Some 22 acres of George Westinghouse's Erskine Park are still connected with various housing options in different portions of the land.
LENOX, Mass. — As the building approaches its 100th birthday, the former Fox Hollow School is being reborn as luxury apartments.
Developer David Carver has managed the sprawling 222 acres off Route 7 for years and recently closed on the purchase of the historic mansion.
Now he's received his permits and is finishing the design to turn the home, built by the Vanderbilt family in 1919, into high-end apartments.
"We are in the process of renovating this into 11 apartments. We have finished our permitted with the town of Lee and Lenox — the town line goes right through this building so we had to get permits from both towns. We just finished getting those permits at the end of last month," Carver said.
"Now we have to finish construction drawings and start construction sometime late summer."
The property's history starts as Erskine Park, which was owned by George Westinghouse, an inventor and pioneer in the electrical industry. He built a mansion on what was then some 300 acres of land. He sold it in the early 1900s to the Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt family, which had the mansion was razed as Margaret Vanderbilt designed a new home.
"This was done in a different style. Before that it was all Victorian architectural. All of these cottages were in the big, giant Victorian style. There was one here called Erskine Park and that was a beautiful example of Victorian architecture," Carver said.
The Vanderbilt mansion was sold in 1939 to Aileen Farrell, headmistress of Fox Hollow School for Girls that operated until 1976. A New York developer owned the property for 10 years, and had built out condominium units, known as the Lakeside Condos, and Fox Hollow Ponds timeshare units.
"By the time he left, he had built Lakeside. He had built the Ponds. And this [mansion] was intended to be the center for the complex," Carver said.
Kripalu moved to the mansion for a decade before expanding and relocating, then EnlightenNext occupied the property until 2011. That's when Carver became the trustee, under Scarafoni Associates Nominee Trust. Through Scarafoni's property management arm, CT Management Group, he has been maintaining the grounds for the two associations — the Ponds and Lakeside — which have land leases.
During the first two years of ownership, the company built an apartment complex with 40 units. Last year, Carver purchased the mansion itself. The plan is to turn the 25,000 square-foot mansion into 11 high-end rentals.
"This is very unique and very special because a lot of conversions around here, especially in the southern part of the county, tend to go in the condo direction. This is going to be different. We're going to build this as a luxury rental residence for people who want to enjoy the Berkshires, be part of the Berkshires, but don't necessarily want the risk of owning," Craig Barnum, who heads commercial and residential leasing for the company, said.
The idea is to find a niche between traditional apartment rentals and condominiums. Barnum said there are a lot of people who will rent homes for just a few months a year because they don't want to own a condominium. He hopes this will provide a high-end option with similar amenities but without the overhead of having to purchase the space. The units will be between 1,400 square feet and 2,600 square feet.
"The location here, relative to the cultural enclave features the Berkshires offers is fantastic. You are minutes to Stockbridge, minutes to Tanglewood, minutes to a lot of these theatrical benefits," Barnum said.
Carver added it would also fit a lot of local retirees who don't want to have the maintenance of owning a house, or who travel to Florida or elsewhere during the winter. The leases can be as short as one-year and can extend for lengthier periods of time, he said.
Work will begin late this summer. An addition in the back will be demolished and rebuilt at an angle to take more advantage of the view of Laurel Lake. Another addition on the south side of the building has made it asymmetrical, so that section will be restored back to the original balconies. The outside will also be painted white with black shutters, hearkening back to photos Carver has of the mansion in the past.
"At one point, we considered clearing the hillside and doing a new building. But we decided at the 11th hour to keep it," Carver said. "We think it is better to be working with some history than building a new building, which is nothing special. We think this is something special."
A line of garages for each apartment will be constructed alongside the mansion. It is estimated that the renovation will be completed in a year, but Carver said he isn't trying to "set any speed records" so it could take longer. Nonetheless, the mansion with a storied history is set to begin another chapter.
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