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Villa Medici

643 Washington Lane, Rydal, , 19046 , , Property Website Date Posted: January 11, 2019



Circa 1929

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About This Old House

I am pleased to present another historical property in the Rydal neighborhood of Abington Township. As is my nature, please allow me to take you on yet another magical history tour before describing the property in detail.

Similar to other areas surrounding Philadelphia at the turn of the century, the lands that are now bound by Meetinghouse Road, Washington Lane and Susquehanna Roads were once home to grand estates (and very few remain today). Just after the turn of the last century, this section of Rydal which encompasses over 250 acres had only 10 estate properties. As is the custom, these estates all had names, and while most of them have been demolished, only the memories remain as road names. Those estates included;

Barrowdale (the Stoddart, then the Owlsley families)

Lorraine (the Gilbert, then the Lasher families)

Avila (the Frazier family)

Vernon (the Newbold family)

Tockington (also the Frazier family)

Chelten (the Borie, then the Frazier family)

Whitworth (the Spencer, then the Cochran families)

Fairy Hill (the Pepper, then the Gibson families)

Fairacres (the Pepper family)

Just prior to the Great Depression, one prominent physician, Dr. Sumner Cross began the process of designing his principal residence on land directly adjacent to the Abington Friends School. Dr. Cross was the leading G.P. physician for all of Jenkintown and the surrounding area. In the 1930’s, he became the Department Head of Medicine at Abington Hospital.

He hired the well-regarded Architect, Wilson Eyre to design an English Country Tudor residence on lands he acquired from John Worrell Pepper. Mr. Pepper’s estate encompassed over 40 acres at the time, and Dr. Cross acquired just under 5 acres at the Southern edge of Mr. Pepper’s estate. I can only surmise that Dr. Cross & Mr. Pepper were close friends, as Mr. Pepper’s estate was also designed by Wilson Eyre (Fairacres, now demolished) 20 years earlier.

Mr. Eyre was born in Italy of American parents and lived in Europe until the age of 11. His education in the United States included a one year term at MIT and he is also affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania. At the young age of 24, Wilson Eyre inherited the architectural practice of James Peacock Sims in 1877 and he remained an independent architect until 1911. He then partnered with John Gilbert McIlvaine and that partnership remained in force until 1939. Extremely gifted in both landscape (he founded House & Garden magazine!) & residential architecture, he was very prolific as over 175 projects are attributed to his pen. It is believed that this residence, constructed in 1929, was his last residential commission before retirement.

Originally known as “Villa Medici” when constructed, there have only been 4 Owners of this classically preserved estate in its 88-year history! The first 3 Owners were all well regarded physicians in the region.

It is a remarkably intact estate property, highlighting all of the architectural character & detail of Mr. Eyre’s original designs. Very little has been done to the property since its construction (literally, 1 wall in the maids’ bedrooms was removed, the kitchen was upgraded in the 1950’s and a beautiful in-ground Sylvan pool & pool house was added in the 1970’s). It is so rare to find such an exceptionally well maintained property that has not been improperly altered by the fads of the time.

Now sited on a private 2.5 acre parcel (with more land beyond, more on that later), when you approach the property down the long driveway, you drive away from the hustle & bustle of modern life to an oasis of serenity & privacy.

The house is designed in the country Tudor style (a mixture of brick & stone details) in the shape of a “T”. Through a series of stone & brick pillars, the guest courtyard has a circular driveway at the front entrance. Being that the house was designed for Dr. Cross, there is a separate entrance tucked to the right of the main entry hall from when he used to receive patients at his house. This entry provides access to the office/library & the sitting room (now used as the family room). The powder room for the 1st floor is also accessible from either the office or the entry hall.

Back outside, the main entrance to the residence is a beautifully detailed arched entry that is stepped back into the façade with multiple layers of brick. The original arched double entry doors & screen have lovely iron details in the hardware & hinges.

Immediately inside the entry foyer, there is a small “cloak room” to the left as well as a small “sitting room” prior to entering the powder room mentioned previously. Directly down the hall is the entry to the family room/office and then into the large stair hall. The signature Wilson Eyre stair railings are just beautiful. The hardwood floors throughout are in excellent condition.

It is from here that the axis of the design radiates, with the dining & living rooms towards the rear of the house & the first (of many) set of French doors that lead out to the rear terrace.

At the end is the Living Room, down a series of 5 steps. This space is just perfect with a vaulted & beamed ceiling, huge casements windows that flood the room with light on 3 sides, built-in bookcases, a stone floor & a lovely central fireplace on the North wall. Another set of French doors lead out to the lower patio & pool beyond.

The Dining Room is just behind the main staircase and has the 2nd wood burning fireplace. There is a large china hutch, crown molding & detailed trim on the walls. Two sets of French doors connect you to the outside terrace while a large set of windows on the Eastern wall overlooks the front courtyard.

Through the butler’s pantry (with a fantastic 1950’s stainless steel wash sink!), you enter the large kitchen area. There is ample space for a table for 6 and an abundance of cabinetry. The 36’ stove provides 2 ovens. There is a large side-by-side Sub-Zero fridge and a built-in dishwasher. There is a rear staircase up to the 2nd floor (and down to the basement), a huge walk-in pantry and a Dutch door out to the garages (3 of them) and back yard.

Back up the main staircase, the bedroom wings radiate off in 3 directions. Over the central hall & living room is the master suite. The sleeping chamber has the 3rd wood burning fireplace & a series of built-in chests along the Western wall. There is also another set of French doors with a wrought iron railing on the Juliette balcony. The en-suite bathroom then connects to a large dressing/sitting room with numerous closets.

From the sitting room, you can either go back out to the central hallway, or access one of the 5 guest bedrooms through another bathroom. That bedroom has direct access to the hallway as well.

On the Northern wing of the house (over the office & family rooms), there are 2 more large guest bedrooms and a hall bathroom. On the Southern wing (over the kitchen & butler’s pantry) is the former maid’s wing, with the staircase down to the kitchen. Here, there is a very large storage closet (the former sewing/linen room), 2 more bedrooms and the 4th full bathroom.

The main wing of the 2nd floor (not the former maid’s quarters) has recently been enhanced with a high velocity, central air conditioning system.

So that’s the house, but there is so much more to explore on the outside!

Let’s start on that terrace I mentioned earlier off the dining room.

This is the current Owner’s absolute favorite place on the property to sit and enjoy a morning coffee or an evening glass of wine after a long day! Many a meal has been enjoyed under the shade of one of the largest Magnolia Grandiflora trees I have ever seen! I missed the early Spring blooms, but the scents from that tree must be magical in April & May! The walls of the terraces have a beautifully detailed iron railing.

From the terrace, you can either walk directly down to the pool house in one direction, or down a set of steps to the patio off of the living room. From this sitting area, one looks out upon a perennial border garden (with 2 lovely Kousa dogwoods that frame the entrance to the pool) & to complete privacy beyond.

So, let’s talk about the pool area for a moment!

Constructed in 1973 by Sylvan pools, the design was so unique for its time that the company used it in its marketing brochures! The concrete pool was painted black (a very new idea at the time) to blend into the landscape. The pool decking was constructed using recycled paving bricks from Philadelphia! The pool house is sided in board & batten & includes a wet bar, a “privy”, 2 changing rooms & a shower. I can certainly imagine the parties that could be thrown on the grounds and around the pool.

Exit the pool area to the rear courtyard, you will notice the 3 car garage.

Beyond the pool area, there is an expansive lawn and complete privacy beyond.

Beyond the residence’s 2.5 acre parcel is yet another 2 acre parcel that the current Owners acquired in partnership with a neighbor on Fairacres Road. As 50% owners of the land, all parties established in the Deed for that parcel that it could never be developed, altered or sold, providing a permanent visual buffer of the neighboring properties on Meetinghouse Road as well as a necessary wildlife habitat.

It truly is a magical setting, yet you are only 5 minutes from Abington Hospital or the Jenkintown Train Station.

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