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A look inside the quiet eye at center of Baron's South storm

Updated 12:59 pm, Tuesday, April 2, 2013

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  • The foyer of the Baron's South mansion. Photo: Paul Schott / Westport News
    The foyer of the Baron's South mansion. Photo: Paul Schott

 

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Perched among the rolling woodlands of an expansive property near the town center stands a secluded estate once owned by one of the most compelling figures in Westport's history: Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff.

A native of Austria, von Langendorff moved to New York City as a young man. Trained as a chemist, he made his fortune with the Evyan perfumes business that he founded.

His legacy is the source of the Baron's South name of the town-owned, 23-acre property, where his brick mansion still stands. A part of the parcel is now being considered by town officials as the potential site of a senior residential complex.

The Georgian-style mansion was built in 1959, according to several historical accounts and newspaper articles. About a century before, at least part of the Baron's South property was owned by the Winslow family, who lived in a mansion across the Post Road at what is now Winslow Park, according to the Westport Historical Society's archives.

Von Langendorff later also owned the 32-acre Winslow property, which was once known as "Baron's North."

In 1967, von Langendorff purchased the Baron's South property, which was known as "Golden Shadows" during his residency. He created his signature "White Shoulders" fragrance in a laboratory on the estate, according to the historical society's archives. He also raised exotic flowers in the mansion's gardens and greenhouse for use in his perfumes.

Von Langendorff died in 1983 in his mid-70s. Several years later, town officials considered an eventually aborted plan to build a life-care center at Baron's South.

In 1999, the town acquired the property for $7 million. Before the current senior-campus plan, Baron's South was also considered as a possible site for a new Westport Weston Family Y.

The house has not been occupied for many years, but it retains the baron's influences, especially his predilection for pink.

The color adorns the columns in the mansion's front entrance and the outside window trims and also dominates the interior.

The mansion's future, like the Baron's South property, is uncertain. If a senior residential complex is built, the house's survival will depend on whether town officials and developers believe it can be incorporated into the development.

Meanwhile, the structure serves a quiet, unassuming purpose. The Westport Public Library uses the manse for storage -- boxes of books, CDs, records, board games and a miscellany of other items fill most of the rooms.

But the house is seldom visited and an air of tranquility pervades the property, while the future of its surroundings continues to incite impassioned public debate.

pschott@bcnnew.com; 203-255-4561, ext. 118; twitter.com/paulschott