For an out-of-the-way, neglected property, plenty of people know Golden Shadows.*
The former home of Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff and his wife — sometimes described as a “mansion” or “estate” — sits high on a hill, in the middle of the 22-acre property between Compo Road South and Imperial Avenue, known as “Baron’s South.”
(The baron — who may or may not have been actual royalty — also owned 32 across the Post Road; it’s now known as Winslow Park, in honor of a previous owner.)
The town has owned Baron’s South for over 20 years, but has yet to decide what to do with it. Hiking trails are overgrown; invasive species have invaded, and the baron’s home suffers from water leaks, foundation cracks and general neglect.
The house may not be at the top of the town’s plans. But it’s well known to the 17 “06880” readers who correctly identified Molly Alger’s image as last week’s Photo Challenge. (Click here to see.)
Congratulations to Michael Calise, Gloria Gouveia, John Karrel, Seth Schachter, Jerry Kuyper, Dave Eason, Fred Cantor, Martha Witte, Dan Vener, Andrew Colabella, Richard Stein, Mary Ann Batsell, Dick Lowenstein, Tara Curruto, Seth Braunstein, Bruce Salvo and Linda Amos. You win a weekend retreat for 2 at the mansion.
This week’s Photo Challenge is not neglected at all. If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.
*Not “Golden Showers.” Please — this is a family-friendly blog.
(“06880” has covered Baron’s South news since our founding, in 2009. As always, we rely on reader contributions to keep us going. Please click here to contribute.)
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.
In May, the Westport Arts Center and a group of arts advocates presented a pre-application to the Planning and Zoning Commission.
The goal was to create an “arts campus” at the Baron’s South property. The 3-prong proposal included these ideas:
The Westport Arts Center would lease and restore Golden Shadows — the main building that served as the home for Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff (“The Baron”) — retaining most of its decorative interior, for use as offices, classrooms and gallery space.
The WAC would lease and restore the Tudor revival guest house at 70 Compo Road South as additional gallery space.
They would lease the 2 units at 52 and 52B Compo Road South, for use as artists’ residences.
The P&Z was not thrilled with the plan. They called the plan too intense for the “light use” for which the 32-acre property is zoned.
Many Westporters, on the other hand, thought it was great. “06880” was flooded with positive comments.
Golden Shadows: the centerpiece of the Westport Arts Center Baron’s South plan. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)
The whole idea of a pre-app meeting is to get a sense of the P&Z’s mood. The WAC and arts advocates listened to the commissioners.
Tomorrow (Thursday, July 6, 7 p.m., Town Hall) they’ll present a formal proposal. They’ve reworked the use of the artists’ residences, and other concepts.
They also hope to show that the work they’ll do on-site will help the public enjoy all the open space surrounding the arts campus.
Many Westporters enjoyed yesterday’s spectacular weather the usual autumn way: Apple-picking. Leaf-peeping. Your kid’s sports-game-watching.
A few folks spent the day working. A small work crew assembled at Baron’s South, for a 3rd clean-up of that town-owned, heavily forested downtown property.
Organized by Wendy Crowther and Morley Boyd, they made a big dent removing invasive trees, overgrown underbrush and climbing vines. They also cleared a main pathway that descends from Golden Shadows — “the baron’s” old house — into the deeper woods.
Slowly, they opened up the viewsheds from the mansion. There’s much more to do, but already it’s become easier to imagine how magnificent the hills and dales of the wooded landscape once were.
Crowther says the clean-up work reveals a view of Golden Shadows not seen since the town purchased the property in 1999.
The ultimate fate of Golden Shadows — and what to do with the entire 22-acre property — has not yet been decided.
But whatever happens, a small group of Friends is ensuring the place looks great.
But no one can argue that the area in Baron’s South — once the handsome home of Baron Walter von Langendorff and his wife — looks a lot better today than it did yesterday.
This morning, historic preservationists Morley Boyd and Wendy Crowther organized a work party. They and Planning & Zoning Commission members Al Gratrix and Chip Stephens were joined by Mike Bernie, one of the baron’s original landscapers.
Golden Shadows is hidden from view, in the middle of the property. (Of course, the town owns Baron’s South, and it’s open from sunrise to sunset.)
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take care of it. Nice to see some concerned Westporters lend a helping hand.
Morley Boyd and Wendy Crowther, hard at work.
Chip Stephens (left) and Al Gratrix get their hands dirty.
The still-impressive hillside near Golden Shadows, after trimming, raking and weeding.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
Any non-baron can now enjoy it too — at least from sunrise to sunset, when our baron’s property is open to all.
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 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)
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.
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