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Foreclosure possible for Wharton estate

$3 million needed by March deadline

Email|Print| Text size + By Charles McGrath
New York Times News Service / February 24, 2008

The Mount, Edith Wharton's estate in Lenox, is in danger of being put in foreclosure, says Stephanie Copeland, president of Edith Wharton Restoration, the organization that owns and maintains this stately residence and its surrounding gardens.

Since 2002, Copeland said, the Mount, which is open to the public, has covered operating expenses by borrowing from the Berkshire Bank in nearby Pittsfield. It now owes the bank some $4.3 million, and in mid-February, when it failed to meet a scheduled monthly payment of $30,000, the bank sent a notice that it intended to start foreclosing unless the default was remedied promptly, Copeland said.

To stay open, she added, the Mount needs to raise $3 million by March 24.

If the Mount succeeds in raising that sum, Copeland said, an anonymous donor is waiting in the wings who has pledged to match it. The money could be used to help restructure the bank loan and to settle another outstanding debt, roughly $2.5 million, that the Mount incurred from a private lender in 2005 to buy Wharton's 2,600-volume library from George Ramsden, a British book collector.

"The situation is quite serious," Sandra Boss, interim chairwoman of the Mount's board, said. "On the one hand, the Mount is winning awards for preservation and is internationally renowned as an institution. . . . On the other hand, our current debt levels are unserviceable and unsustainable."

The Mount, which is open from May to October and weekends in November and December, receiving some 30,000 visitors annually, was built by Wharton in 1902. She designed it herself, in accord with the simple aesthetic - simple for the time, anyway - she had championed in her first book, "The Decoration of Houses," written with Ogden Codman Jr.

The house has 35 rooms, including an enormous piano nobile, or first-floor gallery, but is noteworthy in part for its private spaces, especially Wharton's bedroom suite, where she did most of her writing.

Wharton lived at the Mount only until 1910, when her marriage to the troubled Teddy Wharton became unsalvageable, and she moved to France.

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