A look in­side the baron’s man­sion and its his­tory

The Norwalk Hour - - FRONT PAGE - Re­becca Schuetz

WESTPORT — Perched atop a wooded hill, across Post Road East from the old san­i­tar­ium (now Winslow Dog Park), stands a stately brick home. It re­sem­bles a small Ge­or­gian manor, al­though the keen-eyed may no­tice the non­tra­di­tional hue of the col­umns and trim, tinted a sub­tle pink.

Over the years, the house has been used for li­brary stor­age, U.N. Hospi­tal­ity Com­mit­tee plan­ning and po­lice train­ing, with dogs sniff­ing out drugs that had been planted there by law en­force­ment, ac­cord­ing to Westport Select­man He­len Garten. The Westport Arts Cen­ter hopes to be next to use the home as a fa­cil­ity.

Peo­ple in the town re­fer to the build­ing col­lo­qui­ally as the baron’s man­sion, a name pro­vid­ing am­ple fuel for the imag­i­na­tion. Ro­man­tic imag­i­na­tion, af­ter all, was Baron Wal­ter

Langer von Lan­gen­dorff’s busi­ness.

The Aus­trian baron, who im­mi­grated to the U.S. dur­ing World War II, and his first wife, Eve­lyn Diane Westall, were the founders of Evyan per­fumes, which chal­lenged the French per­fume houses. Langer was a chemist and his wife a savvy mar­keter, and women across Amer­ica bought into the brand, which the cou­ple turned into a life­style (their home echoed their per­fume’s pack­ag­ing, and the Evyan logo is even fea­tured on their mau­soleum). The com­pany made the cou­ples mil­lion­aires; its pop­u­lar fra­grances in­cluded Golden Shad­ows, the ac­tual name of Langer’s Westport home, and White Shoul­ders.

“My ex-wife used to wear White Shoul­ders,” re­called Michael Bren­necke at the man­sion on a warm Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon. Bren­necke had spent his teenage sum­mers work­ing as a gar­dener for Langer.

“I was 15 years old when I was work­ing for the baron,” Bren­necke said. “This is 30 acres, and he kept it, all of it like a botan­i­cal gar­den.” He looked out the win­dow and re­mem­bered the white gravel paths that he and nine other gar­den­ers weeded by hand. There had been a fern gar­den and a fra­grant for­est of flow­er­ing rhodo­den­drons ring­ing the es­tate.

“So when you looked out, you didn’t see any signs of other houses or any other civ­i­liza­tion,” he said. “This place was just an is­land in and of it­self two blocks from down­town Westport. And it was spec­tac­u­lar. It was in­cred­i­bly groomed.”

In ad­di­tion to the home, the grounds held gar­dens for cut flow­ers and a green­house filled with plants sur­round­ing an Olympic­sized pool. As for the baron him­self, Bren­necke re­mem­bered a re­served man. “But keep in mind I was a grunt,” he said with a laugh.

How­ever, New York Times writer Wolf­gang Saxon sup­ported Bren­necke’s view. “Dr. Langer was prom­i­nent in New York so­cial cir­cles but kept his pri­vate life out of pub­lic view,” Saxon wrote in 1983.

The hint at to what lengths Langer and his wife went through to keep cer­tain facts a se­cret are ap­par­ent in­side of his home at 68 Compo Road South.

The Golden Shad­ows lobby is dom­i­nated by a stair­case swirling to­ward a pale blue ceil­ing — to the right is a large room where they en­ter­tained guests, and to the left is per­fectly pre­served ’50s-era kitchen, in which ev­ery­thing from the tiles and cup­boards to the oven, re­frig­er­a­tor and even cup hooks are a rosy shade of pink. (The use of color through­out the home is en­velop­ing and em­i­nently In­sta­gram­able.)

But hid­den off to the side, in what ap­pears to be a closet door, is a stair­case fit­ted with a lift. The home was built af­ter Westall suf­fered a stroke, and it was de­signed so she could get between the first and sec­ond floors with­out any clue tip­ping off guests that she strug­gled with the steps.

And like the fic­tional Jay Gatsby, while the baron was known for his wealth and en­ter­tain­ment, lit­tle was known about his past.

“Any ge­neal­o­gist who tries to work out what they say they are runs into a wall — it doesn’t work,” said Mor­ley Boyd, a lo­cal preser­va­tion­ist. “They have doc­u­ments about their lives writ­ten in their own hand that have con­flict­ing in­for­ma­tion.”

“He def­i­nitely was Aus­trian and he def­i­nitely was a refugee, so that we know,” said Westport Select­man He­len Garten.

The two had joined Bren­necke to walk through the home, and they stood to­gether in Langer’s li­brary, re­lat­ing what they knew of Westport’s baron.

“It ap­peared that they were to a cer­tain de­gree ob­scur­ing their back­ground,” Boyd said. “And likely, given the time that they came here and where they come from, it ap­pears he’s likely of Jewish her­itage.”

While Boyd thought Langer may have fled per­se­cu­tion in Aus­tria, Garten thought he may have hid his past to avoid anti-Semitism in Amer­ica.

But they agreed the cou­ple suc­cess­fully cre­ated their own im­age once they ar­rived, one that was mir­rored in their flow­ered oa­sis of an es­tate.

“They’re not the first peo­ple to ar­rive in Amer­ica and rein­vent them­selves,” Boyd said. “And that’s what they did — and they did it in a spec­tac­u­lar way and gave them­selves ti­tles. To this day, we call it the baron’s prop­erty.”

Erik Traut­mann / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Preser­va­tion­ist Mor­ley Boyd tours the Westport home of the late Baron Wal­ter Langer von Lan­gen­dorff on Wed­nes­day in Westport.

Erik Traut­mann / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

The Westport home of the late Baron Wal­ter Langer von Lan­gen­dorff on Wed­nes­day. The fu­ture of the Baron’s man­sion in Westport has been a long con­tested is­sue for the town.

Preser­va­tion­ist Mor­ley Boyd and Head of the Select­man’s Real Prop­erty Com­mit­tee He­len Garten tour the Westport home.

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