Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Mount in danger of foreclosure

From the New York Times:

Landmark Massachusetts Building Where Wharton Wrote Faces Foreclosure


By CHARLES McGRATH
Published: February 23, 2008

The Mount, Edith Wharton’s estate in Lenox, Mass., is in danger of being put in foreclosure, says Stephanie Copeland, president of Edith Wharton Restoration, the organization that owns and maintains this stately residence and its surrounding gardens.

Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

Since 2002, Ms. Copeland explained by phone this week, the Mount, which is open to the public — much of it has been restored in recent years to match the period when Wharton lived there — has been covering its operating expenses by borrowing from the Berkshire Bank in nearby Pittsfield. It now owes the bank some $4.3 million, and in mid-February, when it failed to meet a scheduled monthly payment of $30,000, the bank sent a notice that it intended to start foreclosing unless the default was remedied promptly, Ms. Copeland said.

To stay open, she added, the Mount needs to raise $3 million by March 24. “The bank has really been very patient,” she explained. “They’re eager to help us work this out.”

If the Mount succeeds in raising that sum, Ms. Copeland said, an anonymous donor is waiting in the wings who has pledged to match it. The money could be used to help restructure the bank loan and to settle another outstanding debt, roughly $2.5 million, that the Mount incurred from a private lender in 2005 to buy Wharton’s 2,600-volume library from George Ramsden, a British book collector. The Mount also owes Mr. Ramsden roughly $885,000, to be paid off in nine yearly installments, and recently it defaulted on a scheduled payment to him, too.

“The situation is quite serious,” Sandra Boss, interim chairwoman of the Mount’s board, said in a telephone interview from London, where she works. “On the one hand, the Mount is winning awards for preservation and is internationally renowned as an institution. And it’s well run from an efficiency perspective. We’ve made great progress by cutting costs and raising revenues. On the other hand, our current debt levels are unserviceable and unsustainable. We’re not in control of our own destiny unless we can mount a restructuring of our debt.”

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