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Cherry Hill property, a hidden gem, on sale for a discount

All that stands at the corner of Brace Road and Munn Lane in Cherry Hill today are tall, barren trees. They surround a driveway that leads into an empty clearing, the muted rush of traffic in the background.

All that stands at the corner of Brace Road and Munn Lane in Cherry Hill today are tall, barren trees. They surround a driveway that leads into an empty clearing, the muted rush of traffic in the background.

But for decades, the property played host to a livelier scene of dinner parties, cocktail hours, and badminton games on the back lawn of a prominent Camden County couple, who built their Munn Lane home to fit their two grand pianos.

William T. Read Jr. and his wife, Eleanor, owned and lived on the 9.5-acre property, which is going up for auction Saturday.

The land will be sold if bidding reaches at least $450,000.

Read, once the Camden County medical examiner and chief attending pathologist at Cooper University Hospital in Camden and then Zurbrugg Memorial Hospital in Riverside, died in 1998. His wife, a pianist, died in 2007.

The property was listed after her death but didn't sell. Family members tore down the house after several prospective buyers said they would do the same.

"For a large family, it was not big enough," said Read's nephew, Burt German of Merchantville, one of the executors for Eleanor Read.

The Reads, who didn't have children, designed the house to have a master suite and two bedrooms on the opposite end for live-in servants.

But the house centered on the couple's pianos, on which they played duets side by side in a living room with a cathedral ceiling.

"Acoustically, it was good for the two grand pianos," German said, adding that the house "was just right for them."

Read - whose father, William T. 3d, served as state treasurer, and his brother, Walter N. as chairman of the state's Casino Control Commission - bought the property in the 1940s. That was when the Hunt Tract neighborhood, today a mixture of mansions and more modest homes, was beginning to develop.

A Delaware Township plan from 1950, before the name Cherry Hill came into being, divided the neighborhood into more than 40 plots but had signatures from just six property owners, Read included.

The area "just appealed to him," German said. Read, then a bachelor living in Merchantville, bought part of the property from a neighbor who was a family friend. He didn't build until 1951, after he met and married Eleanor.

"He built the house, really, for the two of them," German said.

The Reads used the home as a springboard for travel, both to New York and internationally. They were attendees of Philadelphia galas and patrons of the arts, named often in The Inquirer's pages, never missing the annual charity ball for Cooper Hospital. The couple also donated to the Coriell Institute of Medical Research.

Their Cherry Hill home served as a hub of social activity. Connoisseurs of good food, the Reads regularly hosted dinner parties. It was a family ritual to come to Munn Lane for Christmas cocktails and Fourth of July celebrations, complete with badminton and Eleanor's homemade peach ice cream.

The couple took pride in the property, German said. Eleanor kept a large garden, growing corn, tomatoes and roses.

"They loved the ground and the privacy," German said.

Those factors still lure people to Munn Lane, where stately, fenced-in homes don't often come up for sale.

"It's kind of a private area," said John Wachter, a Realtor with Prudential Fox & Roach. "When we had one for sale there, we had a couple of Philadelphia athletes looking back there."

The Read property had been listed at $960,000. At 11 a.m. Saturday, it will go up for public auction with a seller's reserve of $450,000, meaning the highest bidder at that amount or above it must sign an agreement of sale.

"They've decided to take a lot less for the property because the estate has to be settled," said Doug Clemens, president of Traiman Auction Co., which is holding the auction at the property at 110 Munn Lane W.

Though the residentially zoned property is 9.5 acres, Clemens said development was limited to one house because part of the land is wetlands.

If no one bids at least $450,000, the executors will review the next highest bid and decide whether to accept it, Clemens said.

Before she died, Eleanor Read - whose name is on a piano-teaching studio at the Juilliard School - gave German the names of several people she hoped would buy the house, but it didn't suit their needs, German said.

"It was just a very, very one-of-a-kind house," he said.