The Legend of a Legacy
This Liberty Lake property, built under the watchful eye of Jean Wallingford (officially, Sylvia Jean Florian Keck Wallingford) in the 1990s, definitely falls in the “estate legend” category, with 54.8 acres overlooking Liberty Lake that include the elegant main house, a guest house, and a barn with a Northwest-style apartment. The estate is now on the market following Jean’s death in July of 2017. Richard Broadsword, a family friend who is overseeing the property and who assisted with the sale of antiques and other valuables acquired by Jean over her lifetime, gave a tour of the impressive property, and (over email and in person) provided details about Jean, her life story, and the home she built and loved.
To say the main house is quite grand is an understatement: think pillars, gilded light fixtures, chandeliers, red carpet, sweeping lake views, and spacious rooms ideal for large-scale entertaining. Richard describes Jean’s style as “very traditional—you can see the inspiration from movies of the ‘40s and ‘50s.” The vast main floor includes a gallery, an expansive great room, a formal dining room, a commercial kitchen with a 10-burner Wolf range, his-and-hers master suites connected by a private kitchen, an exercise room, an attendants’ room, an attached garage, and a stunning indoor pool with a rock waterfall, as well as a sun porch that was the dedicated space for Jean’s cats, and a dog suite with its own kitchen and bathing area. (Jean loved Weimaraners and kept them throughout her life, recycling a few names as she passed through different generations of the pets—Hans, Fritz, and Joy.)
It’s a far cry from the quiet country home she first set out to build. But to understand the property, you need to understand Jean.
Born in 1921 near Los Angeles, Jean was the daughter of the president of Western Refining Co oil company. She was raised in Santa Monica, where she grew up with means and attended finishing schools, like others of her status. Her passion, though, was for medicine; she wanted to become a doctor. Unfortunately, that possibility disappeared when her father’s company went bankrupt during the Depression, and instead Jean became a nurse. It was shortly after World War II when, in an elevator of the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel, Jean met the man who would become her first husband, William Myron Keck, Sr. He was a wealthy oil tycoon, more than four decades Jean’s senior. After they married, Jean settled into a traditional wife role.
During her first marriage, Jean accumulated valuable furnishings and antiques from all over the world, as well as clothing and jewelry from companies like Tiffany & Co., I. Magnin, and Bullocks Wilshire, whom Richard says brought over truckloads of the latest fashions every season. Jean and Mr. Keck (as he was commonly referred to) lived in the famed Owlwood Estate in Los Angeles and were married for 14 years.
Some time after Mr. Keck’s death, Jean married her second husband, contractor Gordon Wallingford. (Much of Mr. Keck’s wealth was left to the W.M. Keck Foundation, but Jean inherited, and kept, everything from furniture to linens to light fixtures to towel bars.) Jean “would do anything for the people she loved,” Richard says. She and Gordon moved to Washington state because Jean believed it would be best for Gordon’s well-being; he was feeling the effects of many years of heavy smoking and had other health issues as well. “Her plan was to provide Gordon with fresh air, a fishing pond, a small country home with space for his cherished classic car collection,” says Richard. “She was going to build her own bucolic existence far away from California and the trappings of that lifestyle. She feared her possessions had come to own her and she wanted a fresh start.”
When it came down to it, though, Jean couldn’t bear to part with her treasured possessions, which included everything from an antique table that once belonged to George Washington to an extensive collection of jewel-hued Moser crystal to a first edition of Charlotte’s Web. The building project quickly grew to accommodate them. “Unfortunately, once she started building, she couldn’t really let anything go,” Richard explains. The small country house she’d first imagined “became the 32,000 square foot behemoth you see today.”
In a tragic twist, the couple never got to enjoy their property as Jean had envisioned. The build of the new home was completed in the winter of 1996. In February of 1997, Jean suffered a debilitating stroke, and just months later, in May of the same year, Gordon died. “She loved it so much here, she thought she could convince friends and family to leave California and create a sort of compound around the big house,” Richard says. “Sadly, she had a stroke just as the house was finished, and Gordon passed away only a few months later. For the most part she remained, heartbroken, in her personal suite the last 20 years of her life.”
Jean’s eccentricities and particular tastes impacted many elements of the home’s design. In the kitchen, where Jean liked to gossip with the household staff (which Richard says at one time numbered 35, including groundskeepers, pool staff, a personal secretary for both her and Gordon, two dog attendants, and chefs), she found the noise of the compressors from the bank of refrigerators unpleasant. So, she had the compressors moved down to a separate space in the basement. In the basement there was also vast storage—a cedar closet for off-season clothing, an entire room for storing lamps, another room for Christmas décor. The home has higher-than-average counters for more comfort and less stooping for the stately Jean, who was over six feet tall.
Though Jean was a lover of beautiful and high-end items, she also loved thrifty finds. Richard says that each item in the estate had to be gone through carefully, piece by piece, a process that took months. A stack of picture frames might contain many that were inexpensive, with a couple of genuine gold frames mixed in. She was known for doing things like spotting a vase she liked at Rite Aid and adding it to the mix.
Jean could be intimidating and willful, but was also known for her generosity. This is obvious in the care she took to create a home that would be comfortable for Gordon, seen in the exercise room that’s equipped with supportive railings and the easily accessible indoor pool, both of which were intended to aid his rehabilitation. Jean also took care to treat her guests to their favorite things, in part by stocking beverages she knew they’d like. If your favorite champagne was Dom Perignon, that’s what you’d find whenever you visited Jean, says Richard. Each property she owned was stocked with a case of her mother’s favorite whiskey, Cutty Sark.
The main house, despite its enormous size, has only one guest room. Jean was a habitual night owl. When guests came to visit, they’d usually opt to stay in the barn apartment, because Jean would “…sleep in late, then stay up until 3 or 4. She wanted anyone in the house to stay up with her,” Richard explains.
The life she imagined in the grand home—spacious rooms filled with treasures and guests, visitors sipping vintage Dom Perignon at the bar (built by the same person who crafted the bar for Cheers), refrigerators full of food, and a comfortable, one-of-a-kind space to enjoy with her beloved Gordon—most of that never came to be. Yet Jean’s legacy lives on in the memories of those who knew her best and the estate she left behind.
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