- The Washington Times - Friday, January 13, 2006

Collecting early American antiques — and old buildings to go with them — was a favorite hobby among the rich and famous of the past century. Henry F. du Pont turned his home into Delaware’s vast Winterthur Museum, Henry Ford recast small town New England into Greenfield Village outside Detroit and John D. Rockefeller Jr. reconstituted Colonial Williamsburg.

For the past 71 years, Washington has had its own private version of such re-created Americana. The Lindens, a 1754 mansion moved from Massachusetts and reassembled on Kalorama Road NW in the mid-1930s, was filled with authentic Chippendale and Queen Anne furniture.

Its current owners, real estate developer and property manager Norman Bernstein and his wife, Diane, a children’s advocate, spent the past two decades amassing an impressive collection to outfit their home’s many high-ceilinged rooms.

Now both the furnishings and the house are up for sale. The opportunity to turn this matched set of early American architecture and interior design into a living history museum has again been lost, much as it was 23 years ago when the Colonial-era house and its contemporaneous contents were similarly sold.

On Jan. 22, Sotheby’s will auction off the Bernsteins’ 18th-century antiques, including furniture, Chinese export porcelain, silver and paintings. The sale of the more than 200 lots, currently on view at the New York auction house, is estimated to fetch $4.7 to $9.2 million.

Important pieces include one of the few surviving designs carved by John Chipman, a Salem, Mass., craftsman, around 1785. The mahogany desk-and-bookcase (estimate: $400,000 to $800,000), which formerly stood in The Lindens’ parlor, is signed by Chipman and still has its original finials and hardware.

Another rare design is a Chippendale kneehole bureau originally owned by Stephen Hopkins, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a Rhode Island delegate to the Continental Congress. The shell-decorated mahogany chest (estimate: $400,000 to $800,000) was probably made around 1765 by Newport, R.I., cabinetmaker John Goddard.

Among the paintings for sale is a 1770s portrait by the early American chronicler John Singleton Copley (estimate: $300,000-$600,000). It depicts the son of the wealthy merchant Robert “King” Hooper, who originally built The Lindens in 1754 as his grand summer home in Danvers, Mass., north of Boston.

The nearly 9,000-square-foot Hooper house, transported to KaloramaRoad in 1935, is now on the market for $11.5 million (reduced from the original listing of $12.75 million). “We’re only in Washington for six months of the year,” said Norman Bernstein, now in his 80s, by telephone from his Florida home. “So, we decided to go to an apartment in Georgetown that we’re now renovating. It’s quite a change from the 18th-century; one-story living and very modern.”

The sale marks another milestone in the colorful history of The Lindens, which got its name from the linden trees lining the original driveway in Massachusetts. Surviving a bullet shot through its front door and several renovations, the house was purchased during the Great Depression by two antiques dealers.

They sold the original parlor paneling to the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City and then the entire house to Washingtonians George Maurice Morris and his wife Miriam.

Like Mr. Ford and Mr. du Pont, the Morrises purchased and moved the house to create a period stage set for their collection of early American antiques. Supervising the reconstruction was architect Walter Macomber, who helped Mr. Rockefeller resurrect Colonial Williamsburg.

He spent seven months dismantling The Lindens, had the pieces shipped in six railroad cars to Washington and then worked for nearly three years rebuilding the house on a new foundation.

After the Morrises died, their furniture was auctioned at Christie’s for $2.3 million in January, 1983, the third largest amount ever realized for a single-owner Americana sale to that time. The Bernsteins purchased the house in 1983 and brought Mr. Macomber out of retirement to restore its rusticated facade and stenciled floors.

They began seriously collecting Americana with the help of expert Harold Sack, son of the noted antiques dealer Israel Sack, who had previously owned The Lindens and sold it to the Morrises.

A recent tour of the home, now stripped of its antique furniture, reveals what Mrs. Bernstein calls its “perfection,” beautifully proportioned rooms lined with painted wood paneling, wide floorboards, elegant fireplace surrounds and tall windows.

The Bernsteins remodeled the kitchen and a couple of bathrooms and inserted a new staircase leading to the basement “tavern.” This cavernous subterranean space with antique beams and brick fireplaces looks as old as the rest of the house but was installed by Mrs. Morris for entertaining.

Asked if they thought about converting the home and its furnishings into a Winterthur or an 18th-century version of the Kreeger Museum, the Bernsteins said they didn’t seriously pursue the idea. “If you created something like that,” Mr. Bernstein said, “you’d have to endow it and manage it. It takes years to develop a financial program like that. It’s complicated. Mrs. Morris attempted to do it and found it difficult.”

“We have other uses for the money,” added Mrs. Bernstein, who declined to elaborate further.

The future of The Lindens, meanwhile, remains uncertain. The house is part of the Sheridan-Kalorama Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That protection may save its exterior from insensitive alterations but not its interior.

Meanwhile, no offers have been made on the historic property since it was listed for sale last fall. According to real estate agent Virginia Chew of Arnold, Bradley, Sargent, Davy & Chew Inc., “There has been interest,” she said, “but no nibbles.”

From Italy to Kalorama

Older than George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the mansion built by British loyalist Robert “King” Hooper exemplifies the best Georgian-style architecture of pre-Revolutionary War America. Its symmetrical facade, centered on Corinthian columns supporting a triangular pediment, may have been copied from a pattern book by British architect James Gibbs that widely influenced high-style Colonial architecture. Gibbs based his building designs on the classical principles espoused by 16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio, whose concepts also influenced architect Thomas Jefferson.

One of the most striking features of the 1754 house is its illusion of masonry construction. The front looks as if it were built of stone blocks but is really made from beveled pieces of wood covered in paint mixed with sand. This rusticated effect was also applied to several Colonial-era buildings in Newport, R.I., by sea-captain-turned-architect Peter Harrison, leading one historian to conclude that Harrison designed Hooper’s house.

In 1860, businessman Francis Peabody Jr., who had studied architecture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, purchased the house and named it The Lindens.

He added more historic refinements, including fireplace mantels by early American woodcarver Samuel McIntire and scenic French wallpaper in the Palladian entrance hall. Before the house was moved to Kalorama Road NW, the richly detailed wallpaper was steamed off the walls and then rehung in the hallway where it remains.

Peabody also added a kitchen wing and sun porch that weren’t transported to Washington. Also left behind were the wooden posts and beams that supported the original structure. They were replaced with steel and the house widened by 2 feet to accommodate modern conveniences such as plumbing and heating ducts.

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