By Pat Loeb
RADNOR TWONSHIP, Pa. (CBS) — Radnor township officials are considering a new proposal for the development of an iconic Main Line estate. The property, called Ardrossan, once belonged to socialite Hope Montgomery Scott, the inspiration for the classic film “The Philadelphia Story.”
Her grandson, Edgar Scott, has presented a plan to the township Planning Commission that would leave much of the estate’s woods and pasturelands intact, using an unusual design in which the houses would be built in small clusters on lots of less than two acres but each would have a commanding view of the land that remains undeveloped.
“The longest views are maybe half a mile,” says Scott, “We call them beachfront because you just have this sea of green.”
The family showed a preference for low density development when it sold off two other large parts of the estate in the 1990’s but each of those parcels were divided into large lots of about 20 acres.
Scott says the advantages of the new plan include lower costs, less maintenance and a greater sense of community.
“Everybody’s participating in creating those view sheds, having open space, being part of the neighborhood,” he says.
They also get a piece of the glamour of living on an estate made famous by Hollywood.
Playwright Philip Barry wrote “The Philadelphia Story” for Katherine Hepburn and based her character, Tracy Lord, on Hope Scott, a celebrated debutante who’d married an old friend of his. The film depicts a grand estate with endless rooms. Wedding crashers James Stewart and Ruth Hussey are shown to the “south parlor,” where Stewart discovers a phone that connects “living room, sitting room, terrace, pool, stables…”
“The Philadelphia Story connection is a fun thing but when it’s all said and done, it’s always been about the land,” says Edgar Scott.
His affection for the land is evident as he drives around the estate, showing where the houses will be sited and pointing out the views the homes will have.
He points to a field where, “way back in the old days, my great-grandfather used to land planes.”
He believes the plan will clear zoning and planning hurdles because, he says, his concern for the land is as great as the township officials who will ultimately rule on whether the plan can go forward.
Commissioner William Spingler predicts there will opposition. “A lot of the neighbors would rather he not build anything,” says Spingler.
But Spingler says, as development plans go, Scott’s is promising.
“We’re always in favor of open space and keeping the density down,” says Spingler, “where you don’t build on every two acres, you cluster the homes together and leave as much open space as you can.”
Spingler says the commission hopes to preserve some of the property for township residents. They’ve expressed interest in three parcels totaling 65 acres for open space. If they purchase all three, Scott’s plan calls for 61 houses. If not, the plan calls for 87 houses.
The family will keep the main house and ten acres around it, the last remnant of an era in which Main Line families lived on vast expanses. .
“It’s a quaint old place, don’t you think? Filled with relics,” Kathryn Hepburn says of Philadelphia at one point in “The Philadelphia Story.”
Sometime in the next several months, or perhaps years, when the last lot at Ardrossan is sold, there will be one less.