Astor Courts, Historical Site of Chelsea Clinton’s Hitching


Listen poodles, Your Mama was really trying hard not to get on the Chelsea Clinton wedding bandwagon. The gurl deserves to have her day in peace. However, try as we might, our resistance has been worn down by all the hoopla and frequent requests from the curious for information about the upstate New York estate where it is widely rumored and oft reported that Miss Clinton will get hitched to her man Marc Mevinsky, an investment banker at Goldman Sachs.

Although no one will publicly confirm, it appears the former presidential daughter will be married tomorrow at an historic and privately owned estate overlooking the Hudson River in the quaint village of Rhinebeck, NY. The 50-ish acre estate, most often referred to as Astor Courts, was once part of the sprawling 2,800 acre spread of John Jacob Astor IV, the great-grandson of John Jacob Astor who made a mountain of money in real estate, opium, and fur trades. Iffin you want more extensive information on the Astor family, here’s a good place to start.

Astor Courts–sometimes referred to as Ferncliff Casino and/or Astor Casino–was commissioned by John Jacob “Jack” Astor IV and his first wife Eva in the early 1900s as a sporting pavilion and guest quarters to go along with the estate’s main house built in the late 1850s by another of the wildly wealthy of the Astor clan. The long and low Beaux Arts style building, inspired by the Grand Trianon at Versailles and completed 1904, was one of the last buildings finished by architect Stanford before he was shot and killed in 1906 at Madison Square Garden by Harry K. Thaw, the notoriously volatile heir to a Pittsburgh coal and railroad fortune.

Along with vast entertaining spaces and several guest rooms, the Astor Courts housed what some believe was the first indoor swimming pool at a private residence, as well as an indoor clay tennis court with soaring vault and truss ceiling of industrial glass, two indoor squash courts, a bowling alley, and a shooting range. There was a grass tennis court that sat along side the building. A scratchy and difficult to make out floor plan of the original structure can be seen here. The children will note the indoor swimming pool on the far left (east), the indoor tennis court at the top (south), and the guest rooms to the far right (west).

Mister Astor divorced Eva in 1909 and married the much younger Madeleine Force in 1911. In April of 1912, at the tail end of an extended European honeymoon, Mister Astor went down with the Titanic. A preggers Madeleine was one of the lucky few who survived the sinking but, it should be noted, neither she nor her son the future John Jacob Astor VI inherited Ferncliff or the Astor Courts sporting pavilion.

The entire estate was instead inherited by Mister Astor’s oldest son William Vincent Astor who in the 1940s razed the monumental main house at Ferncliff and, after an extensive renovation and re-purposing of some rooms, moved into the sporting pavilion. In 1953 Vincent Astor married for a third time. His new bride was the once-divorced and once-widowed Brooke Russell Kuser Marshall who became the powerful queen of New York high society Brooke Astor, a formidable woman who once upon a time Your Mama would sometimes see swaddled in fur at big shindigs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Although it has been reported that Miz Astor didn’t particularly care for the drafty and vast Astor Courts, the couple used the former sporting pavilion as a country retreat until Mister Astor died in 1959. Subsequent to Vincent Astor’s death, Ferncliff was cut up into bite sized pieces, some of which was sold off and some of which–the part where Astor Courts is situated–was donated by The Widow Astor to The Catholic Archdiocese of New York who used the former Astor family playhouse as a nursing home where the old folks were cared for by nuns.

By the 1980s the Astor Courts was once again brought into use as a private residence but much of it architectural luster and detail had been lost, destroyed, or covered up with insensitive “renovations” and layer upon layer of paint, linoleum, and carpeting. In the spring of 2003 the property was purchased for $3,200,000 by its current owners, real estate developer Arthur Seelbinder and his Democratic fundraiser and former tee-vee producer wife Kathleen Hammer.

The well-heeled couple, no stranger to home renovations, soon set off on a journey of renovation and restoration so lengthy, emotionally taxing, and costly they refuse to get specific. According to a New York Times article from 2008, the couple sold a house in Palm Beach as well as antiques and artworks to help fund the massive renovation and restoration costs. The renovations included installing a sky-lit barbering station and bathroom fixtures copied from Stanford White’s original plans.

The couple hired architect Sam White–Stanford White’s great-grandson–to oversee the renovation of the hotel-sized house that stretches out over 40,000 square feet. According to the New York Times article, the Astor Courts building is divided into three areas: public, private, and guest. The owners’ private quarters in the east wing include the master suite, a library–a room Brooke Astor had installed in what was formerly the squash courts–and a Middle Eastern inspired indoor swimming pool with a turquoise groin vaulted ceiling and enormous arched windows with views of the bucolic landscaping that surround the house.

The west end of the building includes a large living room with fois bois moldings, fireplace, and access to a terrazzo terrace that overlooks the Hudson River, a newly enlarged kitchen, dining room, and 4 guest rooms that share two poopers. In between the east and west wings is the entrance hall and the extravagantly scaled main hall that measures 35 by 60 feet with 14.5 foot high ceilings. Underfoot are over-sized herringbone parquet floors and overhead is a shallow domed sky light. The room is ringed with heavy 30-inch moldings and elaborate plasterwork and French doors with with dramatic fan lights on either side of the aristocratic 9 by 10 foot fireplace mantelpiece swing open and overlook the indoor tennis court.

Recent reports guesstimate that the cost of Miss Clinton and Mister Mevinsky’s nuptials could soar to as high as three or even five million clams. Although we have no idea where anyone got their information on this stuff, some of the costs of the wedding are reported to include $500,000 for flowers, $200,000 for security, $500,000 in transportation costs for guests, a $25,000 Vera Wang designed wedding dress, and $15,000 for deeluxe portable terlits of the sort that high-class folks like supermarket mogul Ron Burkle will feel comfortable doing their bizness.

According to one of Gawker‘s top secret sources, preparations for the big event have included repainting the entire house, installing new landscaping, and preparing a clearing on the property so that invited guests can arrive by helicopter. A no-fly zone has been instituted over the property so that airborne paps won’t be able to buzz the nuptials with their telephoto lenses and the children can be assured that the property is crawling with so much Secret Service and other security that iffin your were even to drive by and look cross-ways at the estate’s front gates you’ll be unceremoniously shuffled off in a brusque and unfriendly fashion.

Since Your Mama and the Dr. Cooter can’t make it to the wedding, we’ll just wish Miss Clinton and Mister Mevinsky a happy day and happy life.

photos: New York Social Diary

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