Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"Beacon Hill House", The Newport Cottage Of Arthur Curtiss James

"Beacon Hill House" is one of the more odd cottages in Newport RI. Built in 1909 for millionaire railroad magnate Arthur Curtiss James and his wife, Harriet, on the site of a previous home. Sitting atop  the tallest hill on Aquidneck Island, it occupied one of the best spots in all of Newport, with sweeping views of the ocean and the magnificent gardens.

 Arthur Curtiss James Was A Quiet, Conservative Millionaire, Focussed Mainly On His Many Charitable Contributions Rather Than Society, Which Was Left To His Wife

Harriet Edey James Was A Typical Society Debutant, She Loved Clothing, Jewels, Parties And Large Homes, She, Unlike Her Husband Who Just Signed The Checks, Was The Driving Force Behind "Beacon Hill House"

The plans had been drawn up by Harriet herself and afterwards turned over to architects Howells & Stokes, who had the house completed between 1909 and 1910. The mansion was centered around the 2 story great hall and featured rooms designed for comfort, yet still acceptable for entertaining. There was no ballroom, in it's place was a removable wall in between the dining room and living room, so that at anytime the walls could be pushed back and the two rooms turned into one gala ballroom.

 The First Floor Of "Beacon Hill House" (Based On Photographs And Descriptions)

The interior of the mansion was quite comfortable, compared to the high strung interiors of other Newport cottages. Each room had exceptional views of the grounds and the gardens, not to mention the fantastic ocean views. On the rare occasion that they were in Newport and not entertaining, the James spent most of their time away from one another, Mr. James in his study and Mrs James either in her boudoir or in the Della Robbia Room (conservatory).

The 2-Story Great Hall Housed The Large James Collection Of Tapestries, Which At That Time Were Valued At $300,000

The Drawing Room, Which For Large Events Would Also Double As A Banquet Hall, Had Beautiful Parquet Floors, Which Were Covered Up By Three Large Polar Bear Rugs

The Large Living Room, Which Doubled With The Dining Room To Create A Ballroom On Entertaining Nights, Was One Of The Most Comfortable Rooms In The House

The Dark Dining Room Could Seat 40 People For Dinner, It Could Also Sit 2 People When The James Dined Alone

The Della Robbia Room (Conservatory) Was Mrs. James's Favorite Room, Where She Could Spend Hours Reading About Flowers, Her Favorite Thing To Read About

Shortly after the house was completed, the James had a farming complex added to the grounds. Surprisingly it was called The Swiss Valley Village, even though the buildings were designed in the Italian style. Over the years, James continued to add to Swiss Valley Village, eventually having cottages erected for all of his staff, a pergola with a flower-thatched roof were Mrs. James entertained friends, a cow barn, dairy plant, piggery, henhouse, smokehouse, carpenter shop and a maternity hospital.

In 1917, a surprise birthday party was given at "Beacon Hill House" in honor of Mrs. James's birthday, at which the entire formation of the USS Vermont battleship attended. The party ended at 3 in the morning.

Mrs. James decided she wanted to hold a large party at "Beacon Hill House", which she called "The Masque of the Blue Garden". The party would be held in the new Blue Gardens Mrs. James was having constructed. The large party would be the highlight of the season and would finally triumph over Mamie Fish's "Mother Goose Ball".

On The Night Of The Ball Mrs. James Was Dripping With Sapphires, So Much So That People Called Her Lady Sapphira Throughout The Night

The Night Only Added To The James's Already High Social Status, In Attendance That Night Were Vanderbilts, Astors, Belmonts, Reids, Whitneys, Fish, Oelrichs, Cushings, Clews, Van Pelts And More

Besides in Newport, The James Also Had Residences In New York City, on the Hudson and in Florida.

The James's Residence In New York City Had Been Built In 1917 And Was The James's Principal Residence

Arthur Curtiss James's Estate On The Hudson Had Been Built Long Ago By James's Ancestors, Who Had Sold The Estate, James Bought It Back In 1921

The James's Estate In Florida Was Rarely Used By Them, When They Were There, The Normally Were Dedicated To Their Charities

In 1939, James retired from active business, although he continued to maintain an office in New York City. He spent most of his time at "Beacon Hill House", where he could garden for hours. He also spent quite a bit of time onboard his yacht, "Aloha", traveling the seas in style.

The James's Yacht, "Aloha", Which Contained A 50-Seater Dining Saloon, Library, Parlor And Numerous Bedrooms

Mrs. James passed away in 1941, while enjoying a summer at "Beacon Hill House". Arthur went into deep mourning, quitting his social career altogether. James died three weeks after his wife.

For Once Since It Had Been Built, "Beacon Hill House" Sat Empty And Cold, The James's Furniture Soon Began To Collect Dust

The mansion passed through several hands, until finally it was destroyed by a fire in 1967, only after being ransacked and vandalized countless times. Today the Swiss Village survive and so do The Blue Gardens.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Vanderbilt's "Marble Twins"

In 1900, millionaire George Vanderbilt purchased a large lot, formerly occupied by the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum, that was diagonally opposite his mansion, where he planned to erect two fine townhouses. Vanderbilt had purchased the lot in an effort to protect the area from commercial invasion, because already a developer had expressed interest in the lot as the site of his new apartment building.

Millionaire George Vanderbilt Wanted The Townhouses Built So He Would Have Something Nice To Look At When In His New York City Mansion

George Vanderbilt's Mansion Was Part Of A Triple Palace, The Other Side Was Divided In Half And Shared By His Two Elder Sisters, Margaret And Emily

George commissioned the architects of Hunt & Hunt, sons of famed architect Richard Morris Hunt, to design the homes. The homes would both be made to mirror each other and designed as a double house. When completed, the entire cost of the project totaled $100,000 ($2.7 million in today's money). Because of the all marble exterior, the homes were nicknamed "The Marble Twins".

Shortly After It Was Completed, An Architecture Magazine Published The Photo Above In One Of Their Magazines

The exterior was very grand and decorative, although the same could not be said about the interiors, which were called dull and plain. On the ground floors were the reception room, main hall, stair hall, dining room and the service pantry. The second floors held the drawing room, library and the hall. The third floors held his and her master suites, each with their own bath and dressing room, the den, guest room and the hall. The next two floors held guest and servant's rooms, while the basement held the kitchen, laundry room, a vault and more servant's rooms.

The Interiors Were Rather Simple Compared To The Other Vanderbilt Mansions In New York City, Although They Were Likely Changed When Vanderbilt Began To Rent Them Out

The townhouses, located at 645 and 647 Fifth Avenue, were soon leased out to others. 647 became the home of Robert Goelet and his wife Elsie, while 645 became the home of Lila (daughter of Emily Vanderbilt) and William Field.

On All Sides Buildings Were Being Constructed, On One Side Morton F. Plant Erected His Mansion, The Other Side Became The Site Of The Union Club

Morton F. Plant Built His Large, Imposing Mansion Right Alongside "The Marble Twins", Today The Mansion Houses The Famous Jewelry Firm Of Cartier

The Union Club Also Made It's Home Beside "The Marble Twins", Today The Spot Is Occupied The Olympic Tower

In 1911, when Fifth Avenue was widened, Hunt & Hunt were called in again to perform the renovations, costing a total of $12,000. Soon after, in 1914, Elsie Goelet filled for divorce against Robert and moved out of 647, eventually marrying Henry Clews Jr. Robert temporarily closed down the townhouse, but he soon was back in residence a year later.

"The Marble Twins" Were Still Being Occupied By The Same People As They Always Had, But By 1916 Things Were Changing

The World Around "The Marble Twins" Was Changing, Starting With The Death Of George Vanderbilt In 1914

In 1916, Morton F. Plant, sick and tired of the commercial invasion surrounding his mansion, sold his mansion to Willie K. Vanderbilt and moved to a large townhouse far up the avenue, near the Central Park. Vanderbilt had no choice but to lease the mansion to the jeweler Cartier, who eventually bought the building.

Commercial Invasion Had Completely Swamped The Area Around "The Marble Twins", The Fine Townhouses Each Being Replaced By Skyscrapers

By The 1930's The Only Private Residence Near "The Marble Twins" Was George Vanderbilt's Mansion, Occupied By George's Niece And Nephew, Grace And Cornelius

Robert Goelet had permanently left 647 in 1916 and it was then leased to Gimpel & Wildenstein for $36,000 a year. They added another floor and made several other renovations, totaling $140,000. The house was then renovated again in 1938, which made it a "Dignified but architecturally attractive commercial building".  In 1945, 645 was demolished to make way for The Olympic Tower. Also demolished was the Union Club.

The Olympic Tower Towered Over The Plant Mansion, 647 And St. Patrick's Cathedral, All Of Which Stayed On Strong

Today, The Plant mansion and 647 continue to survive. 647 now houses Versace and it remains somewhat intact. The Plant residence still houses Cartier, which continues to maintain it well.

The Plant and Vanderbilt residences are both survivors and are a few of the remaining remnants of the long gone era known as The Gilded Age.

Friday, August 24, 2012

"The Gardener's Cottage", Grace's Downsized New York City Chateau

When "The Queen of Fifth Avenue", as Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III was called, finally gave up her brownstone palace to developers in 1945 and moved far uptown to a much smaller townhouse, formerly occupied by the Miller family, one of the few remaining symbols of the era, that by then had become "unfashionable", was gone. That era was known as The Gilded Age.

Edith Miller's Sudden Death In Her Hotel Room Was Very Mysterious, From Her Estate, The New York City Mansion Was Put On The Market, Until Sold To Mrs. Vanderbilt For $300,000

Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III, Grace Wilson, Known As "Her Grace", Was The Only Woman Ever To Replace The Mrs. Astor As Queen Of New York City Society

The Vanderbilt Mansion At 640 Fifth Avenue Had, Over The Years, Become Surrounded By Skyscrapers, As Elizabeth Drexel Put It "It Seemed To Be Resisting Something"

The new chateau that Grace had purchased had been built in 1914, in an area that then was considered a "Fashionable No Man's Land", but by the 1940's the former "No Man's Land" had turned into one of the most fashionable districts in the city. It had been built by William Starr Miller and he had lived there, with his family, for many years. When he died, he left the mansion to his wife. Upon his widow's death, their daughter, Edith, inherited the house. She casually maintained the house until her own, sudden death in Paris. Her estate sold the mansion to Mrs. Vanderbilt in 1945, who refused to leave the avenue she had dominated for so many years.

The Floor Plan Of The Miller-Vanderbilt Mansion, The First Floor (Top) Second Floor (Middle) And The Third Floor (Bottom)

By The 1940's, The Mansion Was In The Heart of The Fashionable District, Surrounded On All Sides By Fine And Luxurious Townhouses

Grace regally brought with her from 640 Fifth Avenue her butler and her bathroom. Her husband had left her $2 million and she had $1 million left of the $6 million her father had left her, she didn't have much room to work with. She cut her original staff of 30 people down to 18, which included the family butler, Gerald, the housekeeper, cook, 2 footmen, 4 maids, a scullery maid, lady's maid, chauffeur, laundry ladies and the handyman. All of these people were given the responsibility of maintaining the house and it's beautiful interiors.

The Stair Hall Of The Mansion Was Where Grace Greeted Guests In Front Of The Famous Portrait Of Commodore Vanderbilt

The Famous Portrait Of The Commodore, The Founder Of The Vanderbilt Family's Fortune, Which Grace Greeted Guests In Front Of

Mrs. Vanderbilt was used to giving large events in the Vanderbilt mansion at 640 Fifth Avenue and she continued to do at the 1048 Fifth Avenue mansion. Her opera balls, held after the openings of the Metropolitan Opera House, also called "The Met", were considered the highlight of the season. She never missed an opening of the opera and year after year she was always the center of attention upon her arrival.  

Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, The Most Prominent Name In New York City, Never Missed The Opening Of The Metropolitan Opera House

Besides the New York City chateau, Grace still resided in her Newport cottage, "Beaulieu", where she regularly held dinner parties for between 50 and 100 people. Grace had purchased "Beaulieu" long ago from William Waldorf Astor, whose son was the one that had purchased the 640 Fifth Avenue mansion.

"Beaulieu", Meaning Beautiful Place, Was Small Compared To The Other Vanderbilt Houses In Newport, But It Did Have 16 Bedrooms, 13 Bathrooms And 10 Servants' Rooms Over The Stables

Grace continued to entertain in Newport and New York City for 8 years. She was still herself on her last arrival at the opening of The Met. She arrived in a wheelchair, pushed around by two of her guests staying with her at 1048 Fifth Avenue. With her were her three signature symbols: her diamond "headache band", her famous diamond stomacher and her silver fox wrap (which had become somewhat seedy over the years, but Grace, who like most rich people had her small economies, never replaced it)

Grace Arrived At The Met, For The Last Time, In A Wheelchair, She Still Sat As Regally As Ever In Her Private Opera Box

After Grace died, the house was sold to the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research, which maintained the original interiors of the first and second floors, while gutting the third and fourth floors, making room for needed book space.

In 1922 the mansion was sold to the Neue Gallery New York, which carefully renovated the building, keeping most of the original interiors. They continue to operate the building today.

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