Asherwood: An Auction for the Ages
Writer // Janelle Morrison Photography // C.J. Walker
Last month, The Great American Songbook Foundation announced that it was laying the groundwork for the sale of Asherwood, the former home of Mel and Bren Simon. Mrs. Simon gifted the opulent estate, including the personal property contained within, to the Songbook Foundation. The sale proceeds will help to ensure the financial future of the Songbook Foundation, currently housed at The Palladium at The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, as it pursues a permanent home for its vast collection of memorabilia, sheet music, recordings and personal items associated with the creators and performers of America’s timeless popular music.
Asherwood includes a fully furnished 50,000-sq. ft. main house, an 8,000-sq. ft. clubhouse, a 6,000-sq. ft. guesthouse, several other structures and two golf courses. The estate sits on a total of 107 acres and is located in west Carmel. In its day, Asherwood has entertained public figures and celebrities, such as presidents Obama and Clinton as well as Oprah Winfrey.
As previously announced, a major auction of the estate’s collectible antique furniture, artwork and other personal property from the main house and other structures on the site will take place Nov. 17 and 18. Preview dates are scheduled for Nov. 10, 11 and 16, and the public is invited to visit the property and see the auction items for a fee of $25. Proceeds from the previews will benefit the Songbook Foundation.
Concurrently, the Songbook Foundation is seeking proposals from real estate brokers about the best way to market and sell the estate to developers or other potential buyers.
Executive Director Chris Lewis said the decision to sell the estate comes after months of study and discussion by the nonprofit Foundation’s staff and a 10-member committee formed by its Board of Directors. The project team has consulted with accounting and law firms, museum professionals, residential developers, golf course operators, high-end restaurateurs, parks and recreation departments and other interests in an effort to identify the best uses for the property.
“Mrs. Simon very generously gifted Asherwood to the Songbook Foundation with no restrictions,” Lewis said. “When we began meeting with her to discuss the donation, she wanted to know more about our mission and our work. She loved what we are doing: our educational programming, our work with seniors and our plans for a museum. She also appreciated the fact that we view what we’re doing as not just celebrating an era of music but preserving an important part of our cultural history because music is always a reflection of what is happening in society. There is a greater mission and purpose.”
Lewis explained that the only caveat to Simon’s donation was that the Songbook Foundation must find a way to use Asherwood Estate to advance its mission.
“We spent countless hours leading up to the decision to accept the gift,” Lewis shared. “Because we knew it would be a major undertaking, and since January, we committed to figuring out what we were going to do [with Asherwood] by the end of this calendar year.”
Lewis added that the board and appointed oversight committee had spent hundreds of hours of research, analysis and evaluation.
“We appointed an oversight committee made up of board members and some of the greatest business minds across the country,” Lewis stated. “As we’ve said from the beginning, there are endless possibilities, and we have vetted several dozen of those ideas with business analysis, research and data. From museum experts to experts on what it would take to run a golf course and events or retreat center, we’ve heard them all, and we’ve vetted them all. Our board has decided that the best way to maximize this asset is to proceed with the sale. While there are still endless possibilities, let those with that expertise explore those possibilities, and in terms of our mission, we feel like this will get us closer to achieving all of our goals, including an endowment and proceeding with a museum.”
To conduct the auction of Asherwood’s collectible antiques, artwork and personal property, the Songbook Foundation has retained Guernsey’s, a New York-based auction house that has managed sales of items associated with such figures as John F. Kennedy, Princess Diana and Elvis Presley. The unreserved auction will offer approximately 1,200 lots for sale, including hundreds of pieces of antique and custom furniture, décor items, works of art, imported rugs and many smaller objects, most in pristine condition, from the estate’s 50,000-sq. ft. main house and other buildings. A separate section of the event will be devoted to Asherwood’s library of antique books.
For more than 40 years, Guernsey’s, founded by Arlan Ettinger, has represented many of the nation’s most prominent museums and has built a reputation for producing the most compelling auctions imaginable. Ettinger was born in the Midwest and is a graduate of the University of Illinois. As a young man, he began his career in New York City in the field of advertising.
“My family had moved to New York when I was a young kid,” Ettinger shared. “I got a degree in marketing and went into the world of advertising. I didn’t find it really satisfying, but I became intrigued by the concept of auctioning things and saw that I might be able to apply marketing to the auction process in a way that it hadn’t been done before. I left advertising and started Guernsey’s, and here we are 40 years later.”
Over the years, Guernsey’s has produced many of the world’s most interesting auctions and the world’s largest – the contents of the ocean liner, the SS United States.
“In all likelihood, there will be around 1,200 auction lots,” Ettinger said. “I can’t overemphasize the importance of the fact that this is an unreserved auction. People will see pictures of this beautiful place and think, ‘Gee, whatever is going to get sold will be too rich for my blood, so I’m not bothering coming.’ They should understand that auctions are unpredictable events, and anything goes, so you don’t want to be the person that says, ‘I didn’t go to that sale.’ This [Asherwood Auction] is never going to happen again. While it is a local event being held in Carmel, at the same time, it is a global event. It is a world-class auction. This is a big deal.”
The public is invited to visit the property and see the auction items during previews scheduled 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 10, 11 and 16. The auction itself will begin at 11 a.m. Nov. 17 and 12 noon Nov. 18 with global online bidding taking place at liveauctioneers.com and invaluable.com. Tickets for the previews and the auction will be $25, available through The Center for the Performing Arts Box Office at 317-843-3800 or TheCenterPresents.org. More information on the auction is available at guernseys.com.