So much more than 'Justa' home

The dining room has a large cooking fireplace , one of seven in the Justa Corner house. RON TARVER / Staff Photographer
The dining room has a large cooking fireplace , one of seven in the Justa Corner house. RON TARVER / Staff Photographer
Posted: February 01, 2014

Sometimes a house just beckons.

Back in 1997 when Stan Osborn first saw Justa Corner, the stately fieldstone manor in Huntingdon Valley, he was captivated, remembers his wife Barbara.

"He was ready to sign on the dotted line without stepping one foot inside," says Barbara, who was less enthusiastic, having set her sights on a nearby French chalet. But, she eventually gave in to Stan.

Says Stan, who hails from Stillwater, Okla.: "I've always liked older homes. And these big stone homes are so unlike anything we have where I'm from."

In the 1920s, George W. Elkins, the grandson of traction tycoon William Elkins, purchased 600 acres for his Justa Farm. The property accommodated a dairy farm and herds of cattle, as well as a horse stable and one of the finest privately owned racetracks in the country, even though it would be four decades before pari-mutuel betting became legal in Pennsylvania.

Like many aristocrats of the time, Elkins planned and built several estate homes for family members on the grounds. Justa Corner was one of them - 7,700 square feet built in 1935 by the notable architectural firm of Wiling, Sims & Talbutt.

"The house incorporated a 1791 farmhouse originally built by a farmer named Cornelius Wynkoop," says David Rowland, president of the Old York Road Historical Society in Jenkintown and one of the authors of the book Images of America: The Morelands and Bryn Athyn.

The names of Justa Farm, Justa Corner, and Justamere House, another lavish home Elkins had built on the grounds, were meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Elkins obviously had a sense of humor, adds Rowland.

Eventually, Justa Farm was developed into subdivisions and strip malls in the l960s. Justa Corner, and a couple of other buildings on the property, survived.

The regal stone building may have been as impenetrable as a castle, but it also bore the imprint of time.

"I felt the house was too big, and it had been untouched for years," says Barbara of the home situated on two acres at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac. "I knew we'd have to do a lot of work to it."

Indeed. That work included a costly removal of asbestos in the cellar, the installation of 68 new windows, and a kitchen restoration - all while bringing the old house back to its earlier grandeur.

As much as this house demands, the couple, who married in 1989, agree that the grand dame of good bones is worth it, a place cloaked in period features and intricate designs where they and their daughter, Caitlin, a freshman at Temple University, have etched warm memories for nearly two decades. While growing up, and now when Caitlin comes home during school breaks, a gaggle of teens descends upon the Osborn haven. Plus, Barbara, 58, who has worked as a meeting planner for more than 30 years, has been known to host many festive soirees. For the last six years, Barbara's good friend Rae Jordan also has loved calling Justa Corner home, after surviving a double lung transplant.

The dwelling's 20-plus rooms stretch over three floors, with original pine and oak flooring, soaring ceilings, seven fireplaces, and patterned wallpaper everywhere. It seems to have been made for entertaining.

Vintage chairs and elegant chandeliers share space with modern flat screens and leather sofas. Whenever possible, the couple retained original fixtures, like the cut-glass dome ceiling light in the master bathroom.

Wandering the house can make a visitor feel astounded and adrift. Doors lead to lounges, bedrooms, bathrooms, and offices, with pristine built-ins. For example, a handsome row of cedar closets, a must-have from another time, flank the third-floor hallway.

Fortunately, the millwork throughout was in pretty good condition when they moved in. But some had been painted over, including the mantelpiece surrounding the fireplace in the formal living room.

"I stripped it down and saw that it was painted probably due to a burn that's on it," says Barbara. "I left it alone. I think it gives the room character."

The original wood-beam dining room with a large cooking fireplace exudes a simple style and charm that Stan treasures.

"You can just imagine the gatherings that took place in here," marvels Stan, 72, now semiretired and working as a health care consultant.

Modernity blends with the past in the kitchen, where the homeowners installed granite countertops and sleek black appliances next to unspoiled original cupboards, likely more than 75 years old.

Nestled beyond the cellar rec room, which houses a bar and an ornate pool table, is a silver vault, an expansive walk-in safe with a 5-foot steel door - something many wealthy families had to store their valuables, says Rowland.

A one-bedroom carriage house is perfect for hosting out-of-town visitors. And a modern kitchen and bathroom are in the pool house adjacent to the inground pool, which Barbara had refurbished, adding a heating system for Stan's birthday a couple of years ago.

While keeping a house of this magnitude organized and clean, as well as maintaining the grounds, can be an exhausting endeavor, Barbara admits that it is something special, too.

"It is a unique experience having a historic house," she says. "Some houses have a certain allure. This one definitely does."

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