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Tue, May 08, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Sprawling estate of 'Philadelphia Story' family up for sale


The sprawling estate of the wealthy family that inspired the 1940 movie The Philadelphia Story is up for sale.

For those interested in buying all or part of the 145-hectare Ardrossan, including the 50-room Georgian mansion, "now is the time to make the call," said Edgar Scott, on behalf of the owners, the Montgomery-Scott-Wheeler family.

Scott, a real estate broker, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that it was too early to talk about the price of the Main Line estate, which he said would depend largely on what the buyer wanted to do with it.

The family would prefer to see "a significant amount of open space retained," he said.

Ardrossan, named after the Montgomery ancestral home in Ayrshire, Scotland, has been a retreat for the privileged for almost a century. The family head for most of that time, Hope Montgomery Scott, was the basis for Katherine Hepburn's character in The Philadelphia Story.

But Ardrossan has also come to represent the region's dwindling open space. Although nearly half of the original estate has been sold off or donated in recent years, it still has the largest contiguous block of undeveloped land in Radnor Township's 36.26km2.

"I don't think anybody could feel good about developing it," Wayne-based developer Jason Duckworth said. "It's one of the open-space gems on the Main Line."

The estate -- also the area's last working farm, with 70 black Angus cows and calves and crops of soybeans, corn and hay -- is "an iconic landscape," said Molly Morrison, president of the Media-based Natural Lands Trust conservation group.

Elaine Schaefer, executive director of the nonprofit Radnor Conservancy, vowed to work to preserve as much of the property as possible.

The agricultural and conservation zoning of the estate allows farming and low-density housing on minimum 0.8 hectare lots and also permits a variety of open-space uses, such as a golf course.

Persistent sale rumors -- and visions of the land going to subdivisions -- have surrounded the property for years.

"My grandmother used to make up the fact that it couldn't be subdivided until 21 years after her death, or something like that, just to try to get people to stop asking her," Scott said.

The conservancy campaigned for a US$20 million open-space bond issue, aimed mostly at preserving as much of Ardrossan as possible.

Family members, however, have said they would demand fair market value for the land, according to Edgar Scott. The property is held in two trusts, and analysts say the trusts have a legal obligation to base a sale decision on financial considerations.

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