22.1.11

"THIS GARDEN WAS MADE IN 1901 AND NAMED WELD"

So reads an inscription on a garden wall at the subject of today's post.  I warn the reader, that though the text runs under 700 words, there are over 20 pictures, so lush the material available to illustrate this story--and what point a blog if not to be able to well illustrate a point?

One who read the January 19th post about Faulkner Farm, the Sprague/Brandegee estate and garden at Brookline, Massachussets, may experience a sense of deja vu, for the outlines of the two stories are more than a little similar:  An heiress granddaughter of Boston shipping magnate William Fletcher Weld marries, buys a hilltop estate on ancestral land in Brookline from a cousin, hires Charles Adams Platt to design a garden that becomes one of the most famous of its time, and has architect Herbert Browne enlarge the already large house. It does all have a rather familiar ring, doesn't it?  Now for the ways in which the story is different...

Isabel and Larz Anderson, by Philip de Lazlo (collection of Society of the Cincinnati)

Isabel Weld Perkins was born in 1877, and was the first cousin of Mary Pratt Sprague of Faulkner Farm, born 6 years earlier.  In 1897 Miss Perkins married Paris-born diplomat Larz Anderson, a grandson of Nicholas Longworth of Cinncinnati (as was the husband of Alice Roosevelt).  In 1899, the Andersons purchased the 64 acre estate of her cousin, William Weld.  In 1901, casting an admiring, or perhaps envious (history doesn't record which) eye on the famous garden that Charles Adams Platt had designed for her cousin on the next hilltop, a mere half-mile away, she hired the now famous architect to design a garden for her estate, which she named 'Weld' after her grandfather.  This garden, more elaborate than the garden at Faulkner Farm, was no less a sensation, and joined it as one of the most published and influential landscapes of the early 20th century---the formal gardens by which all others would be judged.

A photograph of Charles Adams Platt's model of a preliminary design  for the new garden at Weld (Architectural Record)
The plan of the garden as executed.  The house was at bottom of this plan

The completed garden

His commissions for the Weld cousins were unusual in the Platt oeuvre, as both involved pre-existing houses.  In most of his work, Platt designed both house and garden, with perfect integration between outdoors and indoors.  The Anderson garden at Weld was further unusual in that it was not visible from the house, unlike the garden at Faulkner Farm, but rather accessed across the bowling green that fronted the house, and thence by paths that approached the garden from the side.  The main garden was built on a terrace pushed out from the hillside, and featured a center panel of grass, flanked by parterres, and surrounded by terraces that effected changes in levels and vistas.  As at Faulkner Farm, a king's ransom in antique Italian sarcophagi, urns and columns ornamented the garden.  Accompanying the main garden were the usual complement of cutting garden, a rock garden, greenhouses, nursery gardens, wild gardens, and an allee.   At the base of the hill lay a private polo field, and between it and the main gate on Newton Street, was  an ornamental lake, with bridges and a domed temple at its head.  In a generous civic gesture, the high stucco wall that sheiled the estate from the road was pierced with an elegant wrought iron screen to give passers by a vista of this Arcadian scene

 Two views of the lake as it appears today

The Andersons now turned their eye briefly toward Washington, where they intended to spend half the year for Mr. Anderson's diplomatic career.  They hired Herbert Browne, the architect of the main house at Faulkner Farm, to design a large townhouse based on early 18th century London precedents.  As with  many of Browne's works, it displayed the same bold juxtapositions of scale and liberty with details that characterized his style.

The entrance court of the Anderson's Washington town house (HABS)
Garden front of the Washington house (HABS)

The Washington house completed, the Andersons dispatched Browne back to Brookline, where a new brick wing in Baroque style was added, becoming the main facade on the garden side.  Supposedly, the new wing was modeled after Lulworth Castle.  This viewer does not see the resemblance. At any rate, not yet 30, Isabel Anderson was mistress of two of the grandest establishments in America.

 The main house at Weld as it appeared when purchased by the Andersons (Digital Commonwealth)

The same view after addition of the new wing fronting the bowling green (Smithsonian Library of American Gardens)

The new wing from the bowling green (Museum of Transportatioin)
 Two views of the library (Museum of Transportation collection)

The Brighton Pavilion and 18th century Dresden have an uneasy meeting in the ballroom.



A garden room overlooking the library had murals likely by George Porter Fernald, a frequent collaborator with the architect.


Larz Anderson was appointed Ambassador to Japan in 1912.  Their time there was to have a profound effect on the Andersons, and upon their return to America, Weld was to receive a layer of Japanese art and gardening to add to its Beaux Arts splendors.   A large bronze eagle that had been in their garden in Tokyo was installed in a new Japanese garden built adjacent to the cutting gardens.  A room in the house was sheathed in simple Japanese style (although retaining its baroque mantel), and a superb collection of Bonsai was housed in one of the conservatories (this collection is now at the Arnold Arboretum in neighboring Jamaica Plain).

The Japanese Garden, top, and Bonsai collection, bottom

Life continued along pleasantly, glamorously, for the Andersons.  Isabel published memoirs of their world travels, Larz retired in 1913 from Diplomatic service, and they devoted their time to philanthopic affairs.  The Depression seems to have been little felt by them.  Larz Anderson died in 1937, and Isabel in 1948.  They were childless, and with no children to carry on their estates (or even sell and subdivide them), Mrs. Anderson left the Washington house to the Society of the Cincinnati, which maintains it in superb condition as a house museum and headquarters.  With equally good intentions, she left Weld, and all its contents, from personal papers and furnishings to the 16 cars  in the garage, to the Town of Brookline, for the enjoyment of the public.
 The carriage house and garage at Weld, now the Museum of Transportation

It is likely that Isabel Anderson's concept of public enjoyment was a more genteel one than the one that emerged.  She doubtless pictured the house and its collections open to public view, and the lovely grounds available for public strolls and picnics.  The 1950's were a bad time for great houses and gardens, however, and the Powers That Be in Brookline had a few ideas of their own.  The polo field was replaced by a baseball diamond--no harm there, and doubtless more democratic.  The huge carriage barn and garage, with the Anderson's 45 year's worth of elegant cars became an auto museum.  The ornamental lake remained much the same.  The house did not fare so well.  Totally neglected by the early 50's, it's collections were dispersed, and the house demolished.  Next to go were the gardens, also neglected.  In a spectacularly ignominious act, they were partially demolished in favor of the most elegantly sited ice rink in America.  It is hard to begrudge the happy citizenry their hockey rink, clearly much loved and muh used, but equally it is undeniable that to build it there can only be construed as a wanton act of vandalism.  There were other flat spots on the property, and no doubt other flat spots in public ownership elsewhere in Brookline.  One can only imagine the planning meetings----'man, that sunken garden sure would make a great ice rink---we'll just get rid of some of that old statuary, bring in a bulldozer, and Bob's your uncle!.'

Plan of the estate.  House and main garden at center (Museum of Transportation)

And approximately the same view today, with skating rink in formal garden, and steel maintenance sheds in cutting and kitchen gardens.
And in case you missed it, the hockey rink

Sad, very sad. Following are pictures of the garden in its heyday.

Entrance to the Bowling green

Exedra bench on the Bowling green


 Views of the main garden, now ice rink.

 Cutting garden
THE END


For the companion post about Faulkner Farm, click HERE

18 comments:

Mansions of the Gilded Age said...

One never realizes how important gardens and landscaping are to a house, no matter what size. And unfortunately when money grows tight, the garden and grounds maintenance are the first to be cut back. You often read about these great estates and their gardens and if they exist long enough, there is always talk of simplifying. Whitemarsh Hall simplified its gardens later and Lynnewood hall today with out its formal gardens leaves the building looking lost. Fortunately a few places still exist like Westbury Gardens where the gardens have been maintained for over 100 years.

Raina said...

Two thoughts:

1. I'm fascinated by how little regard was paid to architecturally integrating to additions to these houses.

2. In the 1950s, many terrible design decisions were made.

Marianne said...

Thank you for the lovely post. Some of my best childhood memories are of this park. The manmade pond is so elegant. I danced under the temple dome and peaked through the ornamental gates. I have to say though the rink is a huge disappointment. I can't believe they knocked out the gardens for an outdoor rink. Its not even an enclosed building. People can make outdoor rinks in their backyards. What a shame. I imagine the original gardens must have been similar to Elm Bank in Wellesley. Thanks again.

Rose C'est La Vie said...

Dear DED I put my hands up to the fact that I haven't read it but loved the pictures!

The Down East Dilettante said...

Marianne, glad you enjoyed it---I lived near the park years ago, and it was always a bittersweet experience---lovely in parts, like the lake, but so sad to see the garden...beautiful place

Rosie, you wicked woman---but truly, aren't pictures all that matter anyway?

The Ancient said...

Their Washington house is still, for the most part, wonderful.

home before dark said...

That's what coming to your blog for a cheer me up after two very sad films gets me: mindless garden devastation! The steps to nowhere break my heart. Henry Mitchell said that all gardens die when the gardener does. The bulldozing is quite a graphic metaphor for the callous response to generosity. So, DED, if you are not going to cheer me, I'm having another glass of wine. And I hope I don't have nightmares about my own garden!

The Ancient said...

Dilettante --

I see the makings of a really great, world-historical post on "the economics of gardens."

(And if we are very, very lucky, Paul Gervais might consider participating, if only anonymously.)

The Down East Dilettante said...

Oh Home Before, I have some cheerier posts coming--but the skating rink in the garden has always left me gasping. I mean, so many other spots to put it, and probably easier too---just imagine the conversation...'just the right size for a rink---we'll just get a crane to life the bulldozer over the retaining walls, and we'll knock down some of the hardscaping at random, and hey, let's replace that columned pergola at the end with a nice tin shed...". It's unimaginable. If maintaining a garden were too difficult or expensive, you'd think they'd just plant it to grass and let it be lovely in a simpler way...

Ancient---an interesting subject indeed.

The Devoted Classicist said...

The Washington, DC, house is (or was) open to the public and serves as a fascinating example of how the rich and powerful once lived in their seasonal homes in our capital. I am very disappointed that the gift to Brookline has been so left to waste. I have never been to the city, but know residents who pride themselves as a community of the educated and cultured. Another fascinating post, very much appreciated. (And I like the refurbishment of your site).

Michael B. Gordon said...

I am a big Charles Platt fan. Thanks for these last two very interesting (the last, sad) posts.

Emily Schulz said...

Thanks for sharing some of the Andersons' story! Anderson House, Larz and Isabel Anderson's house in D.C., is indeed still open to the public -- free guided tours run Tuesday through Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. Among the treasures on view are a full-length portrait of Isabel painted at Weld in 1900-1901 and a 1909 mural of the Italian gardens at Weld. I hope you'll visit us!
http://www.societyofthecincinnati.org/
- Emily Schulz, deputy director and curator, The Society of the Cincinnati

EFT Manual said...

Oh my! What a very very beautiful garden. I love that you posted colored and black and white photos!

The Down East Dilettante said...

Devoted, I am just crazy about Anderson House--one of the handsomest, and most idiosyncratic houses to survive from its era.

Michael Gordon, thank you----and what a coincidence to hear from you, as I just found, and enjoyed, your wonderful blog last week.

Emily Shcultz, thank you for noting that---truly, I should have mentioned so in my post. Wonderful Museum, wonderful building.

EFT, thank you-I enjoyed finding pictures for this post.

Anonymous said...

How very sad. And yet - when I think of beautiful private estate gardens that have survived and are open to the public - I won't name names - they have become just a chaotic zoo (not literally) with an outdoor food court - people treating them as if they were an ice rink or baseball field - little chance for contemplation or aesthetic communion. . . hmmm - so what am I saying? I don't know. Let's pretend Weld remained a private garden with the public allowed a glimpse though the gate. KDM P.S. Loved the NYSD post!

The Down East Dilettante said...

Anonymous, so very true---to maintain one of these gardens well requires huge funds, and without endowment there have to be gift shops, cafes, etc. It's a tough balance.

And thanks for the PS

Beth said...

What a great post! Thank you for the history of this family and estate. I especially appreciate the then and now photos, which really make the story come to life (along with your most excellent way with words). I even ordered the book you recommended!

Michele from Boston said...

Stories like these make me weep. Shame on the Town of Brookline! What a legacy (and a potentially profitable one for the town at that) lost.