Dick Scaife found peace in the beauty of his childhood home, Penguin Court

Eric Heyl
| Saturday, July 5, 2014, 9:47 p.m.

No matter how distant the locales he traveled, Dick Scaife kept returning to the comfort of his tranquil childhood surroundings.

Nestled in the heart of the Ligonier Valley, Penguin Court wasn't just the place where Scaife was raised. To him, it was the place with the irresistible pull, the place where his hands could work the soil, the place where he indulged his lifelong love of flowers.

“Flowers really were his passion,” said Kevin Guerrier, Penguin Court's horticulturalist since 1993. “When he'd come to Ligonier on Friday for the weekend, he'd see the fresh-cut flowers there and ask if they came out of the soil on his property. When you told him they did, he smiled like a little boy. That warmed his heart.”

Penguin Court was a sprawling mansion where notables such as Time magazine co-founder Henry Luce used to visit Scaife's father, Alan. The 50-room home got its name from 10 penguins that roamed the grounds. His mother, Sarah, bought the birds during a national craze over the exploits of Antarctic explorer Richard Byrd.

In 1961, Scaife built his own Ligonier estate, Vallamont, and had the old home demolished after his parents died.

But on the Penguin Court property, he maintained the estate's 120-foot-long greenhouse. In the 1990s, a three-wing conservatory was added to increase his supply of fresh flowers — common and exotic.

“I have been active in horticulture for years, flora of all kinds,” he wrote in his 2009 memoir, A Richly Conservative Life. “There are extensive outdoor plantings at Penguin Court, as well as under glass. And to augment the blooms we raise, I bet I am the largest customer of Pittsburgh Cut Flower Company and a similar supplier in Greensburg.”

In the fall, Scaife would start bulbs or seeds there in a pot or in a cold frame — amaryllis, hyacinth, gladiolus, zinnia, chrysanthemums in the fall. “About January, shoots come up and they're moved into the greenhouse, which is four or five times larger, to be kept until they can be displayed in the house or left outdoors,” he wrote.

Guerrier said Scaife developed his love of flowers from his mother. Among his favorites were hyacinths, snapdragons, salpiglossis, delphiniums, gladiolas, zinnas, sweet peas and red roses.

Debbie Evans, who worked for Scaife for 14 years and maintains the conservatory, said the orchid room usually was his first stop when he visited the building. “He just loved orchids,” she said.

Although the Penguin Court mansion was razed in 1966, remnants of the estate remain. Two cobblestone driveways are intact, various statues adorn the property and the swimming pool changing rooms are intact.

“There's also a patio area where he would come and just sit for hours and look down at the valley,” Evans said.

Evans said Scaife also liked to spend time at a pond on the property.

“He'd go down there and spend time looking at the ducks, calling them over and feeding them,” Evans said.

In his memoir, Scaife stated that he found visits to his childhood surroundings restoring to his soul.

“Anytime I'm up in Ligonier, it keeps coming back to me what a beautiful property Penguin Court is,” he wrote. “Just a gorgeous part of the world.”

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