by Kira Bellis
Have you ever found yourself driving along Willow Grove Avenue in Wyndmoor and noticed a pair of tall, seemingly-out-of-place columns located at the Douglas Road intersection? Did you ever notice those large pillars interspersed throughout the housing development known as Stotesbury Estates, right off of Cheltenham Avenue and across from La Salle High School?
Perhaps you noticed these structures, but did not think much of them. These architectural pieces certainly were not built just to add a fancy entrance or decoration to regular neighborhoods. Instead, the historical significance links them together in what used to be the 300-acre grounds for Whitemarsh Hall.
Designed by architect Horace Trumbauer, Whitemarsh Hall lasted in its entirety from 1921 until 1980. Trumbauer, known for his structural contributions to the Union League of Philadelphia, the Keswick Theater, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, originally built Whitemarsh Hall for investment banker Edward Stotesbury and his second wife, Eva Roberts Cromwell.
Stotesbury, born right here in Philly, attended Central High School and Pierce College, until dropping traditional education. He worked as a clerk and climbed the business ladder to eventually become a partner at associated firms J.P. Morgan & Co. and Drexel & Co. He credits his progress with the motto, “Keep your mouth shut and your ears open.” Around the same time, sadly, Stotesbury’s first wife passed away. As a result, Stotesbury threw himself into his work, acquiring enough money to build Whitemarsh Hall.
In total, the estate measured more than 100,000 square feet, making it, at the time, the third largest house in the United States. Whitemarsh Hall contained 150 rooms, rooftop gardens, and an entire service wing, which housed more than 50 staff members who maintained the grounds.
The grand property was not only known for its architectural beauty, but served different purposes during its existence. For instance, Cromwell continued her role in Philadelphia’s high society by throwing luxurious parties. Her guests ranged from close friends to Henry Ford – for all of whom Cromwell showed off her elaborate jewel collection.
Then, during the prohibition era, Stotesbury housed large quantities of alcohol in the basement wine cellar, secured by multiple locked doors and an alarm system. Later on, during World War II, the mansion safely stored hundreds of paintings and European furniture for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan.
Despite this remarkable history, Whitemarsh Hall’s glory would not last much longer. Facing financial difficulties, Mrs. Stotesbury sold the estate to Penn Salt Chemical Corporation, which used the building as a research facility until 1967, when it left for a new building in King of Prussia. It persisted as a nuisance property, until it was finally demolished in 1980 to make way for the residential development that now occupies the grounds.
Scattered parts of the gorgeous estate remain, however. Columns on Willow Grove Avenue and throughout Stotesbury Estates tower over the land. Prominent statues sit at the roundabout on Claridge and Widener Roads. And nearby streets in Wyndmoor are called Trumbauer Drive, Cromwell Road and Stotesbury Avenue.