Sunday, May 3, 2015

"BOX HILL" The Estate of A. J. DREXEL PAUL ESQ., Radnor, Pennsylvania

The Estate of ANTHONY JOESEPH DREXEL PAUL ESQ., Radnor, Pennsylvania
 Charles Platt, Architect

     In the rolling farm country, so characteristic of the outskirts of Philadelphia, stands the home of Mr. and Mrs. A. J. Drexel Paul, a testimonial to the merging of pasture lands and formal gardens, country living and paneled English rooms. Situated at Radnor, about twelve miles from Philadelphia, Box Hill's one hundred and twenty-five acres are part of an extensive property, some  of which  land  originally belonged  to  Mr.  Paul's family.

White wooden entrance gates swing invitingly between stucco posts covered with roses.

    From the entrance itself, guarded by a pair of cream-colored stucco gates, crowned by white woodwork, and covered with pink roses, the driveway is edged by broad paths of well-mowed lawn.

Sheep graze placidly on broad expanses of meadow near the driveway.

    Beyond the grass runs a long hurdle fence, behind which, on one side, sheep graze on the broad expanse of meadow. On the other side, are fields of corn and other crops, with the same hurdle fences separating them from the lawn and drive. It is as though farming were an intimate part of the place, yet with sufficient amenities observed to keep it in its proper relation to the rest. 

The hurdle fences surrounding the pastures are interrupted by tree-trunk panels for riders.

    At convenient intervals in the fence, the whole trunk of a tree has been placed. This makes it possible for riders to jump in and out of the fields, and, at the same time, sheep or crops are not allowed to spill over from where they are confined.

Entrance of the Georgian Colonial house, designed by the late Charles Platt, architect.

    The first glimpse of the house shows it almost hidden by elms and white pines which grow on either side of the approach, as well as by box bushes and three oak trees planted directly in front. Where a secondary drive crosses the main entrance, the fields have given way to more formal gardens.

    The exterior of the house is Georgian in feeling, with that particular quality so characteristic of its architect, the late Charles Platt. Its cream walls are of stucco, applied thinly enough to disclose the stone beneath. The pitched roof is shingled. The sash windows are shuttered; on the ground floor, in white, and, on the upper floors, in dark green. The front door is in the middle of the central section, with service wing to the right, and living room wing and gardens on the left.

    Two English lead eagles stand guardians immediately outside the front door. Inside, a vestibule bears instant witness to some of the interests of the owners. Two Audubon engraving of startled owls hang on the walls. A foot scraper and a long cane rack, filled to overflowing, make provision for country walks. A broad hall runs straight from the front door to long French windows directly opposite, opening onto the broad west terrace. The parquetry floor is in a V design here as throughout the rest of the downstairs. The walls are white like the woodwork and their unadorned simplicity is only broken by several distinguishes portraits-one by Francis Drexel, of Bolivar, one by Peale, and also one painted by Sully, of Mrs. James W. Paul, Mr. Paul's grandmother.

The dining room, with covers laid for dinner, is both formal and friendly. The paneling of subdued green, inset with landscape in tones of green, gold, and yellow, were brought over from Ireland.

    On the right, the dining room is paneled in a subtle gray-green. The romantic landscapes were, with the paneling, from an original room, and came from Ireland. They seem particularly appropriate here, where there is so much that is reminiscent of life in the more seasoned hunting countries of England and Ireland. The Sheraton dining table and the chairs, covered in cream leather, the polished mahogany sideboards, the English candelabra of delicately cut glass pendants, all make a composite picture of great distinction. There is warmth and dignity here, and a perfect background for hospitality.

English deal paneling lines the library. A study by Joshua Reynolds hangs just above Mrs. Paul's collection of crystal displayed on a table.

    Opposite the dining room, across the same hall, is the fine library containing many first editions and sets of Dickens and Thackery that would make even the most blase of bibliophiles envious. The room was planned around the books and the Deal paneling which covers three sides of it came from England. Across from the French windows, curtained in peacock blue silk, the bookcases reach to the ceiling. The tawny coloring of the Oriental rug merges into the golden brown of the woodwork. Throughout the house are grouped various collections of decorative objects in crystal, carnelian, jade, rose quartz, and other minerals. These have been assembled by Mrs. Paul and by her mother. Mrs. Alexander Biddle—arranged together, they would make a very large group but Mrs. Paul has chosen rather to break up the collection into its separate types, letting each preserve its individuality. It has been most ingeniously done to heighten the decorative value of each piece and of each group when viewed as a whole.

Mr. Paul's office has bookcases, ceiling high, forming an alcove for his mahogany desk with red leather top. Aiken hunting prints complete it. 

    Immediately inside the front door, the stairway goes up to the right, while to the left is another long, broad hall which starts from the east-west hall and ends in the living room, facing south. The first door, on the left, from the central part of the house, opens into Mr. Paul's office. This is a long, narrow room, with bookcases running to the ceiling forming, at the end, a sort of alcove for the handsome mahogany desk, with red leather top. A long Jacobean table, in oak, stretches along one side of the room. On the other, between two windows, is an expansive dark blue leather sofa. The white walls are covered with narrow, horizontal hunting prints by Aiken, their subjects being as appropriate in this room as is their unusual and striking shape.

    Next to Mr. Paul's study, still on the left of the hall, is a Louis XIV dressing room, where pink taffeta curtains, painted furniture, and a general air of golden festivity seem, strangely enough, entirely at home among their more dignified English neighbors.

    Opposite, glass doors open into the game room. Here, against pine paneling, a series of prints have been hung. Some are by Aiken and others by John Deal Paul and C. Loraine Smith. Long windows open out on three sides of the room, giving it an air of spaciousness and light. A rose-colored Oriental rug lies on the tiled floor, and for those who are not playing any of the various games available there are comfortable chairs and a deep sofa, in rose chintz. In one corner a bridge table is set up, in another a backgammon table beckons invitingly and, most unusual perhaps in contemporary America, is the felt-topped mahogany table set for sniff. Its ivory dominoea are face down in a wheel-shaped design, as decorative when they are not in use as they are conveniently available for an immediate game.

The living room has oak paneling brought from England. The gold leather screen, nine feet high, has subtly painted Chinese scenes. Wax candles are used in the chandelier and the candelabra.

    As though to heighten its dramatic effect by its very location, the spacious living room discloses itself at the very end of the hall. The entrance is at the west end of the room, and it necessary to walk well into the center of this side to get the full effect. This is because at the back a gigantic Chinese screen, with delicate designs on a somber ground, prolongs the suspense. Once it been passed, however, a sense of serenity and dignity makes itself felt. The rich oak paneling is only broken by the French windows. Rather as though to temper the sunlight and less formal out-of-doors, however, these windows have been traced in flowing blue brocade which hangs from ceiling to floor. The Oriental rug has an all-over pattern in soft blues and golds. In the center of the room, hangs a shimmering Waterford chandelier, which Mrs. Paul has had the imagination to keep from wiring so that, at night, wax candles whose uneven gutterings make a constantly changing play of light on the glass. On the mantel, the Waterford is repeated in a pair of candelabra.

    The general tone of the room is Chinese Chippendale, although other types of furniture have been used as well. A golden sofa, with Chinese design in the most delicate petit point, vies for interest with the tall Chinese screen which is painted leather. In contrast to the somber design on its back, the side facing the center of the room is in gold, with amusing scenes drawn against it in soft blues, reds, green, and whites. 

A corner of the living room, seen above, with Chinese Chippendale sofa in golden needle-point. The portraits are of Mr. Paul's grandfathers.

    There are four generations of Paul portraits hung against the oak background. The two Paul great-grandparents were painted by Francis Drexell, the artist member of that distinguished family. Curiously enough, it was not until two generations later that the families were mated by marriage, as the present Mr. Paul s mother was a Miss Drexel. The two grandfathers, Mr. Paul and Mr. Drexel, were painted by Benjamin Constant and their portraits hang opposite one another. There is also a portrait of the Paul grandmother, done from a miniature by the late Julian Storey. Mr. Paul's father's portrait, also painted by Storey, hangs at one end and his wife's at the other. Finally, between the French windows hang the two Laszlo portraits of Mr. and Mrs. A. J. Drexel Paul. This is not exclusively a picture gallery, however, for though filled with tradition, this room remains very alive and lived in. There are several more varieties of Mrs. Paul,s collections here. On one table is the carnelian set and, on another, the rose quartz collection. These are made contemporary by being made a part of every day living, for among the objects collected are ash trays of the particular mineral and silver match boxes, set with the stone of that set. In countless Lowestoft bowls are roses, columbine, or other flowers in season—always roses, for these are Mrs. Paul's special and favorite flower. There are even bowls of dried rose petals on piano and table; in fact, everywhere there is evidence of the superb rose garden of the luxuriant and well-tilled cutting garden.

Mrs. Paul's oyster white bedroom has a mantel of pickled pine mahogany table with a Sheraton gold-framed mirror.

The west terrace, reached by the hallway running from the front to back, is flagged, and furnished with umbrellas, chairs, and tables for dining. Note the large pots of oleanders.

    The living room gives onto the south terrace, an intimate flagged outdoor sitting room with the trunks of two apple trees rising up through its floor relics from the old orchard on whose edge the house was built. Forming a sort of wall, with a path in the center, is some of the luscious box for which the place was named. To the left of the terrace, stretched a broad lawn, edged by white pebble path and shut in by undulating masses of box. On the left, the the driveway, shuts out any view of the front of the house. Running along its full length is the box, planted with lavish hand.

The box garden landscaped for greens and white effect with sweet-william and alysum.

Image Title: Mrs. A. J. Drexel Paul Residence

A view from the rose garden through the a wrought iron gate, by Yellin, to the box garden.

Image Title: Mrs. A. J. Drexel Paul Residence

    At the end of the garden, a raised terrace is massed with white geraniums in pots and white oleanders. Two fountains trickle from either side of the gate in the high wall, which divides the green garden from the rose garden. The wall and garden were designed by Charles Willing, and the wrought-iron gate, like all the wrought iron which is to be seen on the place, was designed by Yellin.

Image Title: Mrs. A. J. Drexel Paul Residence

The rose garden, with arborvitae hedge, rotates box-edged rose beds in wheel design around a fountain-pool.

    Once in the rose garden, it is apparent that this was what was hidden from the driveway by the arborvitae hedge. Immediately opposite the gate are chairs, a table and gayly striped umbrella. In the center is a blue pool with pink geraniums on its edge, forming a low background for the lead child's figure which is the fountain. In four alcoves, cut into the hedge, are marble pots on pedestals about five feet high filled with fuchsias. The box-edged rose beds spread out in wheel design from the round pool in the middle. The only red roses used have been placed in two long beds against the wall, separating this from the main garden. For the rest, there are countless varieties in different shades of pink, yellow, and white, with the most profuse bloom.

One of the English lead figurines placed at intervals in the midst of the box, and white sweet-william beneath.

    At the end of one of the white pebble paths which run between the beds is an opening in the arborvitae hedge through which is reached the swimming pool, surrounded by lawn and apple trees. Beyond, down a lilac-bordered path, is the cutting garden. Protected by another hedge of arborvitae, it is on two levels, with a cold frame running the width of each terrace. On the upper terrace, brick paths divide the eight beds, in four of which are roses of different varieties from those in the garden proper. In the other beds are columbine, delphinium, and chrysanthemums. In the upper cold frame, there is some of the sweet-william used in such profusion throughout the garden, as well as pansies and johnny-jump-ups and small white clapboard tool houses, with green trim, just outside the hedge, make it possible to conceal all the necessary tools on the very edge of this lovely garden.

    Another lilac-edged walk, informally planted and merging with the lawn, leads back to the south terrace outside the house. From here, a path runs around the house to the west terrace where there are groups of iron chairs and comfortable, gaily colored outdoor furniture. Two yellow umbrellas shelter tables used for dining.

The formal herb garden, of the west terrace, has a vast variety of herb-beds traversed by paths of shredded cedar.

    At the far end of this terrace, which runs the full width of the central wing of the house, is that delight of all gourmets, a well-filled herb garden. Although easily accessible to the kitchen, it is developed as a decorative garden. Two sides are enclosed by high walls, covered with euonymus and one corner nestles happily into a corner of the house. On one side is a high hedge of box; low box surrounds each bed in the formal design, and there are occasional bushes of box and hawthorn to give height.

    To understand the quality of Mr. and Mrs. Paul's place is to know the personal interest and effort which they have put into it. This is no casually run house or garden, but a complete entity, conceived with real imagination, worked over with affection, and maintained with scrupulous care. It has that warm, rich feeling which results from its owners' lavish use of plants, paintings, furniture, and accessories. But it also has an air of tempered good taste and restraint in the handling of details. It is, indeed, a welcoming house—hospitable in the best tradition of a country gentleman.

       The interiors were a stylish setting for family antiques, sporting art, and noteworthy paintings.   When not involved in financial matters, A. J. Drexel Paul would likely be found playing polo, fox hunting or pursuing other sports.  Although the house itself had extensive damage after a fire in the late 1940's, it was preserved and remodeled, reduced in size and made more manageable for a modern style of living.

1948 aerial showing the burnt out shell. 

1950 aerial showing the altered remains
BING VIEW today.
    Below are renderings and photos of a project for the Paul's designed by Mellor & Meigs around the same time the Charles Platt design was built. The project is labeled "Woodcrest Farms". According to the Athenaeum of Philadelphia the house was demolished and property incorporated into the St. Davids Golf Club.  The stables and polo barn were built. I can not find anything more on the house itself.

Image Title: Garage and the House Project: Paul, Country House Near Philadelphia, PA Client: Paul, A. J. Drexel, Esq.

Image Title: First Floor Plan

Image Title: Second Floor Plan

Image Title: Barn & Polo Stable Project: Paul, Barn & Polo Stable, Radnor, PA Client: Paul, A. J. Drexel, Esq.

Image Title: Exterior: Overall: Project Paul, Barn & Polo Stable, Radnor, PA Client: Paul, A. J. Drexel, Esq.

 Mellor & Meigs, Architects
 Mellor & Meigs, Architects
Image Title: Exterior: Barn Yard: Project Paul, Barn & Polo Stable, Radnor, PA Client: Paul, A. J. Drexel, Esq.

    A. J. Drexel Paul built his own 25-room house in 1914, "down island", where most of the summer colony was located. Each summer, Isabel Biddle Paul would pack up the couple's two sons and two daughters to begin the long trek to Maine from Philadelphia.

    "We'd take a train to Bath, then a ferry across the river there, and then we'd hook up with another train, to Rockland, Maine. We'd hop on a boat - well not exactly hop - then we'd come to Islesboro, where we were met by carriage after carriage and taken to the house. We came with five or six of the help and about 10 Vuitton trunks." SOURCE

The A. J. Drexel Paul Cottage Islesboro, Maine

    Named for its situation at the crest of the Radnor Hills, "Woodcrest" was the estate of James W. Paul, Jr., father of Ellen Drexel Paul, born 1880, A. J. Drexel Paul, born 1884, and Mary Astor Paul, born 1889.

    Long before the Kennedy Compound in Hyannisport became so well known, there were many families with multiple large houses on their country estates, often sharing some of the service outbuildings and recreational facilities.  This was true of the Pauls at "Woodcrest".  After the death of his father in 1908, Paul and his new wife, Isabel Biddle, took possession of the acreage north of Upper Gulph Road.  SOURCE

    In 1915, both Isabel and A. J. Drexel Paul and Ellen and Paul Mills built new homes on the estate. “Box Hill” contained state of the art heating and plumbing systems. In that same year, the Mills built the Georgian Colonial “Woodcrest Lodge”, designed by Charles Barton Keene, at a cost of $40,000. Mary Paul and her new husband, Charles A. Munn occupied the large Tudor style main house. 

    It appears to have been the custom at the time in the Pauls’ social stratum to be in constant motion. Summers were spent in Newport or Narragansett Pier, Rhode Island, Dark Harbor, Maine, or in the case of Mary and Charles Munn, with his mother in Manchester, Massachusetts. Winters often found the couples in Palm Beach or Aiken, South Carolina. SOURCE

Mary Astor Paul Munn (1889-1950)
Oil on canvas, 1927. Philip de Laszlo

    Side note to Mary Munn's middle name Astor - Her fathers sister, Mary Dahlgren Paul married William Waldorf Astor and became a member of the British aristocracy.