Annenberg's estate for sale The "ballpark" asking price for the famed Main Line manor: $15 million.

Posted: December 28, 2006

The 13-acre Annenberg estate, a famous Main Line address and a rare sizable tract of open space in development-pressured Lower Merion Township, is for sale.

Although a specific asking price has not been determined, $15 million is "in the ballpark," John Latourette, the personal attorney for Leonore Annenberg, widow of billionaire publisher and philanthropist Walter H. Annenberg, said yesterday. Leonore Annenberg lives in California.

Latourette's law firm, Dilworth Paxson, began showing the estate, known as Inwood, within the last month or so, he said. He declined to discuss what prompted that step and how many prospective buyers have come through.

The news about the property - featuring a two-story, 18-room house, elaborate gardens and greenhouses - came as a surprise yesterday to even some of the most veteran Main Line Realtors. It is not on the multiple listings accessible to the public.

"Right now, it's just being shown here and there," Latourette said. "There's no listing for the property. There's no rush."

There's also no decision yet on whether Inwood, tucked along Cherry Lane in the Wynnewood section of Lower Merion, would be subdivided - as has been the recent trend with estates in a region running out of developable land. Latourette said "keeping it as one unit is the preference" but "we're not to that point yet where we're considering anything other than getting a sense of what the interest is."

The Annenberg estate joins two other high-profile addresses in the region now under consideration for a new look.

At issue in Radnor is how to protect at least some of the remaining 320 acres of the former Robert Montgomery Scott estate, known as Ardrossan. In Whitemarsh Township, there's hand-wringing over what is to become of philanthropist Fitz Eugene Dixon Jr.'s 450-acre Erdenheim Farm.

Lower Merion zoning would permit as many as 12 houses on the Inwood site, according to a local Realtor.

Among those hoping the estate remains home to just one family is Deborah Levine, president of the Wynnewood Civic Association.

"Personally, I don't want to see condos there," she said yesterday, after learning from a reporter that Inwood was for sale. "We don't need any more."

What she would like to see, however, is Inwood - from the other side of the fence. For years, Levine said, "I've harbored the fantasy of walking in and playing the three-hole golf course."

That's right, a golf course.

It is just one of several striking features of the Inwood grounds, which include a long, sloping terrain leading through a wooded area with a creek.

"It's a very impressive property with magnificent trees," said Mike Weilbacher, executive director of the Lower Merion Conservancy. "The landscaping is impeccable. They have an entire landscaping staff, and it is gorgeously maintained."

Inwood is where Annenberg, who once published The Inquirer, died in 2002 at 94. He is buried at Sunnylands, the estate he built near Palm Springs, Calif.

Annenberg's will specified that the property go to his widow for the rest of her life. Under its terms, she is free to use the property to produce income, or to dispose of it and invest the proceeds.

At her death, Inwood or the proceeds of its sale would go to the Annenberg Foundation, of which Leonore Annenberg is the sole director.

Among those who have been shown the property is Robert Potamkin, according to a source who did not want to be identified for business reasons. Potamkin - whose fortunes have come from his namesake auto dealerships, real estate development, and other investments - lives in South Florida and is considering moving. He was vacationing in Aspen, Colo., and unavailable for comment yesterday.

"The ideal would be if a single buyer purchased it as a home," said Cheryl Gelber, a Lower Merion commissioner whose ward includes Wynnewood. Failing that, she said, "there is little agreement. Any public use the neighbors are concerned about."

Gelber said securing a historic designation for the estate could aid in its preservation. And though the structure itself might have little historic value, the fact that Annenberg lived there might.

"Walter Annenberg is a unique figure in Lower Merion, Philadelphia and national history," Gelber said. "It would be wonderful if it could be preserved as an historic property."

In the Lower Merion School District, where two new high schools are proposed and officials have been grappling for years over finding space for more athletic fields and parking for school buses, business manager Scott Shafer sounded a little irritated to hear from a reporter that the Annenberg estate was being privately shown.

He said he had left messages "several times over the years" with the Annenberg Foundation indicating that if Inwood "ever becomes available, I'd just like to know about it." He never got a call from anyone connected to the estate to let him know it's for sale now.

A parcel or two of land is all that stands between Lower Merion High School and the Annenberg estate.

"Anytime there's land available in the township, the school district has an interest," Shafer said. "Something of that size could have athletic fields. We don't have enough athletic fields in the township."

Asked whether the estate would consider selling to the school district, Latourette said: "Right now we're just so preliminary in this process, I couldn't say yes or no."

Contact staff writer Diane Mastrull at 610-313-8095 or dmastrull@phillynews.com.

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