For Sale: Haverford Home by Furness

On the 100th anniversary of his death, a full-blown, citywide celebration of 19th century architect Frank Furness is under way.

A historic marker was dedicated last week at the house where he was born on Pine Street. His drawings for his masterpiece, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts, will go on view later this month at the landmark building. Tours, exhibits, and events are being held at museums, institutions, and other structures he designed throughout the region.

But well-heeled admirers will have a more personal opportunity to get close to the architect’s work next month. They’ll be able to buy a piece of the Furness legacy.

Dolobran, the estate designed by the firm of Furness and Evans for shipbuilder Clement Acton Griscom, will go on auction Oct. 6. The 16,914-square-foot home sits on 1.94 acres in a quiet, exclusive section of Haverford, Pa. 

In 1881, Furness began his work on the house at 231 Laurel Lane, and modified the design over the next 14 years, moving from shingle and stick style to more substantial stone. The Victorian Gothic mansion includes the architect’s trademark elements: pitched roofs and stepped-up brick chimneys, elegant millwork and stylized fireplaces, decorative ceilings and a dramatic staircase.

The original owner was the president of the American Steamship Co. and the Red Star line and director of the Pennsylvania Railroad. He was also an art collector, and Dolobran – which Griscom named for Welsh ancestors – was designed to house paintings by Rembrandt, van Dyck, Monet and Cassatt. The main house contained 19 rooms, including a 40-by-50-foot gallery/ballroom. It also was adorned with intricately carved wood paneling and Griscom’s other collections: Delft tiles, exotic glass and porcelain.

The estate grew to 150 acres and contained formal and wild gardens, a stream and lake for boating, farm buildings, and a golf course. 

A bronze plaque at the entrance to the home designates the property’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places. A terra cotta plaque on the south side bears a giant “G” for the original owner.

Griscom lived in the house for more than 30 years. When he died, most of the land was sold and subdivided and the outbuildings were demolished. The exterior and interior were restored in 1990 when Dolobran was utilized as a designer’s showcase. Most of the house appears in very good condition, except for the former ballroom, which sustained severe water damage and is need of considerable repair to its walls.

The house was occupied by its current owner until three months ago, according to the real estate firm handling the sale, Prudential Fox & Roach.

The bidding for Dolobran will begin at a very reasonable $750,000.

Contact the writer at ajaffe@planphilly.com.

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