Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"Laurento", the Estate of Craig Biddle, Esq., Wayne, Pennsylvania

"Laurento", the Estate of Craig Biddle, Esq., Wayne, Pennsylvania

"Laurento", the Estate of Craig Biddle, Esq., Wayne, Pennsylvania

 "The Italian-Renaissance styled 'Lauranto' stood atop a bluff overlooking Little Darby Creek from 1901 until the early 1980's. Designed by Peabody & Stearns, 'Lauranto' was the home of Drexel grandchild, sportsman Craig Biddle, and his wife, the former Laura Whelan.

    Following the death of their mother in 1883, four-year old Craig Biddle and his brother Livingston were raised as wards of George W. Childs Drexel. Under the terms of Anthony J. Drexel's will, each of the Biddle brothers would receive a million dollars upon reaching age 21. The lavishly decorated 'Lauranto', with 113 acres landscaped by the Olmsted Brothers, was a wedding gift to Craig Biddle from his Drexel guardians, a similar gift being made to Livingston Biddle upon his marriage.

    Lauranto's interiors were furnished largely with European purchases, including antique marble mantelpieces, classic statuary, and Aubusson tapestries from dealers in Rome and Florence. The vaulted, two-story hall, with Palladian arched windows overlooking the valley, occupied the center of the house with reception, dining, library and sitting rooms arrayed on either side.

Craig Biddle - 1918
     A champion polo and tennis player, with a penchant for lavish entertaining and investing in  Broadway musicals. Craig Biddle quickly ran through his inheritance and was compelled to sell 'Lauranto' in 1911 to banker-broker Archibald Barklie. Renamed 'Inver House', the property was sold again in 1936 to Simon Neuman, President of Publicker Industries.

    By the 1970s 'Inver House' was owned by the Roach Brothers real estate firm, which announced plans to adapt the property for use as a retirement community. This scheme came to naught, however, and 10 years later, house and stable had been replaced by a large complex of luxury town houses."

"Laurento", the Estate of Craig Biddle, Esq., Wayne, Pennsylvania

HE mansion of "Laurento" looms majestically on its hilltop, rising high and stately above the surrounding trees and shrubbery, quite dominating the landscape for many miles around. And a most agreeable landmark, it is, designed in a quiet Italian style by Messrs. Peabody & Sterns, architects, of Boston. It is a large house with spacious fronts, whose length is emphasized by the strong string-course between the first and second stories, and by the low, sloping broad roof with which it is surmounted. It is built of light-brown brick, with terra cotta trimming of a nearly white tone.

"Laurento", the Estate of Craig Biddle, Esq., Wayne, Pennsylvania 1902
Nothing remains of it now except for the gate and driveway leading nowhere.
On the top of each pillar under the lions, one can see very clearly the inscription "Inver House".

    The situation is superb, standing on the summit of a hill that rises sharply above the road by which it is usually approached, but with an ample plateau on the inner side, toward which the entrance front is faced. On the roadside the base of the hill is enclosed within a low stone wall, that presently will be thickly covered with vines. 

Roadside Watering Trough. Designed by Peabody & Stearns - wall to extreme right constructed under the Supervision of Mr. Brown with suggestions from the Olmsted Brothers. 1901
"Laurento", the Estate of Craig Biddle, Esq., Wayne, Pennsylvania

    At one point, within a recess, is a water trough for horses; farther on is the entrance, high sandstone piers capped with standing lions and supporting a wrought-iron arch carrying a central lantern: a stately, handsome entrance, as effective as it is simple.

East front from turn in approach drive at which point the house is seen for the first time on approaching. 1901

Looking North West toward approach front of house - all plants on terraces were planted spring 1902 - except privet hedge which was planted  Fall 1901.

"Laurento", the Estate of Craig Biddle, Esq., Wayne, Pennsylvania 1902
    The road within approaches the house by broad curves, for the elevation is considerable, and a somewhat lengthy detour has been necessary to accomplish an easy ascent. On the left the hillside is thickly overgrown with wild shrubbery; on the right are open fields, with the farmhouse and barn— a massive, rough cast structure—quite down in the hollow. The roadbed is fine, with young trees growing on the outer edge, and at frequent intervals are rustic posts carrying wrought-iron lanterns, square in form, and as ornamental by day as they are useful by night. Farther on, but at some distance below, the road overlooks the vegetable garden. 

The Entrance Front Is a Dignified Composition in the Italian Style
    Then the shrubbery on the left gives way to open land, and the house, which hitherto has been completely hidden, comes into view. A broad field contains a flock of sheep and the planting becomes more formal; great clumps of shrubbery are massed in beautifully kept lawns. The house has no great trees near it, those in its immediate vicinity being young. The kitchen entrance is hidden behind a fine planting of evergreens.

"Laurento", the Estate of Craig Biddle, Esq., Wayne, Pennsylvania

The Porte Cochere Is Built of Terra Cotta and Is Directly Before the Main Entrance

    A stately porte cochere, built wholly of terra cotta, is erected before the main doorway. It has four great piers, with round arches on the side, and two columns to support the entablature on the front, whence a ravishing view can be had of the magnificent lawn that stretches away from the house, and of the hilltops in the far distance.

"Laurento", the Estate of Craig Biddle, Esq., Wayne, Pennsylvania 1901

"Laurento", the Estate of Craig Biddle, Esq., Wayne, Pennsylvania
    In design this house is thoroughly distinguished. The plan may be roughly described as cruciform; that is to say, a great central body to which are applied wings, right and left. of pilasters, support the simply molded archway. The reason for the thickening of the wall is now apparent, for it gives greater depth to the arch, and transforms what might have been a purely ornamental feature into a monumental one. In the spandrils are two carved disks, which, with the monumental stairway at the base of the arch, complete the structural features of this fine centerpiece. Within, the archway has a double treatment of door and window, the doorway being in the exact center, below a broad horizontal cornice, while the window rises in majestic proportions above it, wholly filling the enclosed space.

"Laurento", the Terrace Front and Its Arch of Triumph
    The steps at the base of the arch descend upon a spacious terrace, which is built out upon the hillside, with a broader flight of central steps to the slope below. On each side of the Mobility is given to the center by slight projections: at the ends on the entrance front, in the center on the terrace front. The detailing is extraordinarily fine, very well conceived, and applied with admirable judiciousness. The large windows are sufficiently spaced, those of the first story having more elaborate frames than those of the second. The cornice at the top is high and flat, with pierced openings over the windows, and then the projecting eaves to the low roof, whose simple outline is broken only by the chimneys and the three dormers on the entrance front.

Terrace Front of "Laurento", the Estate of Craig Biddle, Esq., at Wayne, Pennsylvania
    There is more pronounced enrichment and more variety in the terrace front. On that side the center is projected far forward beyond the wings. In the center is a triumphal arch, rising high to the crowning cornice which its keystone just touches. Roman Ionic columns, with an accompanying pair center of the house are loggias which connect with the wings, each with its own steps, descending at right angles to the central flight to the great lower terrace. 

Flower garden during construction. 1901

Flower Garden and North Pergola. 1902
    The loggias are built of terra cotta, with piers and columns, and, furnished with rugs, tables, and chairs, are most delightful lounging places. The outlooks over the countryside from any of these parts are of rare beauty; immediately below is the deep valley and the road, which the house seems almost to overhang; beyond are fields of rich grass, trees and woods, hills and valleys, a lovely country outlook, perhaps nowhere so enjoyable, or so beautiful, as from the doorway beneath Mr. Biddle's arch of triumph.

"The Main Corridor Looking Toward the Billiard-room

    The entrance door leads to a small vestibule, wholly paneled in wood painted white. Its glazed doors admit to a space of similar dimensions and treated in an identical manner. This is without inner doors, but open on to the broad corridor that runs across the house from right and left. Curtains of red damask on three sides convert the center of the corridor into a sort of antechamber beyond which is the great central hall. Quite from the outer door the spacious splendor of this apartment has been visible, for the whole of the center of the house is brilliantly illuminated by the flood of light admitted by the vast window under the arch of the terrace front.

The Main Hall Is Flanked with Aisles, in One of Which Is the Fireplace with a Mantel of Carved Stone

    The hall is of regal proportions, rising to the full height of the second story. Ionic columns, on either side, divide it into three bays. It is thus basilical in plan, with aisles on each outer edge, while the central space is supported by the columns and pilastered piers in the corners. 

The Main Hall Looking Toward the Vestibule. It Is a Splendid White Apartment, Two Stories High
    Above the entablature are arches enclosing balustrades, and which surround a corridor carried around three sides of the hall at the upper story. Oriental rugs are laid on the marble floor. At the great window arch are curtains of green damask lined with white silk; at the entrance is a green curtain, and at the four doors on the sides, which lead to the other apartments, are the door and window curtains. The woodwork is mahogany, the mantel, with a facing of green marble, being of the same wood and very richly carved. The hardwood floor has a large Oriental rug, and the furniture is covered with red velvet. The white ceiling and cornice are elaborately molded and detailed. The bookcases which surround most of the lower part of the walls are of mahogany, carved and molded; they are enclosed within leaded glass doors of beautiful design. The room is lighted by side brackets. Immediately adjoining is Mr. Biddle's den, a small room in green, with green walls and green curtains over lace curtains at the single window.

    The billiard-room is at the end of the corridor, and completely fills this farthest end of the house. It is treated throughout in warm brown. The floor is formed of large dull-red bricks, on which are many small Oriental rugs. It is paneled in wood to the frieze, which is of carved leather depicting hunting scenes. The ceiling has wooden beams, corresponding with the rest of the woodwork, the panels being filled with leather, of the same beautiful warm-brown hue which characterizes the whole room. The curtains, both for tapestry curtains of blue and yellow tones. On the left, within the aisle, is a handsomely carved fireplace and mantel of white stone; on the opposite wall, in the aisle, is a superb piece of tapestry. In the center is a green marble table with white marble feet: it supports a richly carved vase. In the corners by the entrance are marble statues.

    The rooms on either side may be reached from the central hall, but it will perhaps be more convenient to visit them from the main corridor. Like the hall and vestibules this is floored with white marble, spread with rich Oriental rugs. On the right it leads to the billiard-room, situated at the extreme end of the house; and on the left it connects with the servants' quarters. It is so broad, and high, and spacious—as are all the apartments on this floor—that it has a true monumental character. Its chief decoration is a series of busts of Roman emperors, of which six are in the right hall, while two stand in the farther corners of the left extension. These sculptures are nobly placed, and add immensely to the monumental effect of the corridor.

The Library Is Finished in Mahogany with Walls of Red Brocade
    The first room on the right is the library; it is also directly entered from the great hall. The walls are covered with red striped damask, the same rich material being used also for the doors and the windows, are of brown leather with green and gold bands. The spacious mantel is of wood and is a part of the wainscot. The facings are of red brick similar to the floor; immediately above, in the center, is a large deer's head. The windows have white lace curtains within the leather curtains. At either end is a low platform with a builtin seat. The furniture is covered with light-brown leather. The great height of the ceiling adds immensely to the effect of this beautiful room.

The Reception-room, with Paneled Wails of French Gray, Is Louis XVI in Style
    The reception-room is opposite the library and faces the entrance front of the house. It is designed and furnished in the Louis XVI style and is a delightfully cool and charming apartment. The paneled walls are in French gray. There is a built-in mirror over the fireplace, which has facings of mottled-red marble. The curtains are of pink damask over white. The chairs are of French gray covered with tapestry, and the other furniture includes many fine old pieces of great beauty.

    On the left hand side of the entrance doorway are two rooms, both entered from the main corridor. That on the front of the house is the breakfast-room, treated wholly in yellow, with warm-yellow walls, and curtains of the same brilliant color. 

An Immense Slab of Green Marble Encloses the Fireplace of the Dining-room

The Dining-room Is Paneled in Dark Oak, Above Which Is a Frieze of Old Tapestry
"Laurento", the Estate of Craig Biddle, Esq., Wayne, Pennsylvania
    The dining-room is opposite, and is one of the most sumptuous apartments in the house. The walls are paneled in dark oak to the broad tapestry frieze, a fine old piece of unusual beauty. The ceiling is cream color with decorated beams forming small square panels. The woodwork of the doors is enriched with carving, and there are elaborately carved tympanums in the arched doorways on the side. The fireplace is encased within a huge slab of mottled-green marble, to which a shelf of the same rich material is applied. The sideboard, on the opposite side of the room, is built in, and is designed in harmony with the decorative woodwork of the doors and mantel. The hardwood floor is covered with a green rug, and the curtains are of green velvet with gold braid bands. The oak furniture is very elaborately carved. The room is lighted by gilt sidelights applied to the panels of the walls.

The Massing of Foliage Plants and Trees Is Admirable
    One end of the house, the nearest end as it is approached by the entrance driveway, is wholly given up to the service. The planting here, as has been stated, consists of evergreens, arranged in picturesque masses. 

Looking down on flower (Italian) garden from a second story window of house. 1901
View of Long Terrace and Flower Garden. 1902
The Formal Garden of "Laurento" with Its Central Fountain and Encircling Flower Beds
    At the farther end is a small formal garden, the chief ornament of which is a marble fountain, placed exactly in the center, and formed of a charming group of children playing in a small marble basin. Concentric beds of circular segments are planted around the fountain, until the corners are filled out in squares. The planting is chiefly annuals, arranged in brilliant masses of color. The whole is enclosed within a hedge. At the farther extremity beyond the fountain the land dips suddenly, but the ravine is partly screened by the garden hedge. Beyond are hills, with trees and woods, a beautiful outlook over the many beautiful spots within and without the estate grounds.

Looking South East from Italian garden towards the Stable. All plants seen in photo except the trees in background were planted either Fall 1901 or Spring 1902.

Path south of the esplanade and looking east toward stable. All planting put in Spring 1902.

The Stable and Clock Tower - East front.
The Stable and Clock Tower - East front.

Welcome to Inveraray

    Follow THIS LINK to see an aerial view from 1948 showing the estate standing.

September 19, 1908
Mr. Oelrichs said I never saw anything or anybody that came from Philadelphia that was any good and I can back up my words if you will step outside. Biddle was reported to have had his face smacked by Harry Oelrichs.

    "Harry Oelrichs was one of the most intimate friends of James Gordon Bennett," writes Edward Vizetelly in a London weekly. "Between them they introduced polo into America, and were familiar figures, side by side, in Broadway years ago, particularly after dark." SOURCE


  1. My favorite Main Line mansion from years ago. We snuck up through the woods and peaked in the windows. It had a swimming pool on the right side (as you stood in the port cochere). The large room on that side had mirrored walls and black and white marble floor tiles, perhaps a ballroom? I attended the demolition sale for which I signed a waver. I walked the length of the cavernous attic and found a bedroom on the second floor strewn with Inver House paperwork. I miss this home. I'm glad I got to experience it before it was destroyed.

  2. This was the 1st of many Philadelphia area grand estates I have had the privilege to trample through. Most of these were at Predemolition sales with Kevin Tobin but several were fully furnished active estates. This I visited shortly after the demolition sales while helping an elderly lady who knew Ron Rhodes. She was collecting several concrete planters she had bought. Unfortunately by the time I was there the salvage work was well under way but still was a glorious structure.