Saturday, January 19, 2013

Clarendon Court, Poor Sunny's Newport "Cottage"

Probably one of Newport's most infamous "White Elephants", Clarendon Court, which was recently for sale, remains mostly intact in a time when most Newport estates are subdivided. The home was built in 1903 by Horace Trumbauer for Edward C Knight, who named the estate Claradon Court after his beloved wife Clara, who died in 1928. 

Floor Plan

Following her death, Knight moved to a much less elaborate Trumbauer estate, Stonybrook, in nearby Middletown RI. He sold the estate Mae Cadwell Hayward of New York, formerly the wife of Morton F. Plant. 

Mrs Hayward's Mansion in New York City, Built By Her and Morton, Which Was Across The Street From The Mansion of Her Friend, Grace Vanderbilt

Mae's changes to the house were limited. She changed the name of the home from Claradon Court to Clarendon Court. Probably the biggest renovation she made was the conversion of the service rooms (kitchen, servant's dining room and laundry room) into a large art gallery to house her expansive collection. She moved the service rooms to the basement. 

The New Floor Plan

Mae continued to summer in the home until her death in the 1950's. Her widower, now John E. Rovensky, inherited Clarendon Court and the NYC residence, along with half of her now small estate of $4 million. On his death 20 years later, his daughter sold the still shimmering mansion to  utilities heiress Sunny Crawford Von Bulow, whose parents summered at Champ Soleil. Sunny, then with a net worth of $75 million, bought the home for her and her husband, Claus Von Bulow, who would later be accused of trying to murder his wife. 

Sunny Was The Perfect Image of a Newport Socialite, Wealthy, Good Looking, Blonde, Fashionable and Blue Blooded 

News Photo: Claus Von Bulow twice tried for the attempted…
Claus Von Bulow Twice Tried For Attempting To Murder His Wife And Then Sued By His Step Children For $50 Million In Damages

Thanks to her mother's groundwork, Sunny and her family were able to enter Newport at the top of the social ladder. They were members of numerous clubs, including the Newport Reading Room and the Sprouting Rock Beach Association. Clarendon Court soon became the scene of numerous parties and events. Claus also served on the boards of The Preservation Society and Newport Casino. Though they seemed like a picture perfect family, the Von Bulows had deep deep-rooted problems, many of which would tear them apart. 

Clarendon Court Was About To Be The Scene of One Of Newport's Biggest Scandals, One Involving A Poor-Little-Rich-Girl Heiress and A Killer Husband

The story read like an early version of Fatal Vows. Claus, who had been forced by Sunny to quit his job and become a full time husband, was tired of being a "hired ornament" and wanted leave Sunny for his mistress, actress Alexandra Isles. But could he walk away from Sunny's immense fortune? Sunny told her children about her and Claus's problems and said she was fine with divorce, she had already done it once. Then, in 1979, while watching television with her husband, Sunny suddenly passed out while her seemingly unconcerned husband lay by her side. This odd behavior, aided by the fact that Claus failed to call for help, caused Sunny's personal maid, Maria, and Sunny's children, Ala and Alex, to wonder if Claus had his own murderous agenda. 

News Photo: Socialite Claus von Bulow sighted on June 23…
What Lengths Would An Estranged Husband Be Willing To Go To End His Marriage With His Wife And Still Get His Hands On Her Money

And then, one year later, Maria, Ala and Alex's worst fears were confirmed when Sunny slipped into a coma and never awoke. Ala and Alex persuaded New York attorney Richard H. Kuh to investigate and, after gathering evidence, presented his case to the judge. After a lengthy investigation, a Rhode Island grand jury delivered the words Claus Von Bulow never expected to hear "FINANCIER INDICTED ON CHARGE OF TRYING TWICE TO KILL WIFE". For months, Americans read about the real life soap opera: Sunny, the ultrawealthy wife; Claus the self absorbed husband who wanted a divorce; Ala and Alex; Sunny's pampered children with multiple trust funds; Cosima; Sunny and Claus's daughter who took dad's side and Maria; the devoted maid who went to the police with evidence of foul play. 

News Photo: Danish born British socialite Claus von Bulow walks…
Cosima Took Her Father's Side

All the while, Newport's cottagers were quick to decide which side they were on. Eileen Slocum and Candy Van Alen took Sunny's side, both being good friends with Sunny's mother, Annie Aitken, who was convinced, along with the rest of her family, that Claus had attempted to murder her daughter. Meanwhile on the side, Mrs John Nicholas Brown, Anne, took Claus's side, even announcing it at a dinner party. Most cottagers, though, were loyal to Sunny's family and thus believed Claus was a murderer. 

Clarendon Court Was Now A Mansion Of Scandal

Claus was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to 31 years, much to the glee of his step children and wife's maid. Claus demanded a retrial and he got one, though this time, they were held in Providence instead of Newport. Cottagers, who were enjoying the tourism, were devastated. The second trial found Claus not guilty and he walked free. As a result of her loyalty to her father, Cosima was disinherited by her grandmother. Claus told Annie that if she put Cosima back into her will that he would divorce Sunny (who was still in a coma) and not claim any of her money. Annie gave Cosima back her 1/3 of the estate and Claus left Sunny without a penny.  Sunny would last until 2008, dying a age 77.

News Photo: Daily News page 8 dated Dec 7 Headline…

Clarendon Court was sold to Glenn C. and Patricia Randall. When Mrs Randall died in 2010, their daughter put the mansion up for sale. It sold in 2012 and is now currently a private residence. 


  1. Hi Tyler,
    I loved reading this piece! Well written! :)

    RMP Property

  2. I don't feel sorry for Sunny strung out druggie scumbag von Bulow one stinking bit.

    She brought it on herself by being a strung out druggie.

    Junkies ALWAYS end up dead when they and the people around them refuse to accept reality. Why aren't people MORE surprised that she didn't OD sooner? Because a junkie with diabetes as severe as hers usually DOES die well before she did.

    1. you're a complete idiot with a response like that! Clearly you never followed the case, therefore without any facts either. This is a great website informative of history of this era-you need to go to

    2. Fully agree ....... but also add NASTY MINDED!

  3. Adrienne Bliss BrownAugust 2, 2015 at 9:04 AM

    What interests me is that the girlfriend(should it be legitimized as "mistress") of von Bulow was Alexandra von Moltke (dit Alexandra Isles of a once-TV show("Dark Shadows"), herself a descendant of an old New England family. Her mother was Cornelia Van Rennselear Thayer-- who married the Danish diplomat Count von Moltke. CvRT's grandfather was Joseph Warren Revere[with a connection to Morristown NJ], whose grandfather was Paul Revere, all of a family eventually littered with Bayards, Livingstons, Keans, etc. -- and including the noted NYC "decorator" Sister Parrish and the notorious DC hostess Susan Mary Alsop, mistress of both (Lord) Duff Cooper and allegedly Gladwynn Jebb, by which means she kept open to herself and her [van] Patten husband the doors of the British embassy in Paris, which gardens prolongue the gardens of the Cercle Inter-Alliées(le Cercle de l'Union Interalliées), rue du Faubourg St Honoré where I have been privileged to take lunch on occasion..

  4. Devastating story. Just goes to exemplify how money, in the long run, can ruin you. Having that much money, why ever get married?

  5. That is a huge problem you don't know if they love you for you or your money and when things go bad they always go for the money


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