A Historic Jewel - Not Preserved In Amber




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Jun 25, 2015
by Louise Hallman
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A Historic Jewel - Not Preserved In Amber

Chronicling the stewardship of Schloss Leopoldskron

Built by a Prince-Archbishop in 1736, and once home to Austrian theater impresario Max Reinhardt, Schloss Leopoldskron today is owned by Salzburg Global Seminar. As stewards of this magnificent estate, Salzburg Global and its supporters have invested time, money, and loving care in maintaining the Schloss, its accompanying Meierhof, and the surrounding 17-acre sculpture garden and park as an inspirational place where free inquiry and expression abide.

As Karl Lagerfeld strutted through the Venetian Room of Schloss Leopoldskron in December 2014 to unveil his Austrian-inspired Chanel collection for gathered fashionistas and press, it was a crowning moment on what had been a momentous year for Schloss Leopoldskron and its owner, Salzburg Global Seminar.

Since purchasing the 18th century palace over half a century ago, Salzburg Global Seminar has sought to renew and maintain the rococo splendor of this historic site, provide a unique environment for its international programs for transformative change, and generate revenue to support its mission: challenging current and future leaders to solve issues of global concern.

That a non-profit organization owns an opulent palace might at first seem incongruous. Indeed, upon its founding in 1947, there was no certainty there would be a second session, much less a permanent location. A serendipitous reunion on the New York subway between one of Salzburg Global’s three co-founders, Clemens Heller and Helene Thimig, widow of Austrian theater impresario Max Reinhardt, the Schloss’ pre-war owner, led to an offer of the palace’s use. Heller, like Reinhardt, had fled Austria with his family following the Nazi Anschluss of Austria in 1938. Inspired by the USA’s European Recovery Program named for Secretary of State George Marshall, Heller conceived a “Marshall Plan for the Mind.” Thimig, widowed while she and Reinhardt were living in exile, had no desire to take up residency again in Salzburg. Inspired by Heller’s passion, she loaned the Schloss for the first Salzburg Seminar in American Studies.

The organizers of that 1947 summer session arrived to find a Schloss in abandonment following its Nazi occupation during the Second World War. Neither indoor plumbing nor electric lights were working. Windows had been shattered, chandeliers destroyed, exterior stucco and interior walls riddled with holes when a bomb had landed in the Schloss Park.

To ready the Schloss for the arrival of 102 Fellows from 18 countries, window panes were sourced from Czechoslovakia, plumbing supplies from Italy, and scores of mattresses, iron cots, and tables from the Red Cross and from the occupying American army, together with food parcels from CARE in Switzerland. The majority of the Fellows slept together in one large dormitory in what is now the Robison Gallery on the top floor of the Schloss, with others taking up beds in what are now the Seminar Rooms named for the three visionary founders, Austrian Clemens Heller, and Americans, Scott Elledge and Richard “Dick” Campbell.

For the next 67 years there was steady improvement, room by room, brick by brick, as funds could be raised. Today, the Schloss, the neighboring Meierhof, and the surrounding gardens reflect much of their former glory.

The latest chapter in this ongoing story involves the Meierhof, which predates the Schloss and was once home of the surrounding farm, and then to the estate’s stables and servants’ quarters. After its purchase in 1973, the Meierhof underwent extensive renovation in 1988 which saw the creation of 55 individual guest rooms, a lecture hall, library and café, and later offices to house the staff.

By 2014, the hotel guest rooms were in need of a facelift to make them competitive with other conference facilities and to attract external guests and events when Salzburg Global programs were in adjournment. With financing supplied by an international consortium of 25 individual supporters, including members of Salzburg Global’s international board of directors and long-serving Salzburg Global Fellows, an extensive two-month renovation commenced in January 2014. Hallways were widened, new bathrooms added, bedrooms completely refurnished and wireless internet installed throughout, bringing the 17th century building firmly into the 21st century.

In a nod to history, the Meierhof’s modern bedrooms feature Schloss window shutters retrieved from the attic and recycled as attractive headboards, as well as exposed wooden beams, previously concealed by drop ceilings. Reflecting the building’s Hollywood connections as filming location for the Oscar-winning movie, the renovated Meierhof also includes three The Sound of Music themed rooms. The remodeled hallways are decorated with photos from Reinhardt’s theater and film productions. The refurbished café features photos from Salzburg Global’s seven-decade history – as well as locally produced beers, wines and spirits, and cakes freshly baked every day in the Schloss.

Since its official reopening in June 2014, the newly named “Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron,” which combines the 55 bedrooms of the Meierhof and the 12 suites of the Schloss, has won rave reviews and international awards, including “Best Historic Hotel of Europe Ambassador 2015.”

Daniel Szelényi joined Salzburg Global Seminar as Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron’s General Manager in June 2013 and has been a driving force behind its transformation. “From the moment I first walked through the wrought iron gates, I was mesmerized by the fascinating aura of Schloss Leopoldskron,” said Szelényi, “And leading the property through its transformation to become ‘Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron’ has been a wonderful and rewarding challenge.”

Speaking at the reopening celebration, Salzburg Global Seminar President Stephen L. Salyer said: “The commitment of those who love this place and believe in this organization’s work allows this historic jewel to maintain its luster, not preserved in amber but as a living, working space.”

The challenge of maintaining Schloss Leopoldskron’s historic heritage while operating as a “living, working space” has inspired another partnership crucial to the organization’s stewardship effort.

Funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, which focuses exclusively on the education and training of those who conserve 18th century European art, and thanks to the initiative of Salzburg Global Fellow Debbie Hess Norris of the University of Delaware, the Schloss Leopoldskron Conservation Assessment Program was launched in 2013. Assembling an outstanding team of graduate students from New York University and the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, Dr. Hannelore Roemich has led summer programs at Schloss Leopoldskron in 2013 and 2014. Her team has cataloged on-site art, furniture and architectural features, and advised on ways to conserve the Schloss’ heritage even as it operates as a hotel and world-leading strategic convener. As a result of the studies and related recommendations, Salzburg Global has established a collections management team which includes staff members from both the hotel and program sides of the organization.

After their first visit in 2013, Roemich and her team outlined several concerns, including excessive light levels that could produce severe damage to valuable prints and progressive damage from use of candles to the mirrored walls and ceiling of the Venetian Room – a Reinhardt creation and the inspiration for the ballroom set design in The Sound of Music.

Upon her return last summer, Roemich remarked on the progress made: “We are very proud that some of the easy, low-cost recommendations have been implemented such as restricting the policy for candles. Management is taking our work very seriously and this is a very positive aspect and is very encouraging for what we are doing.”

The Kress Foundation has renewed its partnership with Salzburg Global for 2015, with a third team of students arriving in July to complete remaining assessments, and to prepare restoration proposals to be shared with possible funding agencies and private donors.

In recent years, Salzburg Global has received support from the Austrian Federal Government for the restoration of the Schloss Park, including statuary installed by Max Reinhardt in the 1920s. In the intervening years, the park had become overgrown, hiding the manicured lawns and dozens of Baroque statues that defined its former glory. The presence of the statues raised the interest of the Austrian Federal Office for the Protection of Monuments. Since 2001, the agency has contributed a total of EUR 200,000 for the restoration of over half of the 50 statues uncovered in the 900m² garden. Additional investment has come from friends of Salzburg Global Seminar. Most recently, a crowdfunding project was launched to restore “Leo & Mo, ”the stone seahorses dating from Reinhardt’s time and made famous by the boat scene in The Sound of Music.

“Monuments tell stories,” said Ronald Gobiet, head of the Federal Office for the Protection of Monuments in Salzburg and long-time supporter of the project, at the 2012 unveiling of the statues on Austria’s national “Tag des Denkmals” – Monuments Day. Now, thanks to the ongoing efforts of Salzburg Global’s house and garden team, these sculptures, vases, fountains, and monuments will continue to share their stories.

Reinhardt’s elaborate garden plan also included an outdoor stage with orchestra pit, gallery and auditorium seating. More than 80 years after Reinhardt’s own opening night of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was called off due to heavy rain, the Schloss Park was again home to theater in 2014 with a summer-long staging of Lovers and Fools, scenes from Shakespearean plays, performed by actors from the Salzburger Landestheater (Salzburg State Theater). A sell-out success, unhindered by the changeable Salzburg weather, the production will return to the Schloss in the summer of 2015.

“Creativity underpins our heritage and the collaborations we inspire,” said Clare Shine, Salzburg Global Vice President and Chief Program Officer and former theater critic for the Financial Times. “This joyous Shakespeare in the Park production revealed the ‘power of place’ that so enchants our Fellows and guests. ‘Fairies’ took the audience on a magical promenade from comedy to tragedy, from a dripping Romeo charging out of the lake to an acrobatic lovers’ chase in the treetops. The ethereal beauty of madrigals sung by young Salzburg singers comes back to me every time I sit on the terrace.”

This connection to theater encouraged Karl Lagerfeld to select Schloss Leopoldskron for the Salzburg leg of his highly successful “Paris-Salzburg-New York 2014/15 Metiers d’Art collection” show. “I know Schloss Leopoldskron very well,” Lagerfeld said. “We took great photos here 26 years ago… For me, the Schloss belongs to the history of the German-language theater and culture between 1920 and 1938, together with Max Reinhardt. These things are very dear to my heart.” (Indeed, so dear is Schloss Leopoldskron to him that Lagerfeld had several elements of the palace recreated in New York for his later show.)

For the main show, held in Salzburg, the entire second floor of the palace was transformed into an unorthodox catwalk with models parading down the stairs to the Venetian Room and White Room, through the Marble Hall, to the Chinese Room and the Max Reinhardt Library. Chanel repaired and polished floors, repainted rooms, refitted soft furnishings and refixed details, hiding away 21st century additions such as power cables, radiators and WiFi hubs. (Their requests to repair the holes in the murals of the Chinese Room, long kept as a memory of the scars of war and the times of the origin of Salzburg Global Seminar, were however politely declined.)

Hotel General Manager Daniel Szelényi, who worked intimately with Chanel in the weeks leading to the show, said: “We were delighted that Chanel chose Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron as the location for its pre-Fall show.

“Working with Chanel was a tremendous pleasure and we are especially grateful for the detailed improvements they were able to deliver, which are lasting contributions to the transformation and stewardship of this beautiful building.”

Vice President Clare Shine, who was invited to the show along with Szelényi, added: “Reinhardt famously said that he had ‘lived every room, every table, every chair, every light, and every picture’ here at Schloss Leopoldskron. That Karl Lagerfeld has taken the same approach with his show is a great honor to Reinhardt.”

“This was an excellent year for Salzburg Global Seminar and Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron,” remarked President Stephen L. Salyer. “Our program each year inspires fresh thinking around urgent global issues, and provides a home away from home for more than 1000 Fellows from six continents, from college students to secretaries of state. With the renovation of our facilities, Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron offers a unique environment for this work, and also helps subsidize our non-profit programs.

“We take pride in our role as stewards of this historic place. As Salzburg Global Seminar approaches its 70th anniversary in 2017, we salute the staff, volunteers, and benefactors who make our preservation work possible. We look forward to sustaining Schloss Leopoldskron and to inspiring rising world leaders for generations to come.” 

Download the Salzburg Global Chronicle 2015 in full (PDF)