The house’s interior design made it magazine-worthy during the Crow-Thompson residence and after its purchase for almost $2 million by flashy developer Justin G. French and his wife Tanya. They added a reflecting pool equipped with jets that shot arcs of water and hired Koprowski + Associates to create a poolside privacy garden. (Photo by Maggie Morris)
The imposing columned W. Duncan Lee-designed home at 330 Oak Lane is no stranger to financial upset and abandonment. In May, the foreclosure auction of the 10,000-square-foot Georgian Revival mansion of eight bedrooms and seven-and-a-half bathrooms was again cancelled. The house sits empty and in disrepair, and not for the first time.
Real-estate developer Abram L. McClellan and his wife, Mary, in 1915 commissioned Lee to design the showplace and five other homes in McClellan’s Hampton Gardens. World War I intervened, sapping up materials and labor, and the McClellan dream house wasn’t completed until 1919. They named it Pinehurst.
During the Great Depression in 1932, McClellan used Pinehurst to secure a $35,000 debt on which he defaulted. The Bank of Commerce and Trust held the house vacant until 1938. Then, Richmond News Leader editor, historian and celebrity Douglas Southall Freeman purchased the home and dispelled any negative associations by rechristening the manor “Westbourne.” According to Freeman’s biographer David Johnson, the name punned on its direction from the city and the English ancestral Freeman estate of Eastbourne. Freeman considered the house his ideal of “what this generation should try to do in a way of gracious living.” Freeman commissioned self-taught landscape architect Charles Gillette — like Lee, a go-to for those who could afford him — to improve the property.
Visitors to Westbourne included poet Robert Frost (who gave his first radio reading in Richmond), Winston Churchill, General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Admiral Chester Nimitz.
Freeman earned his doctorate of history from Johns Hopkins University and won a Pulitzer Prize for his four-volume biography R.E. Lee. He constructed the unprecedented three-volume Lee’s Lieutenants, a narrative history study of the command system of the Army of Northern Virginia, and wrote a seven-volume biography of George Washington.
The clock ran out for Freeman on June 13, 1953. He’d written the final sentence of the last volume on Washington and went out to garden when a heart attack felled him. His biography received a posthumous Pulitzer.
Physician Joseph T. Byrne and his wife Elizabeth L. purchased the house and remaining land in 1955 from Freeman’s widow, Inez. The Byrnes and their seven children lived there until 1959 when Bruce Lee Baxter of Reynolds Metals Company purchased Westbourne. Baxter accrued several patents, including one for the creation of the pull-tag for aluminum beverage containers.
Westbourne in 1995 was the sixth Richmond Symphony Designer House. Todd Yoggy and John Thompson purchased the house in 1998, and Yoggy’s design firm, Yoggy Crow, was one of the participating designers when Westbourne was again used as the 2005 Symphony Designer House. The house’s interior design made it magazine-worthy during the Crow-Thompson residence and after its purchase for almost $2 million by flashy developer Justin G. French and his wife Tanya. They added a reflecting pool and hired Koprowski + Associates to create a poolside privacy garden. The house qualified for the National Register of Historic Places.
The French’s Westbourne residency ended in May 2011 when French began a 16-year prison sentence for using historic tax credits to bilk the government and more than 110 investors out of some $11.2 million. Varied receivers attempted foreclosure and auction for Westbourne.
Neighbors mowed the lawns, but in December 2014, the city condemned the house due to it being open, vacant and a potential hazard. In March 2015, Arlington-based Equity Trustees was made the property’s substitute trustee.
Whether “gracious living” may return to Westbourne remains to be seen.