Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Our Vacation : Newport

In a place where million dollar mansions meet the waters edge, the stony shores of the Atlantic forcing cool, effervescent sea breeze into the very deepest crevice of your soul; Newport, Rhode Island was perhaps the most beautiful place Scott and I have vacationed thus far. Of course, to get to Newport, you must cross the Newport Bridge:


But once you're there the majestic brick and mortar meet your every architecture loving need.

Here, the backside of the Vanderbilt Mansion, The Breakers. The "summer cottage" has more than 65,000 square feet of living space, including two full floors of servant suites atop the already massive 3 story family home. 70-rooms, all finished with the most expensive and brilliantly gilded touches you can imagine. A true testament to the "gilded" age.

Getting a better idea of the massiveness of this estate? I hope so. The home was constructed in the late 1890's and cost the Vanderbilt's a mere $5 million to construct. (That's more than $180 million dollars today!) 30 foot gates surround the more than 13-acres abutting the ocean, and the gardens surrounding The Breakers (so aptly named due to the water breaking upon the rocks of the Atlantic) are magnificent, too.

This was my favorite view of the mansion taken from the east side of the estate. Here you can see the elaborate details of the stone masons, and take in the beautiful sweeping angles of the pergola and veranda.

Interior shots of the mansions are forbidden, but thanks to Google I was able to source a view shots of the interior:

Here, the mansions kitchen is the size of my entire home - 1700 square feet. Equipped with enough space to cook meals for 500, and the staff to attend to such a feast, the kitchen of The Breakers was a stunning combination of all things culinary, and it nearly sent Scott (Casa de la Vanderdogan's chef) into a coma! Can you blame him? Look at that pot rack, those windows, the island and its marble top. Magnificent.


The library, a rich and masculine space with finishes from all over the world. The fireplace mantle was sourced from a French chateau.


The grand front hall of The Breakers. Unfortunately, the grand stair is closed to the public. Designers imported marble from Italy and Africa, and many woods and mosaics from around the globe. One room, (a photo I'm unable to find) was assembled in France and then shipped to Newport, and reassembled in the Mansion by the French Interior Designer, Jules Allard. (A favorite choice of the Newport elite.)

And yet another shot of the pergola and veranda, this time with a view of the shaped garden beds that adjoin that wing of the mansion.

And a photo taken from the back of the property at the water beyond, "breaking" upon the rocks.

And for one last, hopefully large impression, the satellite view of the grounds and home. Yes, it's that big, and made almost completely of stone. This property once belonged to Pierre Lorillard, an American tobacco tycoon, but the original "cottage" that sat here burned completely to the ground in 1892; so when Cornelius (love that name) Vanderbilt had a summer home constructed in its place, he insisted it be fire-proof, and I suppose 120 years later, he did a pretty good job.

Our next stop on the tour: Rosecliff, the summer home of Nevada Silver Ore heiress, Theresa Oelrichs.

The home is much smaller than The Breakers, at around 20,000 sq. ft, and was built to model the Grand Trianon of Versailles, by the architecture firm McKim, Mead, and White. MMW designed many of Buffalo's Delaware Ave. mansions, so I was familiar with their work. But Rosecliff was much more than I expected. The exterior of this home is clad in white terracotta tiles over brick. Would you have guessed?

The home has been used in many feature films, including True Lies (the tango scene between Jamie Lee Curtis and Ah-nuld) and most recently, 27 Dresses.

However, what I loved the most was this view of the water beyond through the pillars of the grand pergola to the right wing of the Mansion. Perfection.

Here, the grand staircase of the mansion. This house was built in the late 1890's, and the family moved in July 1900. Can you imagine moving into this?

And the ballroom (home to that infamous tango) is the largest of all the Newport Mansions, 80' long, 40' wide, and 20' tall. The french doors to either side look out into the ocean and the terrace garden, giving it a real indoor/outdoor feel of the Grand Trianon.

Of course, the view of all the Ocean lining Mansions is spectacular, but this one in particular has a great view of the neighboring estate. Here, the teahouse on the waters edge is fashioned in true Eastern styles. What's even more interesting, is that this teahouse, and home belonged to William Vanderbilt, brother to the owner of The Breakers.

An upclose shot of the teahouse on the property of Marble House. Isn't it wonderfully designed? This house was built in the late 1880's, (before his brother built the MASSIVE Breakers - seeing any sibling rivalry here?) and was given to William's wife Alva, as her 39th Birthday present. What a gift huh? Apparently not good enough though, as she subsequently divorced him causing quite an uproar for the time!

The grand facade of Marble House. Now, Marble House really set the trend among the new stage of homes that would be built in Newport. Before, Newport was a modest town, of pirate loving locals. Yes, pirates! You see, pirates weren't allowed at many of the other ports of entry in the states, but Newport welcomed them with open arms. Why? Because they had money, AND they wanted to spend it. So even though Newport had a wealth prior to the gilded age, it consisted mostly of modest wooden structures until the social hierarchy moved in and started to build these opulent stone palaces.

The dining room of Marble House. Each chair supposedly weighs 70 pounds, with the arm chairs weighing around 100! They are made from bronze, coated in gold.

And the gold ballroom. These pictures just do not do justice to the sparkle of these rooms, the glitter of the chandeliers, and the dazzle of the finishes.
Of course, Newport runs on Newport time, and not Artie time, so we finished up the first day of our trip with Marble House. The next day we started at Kingscote:

Looks small, right? Well, it is certainly smaller than some of the other mansions of Newport society, and for good reason. This house was built in 1839, before the Vanderbilts came in and built their massive estates. George Jones, a plantation owner built Kingscote in 1839 as a "summer retreat" from the hot and humid summers of plantation life. But, with the Civil War forcing many of the southern owners of Newport manors back down south, Jones sold the home to William King, a Chinese trade merchant. King's nephew David inherited the house in the 1870's, and he hired McKim, Mead, and White to expand the house.

If you lived in Newport at the turn of the century, you had to keep up with the Jones', or in their case - the Vanderbilts.

One of MMW's additions - the dining room. Cork tiles laid in a herringbone pattern cover the insets of the coffered ceiling and the walls above the elaborate wooden molding. Intricately detailed floors made from several rare woods form a harlequin pattern, and a screen designed by White, folds completely out of the way if need be - and hearkens back to the Chinese trade merchant history of the house.
By far, Kingscote was the most interesting, and easily toured home of the trip. I suppose it's much smaller square footage attributed to its livable feel - but it could have also been the Gothic Revival architecture - a style rarely seen with such meticulous care paid to its survival. It was the favorite on my list, until we met the porch of the Isaac Bell house:

Here, the serpent/dragons welcome friends and warn off intruders. Built in the early 1880's this house is also known (mostly to locals) as Edna Villa, because of the engraved gate pillars Bell had engraved Edna Villa for his wife and daughter, both named Edna.

Scott, posing in front of the Bell House, in his madras. How cute is he? Bell was a cotton broker and investor, and brother to the publisher of the New York Herald. Bell had McKim, Mead, and White construct the shingle sided structure, and MMW took the opportunity to introduce architectural styles they'd seen after taking a recent tour of the world. The columns of the porches are sized differently, and sculpted to look like bamboo. The roofline of the left tower was meant to mimic windmills of Holland. There were 5 different types of shingle installation. The house was a lesson in architecture that almost lacked being preserved.

Edna Villa is now owned by the Newport Preservation Society, thankfully, after being turned into apartments, then a nursing home. The Bell house is currently undergoing a ton of restoration work - still, it quickly became our favorite of the trip. But the trip isn't over. (I know, quite a long post!) We finished up our tour with The Elms, estate of Edward Berwind, coal baron.

I'm starting the photo tour in the garden, and at the garage. Yes, this is the garage - or carriage house. And the view beyond:

Fountains, gardens, garden houses, and grounds. Green, green, green, marble, marble, marble, and more beauty than the eye can behold. Directly across:

The Elms, built in 1901, and copied (almost impeccably) from the lines of Ch√Ęteau d'Asni√®res in France. Now, Berwind and his wife were among royalty here in Newport, and with good reason. Berwind ran what fueled the Vanderbilt's railroad industry - coal.

The front entry, beautifully scaped. Berwind's wife spent 20 summers in the home, before passing away in 1922. At that time, Berwind asked his sister to be "lady of the manor" and she continued the Newport tradition - including maintaining a staff of more than 40 until 1961. When Julia died, so did the "old" Newport.

The Grand Staircase of the Elms. What's most remarkable however, is the history after Julia Berwind died. The house fell into disrepair, and was marked for demolition. A nephew who didn't want the estate, held an auction and sold everything in the house - then scheduled the wrecking ball, so a 1960's developer could put in a subdivision! With a lot of fight the Newport Preservation Society saved the mansion from demolition - but sadly, hasn't recovered any of the contents from the auction.

There are many many many mansions in Newport, most not open to public viewing, like these stone beauties:


Some have been made into Condo's (like the one above) others still lay in the hands of wealthy heirs of the old Newport Society - still using the homes as summer estates, respite from the hustle and bustle of NYC or Boston. Thankfully though, mostly, the foundation of the Newport past still sits, clearly visable, and tourable through the good work of the Newport Preservation Society. With so much history at our fingertips - it's nice to see a portion of it patiently maintained for our generation, and many more.
"goodnight"