YOUR MAMAS NOTES: Before the Hamptons were the Hamp–toons and before all the wildly wealthy blue blooded snow birds began flocking to Palm Beach for the winter, the American aristocracy of the Gilded Age built monumental mansions along the rugged and rocky shore of Newport, RI. Starting in the mid-1800s, in order to escape the south’s crushing summer heat, wealthy plantation owners began building large summer cottages overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It wasn’t long before their pecunious Yankee counterparts followed suit and built bigger and preposterously ostentatious monuments to their money, power and vaunted position in high society.
The illustrious, sprawling and sick rich Vanderbilt family built a number of the more significant mansions in Newport including Marble House, a gargantuan and outrageously opulent monster completed in 1892 by William K. Vanderbilt as a 39th birthday gift to his then wife Alva Erskine Smith Vanderbilt. The not at all cottage-like mansion, modeled on the Petit Trianon in Versailles, was designed by William Morris Hunt, one of the bon ton’s preferred and more prolific architects who not only designed a bunch of Newport’s most palatial piles but also maintained a Newport cottage of his own called Hypotenuse.
Another of the Vanderbilt clan–Frederick William–also completed his summer cottage in 1892, the stoic Peabody and Stearns designed mansion known then and now as Rough Point. In 1922 Rough Point was purchased by tobacco tycoon James Buchanan Duke–that’s the daddy of Doris–who hired high society architect Horace Trumbauer to renovate and expand the already huge house. Miss Duke inherited the property in 1925 at the tender age of twelve and although she used the ocean front estate very little in the 1940s and 50s, she reopened Rough Point in the early 1960s and occupied the house a good portion of each year until her death in 1993. Scandal seems to stick to society types like white on rice and in 1966 Miss Duke famously, accidentally, and tragically plowed her modest station wagon into her decorator Eduardo Tirella in the driveway of Rough Point. Somehow Miss Duke, no doubt in a serious panic, managed to drag Mister Tirella’s body out the front gates of Rough Point, across the street and crush him to death against a tree. He died instantly and Miss Duke was not charged with any crime.
In 1894, a behemoth 60-room Louis XIII style hunting lodge, designed, natch, by Richard Morris Hunt, was erected for Oliver H.P. Belmont. Mister Belmont, who named his quirky cottage Belcourt, was an heir to a family of financiers who came to the United States from France as representatives of the ridiculously rich Rothschild family. As originally designed, Belcourt included just 1 bedroom and 1 pooper. There were, however, sleeping quarters for 33-full time staff. The entire ground floor of Belcourt was designed for use as carriage storage and 30-stall stable for Mister Belmont’s horses. In 1895, Alva Erskine Smith Vanderbilt obtained a dee–vorce from William K. Vanderbilt and set all the high society tongues a-wagging when she quickly moved her summer trousseau down the block from Marble House and into Belcourt.
In 1895, yet another Vanderbilt–this time, Cornelius the Second–finished building The Breakers, the undisputed mac-daddy of all the Newport mansions that sits on 13+ acres of prime ocean front property. The hulking 5-story, Richard Morris Hunt designed Italian Renaissance confection measures 65,000 square feet with 70 rooms including a 50-foot square Great Hall with a 50 foot ceiling, 15 family bedrooms and more than 40 staff bedrooms.
The hoity toities continued to build their colossal “cottages” well into the 20th century. The Elms, designed by architect Horace Trumbauer as a near exact replica of the 18th century Château d’Asnières on the outskirts of Paris, was completed in 1901 for coal mining magnate Edward Berwind who engaged the legendary Jules Allard et Fils of Paris do up the day-core. In 1902, the Stanford White designed Rosecliff was completed for Nevada silver heiress Theresa “Tessie” Fair Oelrichs who modeled her not particularly humble summer “cottage” on the Grand Trianon at Versailles.
Although a number of the more celebrated houses in Newport are now operated as museums that can be toured and ogled by the hoi polloi, there remain a number of significant and historic estates in private hands including Clarendon Court, a spectacular 7+acre estate with a striking yet somber Palladian style mansion that was recently heaved on to the market with an asking price of of $14,800,000.
Clarendon Court, designed by architect Horace Trumbauer, was built in 1904 for Pennsylvania Railroad executive Edward C. Knight who originally named the house Claradon Court after his wife Clara. The name was altered to Clarendon Court by a subsequent owner.
Clarendon Court occupies a prime position on Newport’s swankiest street, Bellevue Avenue. The mansion sits sandwiched between the 16-bedroom Beaulieu–built in 1859 for Peruvian fertilizer magnate Federico Barreda and later owned by one of the many Astors who sold it to Cornelius Vanderbilt III–and Miramar, a formal and formidable Neoclassical beast with 27 bedrooms completed in 1915 by Eleanor Elkins Widener, the widow of George Widener, an heir to a Philadelphia streetcar fortune who went down with the HMS Titanic in April of 1912. Beaulieu remains in private hands as does Miramar, which sold to an unknown buyer–or at least unknown to Your Mama–in 2006 for $17,150,000.
In 1970 the 20-room Clarendon Court was snatched up and extensively restored and renovated by its most renowned and fascinating owners, Sunny and Claus von Bülow. The Children all know the tragic and sordid story of Sunny and Claus von Bülow, right?
Mister von Bülow, formerly a personal assistant to oil baron J. Paul Getty, reportedly descends from a German noble family, but it was Sunny who had all the money; Her mother was an heiress to a shoe manufacturing fortune and her father, George Crawford, a utilities mogul who died in the mid-1930s, left Sunny–born Martha Sharp Crawford–a rumored and reported $100,000,000.
On the day after Christmas in 1979, amid whispers rumors of a dee–vorce, Sunny von Bülow was found unconscious and unresponsive at Clarendon Court. She was quickly rushed to the hospital where she slipped into a coma from which she was revived. She was diagnosed with something called reactive hypoglycemia. The following April, Sunny went all wonky and was again admitted to the hospital. The doctors declared the spell was another bout with this reactive hypoglycemia thing and released her with admonishments to control her sugar and booze intake.
Just before Christmas in 1980, Sunny von Bülow’s maid Maria Schrallhammer found her passed out and unresponsive on the floor of the master pooper at Clarendon Court. She was taken to the hospital yet again where it quickly became clear that Missus von Bülow had suffered a serious brain injury that left her in a persistent vegetative state.
Sonny and Claus bore one child–Cosima–the younger half-sister of Sunny’s two children–Ala and Alexander–produced during her first marriage to His Serene Highness Prince Alfred von Auersperg, an Austrian tennis instructor who, bizarrely and ironically, died in 1992 after hanging around in an irreversible coma for nine long years.
Soon after Sunny slipped into a coma, Ala and Alexander got real suspicious real fast of their step-daddy Mister von Bülow and his possible roll in bringing about their mother’s incurable comatose state. Their worries and mistrust of Mister von Bülow–who had most certainly become accustomed to living in the lavish manner to which his wife’s money allowed–instigated an investigation that lead to a July 1981 indictment of Mister von Bülow on two counts of attempted murder. A salacious trial followed by swells and socialites around the world resulted in a conviction. However, Mister von Bülow quickly hired superstar attorney and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz to handle an appeal. This was clearly a wise move on Mister von Bülow’s part because after a long parade of medical experts and other witnesses, Mister von Bülow’s conviction was overturned.
Cosima sided with her father, a choice that found her disinherited by Missus von Bülow’s mother Annie Laurie Aitken who controlled the financial affairs of her comatose daughter. The two elder children, still deeply suspicious of their step-father, filed a civil complaint that was eventually settled out of court when Mister von Bülow agreed to a dee–vorce, the forfeiture of all claims to Sunny’s fortune, and to leave the United States. In exchange, Cosima received her $30,000,000 cut of the her mother’s estate.
Mister von Bülow, now in his 80s, currently lives in London where he hobnobs with European royalty and the other international glitterati types that collect there. Ala, Alexander and Cosima have, reportedly, patched up their relationships. Missus von Bülow was not, however, so lucky. Shockingly, Sunny von Bülow remained in a coma for 28 years until she finally passed in December of 2008. A 1996 University of Toronto classroom case study on the ethics of death revealed that, “she is dressed daily by round-the-clock attendants who also see to her hair, makeup and nails. A small stereo radio fills the room with her favorite music. At no time during this period [1982-96] has Sunny von Bülow ever given any sign of self-awareness. She cannot respond to stimuli—sights, sounds, touch. She is nourished via a food tube. Neurological experts declare that her loss of consciousness is irreversible. And yet: she is capable of breathing on her own, without a respirator. Her brain-waves show sleep-wake sequences. Now and then her lips curl into a smile. Her eyes open periodically and are said to tear when she is visited by her children Ala and Alexander Auersperg.” Lo-werd children, that just sounds so creepy and sad it makes us need a damn nerve pill to get through the rest of the day. International jet set chronicler Dominick Dunne–a friend of Sunny but no admirer of Claus–described the scene a bit less harshly in Vanity Fair shortly after her death when he wrote: ” Her Porthault sheets were on her hospital bed. Several paintings from her New York apartment hung on her hospital room’s walls. Manicurists and hairdressers tended to her nails and blond hair. She was like Sleeping Beauty.”
In addition to Clarendon Court Mister and Missus von Bülow maintained several other homes including Tamerlane, an estate in Greenwich, CT owned by her mother, and a grand 14-room spread in the über exclusive and very posh building at 960 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The sedate 22-unit limestone building is, without question, one of Manhattan’s most high nosed co-operative apartment houses and is filled with filthy rich and high profile residents such as philanthropist Patricia Altschul, Latin American media magnate Gustavo Cisneros and his social wife Patty, Edgar Bronfman Sr., billionaire Sid Bass’ first ex-wife Anne Bass, Roy Zuckerberg (former vice chairman of Goldman Sachs who bought his apartment in July of 2006 for $16,900,000 from an heir to the Bic pen fortune), velvet king Loic De Kertanguy and his social wife Rebecca, and Emily Frick–widow of Dr. Henry Clay Frick II who died in 2007 and was a member of the steel fortune Fricks –who scooped up a $3,900,000 place at 960 in the fall of 2006 not long after selling their Alpine, NJ estate for a blood curdling $58,000,000.
Although most reports indicate that Mister von Bülow “had the good taste to sell his eighth-floor apartment” at 960 Fifth Avenue shortly after his acquittal, a little poking around on the interweb and Your Mama turned up a first hand account of a writer who tells of having lunch at the von Bülow’s Fifth Avenue apartment in 1997 with its then occupant Cosima von Bülow who had by then married an Italian count.
Anyhoo, property records show Clarendon Court was sold in 1988 to its current owners, Washington D.C. art dealer Glenn Randall and his wife Patricia for $4,200,000. The Randalls reportedly attempted to sell the property in the mid-1990s when it was listed for $5,950,000. But alas, nobody turned up to buy their (in)famous house and it remains in their property portfolio.
Listing information reveals that the symmetrical residence, which includes a fat main body and two slimmer wings that wrap around part of the gated motor court at the front of the house, measures 11,878 square feet and includes 5 main bedrooms (plus 5 more) and at least 8.5 poopers. Mahogany exterior doors open to a foyer with iron and glass inner doors that open directly into the gleaming white marble floored entrance way that has a sweeping staircase and a back door on a direct access from the front that provides a narrow but immediate and promising view of the Narrangansatt Bay.
Floor plans included with marketing materials (above) show equally sized 23-foot wide and 40-foot long drawing and dining rooms that flank the entry, each with 18th-century fireplace surrounds and windows that look out onto the loggia that runs along the back of the house and towards the sea. Beyond the dining room, a gigantic 29-foot long breakfast room has black and white marble floors, an arched ceiling, traditional–and fussy–lattice wall details, and towering arched windows and French doors that open out to terraces and the view. A powder pooper for guests is situated immediately off the breakfast room.
The service areas of Clarendon Hall, consist of a back stair hall, large kitchen, gigantic butler’s pantry that connects large kitchen to the dining room, and staff and laundry facilities that, according to listing information, can easily be converted to less formal family quarters or such as a billiard or family room.
A paneled library off of the drawing room, with Siena yellow and white 18th-century marble fireplace surround, has arched windows and French doors that mirror those in the breakfast room. Also located off the drawing room is the first floor master suite comprised of a 32-foot, 600+ square foot bedroom with fireplace, private study, a long hallway lined with closets and two poopers.
Upstairs there are a total of four bedrooms, one with a private sitting room (with fireplace), two with water views, two with a view of the front courtyard, three with fireplaces, and all with private poopers. Five more bedrooms and two additional poopers located the third floor provide over-flow for over-night guests, children’s rooms or staff quarters.
Just beyond the back of the house, a huge heated swimming pool sunk directly into the lawn with no surrounding terrace stretches an astounding 105-feet and a wide allee of mature trees carpeted with grass directs and draws the eye towards the rocky and irregular coastline that’s bordered by formal and clipped hedges. The Newport Cliff walk, which winds and wraps along 3.5 miles of the water’s edge, is tunneled under the back yard of Clarendon Court ensuring no touristing looky-loos catch a glimpse of the owners should they want to sunbathe or swing a croquet mallet in their birfday suits.
Unfortunately the dwindling fortunes of many “old” American families who once summered in Newport no longer allow for the excessive costs of maintaining a home of the magnitude of these super-sized “cottages.” Certainly there are still any numbers of descendants of the Gilded Age industrialists who continue to own and occupy homes in Newport but their are slowly shrinking and being replaced by a whole bunch of the New American Aristocracy: Financial types whose money flows like water and who include folks like former Deutsche Bank distressed debt honcho Simon Mullally and his wife Melissa, former investment banker and sailing enthusiast Pietar Taselaar and his wife Nina.
As it turns out, the Randalls also have Clarendon Court’s Horace Trumbauer designed carriage house, studio and stable complex on the market separately with an asking price of $4,800,000 (above). The unrestored 2-story structure built in 1910 and measuring 10,200 square feet and sits on 1.57 acres with 125 feet of waterfront. In addition to the stables and 4-car garage, the sprawling brick built structure, all hipped roof, decorative dormers and limestone quoins, includes 6 bedrooms and 3.5 poopers. A series of brick walled cutting gardens that no longer have anything planted to cut besides grass and a brick and glass pavilion extend from the house towards the shoreline. Iffin anyone were to ask Your Mama, which of course no one did, one of those cutting gardens is begging for a swimming pool.
UPDATE: It appears that listing information has been slightly altered to reflect a list price of $17,800,000, a number that includes both the main house and the carriage house.
listing photos and floor plan: Libby Kirwin Real Estate