay helped spur a “yes” vote. By 54-46%, Westporters chose to move ahead with eminent domain.

The purchase price was $9.42 million. But no one in town knew what to do with the property.

Schine worried it would be used for buildings, or some other intense activity. She asked town attorney Ken Bernhard how to designate the land as “open space.”

Winslow Park draws visitors with dogs …

He said there was no such zoning regulation in town. He suggested she run for the RTM, so the body could pass a resolution asking the Planning & Zoning Commission to create that designation.

She did. She won. And — with Ellie Lowenstein at the P&Z helm — officials created an “open space” zone for passive recreation.

“Longshore, Compo, all the pocket parks — none of them had open space designations,” Schine recalls.

Today they do. So does the baron’s other property — the 22 acres across the Post Road, between Compo Road South and Imperial Avenue.

… and sleds.

“Some people say Winslow is ‘only a dog park,'” Schine notes.

“But it’s a park in the middle of town.”

And — had it not been for Lois Schine, and many others — that middle of town might look very different today.

 

Westport’s Baroness Back In The News

It happened on January 2, 1972. Eight armed men stole $28 million in cash and jewels from vaults at New York’s Hotel Pierre.

But it’s back in the news. Nick “The Cat” Sacco — the last robber alive — is writing a book that’s been optioned for a movie. Yesterday’s New York Post had all the breathless details.

Baroness von Langendorff (Photo/New York Social Diary)

Baroness von Langendorff (Photo/New York Social Diary)

The “06880” connection is that the most valuable item was a $750,000 diamond necklace owned by Baroness von Langendorff. She’s the 2nd wife of Baron Walter von Langendorff, founder of Evyan Perfumes, and former owner of Westport’s Winslow Park and the eponymous Baron’s South property on Compo Road.

The baron’s 1st wife died in 1968.

According to the baron’s 1983 obituary, he “often took a blended formula to his country home in Westport, Conn., to smell it away from the air pollution of the city.”

He died in his suite at the Pierre. That’s where he lived with his 2nd wife, the former Gabriele Lagerwall — she of the $750,000 necklace.

It ended up in the hands of a Detroit mobster — who was an FBI informant. That led to arrests of 2 of the robbers (though not Sacco, who entered the witness protection program).

Turns out, baroness #2 still lives at the Pierre.

The baroness is quite a social presence. (Photo/Daily Mail)

The baroness is quite a social presence. (Photo/Daily Mail)

Another New York Post story, from 2 years ago, told the tale of “dirt-poor Nepalese relatives of late Manhattan fashion legend Shail Upadhya (who) are scraping together their meager belongings — even selling off land — to finance a battle against an evil European baroness who swooped in and made off with the designer’s $5 million fortune, according to their lawsuit.”

(It’s complicated. Click here for details.)

The Post — which describes the baroness as a “buxom red-haired widow” — notes that before marrying the Austrian chemist who created White Shoulders perfume, Gabriele was “admired and pursued by some of the richest, most powerful men in the world, including Averell Harriman.”

Several years ago, New York Social Diary described her this way:

{The baroness] is easily spotted in any crowd, gilded or no because of her tall and tumbling flaming tresses, her satin and/or taffeta evening dresses, and above all, her famous milkmaid complexion — and above above all, her ensembles of astonishing jewels. Which are always in ample supply, generous weight, high lustre, and, in short, unbelievable on sighting.

The baroness is one of those individuals of indeterminate youth and age, to put it politely, whose legend, long having departed reality, provides a rich lore that may be more enticing than the facts (although maybe not). Her presence reflects a New York that is almost entirely a memory, where women were placed on pedestals (albeit, if temporarily) as birds of paradise, living paeans to glamour and luxurious living, to be adored, and above all, worshipped….

The baroness still wears plenty of jewels. (Photo/New York Post)

The baroness still wears plenty of jewels. (Photo/New York Post)

She has resided at the Pierre for many years now, and spends weekends at her estate on the North Shore of Long Island where when she entertains at dinner, the men wear black tie and the women of course wear long dresses and jewels. In the summertime, she leaves these shores for Monte Carlo in July and August.

I guess we won’t be seeing baroness von Langendorff in Westport again soon. We’ll just have to settle for the New York Post.

(For the entire New York Social Diary story, click hereFor more on the baron’s Westport property, click here.)

Behind The Baron

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”?

Golden Shadows perfume, by Evyan.

Golden Shadows perfume, by Evyan.

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.

An ad for White Shoulders perfume.

An ad for White Shoulders perfume.

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 factIt 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.)

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

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

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.