A Lake Forest Estate
November 6, 2020
The estate once known as “Westleigh’ sold today. Important people seated around a long table in a title office scratched dates, initials, and bold signatures across crisp, white pages. Solid lines were highlighted by adhesive arrows in bright colors lest a crucial section be missed. Such a transactional flurry was always underscored by a hint of anxiety, stacks of papers passed along to the next banker, the next realtor, and the next attorney. At long last, the new owners. A round of congratulatory handshakes followed broad smiles and relief.
Freedom was granted. There was freedom to flee the state and prepare for a well-deserved retirement. There was a release from societal constraints, a century of steep traditions traded for warmer environs and new rules written by the keepers of a gated community.
I felt the melancholy months after Westleigh’s next chapter, a first draft, was written by noontime that November day. The impending sale was news I’d heard through the grapevine. My curiosity getting the better of me, I read the listing, watching with horror and fascination as the initial $3.95 million asking price was lowered twice to $3.1 million — $400,000 less than in 2003 when they’d bought the place. That was the year the youngest married couple in the clan relieved my former in-laws of the burden. My in-laws would be free to downsize. Months later, my former mother-in-law would be a widow on a cloudy November afternoon. Thanksgiving would never be the same.
The decision to sell “Foster Place” caused resentment among the siblings in the clan. The decision to sell was made between trust funds and, to siblings, nothing more. My former sister-in-law exhibited an uncharacteristic trepidation, deciding to purchase the 10,000-square-foot home at the height of the housing bubble, proclaiming real estate was a solid investment that would never depreciate. Her inheritance would be safe. I forced a smile and nodded once, knowing the market, knowing better. I also knew that no matter the outcome, she would emerge on top of the game. I would be left to romanticize.
By November 6, 2020, my melancholy was authentic but distant, unspoken to all but my closest confidantes, for I was no longer a part of that world by a difficult choice. Still, my heart was heavy, learning that the final sale price was only $2.25 million. “Only,” a cynic mused. But there was loss. The cost of upkeep was staggering — the grounds, the Dutch elms, the fountains, the cast iron pipes, the slate roof. The bluestone terraces were always at risk of frost heave when the first subzero winds gusted across the glacial lake.
There was grief. That sale represented the end of an era, finalized in black ink. Traditions would soon become digital photographs, outdated slides still tucked into a Kodak projector, and memories fading with age. And when the last witness to a celebrated era was no longer available to answer questions future generations might have, the memories would become rumors.
Ah, but rumors sell historic properties. History is a bragging right.
It is said that the Westleigh wing was built specifically for a royal guest. The second rumor is that Edward, Prince of Wales, spent the night.
An excerpt from my forthcoming book, Foster Place.
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