Monmouth University, a small institute of higher education just a mile from Long Branch’s share of the New Jersey shoreline, is home to one of the most beautiful antique mansions in the country. The Shadow Lawn estate, now named Wilson Hall, is one of my favorite pieces of New Jersey Architecture. It now primarily serves as both the University’s administration building and their most premier venue for events.
What makes Shadow Lawn an important location in New Jersey? The answer is simple. Shadow Lawn represents the iconic architecture of pre-depression bourgeoisie (think The Great Gatsby) where every piece of decoration was hand-fashioned and wealth was shown off in more lavish ways than even modern times. Visiting the building will make you feel like you should be in a fine-pressed suit with a wine glass in one hand and a lit cigar in the other.
According to the Shadow Lawn WikiPedia article, the estate was built in 1927 on the site of the original Shadow Lawn estate. The original had burned down some time before. The new version of Shadow Lawn was built for Hubert Parsons, the F.W. Woolworth Company’s president at the time. The new Shadow Lawn sported 130 rooms and 19 bathrooms. Eventually, Parsons fell on hard economic times and had to sell the building. It became part of the University in 1956, and has since become one of the institution’s most recognizable and distinguishing assets.
Both incarnations of the estate have major claims to fame. The original served as the summer White House for President Wilson (which is why the building is currently named Wilson Hall). The current Shadow Lawn had been used as the primary film location for the 1982 classic Annie, where it was used as the setting for Daddy Warbucks’ mansion.
When I first visited the estate, I was blown away by the intricately-detailed art in every corner of every room. According to University personnel, the building was modeled after the Palace of Versailles in France. There were definitely some artistic connections. Each room’s walls made heavy use of pastel paint and the hand-carved trims all sported gold paint.
Upon exploring the available rooms, I noticed the foyer sported a central grand staircase with hand-carved marble bannisters. On the second floor, an antique organ sat quietly un-played for years with blockades preventing public access. The pipe organ was once connected to many pipes on the side of the main concourse, hidden by intricate gold lattices.
The building truly gave me a feeling of stepping back in time more so than any museum possibly could. Most of the building’s detail remains original and many university personnel have great knowledge of its history. For a true historical experience, visiting this estate should be a primary item on your checklist.
Above is a photo of the building’s front entrance that is also the primary entrance for both students and faculty. (Photo courtesy of thekourtneyrosefoundation.org)
Photo detailing the estate’s three-story main concourse/foyer at night. The ceiling is made of hand-fashioned stained glass, and the support beams all sport hand-carved marble.
Photo from the third story showing the main interior staircase. The marble bannisters cannot be seen too well from this perspective.
Photo from the third floor showing the antique pipe organ, still with original keys and casing.
Photo of one of the lattice works that covered the organ’s pipes. Again, as many works of art in this building, it is hand-made.
Hand-sculpted and painted ceiling detail at the top of the main staircase. It is a true artistic marvel of a bygone period in history.