YOUR MAMAS NOTES: Before socialites like Tinsley Mortimer jumped on the low-brow reality tee-vee train and celebutantes like Paris Hilton were regularly snapped by the paps with their hoo–hoos hanging out and getting busted by the po–po in a car full of pot smoke and coke, there was to the manor born Cornelia Guest. Miz Guest, who was called the “Deb of the Decade” in 1986, seamlessly and effortlessly blurred the lines between Manhattan’s uptown uptight and downtown’s funky fabulosity. Although never without the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth, she catted around with the likes of Andy Warhol and was a habitué of the gloriously debauched Studio 54 where drugs were consumed like candy and drag queens and disco divas cavorted with the the high fashion crowd and Upper East Side social set.
Miz Guest was born solidly into the old-line American aristocracy. Her glammy style icon mother C.Z. Guest–whose portrait was famously painted by Diego Rivera, Salvador Dali, and Andy Warhol–came from a brood of blue blooded Boston Brahmins. Her polo champion father Winston Guest, a second cousin to Winston Churchill, was an heir to the colossal Phipps family fortune, much of which was derived from steel and real estate interests. A New York Times article from 2001 cleverly and accurately characterized the Guest family as “blueblood gone boho,” which is exemplified by Winston and C.Z.’s 1947 wedding in Cuba in which the best man was the Old Man of the Sea himself Ernest Hemingway. Winston and C.Z. made two babies, Alexander and Cornelia.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many of America’s east coast based aristocrats and plutocrats coagulated at the western end of Long Island where they built spectacular and vast country estates with improbably large and lavish mansions. The area, known as the Gold Coast, quickly became a bucolic mecca for self-made industrialists, scions of old families, and other assorted lockjaws with recognizable family surnames such as Vanderbilt, Roosevelt, Rogers, Whitney, Phipps, Pratt, Woolworth, and Coe, whose family seat, a Tudor Revival style pile they called Coe Hall, had 65 rooms including floral arranging rooms, trunk storage rooms, cedar closets for linens and off-season ensembles, and accommodations for a household staff of at least thirteen.
Although some remain (somewhat) intact and a few are still in the hands of descendants of the original owners, many if not most of the old Gold Coast estates have been torn down, cut up, bought by the new crew of wealth and power including Wall Street honchos, and/or converted to commercial use.
All of this is Your Mama’s long way around an itty bitty real estate tidbit recently printed on Page Six of the New York Post about Miz Cornelia Guest being overhead at Martha Stewart and Harry Slatkin’s birthday party telling someone that Templeton, her historic family seat in Old Westbury, NY, is back on the market. According to The Post, Templeton is priced at “up to $20 million.” Upon reading the the juicy real estate morsel Your Mama, natch, went a-peepin‘ and a-pokin‘ around the interweb to see what we could see. We’re not exactly sure where the peeps at The Post got their twenty million dollar figure because with the help of Golda Knowsthegoldcoast we quickly turned up a live listing for Templeton that shows a much lower asking price. It’s true the Templeton, which has been on and off the market for years and bears the gently worn hallmark and slightly frayed patina of old American money, was at one time listed at $20,000,000. However, according to current listing information, Templeton is now on the open market with a much lower asking price of $11,900,000.
Buckle up your safety belts butter beans because it gets a little confusing here. It seems that there are any number of different and contradictory stories as to the ownership lineage of Cornelia Guest’s Templeton due in part to the fact that there have been not one but two Templetons in the Old Westbury neck of the Gold Coast owned by the Phipps-Guest clan(s).
Between 1916 and 1918 gunpowder mogul turned philanthropist Alfred I. du Pont had a major Neo-Federal style brick and white marble mansion designed and built on 300 acres in Old Westbury, NY by high society architects Carrere & Hastings, the same folks responsible for designing the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and the mansion of steel tycoon Henry Clay Frick–now home to the Frick Collection–at Fifth Avenue and East 70th Street. Mister du Pont’s decadent new estate was dubbed White Eagle. In 1921, not long after the death of Alfred I’s controversial and scandalous second wife (Mary) Alicia du Pont, White Eagle was sold at auction to Howard Phipps, that would be Cornelia’s great-uncle on her mother’s side. The New York Times reported at the time the property was bought for $470,000. At some point in the next few years the property was deeded to or purchased by Cornelia’s grandparents Frederick E. and Amy Phipps Guest.
In 1959 White Eagle was inherited by Winston Guest–that would be Cornelia’s daddy–who rechristened the estate Templeton. Winston sold Templeton to the New York Institute of Technology in 1972. Sometime after 1959 and prior to 1972–Golda Knowsthegoldcoast thinks it was in the early 1960s–Winston and C.Z. moved from the titanic mansion at Templeton–the former White Eagle estate–to a smaller and more manageable but still sprawling house nearby. As these blue-blooded types sometimes do when they move from one estate to another, Winston and C.Z. took along and re-christened their new home with the name Templeton. It is this house that is currently owned and listed for sale by Cornelia Guest.
Are the children following along?
During the 1960s and 70s Cornelia’s polo playing papa Winston and her supah-chic mother C.Z. were embedded members of the glittery jet setting and arty-farty elite of New York City and beyond. The charismatic couple entertained frequently and according to Cornelia herself, her parents regularly hosted at Templeton the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Truman Capote, Yves Saint Laurent and his bidness partner/man-friend Pierre Bergé, heart transplant pioneer Dr. Christiaan Barnard, the Kennedys, fashion icon Halston, ballet honcho Rudolph Nureyev, and Oscar de la Renta who had a permanent room in the Guest house.
In the mid-1990s, after a stint in Los Angeles where she pursued a not very successful career as an actress, Cornelia moved back east and into Templeton. Although Cornelia’s mommy C.Z. didn’t pass over to the other side until 2003 and we presume she occupied Templeton until then, property records reveal that in April of 2000, the younger Miz Guest purchased the property from her brother Alexander for $6,125,000. While Your Mama don’t know a turnip from a dump truck and these property transfers among old-line family member can be very complicated to sort out, it appears to us that Miz Guest was buying out whatever share of Templeton was owned by her brother.
A long, gated and tree lined drive cuts through wide open pastures and sweeps around from the back of the house to a large motor court that spreads out from the front of the sprawling and imposing but architecturally plain mansion. The modified Georgian style brick house, built in 1924 and added on to in a somewhat willy-nilly fashion over the years, stretches out impressively on either side of the entry that is modestly marked by a simple white doorway surround. Listing information reveals that the Templeton estate spreads across 15.52 acres with an 11,532 square foot main house that contains a total of 28 rooms including 11 bedrooms and 6 full and 2 half poopers.
The front door opens into a bizarre yet fantastically amazing and wonderfully quirky decorative display that includes potted plants in the center of a white marble floor, a couple of ocelot-hide chairs and ottomans pushed up against the walls and, flanking the front door, a pair of massive curving elephant tusks, reminders of the days when big game hunting was de rigueur among America’s most wealthy.
Miz Guest, who we’re happy to say has honored and maintained the original casual but dignified decorative spirit of the house has also added her own idiosyncratic touches with unexpected and incongruous items such as the tiger striped rug in the Blue and White room that overlooks the gardens. The children will note the Salvador Dali portrait of Cornelia’s mother C.Z. hanging above the antique marble fireplace.
The animal print motif continues into a wide hall with well worn–some might even say worn out–leopard print wall to wall carpeting. In a New York Times profile Miz Guest–who currently has nine dogs and a donkey named Madonna–states that the carpet hides years and years of “dog stains.” Your Mama is, to be sure, down with the lightly tattered and slightly shabby look of classic old American money day-core but Your Mama hopes and prays the ladee of the house means dirty dog paws and not canine wee-wee because, well, that would be disgusting.
The other well-scaled public rooms include a large salon with soaring ceilings, wood floors, a mish-mash of animal print and brocade chairs, and a John Singer Sargent portrait of Cornelia’s infant father Winston on the lap of his grandmother Anne Phipps. In the ground floor library, there are cozy upholstered club chairs in front of a fireplace, animal hide covered stools and chairs–more remnants of the days when big game hunting was fashionable amongst the financially privileged–Chinoiserie accents, and walls and book filled shelves covered completely in an intricately patterned French printed cotton fabric. The celadon colored dining room has what appears to be green veined marble moldings and window surrounds, a worn parquet floor, and dining room chairs upholstered in a muted paisley print fabric that gives the room that certain aura of antique elegance meets discount fabric hodge–podge so particular to these sorts of houses.
Back in 2004 when the house was photographed for House & Garden, a magazine for which Cornelia’s mother C.Z. wrote a syndicated column on gardening, the sun room had lattice panels affixed to the walls. Today, according to listing photos, the lattice has been removed although the Pepto–bismol pink walls, dark wicker and faded floral print furniture pieces remain.
Miz Guest’s unrestrained and perhaps unresolved thing for animal prints and hides follows her, natch, right into her master bedroom where the floors are not at all surprisingly covered in wall to wall leopard print carpeting similar to that in the downstairs hallway. It is also in her bedroom where a topless portrait of her by Andy Warhol hangs above a marble topped commode.
In addition to the main house, the grounds of Templeton include two cottages, some greenhouses, extensive but somewhat haphazard gardens with big ol’ topiaries, a swimming pool, tennis court, and equestrian facilities with stables, barns, pastures and riding rings. Although it’s reported that she no longer rides much, Miz Guest was at one time an accomplished and dedicated equestrian.
Despite family portraits by John Singer Sargent, a Warhol or two, and all the trappings of old-school American landed gentry, the Guest’s Templeton has a distinct lack of pretense or high nosed snottiness. This house, children, is what new money aspires to when they pay big bucks to have their newly built mega-mansions done up by expensive decorators in the old style. These attempts to re-create the the dull luster and laissez faire day-core of old American houses rarely succeeds leaving too many mansions looking like overly precious and sad stage-sets. Of course, we’re certain that those with knowledge of and an affinity for actual old English country houses scoff and laugh at what passes for patina in old American homes modeled on their authentic English predecessors. But so it goes. One can always look up or down the totem pole, can’t they?
In addition to a few acting roles in recent years, Miz Guest has a catering business and she quite recently started a vegan cookie company that, with all due respect to Miz Guest, Your Mama thinks of as little more than a charming lark of a charming heiress looking for something to do in her quickly approaching middle aged years.
Although in 2008, Miz Guest told Dan’s Papers–a Hamptons mag–that she was relocating to Hollywood to restart the acting career that never really got of the ground the first time, the recent New York Post item reports that Miz Guest was overhead saying that she wanted to move to Montauk. Who knows? Not Your Mama, that’s who. With the always unpredictable and delightful Miz Guest it’s probably best not to speculate on her next move since she’s been surprising those around her with her somewhat eccentric heiress ways practically since the day she was born.
In other Old Westbury real estate news, (alleged) mob daughter Victoria Gotti still has her giant heap of architectural vomit on the market with an asking price of $2,895,000. We first discussed the beweaved beehawtcha’s behemoth back in December of 2008 when it was listed for $3,500,000.
listing photos: Prudential Douglas Elliman