The Last Days of The Lakeview
The life of Narberth's most picturesque property recapped many local trends, from millionaire's country house to single-family estate to luxury apartments. It ended in tempests, a hurricane and Narberth's bitterest re-development battle, as the Narwyn Lane subdivision.
Andrew Carnegie's sister built her country house in Narberth. It had walls of dramatic rusticated stone, like a Medici palazzo, and a stable and porter's lodge. A 24×40-foot Great Hall was the centerpiece of the house described by the Philadelphia Inquirer as "magnificent".
She was Margaretta Fuller, married to Alfred McClellan Fuller, livestock and meat packing millionaire, who "lived most of his life in Philadelphia hotels", according to his 1917 obituary. The grand house on five acres for the "Pittsburgh lady of large means" (Philadelphia Real Estate and Builders Guide, 6/11/1889), was unique in Narberth Park, reported to consist of 20 lots, but actually closer to 36 of the Park's standard of 50×125-foot/0.15-acres.
It was the Inquirer that identified Margaretta Fuller as Carnegie's sister. In point of fact, Margaretta's sister Lucy had married Carnegie's brother Thomas, so Margaretta was Andrew Carnegie's sister-in-law's sister. Close enough for a good story!
The property was purchased in 1899 by liquor dealer and widower Edward T. Maguire. He named it "Court Hey". In the 1900 census, while he owned "Court Hey", Maguire is listed with his family and three servants at 1424 N. 16th St., Philadelphia, a block of large elegant townhouses.
According to Victoria Donohoe, Court Hey was considered for the site of St. Margaret's Church in 1901, but was not available. Maguire died in 1905 and his children sold the property in 1909. "Court Hey" turned up again on the 1908 atlas at 210 N. Essex under Mrs. E.T. Maguire, which by then meant Mrs. E. T. Maguire, Jr.
The Artman’s Year-’round Home
Neither the Fullers nor the Maguires were ever counted in the census as Narberth residents; both maintained city addresses, considered Narberth a "country house" and participated little in the community. But now Narberth yearned to be, in the motto of the 1914 Civic Association, "The Year-'Round Home Town".
James Artman, founder of Chilton Publishing, and his wife Elizabeth were the first owners to realize that ambition, and they threw themselves into the house and the community. They expanded the house's attic into a full third floor. They reestablished a lake, a little upstream from and, at ¼ acre, smaller than Crystal Lake, with an island, rustic bridge and shelter, and invited the neighbors to swim, sled and skate.
James Artman was one of three Narberth citizens appointed by the new Civic Association in 1914 to the Narbrook Park Development Committee. He was a financial subscriber to the project, too, and won first pick in the 1915 drawing at which he chose three lots adjacent to his property. He also bought a 0.8-acre wedge of the Park from the Civic Association along Windsor west of the Park drive, which enlarged his own estate to its maximum extent of 5⅔ acres.
The Artmans sold the property in 1922 to 23-year-old Rachel Prizer of Lancaster. In 1924, she conveyed a slice of about 1.1 acres along Windsor Avenue to her father, which led, multiple transactions later, to eleven houses between 1 and 25 Windsor during 1926.
The same day, Ms. Prizer sold the remaining 4½ acres of the estate to George Esslinger, grandson and namesake of the founder of Esslinger's Beer, and two partners, including his cousin and fellow beer scion, Edgar Muller.
The house underwent its next transformation the following year when Esslinger converted it into the swanky Lakeview Apartments. He lived there with his widowed mother in the 1930s, then his wife and daughter in the 1940s.
Esslinger kept the pond and its hill open for sledders and skaters. The great hall built for Margaretta Fuller maintained its allure, too. Victoria Donohoe:
In the 1930s, that hall served Narbrook Park millionaire Clarence Dolan as his preferred choice for his largest parties, sometimes including showgirls from New York, delivered to Lakeview's door by Narberth taxis.
My Dad lived there until '40 when he returned from Portugal with his new French bride. I found an advert for the apt, with "maids quarters" and fire places. Pretty swanky digs.
"Artman's", known later as "Uffner's", was a single family home back in the early part of the 20th century. It must have been a coal/oil burning beast. By the time the Jordans moved into the Park in the early '40s, the house had been broken up into four apartments on the first and second floors with servants quarters/extra bedrooms located on the third floor. I spent a lot of time at the Taber's home with Steve. Their apartment was on the ground floor towards Wynnewood Road. It had a large shared basement suitable for all kinds of activities the most productive of which was a basement darkroom in which we developed and printed photos. Less productive but still entertaining were long after school sessions of Canasta and Samba that included George Redpath.
The Last Days
Raphael Uffner and Lena Cottler took over the Lakeview from George Esslinger in 1947. Uffner (1913-1965) grew up in West Philadelphia and joined the family real estate business in his twenties under his uncle, with whom he lived in 1940. He married in 1941, and in the 1950 census is living at the Lakeview with his wife Shirley and two young sons. He did not make substantial changes to the property, but time and nature did.
The hill and the lake, silted up as the years went by, remained a sledding and skating attraction for local youngsters. It attracted wildlife, too. Victoria Donohoe recalled the noise complaint by a neighbor demanding the borough "do something about the frogs!" "Frogs", wrote Dick Slama, who lived at 41 Narbrook, "I can remember filling a big metal wash tub with tadpoles caught in the Lakeview lake. That wash tub full of tadpoles sat in the Deans' backyard in Narbrook Park while tadpoles began to develop into frogs."
When Hurricane Hazel blew though Pennsylvania on October 15, 1954, she toppled several mature trees that were such a part of the property's appeal. Two fell onto the house; the damage they caused, visible in the photos, was never completely repaired.
Soon thereafter, the Uffners moved to Cheltenham. Occupancy dwindled. In its last years, the house and garage were deserted and unsecured; anyone could to walk in. Almost predictably, a fire destroyed the large stable/garage.
In 1956 I was delivering the Evening Bulletin newspaper to one or two renters in Lakeview Apts, so it was occupied then.
Some years after that the separate stable/garage burned down late one evening. It was dark and the blaze was spectacular against the night sky. Apparently kids had been smoking in the loft earlier and had left behind something that was smoldering.
—Dick Slama 6/22/2022
There was a lot of tree damage not only to the house itself, but many large trees came down on the property from Hurricane Hazel. The damage to the main house was such that I don't think the owners thought it was worth repairing. The trees against the structure were removed, but the broken windows and structural damage was not repaired.
Slowly, year after year, maintenance was declining. Eventually, the late 1950's, I believe, one single woman was renting. She had a baby. I heard rumors she was a prostitute. She used to buy gasoline at O'Bryan's Mobil Service on Forrest at Haverford Aves. where I worked in those days, even up to 1966. She had a baby in the car. She had very little money for gas, for example about 50 cents. Once she needed oil but didn't have the money to buy it.
Henry, I believe that was his name, who lived in West Phila., was the "custodian" of the main house. He and his teenage sons tore down the structure about 1960.
The house was vacant for several years.
—Ted Goldsborough 6/22/2022
So much misfortune! And neglect. Moreover, in already dense Narberth during post-war suburbanization, the huge house on 4½ acres—the second largest private holding in the borough, after Albrecht's nursery—was an anachronism.
Narberth's large properties had been disappearing for years: the Belfield mansion, itself evolved from country retreat to family home, was demolished in 1938 for Montgomery Court apartments; closer by, Langdon Lea's Edgewood had in 1940-47 been subdivided as Langdon Lane; Country Lane (1954) was assembled from Kings Daughters Home for the Aged and two adjacent parcels.
Surely the Lakeview's re-organization was at hand.
“Cram in as many cheaply built homes as possible”
But it would not proceed smoothly: there followed one of the most antagonistic clashes of community versus developer in Borough history.
40 inexpensive homes
Owners Uffner and Cottler in December 1956 requested a "down-zoning" that would permit them to build "40 inexpensive homes…12 detached and 28 semi-detached" of brick on the four acres. The plan having been announced in November, Council Chamber in Elm Hall was jammed 50% over normal capacity with 93 citizens, universally opposed.
Uffner's lawyer justified the plan by a promise of increased tax revenue, the deterioration of the house (failing to mention his clients' neglect), old-growth trees "past their prime", the stream "little better than an open sewer" and the "high character" of the planned construction. These last two remarks elicited derisive laughter from the crowd.
The lawyer proceeded to alienate the community further by claiming that rejection of the plan would require fewer, more expensive homes that would be difficult to sell, facing the "old houses" along Windsor Ave. The Main Line Chronicle opined "the Narberth Borough Council would have to be 'tetched in the head' to downzone…in order that a speculator might cram in as many cheaply built homes as possible, sell them off and pocket a maximum profit". Borough Council took less than a week to reject the proposal.
90 garden apartments
The Uffners then tried to work a deal to build 90-units of "garden apartments". The Narberth Planning Commission recommended that Council re-zone the parcel to the hitherto unheard-of designation "R-1A" that would allow the plan. Again, Council demurred.
A 10-story building
The developers petitioned in September 1957, again requesting down-zoning, now for a six- to ten-story tall "$1,000,000 apartment dwelling".
On May 8, 1958, in advance of a hearing, the Main Line Times published an open letter from the Uffner's builder, Martin Gorchov. "Thanks to the lord, we have a free country", he intoned, superciliously "asking the good people of Narberth if they will consider an apartment house, and the type they would favor. We have had Commisioners in favor of high-rise and others for garden-style apartments. We must build one or the other." He concluded "Once we apply for the high rise, we shall go to Court for approval. We feel we shall secure same." The Main Line Times interpreted this as "the threat of the 'high-rise' apartment to test the reaction of Borough citizens." Third request, denied.
A public nuisance
Meanwhile, the Lakeview, unoccupied, unlocked and neglected, continued to deteriorate. By September 11, Borough Council had had enough: "…the two buildings at 209 Wynnewood Road are in an unsafe and hazardous condition, especially for small children who might wander into them, are fire hazards, are a possible rendezvous for unsavory characters, and constitute a public nuisance, we recommend…legal action in the name of the Borough of Narberth to abate the nuisance."
The declaration proved prescient: it was shortly thereafter that the large outbuilding burned.
A Culvert under a Cul-de-sac
That was the Uffner's and Cottler's final gambit. They had claimed that dealing with the creek was too expensive to permit profitable re-development, that building ten stories was justified by the 6-story Thomas Wynne, that "17 houses would be a loss". But with no alternative, from 1960 to 1965 they demolished the house, flattened the slope, laid a street and constructed the Narwyn Lane cul-de-sac. Narwyn's 16 lots range from 7,416 to 13,320 square feet, firmly in compliance with the existing zoning.
A Developer's Legacy
I live at 9 Narwyn Lane which is close to the top of the hill where the house once stood. I always wondered why there was absolutely no topsoil in the front yard especially. Now I know they bulldozed it down the hill. I can see where the dozers started at 7 Narwyn.
—Joel Zimmer, May 30, 2006
The lake disappeared for the last time into a culvert that empties into Indian Creek next to 3 Narbrook Park. With it went the sledders, the skaters, the great hall parties, and the frogs.
Photographed 18 February 1956, and assembled by Edmund Lee Goldsborough, Jr. (Ted's father). Click/tap to enlarge.
The Fullers were the wealthiest family in Fayette County (south of Pittsburgh) when Margaretta Coleman married Daniel Fuller. After Daniel's death she married his brother Alfred, keeping the fortune in the family. Margaretta's sister Lucy and husband Thomas Carnegie owned, among other properties, the largest island in Georgia, today Cumberland Island National Seashore. Andrew was considered the wealthiest man in America in the years Narberth was getting started.
One often hears that "Narberth was built for" some particular purpose, for railroad workers or for Main Line support staff, for example. What the construction timeline reveals is a smattering of "country estates" for the "one percent" (Margaretta, E. T. Maguire, Thomas Belfield, E. M. Richards), then large houses for "upper middle class" professionals like A. H. Mueller, Charles Kreamer, and Carden Warner, followed by more modest twins like the 100 block of Conway. Return
Be cautious in interpreting maps, despite their air of authority and accuracy. The Borough's survey of "streets and highways now opened and hereinafter to be opened" depicts streets and highways, particularly around the Crystal Lake location, that have never been opened.
And be even more circumspect about real estate claims. This fulsome description gushed from the Philadelphia Record on May 3, 1890:
Continuing down Windsor Avenue we are surprised and delighted to find a beautiful large lake that surrounds an island, with a pretty bridge leading thereto. We are informed that the name of the lake is Crystal, on account of it being pure spring water. But hark! What is that? Looking to the south we behold a beautiful fall of water, which sparkles in the sun like a million diamonds as it splashes against the rocks and continues down the brook between the well-kept banks that look like rows of dark green velvet. Looking to the northwest we see the picturesque residence of Mrs. M. T. Fuller. It is built on 20 Lots, on the top of the hill to the right of the lake adjoining the residence of Mr. Henry C. Gibson.
Even upon catching our breath, we are dubious that Crystal Lake was real. Until lo! We are shown the U.S. Geological Survey's Norristown Quadrangle, July 1895 edition, which confirms the lake's historical existence.Return
In Montgomery County, The Second Hundred Years (1983), page 439, Donohoe relates this without a reference: "The Maguire's Court-Hey…was officially deemed the most desirable location for a church. It was unavailable." Return
Artman bought lots 5, 7 and 9. 7 and 9 were later combined as #9. Return
Rachel Prizer lived in Lancaster, PA with her physician father Elmer. Rachel's 1922 passport application identifies her as a teacher who is planning a 3-month trip to Europe departing June 22. This would put the Artman transaction 2 months after her return. Did Daddy send young Rachel on the grand tour, then facilitate this real estate deal in order to stake his first-born and profit him? Both Prizers appear to have lived their entire lives in Lancaster. Rachel died there in 2000, age 100. Return
The story of Giuliani's first-night beer was related by Judy Giuliani and Mary Lou Paolini, Antonio's grandaughters. Victoria Donohoe tells it, too, albeit differently, along with anecdotes about the New York showgirls and the Artmans' loan of the house to the Shakespearean acting team of Sothern & Marlowe in A Cultural History of Narberth, unpublished. Return
Imagine if the resources and foresight had been available in the 1950s to convert these acres and its lake into an extension of the Narberth community park! Return
In the 2020s, "downzoning" reduces density or intense use, for example from rowhouses to single family dwellings, or from commercial to residential. In the 1950s Main Line, the term described the opposite, to permit greater density than before, presumably "down" being the direction of the value, quality and size of new development. Uffner's opening proposal would have allowed lots of similar size to those on the Borough Hall side of the 100 block of Conway, or of 235-247 Iona, or 225-245 Hampden, larger than the rowhouses on Woodbine, Williams, Hampden and Iona, but smaller and denser than adjacent 1-25 Windsor, and much smaller than Narbrook and N. Wynnewood Ave. Return
The Lakeview's border with Narbrook Park has been a property line since 1682, the western edge of William Penn's grant to Welsh immigrants "Edward Jones and Company 17 families". John Price, descendant of one of those families, in 1753 extended his holdings over the line as far as present-day Lancaster Ave., including the future Lakeview site; see the 1777 layer of the Narberth History Map. In 1881, Henry Gibson's Maybrook cleaved off the trans-Wynnewood Ave. portion. In 1887 the rest was purchased by John J. Ridgeway and his Real Estate Investment Company, which "in December 1888 conveyed its property to a woman developer, sixty-six year-old S. Almira Vance", quoting Vicky Donohoe, begetting Narberth Park.
Map: Lower Merion/Narberth outlined on a detail of A Mapp of ye Improved Part of Pennsylvania in America…Surveyed by Thomas Holme. (1687). The boundary described is the vertical dotted line running through Narberth. Lower Merion Historical Society
The deed history commences with Vance's 1889 sale to Margaretta Fuller:
Date recorded, Deed book.page
Grantor(s) to Grantee(s)
S A Vance to Margaretta T Fuller
Alfred M Fuller, George C Fuller, Margaretta T Fuller to Edward T Maguire
Rose M Humphreys, Walter S Humphreys, Aloysius J Maguire, Edward T Maguire, Marie Z Maguire, Theresa R Maguire, Marie R McClennan, George R McClenon to Joseph L Cunningham
Joseph L Cunningham to Elizabeth J Artman
1915-11-23, 737.542, 545
Narberth Civic Association Trustees to James Artman [Narbrook parcels on Windsor Avenue]
Elizabeth J Artman, James Artman to Rachel B Prizer
Rachel B Prizer to George F Esslinger, Ferdinand Kobolt Jr, Edgar Miller [Muller]
Rachel B Prizer to Elmer T Prizer [Parcel facing Windsor Avenue]
Alice H Esslinger, George F Esslinger, Ferdinand Kobolt Jr, Frederick M Kobolt, Marguerite M Kobolt, Edgar H Muller, Emily G Muller to Lena Cottler, Raphael Uffner
Lena Cottler, Raphael Uffner, Shirley Uffner to Hilda B Waldman [9 Narwyn Lane, first sub-division parcel]
Source: Montgomery County PA Recorder of Deeds
Jim Jordan, Christophe Dean, Dick Slama and Ted Goldsborough, for sharing your memories of the Lakeview.
Dick Slama, for your thorough research into the owners and their backgrounds. Dick, I owe you an Esslinger's!
Ted Goldsborough, you inspired this article by sharing your photos and memories of the Lakeview property. (Ted grew up at #9 Narbrook Park, the former Artman lot next door to the Lakeview, and took or provided many of the photos in this article.)