Video: Abbey Tom Maoli previews Mansion in May 2017
By Kevin Coughlin
This Abbey is no Downton Abbey.
Come back in May, however, and you may be pleasantly surprised.
Alnwick Hall, better known as the Abbey, opened its doors this week for a sneak preview of Mansion in May, the month-long fundraiser organized by the Women’s Association for Morristown Medical Center.
The 20,000-square-foot, 42-room Renaissance Revival palace in Morris Township has seen better days. Specifically, the heady days of the Gilded Age in the early 20th century.
The Abbey stood out from the mansions of Millionaires’ Row, a four-mile stretch from Morristown to Madison that counted Vanderbilts and Rockefellers among its residents. What made the place shine was its music.
Every year, AT&T counsel Edward Peter Meany and his wife Rosalie invited more than 200 people to their estate to hear great opera stars and dine on food catered by Delmonico’s of New York.
Renowned violinist Efrem Zimbalist met famed soprano Alma Gluck en route to a performance at the Abbey, according to local historian Barry Thomson. The couple married and their son, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., starred in the TV series The FBI and many films.
For long stretches in the 1930s and 1950s, the Abbey sat vacant. The Gubelmann family is said to have invented the first automatic automobile transmission in its basement. St. Mark’s Lutheran Church called the Abbey home for nearly a quarter-century, until 1984. Investors then converted it to office space–perhaps you had an M.R.I. there, or made a bank deposit.
Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin
Tom Maoli, a real estate developer and owner of Celebrity Motor Car LLC in Whippany, bought the Abbey in 2008. Why?
“It’s a castle!” he said. “Everybody wants to own a castle.”
The terra cotta ornamentation and crenellated parapets are impressive.
But on Wednesday, many of the walls and floors were bare — awaiting magical transformations by more than 40 top designers. The nondescript lawn and yard will get makeovers, too, by landscapers charged with creating gardens befitting an estate modeled on Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, England.
This is the 18th mansion to be featured since Mansion in May began in 1974, and organizers anticipate 33,000 visitors will pay $40- to $50 apiece to see it.
“It’s got great bones,” said Katie Nolle, co-chair of the event, which will fund a new Center for Nursing Innovation and Research at Morristown Medical Center.
Slideshow photos by Berit Ollestead
Great imagination will be brought to bear on the Abbey in the run-up to May 1. Elizabeth Guest, a designer from Hunterdon County, plans to convert a small space into a “gentleman’s sitting room,” tentatively titled Passage to India.
“It’s is a show house, and this is supposed to be a show. It’s theater,” said Guest, who likes the challenge of working fast.
“I do well under pressure. If there are deadlines, I’m much more on my game,” she said. Guest aspired to an art career. Interior design “is my way to be a painter in 3-D.”
Michael Curren of Curren Design in Mendham and Richard R. Barr of Plumberry Designs in Florham Park said they will turn a 600-square-foot room into the Left Bank Loft, a modern pied-a-terre, complete with a rotating flat-screen TV.
Morristown artist John Puglionisi and fellow artists Valerie Verona and Nancee Brown aim to create a working art studio. Meanwhile, a closet-sized space will morph into clever storage for playthings, courtesy of The Toy Tamer of Madison.
Another slender space will become Rosalie’s Music Room. Nancy Coutts of Custom Steel Ltd. in Morristown said she is pretending the original lady of the house was a violinist.
“We’re going to turn this room into a little jewel box,” added Coutts’ partner in the project, Katja van der Loo of Papyrus Home Design in Boonton. “This gives you a burst of energy, revitalizes you. It’s why we went into this field in the first place.”
And here’s the really amazing part: All of these incredible creations will come down even faster than they went up. The 1,300 volunteers of the Women’s Association for Morristown Medical Center must leave the Abbey as they found it.
Unless, that is, you want to buy the Abbey. Then you can ask to keep the improvements.
Sale price: $6.2 million.
Tickets for Mansion in May are $40/ person in advance, and $50 at the door through the month of May. Hours will be 10 am to 3 pm each day. Private / guided tours are $100 / ticket and include a $20 lunch voucher for the Canfield Café. The Abbey is at 355 Madison Ave.; a free shuttle will run to free parking at 170 Park Ave. in Florham Park.
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