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Mount Assisi (Charles Schwab Estate, “Limestone Castle”)

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Charles Schwab Estate, “Limestone Castle”
1919, Dana and Murphy; Charles Wellford Leavitt Jr., landscape architect. PA 1001 and Manor Dr. NW (PA 1005)
  • Mount Assisi (Charles Schwab Estate, "Limestone Castle")

Now home to an order of Franciscan monks, this was first the summer home of Charles Schwab, Andrew Carnegie's trusted lieutenant and the first president of the United States Steel Corporation. Eager to occupy the new property he named “Immergrun” ( CA7) in the town where he grew up, Schwab commissioned a frame Queen Anne house from architect Frederick J. Osterling in 1898. In 1915, the Osterling house, now known as Bonaventure Hall, was hoisted over a group of trees and moved to make way for the stone mansion designed by the New York City firm of Dana and Murphy. The new house was half the size of Schwab's New York City mansion, fortyfour rather than eighty-three rooms. Richard Henry Dana Jr. (1879–1933), the grandson of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1904 to 1906. He is presumed to have been the primary designer of the Schwab house since his partner Henry Killam Murphy (1877–1954) was working on Sinling College in China between 1913 and 1918. The house itself, known as “Limestone Castle,” is an austere Renaissance Revival design of smooth buff-gray stone with tiled roofs and gabled dormers on the east and crenellation at the west end, both ends punctuated by towering chimneys. Despite a massive two-story bay window and wraparound porch, the house has the formal qualities of an urban mansion rather than a summer home. Stone carriage and gate houses are visible from Loretto Road.

It is the layout of the gardens that truly distinguishes the estate. The grounds were sculpted by the nationally known landscape engineer Charles Wellford Leavitt Jr., whose works ranged from country estates, colleges, and town plans to racetracks and sewage plants. (Leavitt was hired by the owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates to design Forbes Field in Pittsburgh in 1909—his only design for a baseball stadium.) He designed the elaborate Italian Renaissance sunken gardens south of Schwab's mansion to cascade down the steep hillside in a series of nine falls ending in three reflecting pools. While much of the original statuary was auctioned after Schwab's death in 1939 to pay his considerable debts, four pieces and many of Leavitt's horticultural choices remain.

Nearly 250 acres and a dozen buildings of the original 1,000-acre estate were purchased for the Franciscans for less then $50,000. The mansion now accommodates a monastery, and the original house, Bonaventure Hall, is a home for novices. The gardens have been restored mostly by Father Ronald Bodenschatz, who added religious statuary, and are the only part of the property that is open to the public at 105 St. Francis Drive.

South of Loretto Road, St. Francis University, a small, coeducational, liberal arts school hosts the headquarters of the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, an American art museum in four parts in Altoona ( BL10), Johnstown (see CA28), Ligonier Valley (see Ligonier Valley, p. 227), and here in Loretto. Architect Roger Cesare Ferri transformed a former gymnasium, using black steel members in a grid, to create a grand entrance and interior space fit for displaying art.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Lu Donnelly et al.
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Citation

Lu Donnelly et al., "Mount Assisi (Charles Schwab Estate, “Limestone Castle”)", [Loretto, Pennsylvania], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/PA-01-CA5.

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of PA vol 1

Buildings of Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania, Lu Donnelly, H. David Brumble IV, and Franklin Toker. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010, 303-304.

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