Wharton's house of worth
February 27, 2008
WEALTH and social position were major themes of Edith Wharton's famous novel "The House of Mirth." So it's a cruel irony that the Mount, the gracious home in Lenox where Wharton wrote the book, faces foreclosure.
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Wharton, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of over 40 books, designed the home and had it built in 1902. She called it her "first real home" and lived there for nearly a decade.
Now a museum, the Mount is facing a dire deadline. Unless the Edith Wharton Restoration, the nonprofit that owns the Mount, can raise $3 million by March 24, the bank will step in. These sad circumstances echo those of Lily Bart, the genteel heroine of "The House of Mirth," who also faced financial disaster as she struggled but failed to find her footing in the well-heeled heights of New York.
But life need not imitate art completely. The Edith Wharton Restoration is seeking donors to save the Mount. Small gifts can help show diverse support for the institution, and large gifts will provide badly needed stability. An anonymous donor is prepared to match the $3 million, creating a pool of $6 million. With this money, the organization could restructure its $4.3 million bank debt.
In part, the Mount is a victim of worthy ambitions. Restoring the home and the garden improved the site, but also drove up insurance and maintenance costs, according to the nonprofit's president, Stephanie Copeland. And using a private loan made by an individual, the organization spent £1.5 million (about $2.6 million at the time) to purchase Wharton's library from a British book dealer. It's an invaluable acquisition, but it added to the debt load - especially now that a sinking dollar has pushed up its annual payment. The organization has been able to start paying back this loan. Like other struggling homeowners, the Mount is also a victim of the economy. It has a mortgage with a fixed interest rate, but there's an adjustable interest rate on its $3 million line of credit. [Read the rest at the link.]