Friday, February 7, 2014

'Beechwood' Evolves!

Sketches of Larry Ellison's plan for 'Beechwood'.

'Beechwood' today, currently in the process of exterior and interior

It was big news in 2010, when Oracle billionaire Lawrence Ellison purchased the deeds to the Astor family cottage in Newport, Rhode Island, 'Beechwood'. It shocked everyone even more, when he announced plans to turn the residence into a museum, and purchase the original acreage to the property and restore both the house and the gardens. The new estate would serve as a museum to Ellison's art collection, which would adorn the walls of the manor house.

Originally built by Andrew Downing and Calvert Vaux for merchant Daniel Parrish, 'Beechwood' was later purchased by William Backhouse Astor Jr., the grandson of America's first millionaire John Jacob Astor, for his wife, Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, known officially as THE "Mrs. Astor". Mrs. Astor was renown as queen of New York City society, keeping the outsiders out and the insiders in with her list of socially acceptable New York families, known as the "400". It was her so-called "court jester" Ward McAllister, the man who wrote the "400", who led her to Newport, describing it as practically a "gated-community". Since 'Beechwood' possessed no ballroom, renovation had to be made. Mrs. Astor commissioned her friend and fellow Newport neighbor, architect Richard Morris Hunt, to oversee the renovations. A few months later, 'Beechwood' was ready for occupation, and Mrs. Astor moved in. Very soon, 'Beechwood' became the new scene of the "400", and Newport where they flocked every summer to escape the New York heat. Mrs. Astor held the grandest entertainments in her Newport ballroom, which featured wall scones designed with nymphs and Poseidon. The Astor's Summer Ball was the official opening of the Newport summer social season, and invitation to such event was highly sought after, something which could make or break one's social standing. With Mrs. Astor's failing health in 1907, 'Beechwood' saw less and less entertainments, the events there becoming more family related. Mrs. Astor's son, John IV also summered at the cottage with his mother, and frequently used the home as an escape from his domineering wife, Ava. Mrs. Astor died in 1908, and left the home to her only son, who quickly turned around and divorced his wife, later marrying a Bar Harbor socialite named Madeleine Force, who was 18 to his 47 years. It was a scandalous marriage, held in the ballroom at 'Beechwood'. The Astors fled to Europe to escape gossip, and shortly after returned with news that Madeleine was pregnant with Astor's third child, John VI. Astor had two other children from his marriage with Ava, Vincent and Ava. 

On their return trip home, the Astors booked passage on the newly complete Titanic as the richest passengers onboard. The Titanic sunk days into it's maiden voyage on April 15, 1912. Madeleine escaped the ship in one of the few lifeboats onboard. John, however, like most of the men onboard, perished. In his will, John left 'Beechwood' and a $5 million trust fund to Madeleine, so long as she did not remarry. He also left a $3 million trust fund to his unborn son, to be received at the age of 21. Madeleine continued to use 'Beechwood' during the summers, and was known as a big-spender, turning the entire third-floor of 'Beechwood' into her own walk-in closet. She eventually remarried, and relinquished use of the estate to Vincent, who sold the estate again to a Count and Countess. In the 1960's, 'Beechwood' became home to Palm Beachers Mr. and Mrs. James Clark, whose beagle William was known in Florida as "the mayor". The Clarks closed down seventeen of the forty-eight rooms and summered there seasonally. After Mrs. Clark's death in 1980's, the home was sold again, and later made into a living-history museum, known as "The Astor's Beechwood", which featured actors dressed in period costume and pretending to be Astor family members before the Titanic. The company operated the home until it's purchase from Ellison.

To read more information on the restoration currently going on a 'Beechwood', please click HERE

If you are interested in the Newport "cottages", such as 'Beechwood', please visit my Facebook group, "Newport ~ Queen of Resorts" by clicking HERE, and please ask to join. With almost 400 members, we can so be called the Newport "400"! 

Also, please show your support and visit Gilded Age Era's Facebook page, by clicking HERE, and please give us a like in support! 

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  1. I used to love visiting Beechwood. The living history tours were so much fun! Who doesn't want to be a Gilded Age Society person for the day? I learned a lot and had fun while doing it. The ballroom was to-die-for!

  2. Sadly, I'm told that the entire interior including the Richard Morris Hunt designed ballroom has been gutted and disposed of.

    1. I hope somebody saved the ballroom at least!!!!


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