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Shadow Lawn (1929)

West Long Branch, Monmouth County, New Jersey

Completed in 1929, for Hubert Templeton Parson (1872-1940), President of Woolworths, and his wife Maysie Gasque (d.1956). The original house here, Shadow Lawn (1903), burned down in 1927. Retaining the name, Parson built a 130-room mansion in its place - today the 5th Largest Historic House in the United States. But, having cost $10.5 million to build, it immediately fell victim to the Wall Street Crash and was sold just ten years later for a pitiful $100. Shadow Lawn is sometimes best recognized as Daddy Warbucks' mansion in the hit movie, Annie (1982). Acquired by Monmouth University in 1956, today is their center-piece, known as Wilson Hall.
In 1918, Parson purchased Shadow Lawn (1903) for $800,000 from the heirs of the former owner, Joseph Benedict Greenhut (1843-1918), owner of the world's largest whisky distillery. Hubert Parson - who was known with his brother-in-law, Clarence Gasque, for his extravagance - increased the estate to 108-acres and at a cost of $1 million renovated the not-so-old house before spending a further $1.25 million on furnishings alone.

Parson summered there with his wife, sister-in-law, and mother-in-law until 1927 when the mansion was burned to the ground. He received just $579,000 from his insurance on the furnishings, but he had recently succeeded Frank Winfield Woolworth (1852-1919) as President of Woolworths and was not short of spare change. Perhaps worth mentioning is that Woolworth's home, Winfield Hall, also burned down allowing him to remodel it.

The Parsons hired Horace Trumbauer (1868-1938) and his assistant Julian Abele (1881-1950) - the first African-American professional architect - to design them a new, modern Beaux-Arts summer home, retaining the the original name, Shadow Lawn.

Mrs Parson was French, and influenced by their mutual love of Paris (they kept a mansion on the fashionable Avenue Foch), their new summer residence was designed in the French neo-classical style. It was built of Indiana limestone with over 50 different varieties of Italian marble, taking two years to complete at a cost of $10.5 million. The new Summer Lawn covered more than 100,000 square feet of living space contained within 130 rooms over four stories. Today, it the 5th largest historic house in the U.S.

The 300-foot long by 150-foot deep mansion is entered via the marble lobby that leads on to the Great Hall. In Parson's day, a rug woven in the Canary Islands that measured 23 by 93-feet covered the parquet floor. The Great Hall rises 70-feet to the 100-foot long Venetian skylight that was illuminated by 165 lights after dusk.

In total, 146 rugs and carpets were commissioned in both Europe and Asia to cover the principal 60,000 square feet of living space. Statues of sphinxes and amorini adorned the foreground of the house, modelled after those found at the Palace of Versailles, as was the belvedere in the gardens. The house cost $300,000 a year to maintain, with a staff of 100 domestic servants and 40 groundsmen.

There were 17 guest suites, each one designed in the style of a different historical period and the 19 bathrooms all had either silver or gold plated fixtures. Among the many features of the house, there was an indoor pool, a rooftop solarium (built at a cost $500,000) a bowling alley, a billiards room, a gothic chapel, a music room and a library modelled after another in Paris. 

On the estate itself, some 50-acres were given over to farming. Outbuildings included 8 greenhouses, a two-story garage, an ice house, a stable with 6 stalls, a 10-room house for the estate manager; cottages for the dairyman, the greenhouse man and the poultry man; a cattle barn, a poultry house, rabbit hutches and ram, sheep, pheasant and bull pens.

Parson had enjoyed terrific financial success as President of Woolworths, but no sooner was the house completed when he fell victim to the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

Summer Lawn fell into the hands of municipal ownership and was sold for a trifling $100 in 1939. In 1942, for $100,000, it became the home of Highland Manor, a girl's private school. In 1956, it was acquired for $350,000 as the center-piece for Monmouth University, as it remains today. It was renamed Woodrow Wilson Hall, shortened to Wilson Hall, for Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), 28th President of the United States, who used the former Shadow Lawn (1903) as his Summer White House in 1916.

In 1978, Shadow Lawn was added to the National Register of Historic Places and in 1985 it was declared a National Historic Landmark. It is also listed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places. Extensive renovations have been carried to preserve the mansion, with grants coming from among others the National Endowment for the Humanities and the New Jersey Historic Trust. 

Shadow Lawn is well-known across America for it's architectural splendor and has frequently featured in commercials both on TV and in print. Today, it serves as the administrative center of Monmouth University, though some classes are still conducted within. Were any of your family among the 140 staff, or do you study here today? If so, "connect"!

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