Those with enough coin can own a piece of renowned Radnor real estate, under a new plan to chip away at the fabled Ardrossan estate, one of the last great monuments of Main Line opulence.
The heirs to socialite Hope Montgomery Scott, who still own much of the 355 acres of lush, rolling hillsides and meadows, are floating a proposal to carve out 16 home sites in several 1.25-acre lots that would be clustered to preserve open space.
Each lot would cost $1.5 million, 15,000-square-foot house - the size of the manses across the street - not included.
"It's very high," said Main Line real estate agent John Duffy, who said he thinks the price is unprecedented in the area. "It's almost like beach block."
That's just what Scott's grandson Edgar Scott III, a family spokesman and real estate broker, is pitching. He said he plans to group the mansions to preserve the maximum vistas of the bucolic watershed and the estate's small crop field and herd of cattle, even if 21st-century farming in Radnor is more like Disneyland than agribusiness.
The verdant sight line, he said, is like a beachfront view.
"A sea of green," he said, sitting in his SUV where houses would eventually overlook a panorama of trees and meadow.
"Eddie" Scott is one of 17 heirs who still control most of Ardrossan, even after almost 300 of the original 650 acres were developed in the 1990s and 72 acres in three tracts were sold to Radnor Township last year for $11.6 million in a bid to preserve a semirural oasis amid the sprawl of the western suburbs.
The slow carving-up of the estate has so far preserved the jewel of Ardrossan - the 50-room Georgian mansion, designed by Horace Trumbauer shortly before World War I, that inspired The Philadelphia Story, the classic 1940 film with Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and James Stewart.
Scott said that his sister lives in the mansion, whose wood-paneled living room features portraits of Scott's great-grandparents over two large fireplaces. The mansion looks as if it's suffering a hangover from one of Hope Montgomery Scott's gilded parties - rugs have faded, the storm door won't shut, and a fence is broken.
"We don't maintain it as much as we used to," Scott said.
The family has won conditional-use approval from the township to sell the new lots on 112 acres just east of the original mansion, including the dedicated open space. The proposed asking price for each parcel is more than 10 times what land cost the first time Ardrossan was subdivided, in 1997.
'A different era'
While Scott showed off the plummy vistas, a large dappled pig belonging to his sister roamed nearby.
"Isn't it great? Look at its teeth," he said, meaning its tusks, excited to show one of the last relics of country life at Ardrossan.
Elaine Schaefer, president of the township commissioners, said that Radnor would have loved to purchase the entire estate and preserve it, but the price was too rich even for one of the region's most affluent communities.
The hope is that clustering houses on the remaining private property will protect the land's natural features and resources, she said. Radnor would need to approve land development and subdivision plans, which have not been submitted.
Molly Morrison, president and chief executive of the regional Natural Lands Trust, called Ardrossan "a beautiful property and highly deserving of as much protection as can be afforded it. . . . The way it looks out over the landscape is certainly reminiscent of a different era."
Ultimately, Scott envisions developing the remainder of Ardrossan in four additional phases that would include 30 more "view lots" on 170 acres and 15 smaller lots in an area called "the Village" along Newtown Road.
"We're not in a hurry," he said. "We're doing this for a long time."
The houses could be as large or small as the buyer wants, he said, noting that houses in an earlier Ardrossan development are easily of 15,000 to 17,000 square feet.
A question remains about the intensity of demand for a new bevy of oversize luxury houses in a Main Line market that some real estate agents say is close to saturated. The first wave of large houses in the initial Ardrossan subdivisions sold for $6 million to $10 million at the high end, according to Scott.
Duffy, the real estate agent, said much of the current unsold inventory of houses on the Main Line are properties selling for $1 million or more - including some that have been on the market for four to five years.
"It's becoming less and less of a market, the monster-type houses," he said. "People now are much more aware of energy-efficient homes, scaling down square footage - it may not be the cost so much. I think they're very conscious of the waste."
Scott's answer comes down to viewshed, viewshed, viewshed, and owning a unique slice of Philadelphia lore. He said he believes preserving views and open space will allow new buyers "to see what living on a big estate is like. There's not many of them left."