Greylock Mansion Chestnut Hill

 

 

 

 

Greylock

 

Watercolor by Wm. J. Carpenter c1927

 We have previously written about two mansions designed by Wm. J. Carpenter AIA.  The first was the 1889 E. J. Roberts mansion in Spokane, a grand Victorian design now serving as an up-scale Bed & Breakfast. The second was the McCook Mansion in Pittsburgh, designed in 1905 and now being renovated as the anchor of a boutique hotel complex.

Now here is a third one, perhaps his last known design, and questionably the grandest, in the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia area before moving to Florida. This one, in Chestnut Hill, a suburb of Philadelphia, was designed in 1909 for another titan of industry, H.A. Laughlin, Director of the Jones & Laughlin Steel Company.

The picture above is a tinted watercolor painting by the architect/artist from a late 1920s archival photograph.  Both the photograph and the painting are in my collection and there will be more about them on the PAINTINGS  page soon.

  This “castle” is briefly described in a 1909 newspaper article quoted here:

 H. A. Laughlin’s Mansion

Splendid Home for Steel Manufacturer Erected at Chestnut Hill.

 Henry A. Laughlin, the senior member of the firm of Jones & Laughlin, the steel manufacturers, will shortly occupy the handsome residence which Contractor A. Raymond Raff has just completed for him at Chestnut Hill Avenue and Crefeld Street, Chestnut Hill.  The Mansion, which cost $150,000 is considered to be one of the finest in that section, and is located in the centre of a 10-acre plot which overlooks the beautiful Wissahickon Valley.  The building was designed by W. J. Carpenter, a Pittsburg architect, and is of the English Renaissance style of architecture, covers a ground floor area of 123 by 126 feet.  The house stands on a wide terrace, which is paved with red tiles.”

 (When my father Edward returned from a trip to Pennsylvania in the 1960s he brought some paving tiles home with him.  They are of intense red clay, 9 X 9 X 1.25 inches, have a checkered pattern on the bottom and are marked DENNIS PUABON.  I understood they came from the Ashton farm outside Beaver where the family had resided during the 1910s, but after reading this reference to “red tiles” I have wondered if there is any connection between the tiles at Greylock and those in Beaver.  When I visited Greylock in 2003 I could see no evidence of red tiles anywhere on the expansive terrace.  Could they have been paved over during the years?  Or, were they removed and some ended up in Mr. Carpenter’s residence in Beaver?  Does any house detective have a clue?)

 The exterior is of gray Chestnut Hill stone, which was quarried on the premises.  The porte-cochere and the ornamentation on the house are of Indiana limestone, while the roof is of gray slate.  The interior staircase from the first to the second floor is of white marble, while the decorations are of mahogany and quartered oak.  The house, which contains 25 rooms, is equipped with a plunger elevator.  An entrance lodge as well as a garage has also been erected on the estate.

After a recent interior renovation the property was listed for sale in 2009.  Here’s the listing information.  I don’t know the current status.

 

Photo by Jack Carpenter 2005

 Property Description:
Built in 1909 by Pittsburgh steel magnate Henry A. Laughlin, Greylock is a classic Chestnut Hill stone mansion once considered one of the finest residences overlooking the Wissahickon Valley. The 3-story 18,000SF main building and 2-

Greylock Floor Plan

story 4,200SF carriage house sit on a park-like 6.7 ac the rear of which borders Fairmount Park. In 1945 Greylock became home to the Servants of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an order of nuns who renamed the property “The Home of Divine Providence”. Both buildings were used for senior care. The main house is now used as office space for small and medium-sized businesses. The original floor plan and many architectural details have been preserved, with an expansive central hall, original white marble grand staircase, leaded glass casement windows and mahogany and oak millwork and doors. Both buildings comprise in excess of 18,000SF of rentable space,  C/A, elevator in main bldg., high-speed Internet access t/o, conference room & ample parking, all in the heart of Chestnut Hill. $2,450,000.

The entrance to the estate was originally from 8835 Crefeld Street, and a winding drive went past the gate house and up the hill to the mansion, where the porte-cochere allowed regal entrance to the reception room off the main hall.  “Laughlin Lane” ran from the Crefeld Street gate to the Pennsylvania Railroad station, making a convenient arrangement for Mr. Laughlin on his commutes to Pittsburgh or Philadelphia.

 Such an extensive project would have required close contact between the owner and the architect during both the design and construction phases.  With Mr. Carpenter living in Beaver and Mr. Laughlin living in Pittsburgh and the mansion in Chestnust Hill many of the meetings probably occurred on the Pennsylvania RR train between Pittsburgh and Chestnut Hill.  Perhaps that is when the access between the RR station in Chestnut Hill and Greylock became known as Laughlin Lane?

 Although no longer used for access to the mansion, the original drive still shows on the aerial internet view of the property. Also clearly shown is the relation of the gatehouse and the garage to the rest of the estate.

 
 
 

 

 

Gatehouse 8835 Crefeld

 

 

 

 

 

The gatehouse was separated from the original estate and sold to a private party a few years ago.  The owner in 2003 was kind enough to allow me a walkthrough-more about that, with pictures, later.

This beautiful historic property and buildings abut Fairmount Park and the exterior and grounds are protected by easements created by the Chestnut Hill Historical Society.  Here is their announcement of the proceedings as they were developing in 2003:

In November, CHHS was granted a conservation easement on Greylock at 209 West Chestnut Hill Avenue.  This easement forever protects the sweeping lawn and private open space on this 6.77-acre property.  It also limits commercial use to executive offices within the existing mansion (and garage) and imposes limits on total employees, total car tips and additional parking.  These and other restrictions guarantee that one of Chestnut Hill’s last remaining estates will be preserved essentially in its original form, and that no development ever will take place on the large lawn between Chestnut Hill Avenue and the mansion…

 The Chestnut Hill Historical Society furnished much of the information for this article.  All of the referenced history is from their archives, but unfortunately in the transition I have lost the links to the original references, but they are all in the archives of the CHHS, which graciously supplied the information several years ago.  My special thanks to Liz Jarvis and Dena Dannenberg for their cooperation.

One reference that I can credit is Greylock 1909-1947, Home of Divine Providence 1949, Betty C. Huston, May 17, 1984. It is the most complete historical account that I have found. 

 

  

 

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  1. Thanks for the info on Greylock. I have been inside hundreds of times and have always wondered what the original floor plan was on the second floor. Do you happen to have the original floor plan of the third floor. Right now it’s a large open space with some offices and bathrooms around it

    Thanks

    • Carl,
      Sorry, but the plans of the 1st and 2nd floors from the early real estate listing shown in the blog are all of the interior layout information I have at this time. There is a document in the archives of the Chestnut Hill Historical Society that tells us “On the third floor are four master bedrooms and two baths, a small sun deck, two servants’ rooms with bath, and two storage rooms. The stairs on each floor to the servants’ quarters are wide and of steel construction.”
      Perhaps someone has a sketch or plan for the 3rd floor. If so, I will be pleased to add it here. Jack

      • Jack,
        thanks for the response. Right now the 3rd floor still has 2 remaining bedrooms with fireplaces and another room that was a third bedroom but it was altered into an office. I believe there are 3 baths left and one of the servants rooms and lots of closet space. One of the other servants rooms was changed and used as a computer/communictions room and there is a small room that looks like it could have been some type of kitchen. All of the rooms are on the perimeter of the floor. The center of the floor is open space. I’ve never been on the roof to see the sun deck I believe it is still there.

        Carl

      • Carl,
        It’s good to know there are people interested in this building. I hope they are able to find a good use for it. Jack

  2. Does anyone know why this manse was named “Greylock”?

    • I have found nothing about it in my research, except that there is a Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts. Whether or not it had any significance to the Laughlin family I do not know. I hope someone will help us out here.

  3. Were there any limits of use in renovating to an upscale B&B? Is there a pool? can one be installed if we were to go to a B&B plan after purchase?

    • Maureen,
      The successful conversion of the E.J. Roberts Mansion and Mansions on Fifth to B & B usage speaks for itself as to the architectural possibilities, but I don’t know what zoning and permitting would be required by the local authorities.
      Queries to them would certainly be in order before a purchase. Sorry, I don’t know if there is a pool on the Greylock grounds, but there is plenty of room for an Olympic size one. Jack

      • FYI – There is no swimming pool on the grounds of Greylock in Philadelphia.

      • Carl, Thanks for the confirmation. Jack

  4. No problem. Had the key to Greylock for about a year. Did little things for the owner around the place.

    • Hello Carl,

      If you have any little tidbits about the building or its status that you think wuld be of interest to our readers, please keep them coming. Jack

  5. Right now I do know that it’s empty and being pushed as a rental. Stopped by on Sunday and the grass looked like it had not been cut in weeks. It is for sale and has been for the last 8 years for 2 million or so.

  6. Thank you so much for all this detailed information. This is a beautiful home that I one day hope to own. With respect to the Historical Society easement, what sort of renovations are prohibited? Would it be possible to put in a pool or a tennis court? This home is truly a work of art but I worry the easement may inhibit the potentially drastic renovations needed to bring out and sustain it’s old world grandeur.

    • Benjamin,
      Thanks for looking & commenting. Sorry, but I can’t be of any help with your questions. You had best contact one of the real estate brokers at their website. Jack

  7. It’s so awful to see such an exquisite property go without care taking.
    I have driven to this property on several occasions and can only look at such a prize, but I guess if you dont have a lot of money it’s just another property own and go to waste . So sad
    Signed: dreaming

    • Tina, Thanks for the comment. When I see mansions going in the WSJ every weekend for $10-20M, and then sometimes being torn down and rebuilt, I don’t understand why someone doesn’t acquire and restore this substantial property for far less money. Maybe someday? Jack

  8. Does anyone know the actual sq/ft of the main building? I have seen everything from 16,500 to 19,000. Also, out of curiosity, is there a garage, or is the second building something else entirely (the 4,200sq/ft described building)?

    • Ross,

      Sorry, but I don’t have that information. Perhaps someone else can help. Jack

  9. Ross,
    Main building is roughly 16,000 sq ft the 2nd building is a garage with space for about 4 cars. and a small 3 room apt on first floor. The second floor of the garage looks like it was an apt at one time with 4 to 5 rooms. Garage is probably about 2500 sq ft. I think the 19000 sqft estimate comes from realtors adding the 2 square footages together of both buildings

    • Thanks Carl,

      I thought you might pick up on this one. Your comments are always appreciated. Jack

    • Thank you so much for the reply, Carl; much appreciated.

      It is certainly a beautiful property and I’m sure that the pictures don’t do it justice. I just imagine that it would take a lot of work, and money, to get it back to a family home (which is what it should be, I’m sure we’d all agree!) and for the effort involved I’m sure that many people simply look elsewhere. Being abutted right next to a school can’t help much, either.

      Do you guys like the fact that the building has such a large, central hall? I’m really split on it, and have been for months since I first saw the property! I look at the plan (assuming that they are accurate) and think “now, what would I use this room for? What about this room….”! I think that I’d extend the kitchen to include the pantry space.

      Thank you Carl, and thank you Jack.

      • My pleasure to bring some of the beautiful buildings grandfather Carpenter designed to others. I have a couple of pictures I took in 2005 that I will try to add to the Greylock page. I think one of them is the central hall you mention. Jack

  10. Jack,
    you are quite welcome.

  11. I believe I have some pics and possibly video? Most of which were taken between 2009 and 2010. If I can find my old phone, it has tons of stuff on it. Ross, believe it or not, the inside of the property isn’t OR wasn’t in bad shape at all. It was in “move in” condition the last time I was inside. The problem as I see it is the competition that exists when similar style homes in the area are for sale which are in “live-in” condition and not “Office-like” condition. In my opinion, Greylock is a steal at it’s current price but I tend to be a “glass is half full’ person. A 16,000 sqft mansion on 7 acres in Chestnut Hill for just over a million isn’t a bad deal AT ALL. It’s not like you couldn’t buy it, live it in and work on it at the same time. There’s so much space in that house, you could retreat to 3rd floor and live there while renovating the second floor. Most of the 3rd floor bedrooms and bathrooms are still 90% intact The second floor appears to be the floor that was altered the most. The second floor is missing 2 or 3 original full bathrooms and allexcept one of the original bedrooms have been altered too. By the way, it’s in MUCH BETTER condition than Lynnewood Hall aka Widener Mansion which is currently for sale in Cheltenham PA, I have been in that house also.

    • Morning Carl,
      Are you in real estate? You make a good pitch for Greylock!
      I cannot figure out how to add images to Comments, but if you can, please do so. Jack

      • Hi Jack,
        NO 🙂 . If I find those pics I will try to add to the comments or I can email them to you and you can post them.

    • If you did find those pictures/videos I would LOVE to see them.

      I agree with what you say about the benefit of the size being that you can retreat to an area whilst the other parts are being worked on. I take it that if the original bathrooms have mostly been replaced then they are being used as additional office space? Not too difficult, in the scheme of things, to get them back to bathrooms. When you say that the bedrooms have been altered, do you mean such as yanking out inbuilt wardrobes etc, rather than knocking down walls?

      Jack; did you ever upload that painting of Greylock in a larger size? I had a look but couldn’t find it. I think that that painting perfectly encapsulates what the house could become once again with a little love, care, spit and polish.

      Again, you two guys are both fantastic and I thank you both.

  12. I see that Greylock is finally going to be sold after being taken to a sheriff’s auction.

    Did you ever manage to find those pictures, Carl? Do you have other pictures, Jack?

    • Sorry, but I can’t locate any other pictures.
      With all those restrictions in the easements it will be interesting to see if anyone can come up with a good plan for renovation. Without the restrictions, and some official cooperation it might turn out to be a viable asset to the community, as has the McCook Mansion in Pittsburgh and the Lowenberg-Roberts Mansion in Spokane. Jack

  13. I’ve also just been reading a copy of the easement that is held against Greylock, and crikey! The number of things that you cannot do to the property, alongside the things that you must do (such as inspecting the roof after every 40mph+ wind and checking the exterior of the building after sustained rainfall, all whilst keeping a maintenance log) are frankly ridiculous. They have put so many hoops that must be jumped through for the life of owning the property that it is completely unsurprising that nobody with the means has wanted to buy it.

    If anyone is interested, here is a copy of the easement terms:

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B49gcsBssTnpLW1BeE5CaFcyZHc/view

    It’s sad that this beautiful home has so many issues and has been forced into a sale via the sheriffs due to back taxes.

  14. Wow! Pretty unreasonable if you ask me. It will probably fall down before anyone buys it and complies with all of this nonsense.

  15. is this house open for tours?

    • I doubt it, but you could try contacting the real estate agent.

  16. Jack,
    I can provide an update on Greylock, albeit rather unencouraging.

    I have been investigating Greylock since June of 2016, when I first saw a for-sale sign in front of it. I corresponded with you back then. Having seen that it was up for sheriff’s sale with a minimum bid of only about $100,000, I had the idea of getting four couples to take it on as a shared retirement home. Backing up to Fairmount Park, and a 9-minute walk to two train lines, it was irresisitible. It took very nearly a crusade, and might not have occurred until spring of the next year, but I finally got to see inside. If no one wanted it and it took $300,000 more in repairs to get it habitable, it would at least be in the realm of possibility.

    Inside, two sections of the exterior flat roofs were destroying the rooms below them. (The remainder of the roof, slate on typical steep angles is nearly pristine.) But the basement had been vandalized, stripping the utilities. It would take at least a half-million. My host deemed it a much larger cost, closer to 2 million than a half. I couldn’t deny it. Physically, the first floor was in good shape. The second and third had lots of damage. The basement was a nightmare. But the physical condition isn’t the problem. It’s the 132 pages of draconian requirements declared by the easement documents. This is a genuine saga.

    I read the entire 132 pages, studying it out of fascination. In addition to well-meaning “preservation” of the building, and “conservation” of the environment (avoiding runoff into the nearby Wissahickon creek), it is loaded with over-reaching requirements whose only goal is to protect the neighbors from the slightest amount of traffic or noise beyond that which any other residence might incur. Unfortunately, that type of consideration is the purview of zoning regulations, not easement documents. Furthermore, the extent of the easement requirements—both breadth and depth—is simply preposterous. I won’t bore you with substantiation.

    I did, however, manage to visit the Chestnut Hill Historical Society, where the easement manager met me in the lobby and explained that the Greylock easements were among the earliest (first) that they had authored and that could explain their zealousness.

    I subsequently attended the Philadelphia Sheriff’s sale twice, in hopes of seeing Greylock go to auction. The first time, it was “postponed.” This means it is delayed until the next month, but the game became pretty clear… that the lawyers and banks kick it around and each time the documents are adjusted the lawyers make a bit more money. Months went by and I learned that something important changed; it changed from a “mortgage foreclosure” to a “tax delinquent” sale. This seems to mean that it was no longer a bank who wanted money, but the City of Philadelphia. Again I went to the sale. And again it was postponed, or maybe this time it was “stayed,” presumably meaning postponed indefinitely. I got up and waited at the back of the 600-seat auditorium. And out walks the director of the CHHS! I had a conversation with her about Greylock, trying to explain why the easement documents are making it impossible for anyone to purchase it. She seemed to genuinely not understand me. I believe I learned that I understand the details of the easement requirements better than her. She asked what CHHS could do. I said go back to the courts or the judge or whoever authorizes the easements and rewrite them to include only conservation and preservation, no zoning regulations. She replied that to get something, something would have to be given in kind. And that was where the conversation ended.

    I drove by Greylock today, as I do several times every week. The invasive trees on the once-pristine front lawn are now 40-feet tall. The building will crumble to the ground, starting in about ten more years, as the ivy consumes it from the outside, or the mold from the inside. That’s what happened to a Versaille-like super-mansion three miles down the road, so it’s not hyperbole. The following phrase is at the top of this blog page:

    “These and other restrictions guarantee that one of Chestnut Hill’s last remaining estates will be preserved essentially in its original form…”

    The reality is quite the opposite. The easement restrictions will guarantee its destruction.

    • Thank you for the update, Jack. Always good to hear from you.
      You have certainly expended a tremendous amount of effort in what seems like a reasonable solution to an ageing problem. It’s too bad something can’t be worked out to preserve Greylock before it becomes just a pile of grey stone.
      Don’t give up-there has to be a reasonable compromise to preserve this asset for Chestnut Hill.

      Best regards, Jack Carpenter

  17. An angle—I’m tempted to say “likely” or “only” or “best”… is to understand that the biggest loser is the City of Philadelphia, who loses $36,000 every year in taxes, and make them the ‘prime mover.’ I tried this angle a bit, writing to the pertinent Philadelphia councilman http://phlcouncil.com/CindyBass, probably a form on her website. No reply. Perhaps I’ll try again.

    • Yes , the City of Philadelphia does not seem to recognize the potential value of this Greylock property.
      Several other similar buildings designed by Mr. Carpenter have been turned into viable, revenue producing tourist destinations (read that B & B or Hotel), without creating any neighborhood problems. In fact, their renovation has enhanced the neighborhood value. The Mansions on Fifth is a prime example. Jack

  18. I found drone flyover video of Greylock Mansion and thought I’d share it here.

    Greylock captured my imagination ever since I stumbled upon the first and second floor plans on this blog many years ago. Does anybody know where the elevator was situated? I’ve pored over the floor plans, but can’t divine where the elevator might have been.

    Like Ross, I was given pause by the large central hall, but I’ve since come to think of it as a “room adjoining other rooms” than a hallway, per se.

    Since I had no information, I fancied that the third floor might have a ballroom. Now I know better. Alas, it appears Mr. Laughlin wasn’t too enthused about dancing.

    I’d be so pleased to see more interior photos of this lovely old home.

    Thank you, Jacknbc, for bringing the mansion to our attention.


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