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The Mansions



THE MANSIONS OF EAST WISCONSIN AVENUE




The Kimberly Double House

The Kimberly Double House was built as a duplex in 1849 for John Robbins Kimberly and his brother Harvey Latimer Kimberly, originally of Troy, New York. Shown here in the 1890s, the Double House was considerably smaller in its original incarnation, being only two stories in the center portion, and with no imposing portico or flanking verandahs. It was nevertheless the most imposing residence in town, suitable for two borthers who possessed a full two-thirds of the village's capital wealth in 1850. Built on what was then considered the outskirts of town, the brothers were not compatible neighbors and disagreed vehemently over the Civil War and Harvey's second marriage - even as an elderly widower  - to his first cousin. Harvey and the blushing bride soon after left Neenah for New York City.





The J. Alfred Kimberly House

Constructed in 1874 next door to the Double House, the contractors underestimated the amount of Milwaukee Creme City brick needed to build this house and ran out three-quarters of the way through. Instead of ordering more, J. A. Kimberly ordered the job completed with local common brick and then had the residence painted a pale yellow to hide the discrepancy. Mrs. Kimberly always thought of the house as unsuitable, even when it was greatly expanded in the early 1900s. She was far more satisfied with Kimberly-Crest, their retirement home in Redlands, California. Even so the Neenah house remained in the family and is believed by many to have inspired the fictional Barney Glasgow home in "Come And Get It," the 1935 novel by Edna Ferber. Kimberly's grandson Jimmy Kimberly subsequently entertained Ginger Rogers, Sonja Hennie and Betty Hutton at this house. The tower was later removed above the roofline at an unknown date, and the property subdivided in the 1960s.





The Charles W. Howard House

Built in 1894 and designed by William Waters, the house C. W. Howard built was a giant order bungalow constructed nearly thirty years before the style would sweep the nation in the same way Queen Anne designs had some twenty years earlier. Howard was the grandfather of Hollywood film legend Howard Hawks, and is reputed to have told his grandson the story of a barroom brawl in which he had thrown serving trays like frisbees at his opponents. The story was one of those Hawks included in the film version of "Come And Get It," which infuriated author Edna Ferber enough to get him fired as the film's director.





The John R. Davis Sr. House

Paper manufacturer John R. Davis built this house in 1886 from designs by William Waters. It was an approximate copy of a house built near Butte des Morts Wisconsin that later became the summer home of Madcap Merry Fahrney, heir to a Chicago patent medicine fortune that financed her through eight marriages, including one to designer Oleg Cassini.  While neither wild nor madcap, the Davis nevertheless met with numerous hardships and tragedies. Belle Davis, shown here with her grandmother shortly after the house was built, died young, and two other granddaughters who later lived here with their parents committed suicide. When a great-granddaughter took took occupancy in the 1940s she had the house number changed from 413 to 415 E. Wisconsin Avenue.





The Frank W. Hawks House

After living briefly in his hometown of Goshen, Indiana, Frank Hawks brought his wife and children to live in Neenah, then in 1904 to this house, two doors up from Helen's father, C. W. Howard, for whom their eldest son, Howard Hawks, was named. Helen's health, however, was not very good, so after only a couple of years they moved out to live in Pasadena. There they built a home designed by the renowned architectural firm of Greene & Greene, whose Arts and Crafts masterwork, the Gamble House, was only a few doors away. Hawks père had a taste for good architecture.





The John Stevens House

Two doors west of our house, the porch on the left was the scene of Jessica Stevens' 1901 wedding photo at the top of this page. Her father, John R. Stevens, retired at age 40 and was reputed to have sat out on that very same porch in the morning to wave at his neighbors as they went off to work. When he wasn't out on his steam yacht or riding one of his Kentucky thoroughbreads, Stevens might be enjoying the bowling alley he had in the basement. Maintenance of the house, however, was not a big concern for him (note in the wedding photo how some of the slate shingles are missing). While the house was demolished sometime before my parents visited in 1941, the basement and its bowling alley were still visible for some years after that.





The Henry Sherry House

The next house west of our home and completed the same year as ours. Henry Sherry's lumber interests extended all across the state of Wisconsin, as it turned out, financed in large part by investors who became victims of what we would call a Ponzi Scheme. When Sherry declared bankruptcy in the early 1890s, the losses were in excess of $1,000,000, which in today's dollars might be estimated at as much as a quarter to half a billion dollars. When news got out, next-door-neighbor John Stevens told Sherry's son Ed that creditors would soon be taking the house, which never happened. Unlike their counterparts today, Sherry and his son spent the rest of their lives making good on all their debts.





The Havilah Babcock House

Shown here with the builder, his children and their nurse shortly after moving in, this house was my great-grandfather's proudest achievement.  Never particularly interested in the manufacture of paper, he had looked after his joint investments with J. Alfred Kimberly until those needed to be sold to fund further expansion of Kimberly, Clark & Co. At that point he purchased this land, hired William Waters as architect and supervised the construction from 1880 to 1883. He then spent the next ten years perfecting the interior decoration which his children left largely undisturbed, making it one of the most intact examples of late 19th century interior design in the United States.





The Franklyn C. Shattuck House

Yet another towered design by William Waters, the F. C. Shattuck replaced this house in 1893 with a Georgian Revival design produced by the Milwaukee firm of Ferry & Clas. When construction began, this house was moved down the street where in the 1920s its materials were salvaged to build a more modest cottage style home that nevertheless utilized the gasolier on the newel post of the new staircase. The new Shattuck home built in its place was to have a ballroom on the third floor, but given the economy at the time Shattuck told his children it would only be built if a Republican was elected president. Democrat Grover Cleveland won the White House that year, and the Shattuck children got their ballroom anyway.







The Charles B. Clark House

The Charles B. Clark House was designed shortly before his death in 1891 by the firm of Ferry & Clas, Architects for the Capt. Fredrick Pabst mansion in Milwaukee. Completed in 1894, the building was undertaken by his daughter Theda, who served as construction manager while still only in her early 20s. The house was a tangible link to her beloved father, but its austere grandeur never suited her or anyone else in her family. Upon the death of Mrs. Clark it was sold to Nathan Bergstrom, who had the dull looking dining room light fixtures taken to the dump and replaced, after which he learned that the originals were silver and only in need of polishing.







The Harvey L. Kimberly House

Harvey Kimberly built this house in the early 1870s upon his return from New York City. The first to locate opposite the newly purchase Riverside Park, it was nevertheless considered recklessly remote from the rest of the town. Upon his death 1881, Harvey's son D. L. Kimberly sold the contents at auction but was unable to unload the house itself, forcing him to take occupancy and put his own more centrally located home up for sale.  It is seen here about 1889 with his wife Nettie and daughter Mabel out in front. Three years later D. L. Kimberly died in this house after being paralyzed in a train wreck out west in the state of Oregon. It was demolished in 1928 by D. L. Kimberly Jr. who in 1929 had to put the very elegant Tudor Period house he built up for rent because he could not afford to live in it.






The George O. Bergstrom House

George and his brother D. W. Bergstrom had made a sufficient success of the Bergstrom Brothers Stove Works by the 1890s that they were able to have William Waters design each of them a substantial house. Their wives, however, were not on speaking terms, so the houses had to be built at opposite ends of town. George's house was the more modest of the two, but it was nevertheless distinguished from other homes in the neighorhood by having not one but two towers. And while D. W. Bergstrom's children made the transition into paper milling, it was George's son Edwin who became a nationally recognized architect and was tapped in 1941 to design the Pentagon, the world's largest office building. 





The C. B. Clark Jr. House

Instead of living in the family home built by his sister Theda, C. B. Clark Jr. (aka "Bill" Clark) opted to build this Colonial Period Revival house in 1926 just up the street on a four acre estate overlooking Lake Winnebago. Previously elected to public office like his father before him, Bill had campaigned on and succeeded at closing down the city's whore houses and gambling dens, which at one time were so notorious that national temperance leader Carrie Nation catagorized Neenah as "a wide open town." Bill Clark was also not afraid to break ranks for what he believed, going so far as to sue the leadership of Kimberly-Clark for underestimating the company's value at the time of his father's death, when Bill was still a minor. The suit was quietly settled out of court.





The A. C. Gilbert House

Designed by Childs & Smith of Chicago, this evocative English "cottage" was built in 1918 for Gilbert Paper Co. president Al Gilbert and his wife, the former Mabel Kimberly (the little girl in the Harvey L. Kimberly House photo). It is reputed to have originally been fitted with a thatch roof, which proved unsuited to Wisconsin winters. Whether true or local mythology, this roof is nevertheless an important reflection of the way of life Neenah industry could sustain. The curved wood shingles show here were recently replaced by the current owner using an entire second set of curved shingles, kept as a back-up and stored in the basement when the house was sold.








The John N. Bergstrom House

John Bergstrom and his wife Evangeline built this Tudor Period Revival house shortly after the stock market crash in 1930. As president of Bergstrom Paper Co. he maintained full employment - albeit at reduced hours - through out the Great Depression, earning him the respect of his employees, and of his peers in the paper industry who modeled their own response to the economic crisis after Bergstrom's. A childless marriage, Bergstrom left the house to the city to serve as a museum, and when his wife died she left the museum - with no small degree of irony - her collection of glass paperweights.






The Edward D. Beals House

This informal but imposing house is one of the masterworks of Milwaukee architect Alexander Eschweiler. Constructed in 1911 for Beals and his wife, Kimberly-Clark heiress Vina Shattuck, the Arts and Crafts house was modeled after the work of famed British architect C. F. A. Vosey, with even the waterfront site replicating the settings of Vosey homes in Britain's Lake District. Beals, a founder of Hardwood Product Co., died at age 46 in 1928 and was buried in his family's plot at Boston's Mount Auburn Cemetery, in such august company as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Winslow Homer, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to name only a few. He was possibly the only Neenah industrialist to opt out of spending eternity as he had spent his life - surrounded by neighbors in Oak Hill Cemetery. 




THE MANSIONS OF EAST FOREST AVENUE




The Judge J. C. Kerwin House

Descended of an Irish laborer who worked on digging the locks and canals of the Fox-Wisconsin waterway, James Kerwin became a much respected attorney who achieved a statewide reputation for his defense of private property in a suit brought against the unestablished right of utilities to use the public right-of-way for the indiscriminate installation of telephone poles. Appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1903, Kerwin's daughter Julia married C. B. Clark Jr., while daughter Grace married John Sensenbrenner. While Grace's marriage was far from successful (it ended in divorce, with her husband subsequently marrying one of the Smith girls up the street), she is the grandmother of  Fifth District Congressman James Sensenbrenner.






The George Whiting House

George Whiting built this 17-room mansion in 1898 for his wife, the former Edna Babcock, and their adopted son Frank. At the time it was widely believed that Frank was Whiting's illegitimate child, a rumor so pervasive that whenever any Neenah industrialist adopted it was immediately assumed that adoptee was man's own progeny. In reality, Frank Whiting was the offspring of his adoptive mother's unwed cousin. Particular about every aspect of the property's maintenance, the trees were placed in the care of the Davey Tree Company of Ohio, which featured the results of their work here in a national ad campaign. Widowed in 1909 and married two more times before his own death in 1930, the house remained in the family until 1957 when his grandson, George Whiting II, had it demolished, asserting that it was too costly for anyone to maintain and keep in good repair.








The Frank Whiting House

Shown here in 1925 with his daughters out on the lawn, Frank Whiting purchased this 1885 house - just up the street from his father - after his marriage to Bessie Rogers, who died two years after this picture was taken at age 43. Three years later Whiting came into a $3 million inheritance from his father. He continued to live here with two subsequent wives, expanding his boathouse at a cost of $100,000 instead of returning to his father's home or building something more substantial for himself. His daughters eventually married and left the area, and when Frank died in 1957 his third wife, the former Broadway ingenue Merle Stevens, also left the house but continued to make the area her home for another 35 years. 






The Whiting Preserve

Where most of his East Forest Avenue neighbors constructed tennis courts or swimming pools, Frank Whiting, a conservationist like his father, built a nature preserve in his back yard, complete with deer, geese, and for a time a small black bear that at one point escaped and terrorized the neighborhood. Whiting was nevertheless an avid tennis player, sponsoring Western Hard-Court Tournament matches (precursers of the U.S. Open) at the Doty Island Tennis Club with the likes of Pancho Gonzales, Bobby Riggs, Frank Parker and Dorothy Cheney. Whiting was also a pioneer in the development of commercial aviation, constructing the Whiting Air Field in Menasha and promoting charter air service with Milwaukee and Chicago. As for Whiting's preserve, only the stone outline of the gardens remain.






The Henry S. Smith House

While exceedingly modest by local standards, the home built in 1892 by Menasha Wooden Ware scion Henry Smith would grow by leaps and bounds, in steep competition with his brother's house next door. A manageable size in its original incarnation by William Waters, the house was increased from a healthy 3,000 square feet to a morbidly obese 12,000 by the turn of the century. Including a succession of ever larger conservatories, a third story to the tower, and an increasing number of redundant reception rooms and sleeping chambers, the additions were not very well thought out or conceived. Closets contained leaded exterior windows that were simply left in place and covered over with lath and plaster. The stained glass windows on the front hall landing met with a similar fate, becoming so enshrouded that only one of the three panels caught any sun light, and then only for an hour or so in the late afternoon. The disorder might have explained why the Smiths ultimately divorced, except that at the time the couple were in their 70s and Henry's wife Ella remained in the house until her death, the house decaying around her at a much slower rate than its occupant. Converted to a guest house by Marathon Corp., the third floor ballroom was converted into four conference rooms.





The Charles R. Smith House

When Princeton educated Charles Smith took control of Menasha Wooden Ware Co., he turned the struggling container company into one of the world's largest manufacturers of tubs, barrels and other shipping products. The company's operations on the Menasha side of Doty Island were the largest in the state, occupying more than 100 acres and employing more than 1,000 men, women and children - the equivalent of nearly 20 percent of the Menasha population. Greatly enlarged under the direction of Smith's second wife (the scandalously divorced Isabelle Rogers), the principal rooms were ultimately decorated by Louis Comfort Tiffany of New York in the style of Louis XVI - and featured in an ad by Steinway for the custom grand that company provided. Inherited in 1916 by his daughter Sylvia, the costly decor installed by her step-mother was shortly thereafter ripped out. She also chopped off - with some possible symbolic irony - the third floor of her father's tower. After Sylvia's death the house was for a time targeted for redevelopment as a nursing home.






The Charles R. Smith Carriage House

Like the additions to the house and the Tiffany interior decoration, the second Mrs. Smith was presented with the city's largest carriage house, complete with what was then the ultimate luxury of Neenah's only known enclosed (and monogrammed) brougham carriage, now on display at historic Stonefield. The carriage house also had the unusual distinction of including party rooms rooms, in which the Smiths hosted several gala dances, in spite of the redolent aroma of leather, hay, and manure. Under the regime of Smith's athletic daughter Sylvia, the rooms were converted first into a squash court and later into the first classrooms of the private and very progressive Winnebago Day School. The barn burned to the ground in the 1970s and later replaced by subsequent owners with a very creditable reconstruction.







The Alexander Syme House


While supremely isolated at its completion in 1882 - and exceptional as the work of Milwaukee's Edward Townsend Mix - the Alexander Syme house was nevertheless fully integrated into the local pattern of life. Mrs. Syme, the former Mary Hewitt, was the aunt of Charles R. Smith's first wife, Jennie Matheson (the Symes' next door neighbor), and sister-in-law of George Whiting's second wife, the widow of her brother William Hewitt (who lived briefly up the street towards town during her ill-fated marriage to Whiting). Mrs. Syme was also the aunt of Mrs. D. L. Kimberly, the former Nettie Hewitt, on East Wisconsin Avenue. Bringing these relations full circle, Mrs. Syme's grand-niece, Mrs. Kimberly's daughter Mabel, became the wife of Albert C. Gilbert, who grew up in this house after its acquisition by his grandfather William Gilbert Sr.   






The A. C. Gilbert House


Yet another William Waters towered residence (this tower octagonal and obscured by the tree in this photo), it was built in 1904 by Albert M. Gilbert, just two doors down from his father William Gilbert Sr., and around the corner from his brother Theodore Gilbert, whose home was directly behind their father's on Ninth Street. Albert's occupancy of this house was perhaps the most short-lived of any Neenah industrialist, dying at age 50 only three years after moving in. It was then sold by his widow to former mayor E. J. Lachmann, who parlayed his flour milling interests - last on the Neenah waterpower - into banking and investments, all just in time to see them both wiped out by the Great Depression. It was thereafter sold - undoubtedly at a very good price - by another banker, Sam Pickard, who inexplicably removed the porch roof as well as the twin dormers.







The Ernst Mahler House


Begun as a fairly unpretentious home in 1921, Ernst Mahler enlarged this house three times within fifteen years as the value of his patented cellucotton - used in products that would make Kimberly-Clark a household name - went global. A native of Vienna, Mahler brought his creped wadding process to America with a vision of the demand that World War I carnage would create for disposable field dressing and gas mask liners - what later became Kotex and Kleenex.  In addition to the home in Neenah, Mahler maintained a residence in Tryon, North Carolina, where he indulged a passion for horses, serving as Master of the Hounds of the Tyron Hounds fox hunting club, and vice president of the American Horse Show Association United States Olympic Equestrian Team. His own stable of horses were moved seasonally between Neenah and Tryon, at both locales maintained in air conditioned comfort.



THE WHITING BOATHOUSE




The Entryway

After completion of a basic boathouse in 1932, Whiting embarked on a significant upgrade of the boathouse and his East Forest Avenue home, largely with the encouragement of this third wife, Merle Stevens. In 1939 new party rooms were added to make entertaining there a simple affair (up until then the boat slips had been boarded over to create room for dancing). As this entryway indicates, no expense was spared in the construction. Seaworthy lanterns light the way, and stone planters, carved in the shape of rowboats, flank the front door.






The Party Rooms

The windows in the party rooms at the northern end of the boathouse were decorated with drapes made of fishnets hung from oars, while the chandeliers were made out of ship helms. Stained glass panels in each window depicted fishing, sailing and speedboating, while the custom screen door at the front entrance featured Whiting's boat, the Nauti-Gal  in bronze. Upon its completion, the boathouse became the centerpiece of Neenah's  participation in the regattas held here by the Inland Lakes Yachting Association, an event that attracted competitive yachtsmen from around the midwest, including Pillsburys from Minneapolis and Milwaukee Pabsts.






The 1946 Addition

The final addition to the boathouse was necessitated when Whiting replace his 42-foot Nauti-Gal with a 57-foot version that year. To facilitate the higher slip, a second floor was constructed, the void being filed with an apartment for the skipper, the rooftop piazza simply being moved up a floor. Both boats provided by the Burger Boat Co. of Manitowoc, the name Nauti-Gal was mostly likely an intentional dig at S. F. Shattuck's more pontical Burger boat, the Pilgrim, which seldom sailed beyond the confines of Lake Winnebago. The joke, however, was apparently unappreicated.  When Shattuck published his "History of Neenah" in 1958, no mention was made that at his death Whiting gave both the boathouse and the Nauti-gal to the city, one to provide the community with a social gathering place, the other to outfit the police department with a rescue boat - the only one on the entirety of Lake Winnebago.






11 comments:

  1. Wow! I saw our backyard. That was great and such great info to relive. Thanks for sharing! The backyard I grew up in is the rock garden/pond. Really neat to see!

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    1. It's a fun picture. I wish there were more. Be sure and check out the Whiting Boathouse pictures in the Good Life Album. I haven't got them all identified yet, but I think you'll recognize them.

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  2. We enjoyed seeing the photo of "The Whiting Preserve" as that was our backyard for almost 40 years (1969-2007). Our 3 children (one of whom has already made a comment) really enjoyed the park-like setting which enabled them to have many games of football and to have a swing in the beautiful oak tree, which is still there.

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    1. Was there any of the garden features intact when you moved there? I suspect most of it was gone by then.

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  3. Your family's home has always been one of my favorites! I was raised in Neenah, livered there until my marriage in 1974. Our son now lives in my husbands modest family home on South Park Ave. Having grown up on Doty Island, school friends lived in a few of the houses on Forest Ave. Attended several events in the Party rooms of Whiting boathouse. So neet to see early pictures of these homes. Thank You! Bev Bishop Marsh

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  4. Hello, Does anyone have a photo of the estate that once sat on the point on Davis Point, now known as Limekiln Drive in Neenah, Wis.

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    1. In the early 2000's, the over 10,000 square foot Kimberly estate (which sat on Davis Point) was bought and was burned down for a tax break. Now a massive east coast styled mansion sits on Davis Point.

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  5. Outstanding blog! Great content and structure.
    In 1954 our family moved to Neenah from Niagara Falls, NY. My father worked for KC and we rented the west half of the Kimberly double house from J.C. Kimberly for six months before moving to Congress Place. An ederly Kimberly woman lived in the east half. Jimmy Kimberly lived east of the double house and his father J.C. lived east of Jimmy. I was 8 years old an was not afraid to check out the neighborhood. I remember Jimmy Kimberly's boathouse/garage. He was into sports car racing and had two Ferrari racing cars in the garage. My father would pilot J.C.'s Christ Craft on weekends when J.C. would want to watch the sail boat races of the Neenah-Nodaway Yacht Club. His boat was very modest compared to others owned by the paper magnates in Neenah.
    Robert Perry

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    1. Robert - If you mean Jim Kimberly's 1941 Chris Craft Challenger, CURLEW, it is afloat and resides in New Harbor. I've owned it for the past 8 years and would be curious to know any other info you have about it.

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    2. I remember Chris Craft rides, but can't remember who or why?This website is incredible. Thank you very much for all this hard work and research and you sharing these memories. Having been born there, and my father had been involved for 40 years of his life. at Gilbert Paper..I never learned anything about the history of all those homes on Forest and Wisconsin Avenues. Now I am learning. I am not sure if my parents knew. Reading all these accounts trigger old memories of those days of safe neighborhoods and simpler lives.
      I know there are more mansions, I was in a few of them in my early life.
      . I was born at Theda Clarke and raised on 11th street, and along with the original 'gang of five' and ruled the 'hood' from 9th to Park Avenue, and Forest Avenue to Nicolet Blvd. We used to play in all the huge yards and bushes of these places. (big smile).

      >>Hi Robert P.
      This is a mystery man from, our class 64,Neenah Thanks for all your time for the reunions.

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  6. Mr. Vesey, it was moored in a protected cove off Lake Winnebago, presumably near the Kimberly residence, into the 1980s. My father worked for Kimberly Clark briefly beginning in 1955 in Wisconsin and met my mother in Menasha, which is the sister city to Neenah. He was invited onto the yacht by the Kimberly family and the story Robert Perry tells is very similar to what my father talks about from time to time, complaining that he had to go over to the house and watch home movies of "Ferraris going around in circles" and "the old man" being "giddy" about being on the yacht to touch off a cannon to start the sail boat races. Ironically, my dad hated doing these things on his free time and felt it was just necessary office politics. However, later in life he always had boats-- runabouts with outboard motors nothing fancy-- and we took ours to Wisconsin every summer on a trailer and put into the Fox River when visiting my grandparents. We always idled back along where that Chris Craft was and my dad would say he was aboard her 30, 35, 40 years ago, and at the house watching Ferraris run around in circles. I have to think he was a little wistful about her and what could have been had he stayed at the company. She became a little more run down every summer we saw her, increasingly with Fox River algae staining her hull along the water line, and it seemed it was a shame for such a graceful lady to be neglected like that. It makes sense, though, because she was already well over 40 years old when she disappeared from her typically mooring off Lake Winnebago. The family could afford to get something far newer, I suppose. Anyway, I'm glad you've assumed stewardship of her. I understand she was recovered from a partial capsizing and fully restored.

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