11.4.10

Mr. Searles & His Many 'Castles', Part II

 For Part I, click here.

The rich and cranky elderly eccentric, living in his vast mansion, tended by a few faithful retainers,  the music of pipe organs filling the empty halls, is a standard cliche of  B-literature and movies.  For nearly 30 years after inheriting his wife's millions, Edward Searles would admirably live up to this script

Back home in Methuen, where Mr. Searles and his late wife had already joined his family homestead and a neighboring house into a single sprawling mansion with colonnades and bell tower, Mr. Searles began acquiring ever more land, moving buildings, demolishing houses, and in bold philanthropic gestures, began to remake the old mill town to his own civic ideals.  Soon the old house was to be subsumed, as Searles and his architect, Henry Vaughan built wing upon wing spreading up the hillside, in a gamut of styles from Gotchic to Elizabethan to Renaissance.


Having acquired the 18th century Waldo House just below Pine Lodge near the corner of East and  Streets, Searles decided to create a new ceremonial entrance to the estate.  A few years earlier, he had acquired two 50 foot columns from the recently demolished Bank of America building in Boston.  He now had them erected as part of a scheme for a ceremonial entrance from Street.   There was one small problem.  The church on the opposite corner owned a small triangle of land between his proposed gate and the street, and they would not sell, and would not trade.  The area became a park, and Mr. Searles concentrated on other projects----many other projects.

Just to jog your memory, this is Pine Lodge as it appeared at the time of Mrs. Searles' death.
A few years later, the modest wall to the left (west) of the gate looked like this, having acquired towers, and covered corridors, and wings spreading out from Pine Lodge

The modest gate itself was replaced by a granite gatehouse worthy of the castle-like affair that Pine Lodge was becoming

To the right of the gatehouse, more walls, and further uphill, a half timbered gallery bridged East Street, that Mr. Searles could get to the portion of the property across the street without going outside and braving traffic.  A few years later, he would annex East Street itself into the property, and this portion, elaborately re-landscaped became part of the estate road system, forming a grand approach to the gate house.

A portion of Lawrence Street, toward a lower gate on East Street, between yet more walls of the estate.

Within the grounds, looking from an upper gatehouse down to the inside of the entrance gatehouse.  The porte-cochere of Pine Lodge has been glazed, and acquired the air of an orangery.  Regretably, I have lost the other three images from the Searles era into cyber space)

A grand Palladian wing, called the "Marble Museum", was added to Pine Lodge. (Boston Globe photo)

Like an ancient English manor, wings in every style spread ever-upward from the original Pine Lodge, connected by a complex system of galleries and corridors.  This section is to the left of the upper gatehouse, incorporating a former free-standing tower which contained a carillon chime.


A new carillon tower was erected in the grounds.  In the middle ground can be seen the towers of Pine Lodge itself, and beyond them, the smokestacks of the mills and factories of the Merrimack Valley

 A few years later, Vaughan designed an exquisite gothic chapel below the carillon

Within the house were interiors in virtually every style, from Gothic to baroque to Louis XVI, with the high level of finish one would expect from a man whose career had been with America's top decorating firm.


The signature of Luigi Frullini of Florence, perhaps the finest decorative woodcarver of his day. (Globe)

Searles' very appropriate motto above a fireplace (Globe)

A heroically scaled urn survives from Searles's day in the octagonal pavilion. (Globe)
The ceiling of the octagon room (Globe)

Searles furnished Pine Lodge with a very fine collection of decorative arts, with some world class tapestries, a connoisseur's library of rare books, and fine European silver and porcelain.   However, one of his greatest domestic passions was for organ music, and he indulged this passion to an extent rarely equaled by any of his plutocratic peers, most of whom were content with merely one home pipe organ.   At Pine Lodge, there were three:  
 One in the library (courtesy of Neo Press, Flickr)

Another in an alcove of the great hall, brought, along with the marble columns, from Kellogg Terrace, the Searles house in Great Barrington (Neo, Flickr)

and there was yet a third, even larger, pipe organ.  Searles purchased the old Tenney Hat factory on the Spicket River a couple thousand feet from his house, and turned it into the Searles organ factory.  

 Interior of the Searles Concert Hall

Next to the factory, he had Vaughan design a private concert hall, which was to contain one of the largest organs in the country, purchased from the recently demolished Boston Music Hall.  In this building, Searles reached organ Nirvana, in a hall modeled after a baroque cathedral, with an organ of several thousand pipes.

The concert hall was connected visually and physically to the  Pine Lodge estate by a seven acre park which contained a 15 foot statue of George Washington by Thomas Ball, which Searles had purchased at the Chicago Exposition of 1893.  He surrounded the statue with giant links supposedly from a chain that had been stretched across the Hudson River during the Revolution to prevent British ships from invading.  The original is actually at West Point, and Searles's was a fake sold to him by the arms dealer Bannerman (never trust an arms dealer, I always say).   

To visually tie all this to Pine Lodge, Searles built a turreted bridge across the Spicket, designed by Vaughan.

 The Searle Bridge

After Searles' death in 1920, history repeated itself, and there was yet another will stuggle., this one very unattractive  After $5,000,000 in bequests to family and friends, the residual estate, approximately $18,000,000 (over half a billion in today's money), was left to his unmarried personal secretary, Arthur Walker.  A nephew who inherited $250,000 contested the will, as did a Greek bellboy at the Murray Hill hotel who had inherited $10,000, and who claimed that as Searle's protegee he had been promised far more, and was in possession of fairly embarrassing letters from Searles.  The newspapers took this up with relish, with tales of Searles having styled himself as Lord Methuen, traveling between his three castles (there are two more in Salem New Hampshire, and Windham, New Hampshire, both within 15 miles of Pine Lodge), and dressing his servants as characters from the Elizabethan era, both probably not true.
 
Yet another tower, this a folly in the gardens north of the house (Globe)

The concert hall and organ factory were inherited by Walker, but the castle was left to relatives named Rowland, with the hope that they would carry on the Searles name (as opposed to the nephew contesting the will, whose name was Searles), and occupy Pine Lodge as a family seat.   They did neither.  The place was discreetly placed on the market, and in 1922, opera diva Geraldine Farrar was trying to buy the estate.  The sale did not take place, and several sales of the contents were held over the years, disposing of Searles's collection.  In 1930, a portion of the original wing of Pine Lodge, nearest the wall, was torn down.

In the 1950's, a nephew sold the statue of George Washingtonto the developers of Forest Lawn cemetery outside Los Angeles, where the chain is still represented as an artifact of war.  .  Although bridge and concert hall, now public, survive, the landscape effect is lost---the park was sold by the nephew as site for a high school and housing development and are cut off from the castle grounds.
 The yellow brick wing added by the nuns.  In the distance can be seen the half timbered gallery

In 1958, the house itself was sold to the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary, to be operated as a school.  Almost their first act was to build a yellow brick box in the space left by the demolished wing (the same people who brought us St. Peter's have also brought us thousands of ugly yellow brick boxes on formerly handsome sites).   Interestingly, after this initial act of insensitivity, they have been careful stewards of the other buildings   Click on the aerial photos below for an idea of the complex today.  Bits of the original portion of Pine Lodge can be seen amidst the boxy modern wings.

To my mind, Pine Lodge as a whole occupies the nexus between Beauport and Hearst Castle, with a soupcon of Portmeirion village thrown in for good measure.  It predates any of them, but like them, it is the fantasy creation of a singular aesthetic mind.  Love it or hate it, it is not dull; silly and stupefying though portions of it may, there are also moments of real beauty in house and grounds.

Searles went on to build two more castles over the border in New Hampshire, which we'll cover more quickly later this week.   Despite his many eccentricities and reclusive nature, he was a generous philanthropist, and gifted his home town with a series of handsome buildings---a railroad terminal, two schools, three churches, a YMCA, an inn, and more.   I've just run out of steam on this post, however, and I suspect your attention span wavered long ago also, so we'll leave the story here.

Looking East.  The Palladian 'marble' wing is at center, with the brick campanile and octagon to its left.  The half timbered bridge is at upper right.  The trees to the left obscure yet another wing of the building, joining to the Elizabethan wing at upper left.  The chapel is at lower right.  Surviving portions of the original Pine Lodge can be seen in the lower foreground to the right of center.


NOTE:  In fact checking for this story, I found dozens of conflicting accounts and documents.  Faced with a plethora of dates, facts, and interpretations, I have tried to follow the most consistent and logical to come up with the tale told here.   I appreciate any errors brought to my attentions. 

5 comments:

Turner Pack Rats said...

i know i'm going straight to hell for badmouthing nuns but luckily i'm an atheist so i'm not too worried.
WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY THINKING? i hate to bring up the word abortion in mixed company but what a mess. it was an eccentric masterpiece before they got hold of it. the only thing that would help it now is a D8 CAT. i'm glad they gave up before they completely destroyed it but, as i said in a previous post, thank god their religion is on the wane.

security word def - "hyberpn" - belching while smoking dope

ArchitectDesign™ said...

You're wrong, I'm at strict attention! Can't wait to read more. I can't believe I've never heard of this guy (or his castles or soap opera life) before!

Reggie Darling said...

A case of too much money and not enough direction. The Duchess of Windsor only got half of it right...

little augury said...

A grand tour-all without leaving home. I can only imagine the talk as Searles went about his merry way. Leave it to the maidens of the Lord to bring Searles down to earth with that yellow box. Eccentricity always produces the same- in excess or constraint, but too true never boring. Loving these posts and never bored.pgt

noreen claire said...

Every so often the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary open the grounds for tours of the buildings and the grounds. You should visit. Having been blessed with the opportunity to spend my high school years wandering the property (and then sending several children to the preschools on the grounds), I can safely say that it is one of my favorite paces on earth.