In 1848, Meyer Guggenheim settled in Philadelphia after he and his family immigrated to the United States from Switzerland. While onboard the ship, Meyer, who was a Swiss-Jew, was introduced to Barbara Meyers. Within four years, the two were married and welcomed their first three children by the end of the sixth year of marriage. Murry Guggenheim, the future owner of West Long Branch’s Guggenheim Mansion, was born in 1858, and was their third child. Once settled, Meyer furthered the manufacturing of his self-made stove polish.
In total, Meyer and Barbara birthed 11 children including Benjamin and Solomon Guggenheim. Benjamin infamously perished onboard the Titanic’s maiden voyage from Europe to New York. His last noted words were, “We are prepared to go down like gentlemen,” and “no woman shall be left aboard this ship because Ben Guggenheim was a coward.” A survivor of the sinking carried his words off the doomed vessel, which was immortalized in the 1997 film Titanic.
Solomon, who joined in with the family’s future embroidery import company and mining industry, developed a love for modernist paintings. Expanding on his intrigue for art that emerged in 1919, Solomon created the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1937. He raised plenty of money, which then granted the opportunity for the now famous Solomon Guggenheim Museum in New York City.
In 1887, the Guggenheim’s third son, Murry, met Leonie Bernheim, the daughter of a very wealthy French businessman. The Bernheim family made a notable fortune in textile manufacturing, but their money wasn’t necessary to uphold the new couple’s lavish lifestyle. Murry took part with his brothers in the mining industry, becoming the head of the Philadelphia Smelting and Refining Company.
In 1903, Murry acquired the property formally owned by Norman L. Munro. The estate that once stood in the shadow of the still standing Guggenheim Mansion was named, Normanhurst. Construction on the symmetrical summer cottage began in 1903 and was completed by 1905 by Carrere and Hastings architectural firm.
The estate functioned as a summer cottage for Murry, Leonie, and their two children Edmund and Lucille. There are two curved corridors lined with arched openings on the south side of the cottage. Nestled between the halls is a courtyard that was once meticulously landscaped with hedges and various flowers. Now it serves as a patio area with the same paved sections, but instead of gardens, there are sections of maintained grass.
Just beyond the white railings of the Guggenheim beach home is a large open field with scattered trees. It wasn’t always a field, though. When the Guggenheims summered at the West Long Branch retreat, there was a peaceful pond that reflected the south façade in a picturesque way. Just beyond the pond sat Cedar Avenue, and just beyond that road the Guggenheims estate continued with a large stable.
When entering the estate, a visitor would pull in the Norwood Avenue entrance and be greeted at the arched porte-cochere. Once out of the car, or carriage, the visitor would enter through glass doors and find him or herself in a large, white reception hall with two small stairwells, bearing only a few steps each, going up to the main first
level. If one walks to the right and emerges at the top of those steps, a beautiful, curved stairwell that hugs a large, ornate chandelier can be seen through a white paneled doorway.
The main level houses many rooms including a large mahogany living room that overlooks the courtyard and former pond. This is noticeably the only room not painted white. The Guggenheims wanted a light, airy feel that only clean, simplistic walls could offer. The second floor of the cottage bore several bedrooms including a large master suite.
The Guggenheim Mansion is located across the street from another world famous estate, Shadow Lawn Mansion. Hubert and Maysie Parson were the summer neighbors of Murry and Leonie for almost 20 years before the great depression stole the 90,000 square foot palace from them. Rumor has it that the Guggenheims were not fond of the Parson’s and their gaudy “new-money” flashiness. In 1938, one year before Murry’s death, Shadow Lawn Mansion was bought and turned in to a private girls school. Eventually it turned in to Monmouth College, and then Monmouth University.
Sadly, after 34 years of memorable summers under the Jersey shore sun, Murry passed in 1939. Leonie actively spent her summers at the mansion until her death in 1959. The Guggenheim Foundation later donated the mansion and its property to then Monmouth College (now Monmouth University). The house serves as Monmouth’s official library and has done so since its dedication in 1968. The stable is now known as Lauren K. Woods Theater, which boasts 155 seats.
-For more photos of the Guggenheim Mansion-
Photos- Originals taken by Matthew J. Niewenhous
Many facts obtained through personal experience.
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Meyer Guggenheim (American Industrialist and Philanthropist).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2014.
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Solomon Guggenheim (American Businessman and Art Collector).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2014.
Wilkes, David. “Does Long-lost Photo Solve Mystery of Why Playboy Drowned on Titanic? Millionaire ‘wouldn’t Leave Mixed-race Valet Who Would Have Been Denied Place on Lifeboat'” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 11 Apr. 2012. Web. 30 Mar. 2014.
Reme, Jim, and Tova Navarra. Monmouth University. Charleston: Arcadia Pub, 2002. Print. The College History Ser.