Vizcaya in 1917: The Interiors

When I posted early photographs of Vizcaya from the 1917 Architectural Review several weeks ago, I promised a post with the interior views.   I'm undeniably easily distracted, but I always get around to it in the end, lest you thought I'd forgotten   These pictures show the interiors, more plushly furnished than today, as Paul Chalfin first created them for James Deering.   The Deering heirs, in a plan to open the property to the public, removed many excess items to facilitate the flow of visitors, and to emphasize the antique over the modern.  

For my previous posts featuring the early photographs of the gardens and exteriors, click here and here.

For the original article in Architectural Review, written by Vizcaya's presiding genius, Paul Chalfin, about the creation of the house (in which he churlishly does not give credit to landscape designer Diego Suarez), click here.  It provides fascinating insight into the sensibility that led to creation of this most extraordinary place.

The entrance loggia, with statue of Bacchus.

The visitor's room, for receiving business associates
The Adam Library, with Roman mosaic above mantel

The beautiful reception room, with grisaille wall mural, and (above) the gate from the courtyard
Shown here is the courtyard before the vandalism perpetrated on it by Vizcaya's then director and board in the 1980's.

As president of the board of a much smaller historic house museum myself, I am painfully aware of  and sympathetic about the hard choices facing museum directors trying to protect their buildings and collections.   The problems facing Vizcaya are huge---a house directly on a saltwater bay in a humid tropical climate, filled with textiles and furnishings created long ago in gentler climates.   Nevertheless, the rule of thumb in these matters is to approach the solution holistically, with as little intervention as possible.  At Vizcaya, one of the greatest houses in America, a perfect storm of ideas and needs resulted in one of the greatest acts of vandalism I have ever seen perpetrated on a protected historic building.   To seal the house for climate control, a decision was made to cover the courtyard with a glass pyramid, supported by huge concrete pylons.   The beautiful courtyard, open to the sky, recorded so beautifully in watercolor by John Singer Sargent, now has the feeling of an upscale shopping center atrium.  The experience of light and air is completely changed. There was no excuse. Many other solutions were possible.

Apparently, many architects and preservation groups banded together in protest at the time, but with visions of the Louvre Pyramid, and the ability to book the courtyard for all-weather events rentals (indeed, events venues are de facto an important factor in the funding of this expensive property) in their heads, Vizcaya's management forged ahead.  I understand that there is talk of undoing this awful construction, and as one who saw Vizcaya before it happened, I can only hope that it is taken down, and the integrity of the house restored. 
The upper loggia
Three views of the living hall in 1917
The living hall in 1950, nearing the end of Deering family occupancy
Two views of the salon, with 18th century Italian boiseries, and grisaille ceiling from an Italian palazzo, and 18th century French silk wallcovering with a palm tree motif, brought together brilliantly by Chalfin

The main staircase from the courtyard

Gate from upper loggia to the breakfast room

The upper dining room.  This room faces the formal gardens.  The first time I visited Vizcaya, the windows, which slide back into the wall were open, making of the room an open loggia.  The effect of garden and bay outside, and mural inside, was unforgettable.
A view of the small dining room in 1950
The sitting room of a guest suite.
The ground, or basement level of Vizcaya originally contained a suite of rooms for recreation including a bowling alley, billiard room and the smoking room seen in these two views, adjoining the swimming pool.  These spaces are  now re-purposed as cafe and gift shop.

The astonishing swimming pool, partially outdoors, and partially covered by this fantastical grotto under the house.  The walls are encrusted with shell motifs, the ceiling mural of underwater scenes is by Robert Chanler.  The details are extraordinary---note the seahorse caps on the railing posts


Earth Day

Can it be that earth day is 40 years old,?  Or on a more personal note, that I was 16, nearing 17, that first year?

I remember it well.   The environmental movement was very new, and a young group of us at school were taking a class called 'Human Ecology', whose instructor, no kidding, was named Green.   When it was suggested that we take an afternoon off from school to go out and clean up the roadsides, none of us had to be asked twice ("oh no, Mr. Green, I couldn't possibly miss Algebra just to spend a school afternoon outside").   

The principles of green, then as now, were imperfectly understood.  We set forth on our clean-up mission armed with a box of 100 plastic garbage bags, in my mother's Buick station wagon, longer than a city block, with a 455 cube 4-barrel with overdrive, the largest of the many large engines that GM produced in those days, burning up the ozone at 14 mpg (pretty houses aren't the only thing I know about).

Nevertheless, what we cleaned up from the roadsides that day was shocking---literally thousands of beer cans (Miller being the hands down rural Maine favorite in those pre-Heineken days), old newspapers and magazines, household refuse.  
Since then, Maine has passed both a returnable bottle bill and one of the stiffest drunk driving laws in the nation, pretty much taking care of the Miller can problem, and our village was one of the first in Maine to have re-cycling at the local dump, now known as the Solid Waste Disposal Center (I still call it the Dump), but the things one sees tossed away, waiting to fill up the landfill is shocking.   The town has a sewage treatment system, and no longer does the estate of a major department store heiress discharge the waste of its 10 bathrooms directly into the bay, as we discovered on another class outing.  Progress is being made.   Yet, despite all we know, there are still an alarming number of public building sized SUV's and gigantic Pickups trolling local streets, totally unnecessary for daily life, making that giant Buick Wagon of my youth look like a pedal car,(when did the humble pickup trucks of my childhood become the size of a semi, and why?), and in the summer, big box stores are artificially cooled to the temperature of a refrigerator.   The local food movement has some traction, but is expensive,  and the food mostly gets transported home in one of those Ozone burning SUV's  (wtf is wrong with people?).  People drive insanely fast, making a joke of fuel economy, but lawns are mostly organically fertilized now---rare is the sight of one of those unnaturally green weedless chemical lawns.   We mean well, but there's a long way to go before we get there.  

And then there's the matter of all those plastic shutters which will have to be thrown away some day. 


I'd Live Here--A Miscellany

The Dilettante is having a not-so-dilatory week---busy doing things he doesn't know how to do, like wire a barn, build a deck, and he is up against a paid writing deadline, so here's a little eye candy so you won't all forget me---six  buildings that catch my fancy, for diverse reasons,  in no particular order.

The James Kavanaugh House in Damariscotta Mills, Maine, 1803.  Situated on a hillside at the edge of meadows in this little back country hamlet, the pale yellow Federal House ois one of the loveliest sights imaginable at lilac season.  Poet Robert Lowell and Jean Stafford lived practically across the street during their tumultuous marriage, and there Lowell wrote 'The Mills of The Kavanaughs", one of his early great poems. (Historic American Buildings Survey, Cervan Robinson photographs)

The front door displays the chaste restraint that typifies the Federal style at its best.

"Oak Knoll", the Bertam Work residence in Mill Neck NY, designed by Delano & Aldrich in 1911.  Work was the president of B.F. Goodrich.  It is a superb example of a fully integrated classical scheme, with house and landscape conceived as one by the architects.  Despite its classical and Roman antecedents, there is a hint of streamlined modernism to come in the 1911 design.

The Garden House in the Grounds at Hamilton House in South Berwick, Maine, early 1900's.  It was built from the salvaged parts of an early 18th century house from Newmarket, New Hampshire, charmingly rearranged for romantic effect, in one of the loveliest gardens in one of the loveliest settings in New England. Upon seeing this early example of artistically arranged architectural salvage while visiting the owners of Hamilton House with his friend Isabella Stewart Gardiner,Henry Davis Sleeper was inspired to begin his 'colonial' remodeling of Beauport, his house at Gloucester, Massachusetts.  Sarah Orne Jewett's novel, The Tory Lover, is set at Hamilton House.

Casa Malaparte in Capri, designed by Adelberto Libera for writer Curzio Malaparte in 1937. It was a good year for modern houses on rocks on water---Fallingwater had just been completed, as had Fortune Rock on Mt. Desert Island.  The Dilettante could be persuaded to overcome his severe discomfort around heights for this house.  Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt was filmed here in 1963, as seen in the clip from the film.

The Pin Mill in the garden at Bodnant, an 18th century structure moved from a nearby village by Lady Aberconway to her estate in North Wales.  For a photograph of the dazzling stairway to the tower, click here

'Rosserne, a shingle-style summer cottage overlooking Somes Sound, Northeast Harbor, Maine, designed by Fred Savage in the late 1800's.  A perfect example, with a wonderful outside staircase. 


Pulitzer Prize: Chatwold

Today's announcement of this year's Pulitzer Prizes reminded me that the events that led to the creation of the prize were set in motion here in Down East Maine in 1902.

 Chatwold, Entrance front from Sheldon's Artistic Country Seats

In 1893, Joseph Pulitzer, arguably the most powerful newspaper publisher in America, and his wife, Kate Davis, cousin of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, came to Bar Harbor for the summer, renting the Louise Bowler Livingston estate, spectacularly located on a cove off Ocean Drive south of town.  

Views of Chatwold from American Architect & Building News,  1882

The estate, known as Chatwold, had been designed for Mrs. Livingston, when she was Miss Bowler, in 1884 by the prominent Boston architects Rotch and Tilden.  Much admired, it was published in many of the foremost architectural publications of the day, including George Sheldon's Artistic Country Seats.  Of stucco and half timber construction over a first floor trimmed in the local pink granite, the turreted affair consisted of 27 rooms and an astonishing 7 bathrooms on its three main floors.  The Pulitzers liked the property, and bought the estate from Mrs. Livingston the next summer.

Fireplace alcove under stairs.  American Architect

Pulitzer suffered from a nervous disorder and blindness, and was extremely sensitive to sound.  He was said to be happiest on water, especially on his 267 foot steam yacht, the Liberty, which was kept anchored and ready offshore.  To achieve ideal quiet on land, McKim, Mead & White were summoned from New York to design an addition with special soundproof bedroom for Pulitzer.   And what an addition it was---connected to the main house by a new wing, it was a huge stone tower, forty feet square, four stories high.  At basement level, there was an indoor pool, ocean fed and steam heated.  On the main floor, there was a dining room, and a huge paneled library.

Two views of the ocean front, showing Tower of Silence

Above on the next two floors were offices and bedrooms for Pulitzer's secretaries (who were said to dread their working summers with their driven employer).  At the top of the tower was Pulitzer's bedroom---with a floor on ball bearings, double glazed windows, and walls insulated with steel wool.  The completed structure was dubbed the 'Tower of Silence' by family and staff.  A new stable, with stalls for 26 horses and extensive servant's quarters was built, along with enlarged greenhouses to keep the house in fresh flowers and fruits.

Entrance front, American Architect & Building News, 1883
Entrance Front after additions of Tower of Silence (left), and new service wings (right)

Despite his paper's editorial stance on wealth, Pulitzer himself had no trouble adapting to the luxurious life at Bar Harbor.  Summers passed, with yachting parties, tutors and dances for the children, daily horseback rides with his secretaries, and yet another enlargement of Chatwold.  Andrews, Jaques & Rantoul, a Boston firm with a large Bar Harbor practice (Herbert Jaques had a summer house just down the road at Schooner Head) were summoned, and the servant's wing  was nearly tripled in size, and yet another stone tower added.  A critic at the time said the whole had come to resemble a Norman village.  With over 50 rooms, Chatwold was now one of the largest houses in a town of very large houses.

In the summer of 1902, seized with a new idea, Pulitzer summoned his secretaries, and in the library at Chatwold dictated an outline of this idea---for a school of journalism at Columbia University, which would also administer a prize for journalistic excellence, which eventually became the Pulitzer Prize.

Pulitzer died aboard his yacht en route to his winter home on Jekyll Island, Georgia in 1911. The next year, the new Columbia School of Journalism was opened, and in 1917, the first Pulitzer prizes were awarded.

Pulitzer's yacht, the Liberty

By 1925, Mrs. Pulitzer found the responsibility of maintaining the estate too burdensome, and retired to her chateau at Deauville, leasing the cottage to her son, Joseph Pulitzer II, for $2,500.  Two years later, upon her death, he assumed ownership of the estate.  Guy Lowell, architect of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, was brought in to make updates and alterations to the house.  Life continued on much as before until the stock market crash of 1929.  The  John Singer Sargent portrait of Kate Davis Pulitzer was still shipped to Bar Harbor each summer to hang in the dining room, which had acquired new murals of the Bay of Naples.  A chauffeur still drove the sleek gray 'country' Packard.  But, though still a wealthy man, Pulitzer felt the pinch and tried to economize where he might.  Among his cost cutting measures was reducing Gardenia operations in the greenhouse---no longer would each breakfast tray have a fresh gardenia every morning, only those of Mrs. Pulitzer and special guests---"the children won't really miss them".   Nevertheless, hothouse melons were still grown for the table, and a Swiss chef, several gardeners, a butler and a bevy of maids continued to be employed, at reduced wages, and somehow the family muddled through.

The music room, attached to the greenhouses.

The end was near, however.  Chatwold wasn't opened in the summer of 1932, and in 1936, the Tower of Silence was taken down.  In 1938, the Pulitzers rented a smaller cottage nearby, although they found the net saving was only $2,000.  Chatwold was placed on the market for $225,000, but with the effects of the depression still being felt, and war on the horizon, there were no takers.   A lavish wedding for daughter Kate  in 1941 was the last big party at Chatwold, with several hundred guests dancing to an orchestra on the terrace.  In 1945,  after writing a friend that "the day of the summer palace is over", Joseph Pulitzer II had Chatwold,  the greenhouses, and all outbuildings except the huge garage demolished.  He had planned to build a new house on the site, but instead purchased a relatively smaller cottage, Beachcroft, closer to town, and remodeled it, incorporating salvage from Chatwold.  Other choice bits--mantels, doors, paneling and art, were stored in the garage for future use .  In 1947, a forest fire swept Bar Harbor, destroying the garage and the stored fragments of Chatwold, and were it still standing, Chatwold itself would also have gone up in flames.  The day of the summer palace was indeed over.

 For a tale of the servant problem at Chatwold, read a story by the Dilettante in New York Social Diary by clicking HERE


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.