Friday, October 29, 2010

Newport Mansion Tour

Last weekend, Nick and I were childless and decided to play tourist for a day.
If you're not familiar with Newport, RI, it was, and still is to some extent, a playground for the rich and famous. Back in the 1850s and beyond, (otherwise known as "The Gilded Age") Newport was the summer home for some of our country's most wealthy people.
Some of these summer homes have been spared from demolition and are open, through the work of the Preservation Society, to the public for tours.
On Saturday, Nick and I toured two of these mansions.
First, The Chateau-Sur-Mer, circa 1852 and is a National Historic Landmark.
This is the front of the house and the side entrance.
The Chateau-Sur-Mer is described as one of America's great Victorian houses. It was home to three generations of the Wetmore family. It features hand-carved Italian woodwork, Chinese porcelains, Egyptian and Japanese Revival stenciled wallpapers, and rare trees from as far away as Mongolia.
Because indoor photography is prohibited, I don't have photos past outside. The Preservation Society has done a fabulous job bringing this home back to its early glory. Some of the wallpapers are original and have been carefully removed, restored, and reinforced so they could be hung back in this beautiful home.
Our docent for this home was wonderful and so informative. This was my favorite, so far.

Here I am at the back of the house.
Next on the tour was The Rosecliff.
The Rosecliff, circa 1902 is described as a fantasy in terra cotta, some of Newport's grandest Gilded Age parties were staged here. Cole Porter was a frequent house guest, composiging and playing the piano in an upstairs sitting room. Its ocean views and expansive lawns create a dreamlike atmosphere.
The story behind the Rosecliff was much different than the first mansion we toured. This family had "newer" money and seemed to constantly try and prove their right to be part of "The Gilded Age" crowd. It seemed a little over done to me.
It was built by Theresa Fair Oelrichs, a silver heiress from Nevada, whose father James Graham Fair was one of the four partners in the Comstock Lode. She was the wife of Hermann Oelrichs, American agent for Norddeutscher Lloyd steamship line. She and her husband, together with her sister, Virginia Fair, bought the land in 1891 from the estate of George Bancroft, and commissioned the architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White to design a summer home suitable for entertaining on a grand scale. With little opportunity to channel her considerable energy elsewhere, she "threw herself into the social scene with tremendous gusto, becoming, with Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish and Mrs. O.H.P. Belmont (of nearby Belcourt) one of the three great hostesses of Newport."
Rosecliff stayed in the Oelrichs family until 1941, then went through several changes of ownership before being bought by Mr & Mrs J. Edgar Monroe of New Orleans in 1947. Mr. Monroe, a southern gentleman who had made his fortune in the ship building industry, came to Newport with his wife Louise every summer to escape the summer heat of the Deep South. The two became well known for the large parties they threw at Rosecliff; many of which had mardi gras theme, the Monroes loved dressing up in fancy costumes for these parties. Unlike Mrs. Oelrichs' parties, which were stiff and formal, the Monroes' parties were laid back and easy going. Because Hermann Oelrichs Jr had sold off all the furnishings in 1941, nearly all the furnishings visitors see at Rosecliff today are from the Monroe period of occupation. In 1971, Mr. and Mrs. Monroe donated the entire estate with its contents and a $2 million operating endowment to the Preservation Society of Newport County, who opened it to the public for tours. Mr Monroe often would come back to the estate for charity events up until his death in 1991 (information here taken from Wikipedia)

This is the front of the home.

The view from the front of the house looking toward the street.

The view from the back of the home.

The view of the back of the house. Notice the tacky awning over the back porch. This mansion is used lots for weddings and other large events.
 The ballroom was used to film scenes for the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby, The Betsy, High Society, True Lies, and Amistad.

There are a few other lovely mansions here that I look forward to seeing. I especially want to see the few that are open and decorated for the Christmas holidays! More pictures coming!


Keri S said...

Your pictures are beautiful!

JG said...

This was so interesting! What amazing houses. Reminds me of that old A&E show - American Castles. :) Thanks for sharing!

Newport Discovery Guide said...


Great reviews of the mansions! If you haven't already, you should definitely check out The Breakers Mansion and the Newport Cliff Walk also.

I was lucky to have grown up in Newport and love getting back there as often as I can.