Residential Designs by the Horace Trumbauer Architectural Firm: Whitemarsh
In 1916, the Edward and Eva Stotesburys commissioned Trumbauer to design one of his most famous projects: Whitemarsh. Whitemarsh Hall was set on a hill outside Philadelphia in Springfield, Pennsylvania. Stotesbury was a senior partner at the Drexel & Company banking house, an associate of J. P. Morgan, and one of the wealthiest men in America. He met Trumbauer in 1909 when the architect designed an addition for the Union League at Fifteenth and Sansom Streets.
After the Stotesburys married in 1912, Eva, who quickly became Philadelphia's leading socialite, twice commissioned Trumbauer to renovate their townhouse at 1923 Walnut Street near Rittenhouse Square. Following the renovations at their townhouse, Eva oversaw the construction of Brooklands, a grand Trumbauer house in Eccleston, Maryland, for her daughter Louise and son-in-law Walter B. Brooks Jr. By the time Trumbauer completed Brooklands in 1915, the Stotesburys had outgrown their townhouse near Rittenhouse Square.
The Stotesburys asked Trumbauer to design Whitemarsh Hall to replace their inadequate townhouse. Over the next five years, the architect, his staff, and contractors erected an enormous U-shaped, Georgian style mansion set in Jacques Gréber's sweeping informal English and formal French gardens. During the construction, Trumbauer, who was rarely photographed, posed at the building site with Edward and Eva Stotesbury and Oliver Cromwell Jr., Eva's son from a previous marriage. With 50-foot limestone columns at the main entrance, the palatial mansion comprised 147 rooms totaling 100,000 square feet of space. The ballroom alone was 64 feet in length. The grand residence, with three stories above ground and three below, required a staff of 70 butlers, maids, cooks, valets, chauffeurs, and gardeners.
The many elegant rooms were embellished by the best decorators from Paris and the plumbing fixtures were plated in gold. Although contemporary observers as well as historians have disputed Whitemarsh Hall's total cost, it certainly topped $3 million dollars, an incredible amount in 1921. When automobile manufacturer Henry Ford, himself a wealthy man, visited, he proclaimed "it was a great experience to see how the rich live." But, as changes to Trumbauer's practice demonstrate, the rich had already begun to live differently by the 1920s. Although Trumbauer would continue to design great buildings until his death in 1938, he would no longer plan the sprawling country estates and elegant seaside palaces that had made him famous before World War I. Whitemarsh Hall marked not only the apex but also the end of the Gilded Age. Too expensive to maintain, Whitemarsh Hall was eventually abandoned. Regrettably, the imposing but dilapidated mansion was demolished in 1980 to make way for a suburban housing development.
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