A 19th-century mansion steeped in Chester County history and squeezed by development was won at auction Thursday by a Princeton businessman who said he would restore the house and build a hotel next to it.
C.Z. Patel, 70, who has developed and managed hotels in New Jersey and North Carolina, paid $710,000 for Loch Aerie, a Swiss-Gothic showpiece built by shirt-collar magnate William Lockwood in 1868. The opening bid was $250,000.
Patel said he was unsure how he would use the house, but said the hotel would be of "higher quality" than the Comfort Suites and Best Westerns he owns elsewhere.
About 150 people showed up for the 20-minute auction inside the manor, which sits on a hillock along Route 30 near Route 202 in East Whiteland Township. A dozen bidders had registered, according to Bob Dann, auctioneer at Max Spann Real Estate & Auction Co. of Clinton, N.J.
At the end, Patel was battling Shawn Koberg of West Chester, who said he wanted to restore the mansion and move his family's outdoor living store, Halligan's Hearth & Home in Malvern, to the two-acre property. He dropped out after bidding $700,000.
"I'm a little disappointed," Koberg said. "But there's a lot of work to be done [in the house], so you have to be careful."
Preservationists have worried about the fate of Loch Aerie, designed by renowned architect Addison Hutton. Historians have called it a regionally significant house that could easily qualify for the National Register of Historic Places.
Graced with sloping triangular roofs, arched windows, and the charm of The Addams Family homestead, it's conspicuously out of place on its little plot next to a Home Depot, on a heavily trafficked Main Line artery lined with businesses. Across Route 30 are the Sheraton Great Valley and a Hampton Inn.
The Sheraton may be a model of how to incorporate a historic building into a modern hotel. A stone building constructed in the 19th century functions as its new restaurant and wine bar.
"We want to encourage adaptive reuse," said Timothy Caban, chairman of the East Whiteland Township Historical Commission. "There's got to be a way to find a use, and that might include building a building next door. I'm not against it or in favor of it. It comes down to the actual plan."
Loch Aerie's most recent owner was the family of Daniel Tabas, who bought it in 1967. He and his brother, Charles, had extensive real estate holdings in the region, including Mickey Rooney's Tabas Hotel in Downingtown, the Twelve Caesars banquet hall on City Avenue, and the Riverfront Restaurant & Dinner Theater in Philadelphia. Daniel Tabas died in 2003.
Two of Daniel Tabas' children, Linda Tabas Stempel of Haverford and Robert Tabas of Bryn Mawr, were at the auction.
"Our family always loved [Loch Aerie] and wanted to see the building have some purpose," Stempel said. "I'm glad people were interested enough to want to do something with this beautiful property."
Loch Aerie was built as the summer estate of Lockwood and his children. In the 1970s, the Warlocks motorcycle gang took up residence for several months. During their stay, a fire destroyed part of the house, and the group exchanged gunfire inside the mansion with rival Pagans.
Architectural consultant Anthony Alden then lived there for more than 20 years and restored it before moving out in the mid-2000s.
With the exception of a caretaker, the house had been vacant in recent years.