Vizcaya II

The Driveway Gate

Last weekend's post about Vizcaya brought some marvelous comments and emails, and so I will do two more posts of these early photos of the dream palace created by James Deering and his talented designers.  This post is a quickie intermezzo---the next post will bring the sublime courtyard and jaw dropping interiors when they were brand new old.

Approach to house from circular court at junction of drives

One of the comments on the last post led me to the excellent blog for Vizcaya's gift shop, which includes many interesting early photos and informational bits about this most wonderful place, definitely worth checking out.  Here is the link:  http://vizcayamuseumshop.blogspot.com/

And here are the pictures.  The color photos are from National Geographic, November, 1950, when Deering's nieces still owned Vizcaya, which became public property three years later, and the black and white photos are from the first published photo shoot of Vizcaya, from Architectural Review, July, 1917.

 So maybe keeping a gondolier on staff was a bit much.....

This photo of the barge terrace is also a good example of why 
we are in so much trouble as libraries continue to de-accession
primary materials for scanned versions of uncertain quality.

Toward the yacht landing from the house terrace, flags snapping in the breeze

South Facade, grass terrace steps, service building to left

Gate to Service Yard West side of terrace

The balancing wall of the orchid garden on the east side

The North facade, with entrance to the billiard room and bowling alley in Basement

For part I of this post, please click HERE
For part III of this post, please click HERE


Time Travel: Vizcaya in 1917 and 1950 (Oh Toto, We're Not in Maine Anymore)

My first glimpse of Vizcaya, in the November 1950 issue of National Geographic
In my childhood, before Playboy became ubiquitous, National Geographic Magazine, with its coverage of the world's peoples and cultures, served an important function---many a rural little boy got his first titillating  glimpse of bare breasts in its pages.  As important a service as it was, for this rural boy an even greater National Geographic moment was the rainy day circa 1961 that I found the November 1950 National Geographic in a stack of old issues at my uncle's summer cottage---while, no doubt, my cousins were out playing softball.

 The stunning salon, with its 18th century silk wall coverings of palm trees, echoing the gardens beyond
It was love at first sight, and house crazy though I was even at that age,  my 8 year old imagination stopped at more obvious things like New England Colonials and English Castles.  This was like nothing I'd never encountered.  The article was about a house.  The title was 'An Italian Palazzo in Miami.'   The palazzo in question of course, was the sublime Vizcaya, James Deering's dream evocation of the Veneto during the Renaissance.   The effect of this sensuous house and its magnificent gardens was electrifying on my impressionable young brain.
 A Roman sarcophagus as fountain, fitted out with frogs by Charles Cary Rumsey
I had not before imagined whole rooms and ceilings lifted from European palaces, (I was eight), carefully rearranged and combined for artful effect, to say nothing of stone barges set in artificial harbors.  For the next few years, while my peers imagined themselves astronauts and cowboys, I preferred to think of myself as a Doge, or at least an International Harvester heir, living of course in Renaissance splendor at the edge of Biscayne Bay.  I think it is safe to say I was never the same after.....

The plan for the gardens at Vizcaya.  Much of the lagoon is now filled in and occupied by a hospital

The story of Vizcaya is well known----International Harvester heir James Deering, a bachelor, buys large tract of jungle in then rural Miami as site for a winter home, assembles a brilliant  team----architect F. Burrall Hoffman, Artist/Decorator/Cicero Paul Chalfin, landscape architect Diego Suarez, and together, not always harmoniously, they manage to build the finest American house and garden of its day.  In her 1926 book, Country Houses of America, Augusta Owen Patterson, alluding to the teams of artists and craftsmen dispatched to Florida said "it seemed at the time as if everyone knew someone who was working on the Deering job."
 Vizcaya, an 'aeroplane view' from 1916, showing the unfinished gardens to the south
The estate was under construction for many years, and originally was far more extensive than what the visitor sees today...sadly, part of the estate was sold for development, the southern gardens, wilder than the formal gardens that extend from the house, with canals and lagoons, were sold by the Deering heirs to the Catholic archdiocese as the site for a hospital and high school.  Almost the first act of the archdiocese was to fill in the lagoon to the property line (not many people thought of landscape restrictions in those days). No matter the myriad good works that hospitals perform, their sensitivity to surroundings is usually minus nil, and the view shed from Vizcaya is ever increasingly compromised, and where once Deering's houseboat docked at a fantasy boathouse, there is now a parking lot to the water's edge, and the high rise towers of the hospital campus urbanize the famous view.   As for the gardens themselves, the maintenance is not artful or sympathetic, and trees and shrubs and parterres are badly shaped and pruned. Concessions are made to facilitate the events that help pay the bills.  Even so,  the magic of the fantastical sculptures and grottoes, the sound of splashing water in fountains under the tropical sun, still seduce.

The Entrance Court
In 1917, Architectural Review published Vizcaya, newly completed, its gardens still under construction and the beautiful black and white photographs introduced Vizcaya to the world.  I came across them again a couple of days ago, and here they are, for your viewing pleasure.  Especially wonderful, I think, are the photos of the models for the as yet unfinished gardens, showing an earlier scheme for the casino as finally built, and the last photos, of the lost boathouse, are dream-like.  There are too many photos to publish at once, but if response is great enough, I'll post the rest over the next week.

 The house from the lattice tea house
Below, four views of the model for the gardens, showing the original design for the casino.

Model, view from house to casino
Model, section through mound
Model, water terrace to casino
Model, casino and mound from lagoon

 Looking North on the barge terrace, to the now long vanished teahouse (actually an improvement without this lavish touch)

Looking south toward boathouse past barge--sculpture by A. Stirling Calder

The boathouse, with Deering's houseboat, Nepenthe, anchored alongside

The boathouse entrance hall

Boathouse, ladies powder room

And last, but not least, evoking North Africa, the jaw dropping roof terrace on the boat house, looking across Biscayne Bay.

 For Part II of this post, please click HERE
For Part III of this post, please click HERE 


Fun Outdoors

I've got more house posts underway, but no time to pull it together for a few days,  In the meanwhile, I came across this old issue of National Sportsman the other day, and the cover made me smile--it shows two boys, one rough & tumble, with a freshly caught eel, the other prissily dressed, recoiling in horror.   It reminded me of childhood fishing expeditions with my cousin.  Go ahead, guess which boy I was....


A Down East Chandelier---Oh Buoy!

I don't have a better picture of this entertaining  item that passed through inventory a few years ago, and I cropped this out of a larger picture of the store, hanging out front---but I am surprised that it's the only one I've ever seen.  It's a true Down East Maine original---a chandelier made from a lobster buoy.  Though one can't tell from this picture, it was actually rather attractive--nicely curved iron arms attached to the body of the buoy, with tole candle holders painted to match, and suspended from a sturdy bit of anchor chain.   It had great scale, and was just the thing for a big rustic seaside boathouse----the Down East equivalent of a wagon wheel chandelier in a New Mexico adobe.

For the uninitiated, all those of you unfortunate enough not to  live within breathing distance of the Atlantic ocean,  a lobster buoy is one of the  major sights on waters around here---brightly painted, as surely as a racing stable's colors to identify its owner, and show where his underwater traps are.   From the black and orange of this buoy, one is tempted to speculate that this lobsterman  may have gone to Princeton.   One of my favorite clients had a sweet old husband who lived for three things, Golf, The Republican Party, and Princeton.  He wasn't much interested in antiques, but would sit in the car with his Wall Street Journal, waiting for her to make her purchases.  Until the day that he spotted this....I have almost never seen a husband so excited in an antiques shop....his very own school colors!!!


When Bad Things Happen to Nice Houses: "The Willows" Becomes "Atlantic Oakes"

 The Willows in 1958
Located immediately south of the E.T. Stotesbury cottage on Eden Street in Bar Harbor, 'The Willows' was built in 1913 as a summer home for Miss Charlotte Baker.  Miss Baker, an heiress to the fortune of her aunt's husband, railroad financier John Stewart Kennedy, was also a major benefactress to and later head of the Spence School.

The 27 room cottage was designed by the prominent Boston firm of Andrews, Jacques & Rantoul,, who maintained a practice in Bar Harbor.   While not an architectural masterpiece, The Willows was nevertheless a comfortable and gracious design in a modified Regency style that architects used to do so well, set on rolling lawns at the edge of an ocean bluff.  Here Miss Baker spent her summers pleasantly, entertaining the many Spence alumna who summered nearby, painting in the mornings in her large conservatory, giving musicales, and visiting her aunt's fortress-like cottage, Kenarden Lodge.

The Willows, 1958
In 1938, the estate was purchased by the legendary Sir Harry Oakes.  Born in Sangerville, Maine, Oakes studied to be a doctor at Bowdoin, but, lured by the adventure of prospecting, he instead went to the gold fields of the Yukon in 1898.  Failing to find fortune there, he moved on to California and Australia, before finally striking a lode in Kirkland Lake in Northern Ontario in 1912.  And what a lode it was.  It proved to be the second largest strike in the Americas, and within a decade was the most profitable mine in the Western Hemisphere.  By 1920, he was one of the world's richest men.  Married to Australian beauty Eunice Bailey, Oakes became a British citizen in protest of high Canadian taxes, and in 1939 was created a baronet in recognition of his philanthropic endeavors.

On July 8, 1943, Lady Oakes and three of their five children were in residence at Bar Harbor, with Sir Harry expected to arrive the next day from their home in the Bahamas.   He never arrived.  That morning, he was found murdered in his bed, in what became one of the most sensational murder cases of the day, temporarily blowing World War II from the top of the headlines.   The stylish but not very bright former King of England, Edward, Duke of Windsor, was governor the Bahamas at the time.  Feeling that local police were not up to the investigation, he imported two detectives from Miami, whose methods were later found suspect.  Count Alfred de  Marigny, the new husband of Oakes' 18 year old daughter Nancy was arrested and tried, but not convicted for the murder, which was never solved.

In 1947, a devastating forest fire swept through Bar Harbor, destroying much of the town, including seventy of the summer estates that had survived the twin depredations of the Great Depression and WWII.  In 1953, the abandoned Stotesbury estate next door was demolished and replaced with a Canadian National Railways ferry terminal, providing tourist service to Nova Scotia.  Across the road from the rolling lawns of The Willows, two burned out estates were replaced by motels.  In only a few years, the neighborhood around the Willows had changed irreparably.   In 1958, Lady Oakes donated The Willows to Bowdoin College as a conference center.

By the late sixties, the Oakes Center of Bowdoin had become an expensive luxury for the college, and the estate, still holding graciously against its changing neighborhood was sold to a local developer, and the coup de grace arrived soon after.

The Willows as it appears today
In their coverage of the Bar Harbor Fire, the radical French newspaper 'Le Figaro' reported that the local peasantry, to protest the long occupation by the landed aristocracy, had taken torches to the homes of the rich.   There may have been some metaphorical truth to this, as in the decades following the fire, several local developers, correctly divining Bar Harbor's future as a tourist destination for visitors to nearby Acadia National Park, bought many of the estates and almost willfully destroyed them, and the lovely landscape their grounds collectively created, in the rush for a buck.  (see Sonogee).  The new owner of The Willows first leveled the elegant grounds, filling them with cheap and poorly sited motel units.  Then, he turned his attention to the main house.

The stucco exterior was stripped of detail and clad in vinyl siding, (and the Dilettante's bete noir, poorly scaled plastic shutters) and the third floor dormers were replaced with a 'penthouse' that more resembled a mobile home that had somehow landed on the roof---one half expects to see a pair of ruby slippers peeking out above the gutter. The new resort was christened The Atlantic Oakes.

Sic transit gloria.  The new corporate owners, with all good intention, like to refer to their recent elegant restoration of the estate, but I think the pictures speak for themselves.  As for the interior decor, don't ask, don't tell.

Another view of The Willows as it is now.  In the distance is the now unused Nova Scotia Ferry Terminal at the site of the former Stotesbury estate.

Aerial view.  The house is left center above the dock.


Elsie de Wolfe Says.....

"Plain walls are the refuge of the artistically destitute"

And apparently she's in good company.  

I found this ad a few minutes ago in Building Age for November 1927---as you can see, I try to stay current with trends---and I love Lady Mendl's aesthetic pronouncement, whether I agree or not.

And there's that wallpaper again:  Zuber's Decor Chinois, a huge favorite of the 1920's.  I did a post about it a few weeks back, and it showed up again in a 1920's home theater posted here on 'The Peak of Chic' last week

P.S. In case you are wondering, I don't agree.


Waiting for Summer--Follies in New England

Winter is almost over, even in Maine--knock on wood--and thoughts are turning again to outdoor pleasures

The tradition of a folly or gazebo as a garden retreat, goes back at least to the gardens of ancient Rome.  Here in New England, with our short summers, the idea of a shady retreat, a place to enjoy a cool refreshment on a warm  afternoon holds great appeal..  A summerhouse or gazebo is a pleasant spot from which to contemplate the garden or view, and simultaneously, can be beautiful feature or eye catcher in the landscape.

A rare few survive from the 18th century here in New England.  They are usually enclosed, and though made of wood, and on a smaller scale, recall their cousins on grand estates in England.  It was not unusual for these structures to be placed on a small artificial 'mount' in the English after European fashion.  Unlike England, with its large preserved country estates, America has always been a country on the move, and most of the earliest that survive do so because they have been moved from their original settings. 

An early survivor is the 1766 summerhouse from the garden of Abraham Redwood in Newport RI, erected long before that seaport city became the most luxurious resort of the gilded age.  In the 19th century, it was moved to the grounds of the exquisite Palladian library that he endowed in the mid-18th century, the first library in America. The chaste octagonal facade is of wood, rusticated and surfaced with sand in the paint to emulate stone.


At the Isaac Royall house in Medford, Massachusetts, was this grand affair topped by a statue of Mercury,  built in the mid-18th century, on an artificial mount that hid an ice house below it in Capt. Royall's pleasure grounds.  By the early 20th century, his grounds were swallowed up by development, and all that survives of the structure is single arched window frame.


The most exquisite to survive from the 18th century is the Derby summerhouse, designed by the great Salem, Massachusetts carver/architect Samuel McIntire for Capt. Derby's summer farm in Danvers Massachusetts in 1795.  Elias Hasket Derby was a merchant of great wealth, the Donald Trump of his day, but obviously  with far better taste.  Topping the roof were carved figures representing the Reaper (as in Harvest, not Grim) , and the Milkmaid.  A young lady who visited the estate in 1802 wrote of going upstairs to the room above, “The air from the windows is always pure and cool and the eye wanders with delight over the beautiful landscape below…The room is ornamented with some Chinese figures and seems calculated for serenity and peace.”

The Endicott family enjoy their re-located summerhouse.
In the late 19th century, the summerhouse was near ruin, and development pressures were closing in on the Derby farm.  Derby's great-granddaughter, Mrs. William Crowninshield Endicott, rescued the it, seen on its original foundation in the upper photo, and had it moved to her nearby country estate, where it still graces the rose garden designed for it, now open to the public.

Okay, now bear with me for a second,  for you know how I like all the dots connected, and  this part requires your full attention. Already in the garden of the Endicott estate was a gazebo built in 1840 by Mrs. Endicott's grandfather, Joseph Peabody, from whom she inherited the estate.  Upon the death of her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Endicott, Jr., a nephew inherited the Peabody gazebo and moved it to his property on Martha's Vineyard, where it sits to this day.  In 1989, the Danvers Historical Society erected a replica of this structure, above, in the original location.   Email me if you need a re-cap.  As I've mentioned before, we really like moving buildings around here in New England, and sometimes a playbook is required to keep it all straight.

McIntire also designed a smaller, no less exquisite summerhouse for another member of the Derby family, now also traveled from its original location.  It remained on the Derby, later Beebe, farm in Wakefield until moved to the grounds of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, where its setting on a small artificial mount has been carefully recreated.

 This late 18th century landscape painting by the Reverend Jonathan Fisher of Blue Hill, Maine shows a typical New England town, probably Bucksport, in the background, while in the foreground, a family enjoys tea by a domed gazebo.  It is likely that this gazebo never existed there, but is an artistic conceit inspired by an English print.

High Street in Newburyport, Massachusetts, is one of the handsomest streets of New England, lined with grand three story Federal mansions.  In the early to mid-19th century, a local tradition of lattice summerhouses, often with 'gothick' touches arose, and several examples are still in situ.  Here, above and below, in early photographs published in 1917 in Architectural Review are two of them.

The New England tradition of save and recycle is at work here.  The octagon feature on the roof of example above in Newburyport was the originally the sounding board over a pulpit, salvaged when an early meeting house was being remodeled.

In rural New Ipswich New Hampshire, an impossibly light summerhouse is at summit of a mount, framed by an allee of maples, at Forest Hall, built as a wedding present for Charles Barrett and his bride.  Those of us who can happily sit through Merchant-Ivory costume dramas will remember this as the location for The Europeans.

A Gothic Revival summerhouse in a garden at the childhood home of artist Waldo Pierce, friend of Hemingway, in Bangor, Maine.  As the neighborhood deteriorated in the mid-twentieth century the gazebo was rescued by the Hutchins family, and moved to their estate at the edge of town, where it improbably, dreamily, appeared as an exotic apparition above I-95 for many years, but is now, I believe, lost.

In Belfast, Maine, sits the magnificent Joseph White house, a Greek Revival masterpiece by Calvin Ryder.  The house sits on a pie shaped lot at the juncture of two streets, and at the apex of the triangle, anchoring the street corner behind a classical iron fence, is this romantic example from the 1850s.

A leitmotif of the Victorian age was that more was never enough, and here we have a  gazebo as observatory tower seen in the 1880's on the J.S. Potter estate in Framingham, Massachusetts. Potter was a self made businessman, and his garden was a veritable amusement park of garden structures.

By the late 19th century, there were conflicting view on landscape design in New England---the Arcadian  ideal, as espoused by Frederick Law Olmstead was one.  It can be seen in this example, with grotto under, designed by the great man himself at Moraine Farm, built for the Phillips family in the 1880s.

Another trend was European style grandeur and formality, ever the means to display wealth.  The apogee was reached with this pair of French classical limestone tea houses in the formal garden of The Elms in Newport, Rhode Island, designed by Horace Trumbauer for coal magnate Edwin Berwind. This photograph from a 1931 National Geographic shows the high level of maintenance that once characterized these estate gardens. A quarter century separates these structures from the Olmstead teahouse at Moraine Farm.

In Bar Harbor, Maine, the natural and the classical were brought together by this domed gazebo, situated in a carefully groomed naturalistic landscape recalling the paintings of Claude Lorrain.  Although built of wood, this lovely structure improbably survived the 1947 forest fire that consumed the other buildings on the estate where it stood, including the enormous main house designed by R.H. Robertson, a mere two hundred feet away.  This picture was taken in 1971, showing the effects of 25 years of abandonment in grounds gone wild.   I believe the gazebo no longer exists.

In the early 20th century, artist turned architect Charles Adams Platt, back from Italy, electrified America with a new sort of garden, based on Italian precedent, less grand and formal than the French beaux arts, gardens and house fully integrated with the rooms of the house.   The garden with which he made this auspicious debut was at Faulkner Farm, the Sprague estate in Brookline, Massachusetts.  The summerhouse at the terminus of the dream-like formal garden, embraced on either side by a pergola, was one of the most admired of its day.

 Live or Memorex?  Will the real McIntire summerhouse please step forward?
And finally, we travel more than full circle, back to Newport, Rhode Island.   A mere two blocks from the Redwood garden house where we started, this tea house was designed by architectural historian Fiske Kimball, later director of the Philadelphia Museum,  for Miss Martha Codman on the grounds of her summer home, Berkeley villa.   In case you're rubbing your eyes in disbelief, and about to say, 'That stupid Dilettante, he's inserted the wrong picture", guess again.  It  is a copy of the Derby summerhouse by McIntire.  Miss Codman was also a descendant of Derby, and a family feud was precipitated when she copied the summerhouse for her own garden without the permission of its owner, her cousin Mrs. Endicott.

Actress Jane Pickens, later Mrs. Walter Hoving, purchased Berkeley Villa from the estate of Martha Codman.Here she is seen in front of the doppelganger teahouse, with butler in the background waiting to serve afternoon tea.
photograph by from Town & Country,