30.5.11

ACROSS THE STREET FROM MRS. WHARTON

In 1903, Edith Wharton, who had spent summers at Newport since childhood, sold Land's End, the cottage that she had renovated and decorated with the help of Ogden Codman, but had not occupied since 1900.  The project had been so successful that the pair collaborated on The Decoration of Houses, which was both Wharton's first book, and which was one of the most influential design tomes of its era, helping to sweep out the gilded excesses of the late 19th century, and bringing to the fore a preference for classical simplicity.

Although Wharton had long had a love-hate affair with the resort, and her reasons for departure were many----the lack of intellectual discourse endemic to places of fashion, and the damp climate among them----I like to think that (and I realize that this is not an officially sanctioned notion, but mere whim on my part) perhaps the last straw was in 1899, when the view from her elegant octagonal sun room was compromised when construction commenced on grim new house across Ledge Road, one whose unknown architect clearly had not yet absorbed Mrs. Wharton's design principles.

Breakwater as it appeared from Mrs. Wharton's lawn
That house, named Breakwater by its owner, Charles Lippitt, son of, and later himself a governor of Rhode Island, was one of Newport's largest cottages, a fair approximation of an English Castle---a little Belvoir, a dash of Windsor, a soupcon of Carnarvon---and the very image of what Wharton's friend Henry James a few years later would so famously refer to as one of the 'white elephants, all house and no garden...witless with no soul',  that had risen up to replace the simpler wooden cottages of his own youth in Newport.  The pile of mortar forbiddingly dominated its spectacular site on rocky ledges at the end of a point between Bellevue Avenue and Bailey's beach.


In an 1899 news story, a reporter for the New York Times speculated that Mr. Lippitt's grand structure, then under construction, was to be an apartment house, or first class hotel, so large were the foundations.


But it was not to be a hotel, much as the reporter felt one was needed in Newport, but merely the Lippitt's summer cottage, three floors of gloom, in sharp contrast to the sparkling marble and gilt palaces around the corner.  

The site had long been a favored spot for local fishermen, and was also traversed by the last stretch of the Cliff Walk, that ancient right of way that passed between mansions and shore.   Finding both facts unsatisfactory, Lippitt proceeded to eject the public from his property, building a wall to prevent the Fishermen (it was soon demolished in protest), and to cut off access to the Cliff Walk, complaining that picnickers could be seen at the edge of his lawn.  He failed in both attempts.

Lippitt died in 1924, and the castle was inherited by his son, who, after considering his options decided to demolish the house.  In 1926, the ruins were purchased by architect John Russell Pope, as the site of a new summer home for his family.

Pope's had a long relationship with Newport.  In 1901, he designed Whiteholme, Beaux Arts palace for Mrs. Robert Garrett, later Mrs. Henry Barton Jacobs, widow of the president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

Whiteholme, the Garrett cottage at Newport
 And in 1912, he married Sadie Jones, the daughter of the very Social Pembroke Jones's of Wilmington North Carolina, whose own Bellevue Avenue cottage, Pembroke Lodge, a fussy affair loosely based on the White House, was designed by Hoppin & Koen (who also designed The Mount, the Lenox house Edith Wharton built after leaving Newport)


In 1915, Pope completed one of his most famous houses, Bonniecrest in Newport, for Stuart Duncan, the Lea & Perrin's King.  It was a grand and faithful representation of a Tudor country house, based most notably on Compton Wynates.  For the design of his own cottage on the Lippitt site in 1927, Pope chose a simpler Olde English idiom, that of a half timber English cottage, albeit on a scale probably never dreamed of by the simple yeomen whose cottages inspired it.

Bonnie Crest, the Stuart Duncan cottage at Newport, by John Russell Pope.  The property immediately to the left was Pen Craig, the home of Edith Wharton's parents.
The Waves, John Russell Pope's own house at Newport, built on the ramparts of Lippitt's Castle

Using the ramparts of the Lippitt Castle as the starting point, Pope built a house, which for all its deliberate aged charm, nevertheless was attuned to its site in a very modern way, seeming to grow out of the very ledges upon which it was built, its weathered natural materials in harmony with the land in a way that the castle had never been. A rambling arc plan allowed every room sun and views, and protected a courtyard garden that evoked the work of Jekyll and Lutyens in England. Taste had indeed changed in the fewer than three decades that separated the buildings.  Facing the house across the garden was Pope's studio, where he indulged passions for painting and photography.  The Popes named their new house The Waves.

The south front of The Waves
The Waves, garden front
Two aerial views of The Waves from Country Life, 1935

After the Popes, the Waves was owned by Josephine Hartford Bryce, heiress to the A&P Grocery fortune.  Her daughter, Nuala, married Senator Claiborne Pell, and built a cottage, Pelican Lodge, at the northern end of the property.  Later, The Waves was purchased by Barclay Warburton, an heir to the Wanamaker's Department Store fortune, who divided it into condominiums, which it remains to this day.  In a 1961 article about the decline of Newport, Time Magazine reported that the dining room alone now held a four room apartment. 
A long hall ran the length of the garden front

The Studio


Looking at the interiors of The Waves in old black & white photographs, one has to remind oneself that these rooms were actually alive with color.  This was brought home to the Dilttante when he realized that in these 1930s photos, the library chairs are covered in the very same Chinese inspired block print linen that he used for a pair of chairs in the 1970s, in a palette of green and brick and blue on tan ground.


Would Mrs. Wharton have approved of the Waves?  Might she have remained across the street?  Doubtful, but it is entertaining to speculate the course of American literature had she not left...

All uncredited black & white photographs of The Waves from the Gottscho-Schliesner Collection, Library of Congress.


20 comments:

The Devoted Classicist said...

The Lippitt residence, Breakwater: what a pile!

Reggie Darling said...

What a handsome residence the Pope house was in its day. I could just imagine Lucia tripping out its doors onto the lawns after having delivered a sublime rendition of the Moonlight Sonata...

John T said...

"a little Belvoir, a dash of Windsor, a soupcon of Carnarvon---" not to mention - a generous pinch of San Quentin!

Flo said...

First things first: am I just blind or is your byline missing from today's NYSD feature. Somebody needs to get yelled at.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

wow - the waves is just the perfect beach house! While I adore the Newport mansions, I always thought they were a bit strange. So formal and fussy right at the beach -where one (at least today) wants to be at their most relaxed. Give me 'the waves' anyday and I'm sure Wharton would agree! That stair hall alone really just is so beautiful, I could imagine myself bounding down those stairs onthe way to the beach (rather than some colossal marble monstrosity).

The Down East Dilettante said...

Devoted, that's the word

Reggie, friend's parents had the living room section after the condo conversion---and sad though the division, handsome it was.

John T.---tooooo funny, darn it, I wish I'd thought of that. I knew the recipe was incomplete

Flo, The Stotesbury article isn't my work, and since there's no byline, I assume it by the estimable DPC himself. The only person who needs to be yelled at is moi, for I have not turned anything in to NYSD for a month---three articles in the works, but none seem to complete.

AD, glorious marriage of site and house indeed.

The Ancient said...

When Edith Wharton and her mother lived at 7 Washington Square North, it was still stuffed full of Duncan Phyfe furniture.

After that, I think it would have been difficult, under the best circumstances, to be happy living next door to a building that resembled a clumsy armory or a municipal waterworks.

ChipSF said...

Down East -
Interesting post - with some ridiculous & some sublime houses. Any pics of Land's End?

magnus said...

That must have been some fire that consumed Lippitt Castle. It looks like an atom bomb would have been needed to destroy the damn thing

Flo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Ancient said...

ChipSF --

http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/photoneg/oneITEM.asp?pid=39002037841633&iid=3784163&srchtype=CNO

http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/photoneg/oneITEM.asp?pid=39002037841641&iid=3784164&srchtype=CNO

http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/photoneg/oneITEM.asp?pid=39002037841658&iid=3784165&srchtype=CNO

http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/photoneg/oneITEM.asp?pid=39002037841666&iid=3784166&srchtype=CNO

http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/photoneg/oneITEM.asp?pid=39002037841674&iid=3784167&srchtype=CNO

http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/photoneg/oneITEM.asp?pid=39002037841682&iid=3784168&srchtype=CNO

http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/photoneg/oneITEM.asp?pid=39002037842813&iid=3784281&srchtype=CNO

http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/photoneg/oneITEM.asp?pid=39002037841377&iid=3784137&srchtype=CNO

http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/photoneg/oneITEM.asp?pid=39002037841385&iid=3784138&srchtype=CNO

http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/photoneg/oneITEM.asp?pid=39002037841393&iid=3784139&srchtype=CNO

http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl/oneITEM.asp?pid=2012208&iid=1053035&srchtype=CNO

http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl/oneITEM.asp?pid=2012209&iid=1053037&srchtype=CNO

http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl/oneITEM.asp?pid=2012210&iid=1053039&srchtype=CNO

The Ancient said...

And now ...

http://www.washingtonlife.com/backissues/archives/02sept/photos/newport13.jpg

http://www.washingtonlife.com/backissues/archives/02sept/photos/newport14.jpg

http://www.washingtonlife.com/backissues/archives/02sept/photos/newport16.jpg

Bourbon&Pearls said...

Wonderful post, I'm staying at her old house in the south of France this week
Oh and I do love Maine - I left a beau back there years ago.

The Ancient said...

A few more Land's End pics:

https://dcl.umn.edu/search/show_details?search_string=Beatrix%20Jones%20Farrand&per_page=12&&&page=106

https://dcl.umn.edu/search/show_details?search_string=Beatrix%20Jones%20Farrand&per_page=12&&&page=107

https://dcl.umn.edu/search/show_details?search_string=Beatrix%20Jones%20Farrand&per_page=12&&&page=108

The Ancient said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Ancient said...

A final pic of Land's End, courtesy of Dilettante:

http://public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/wharton/2000.htm

The first picture I listed above (from the Beineke Library at Yale*) is not Land's End but rather August Belmont's By-the-Sea.
_____________
*The other day, Admiral Cod linked to an article by "Bunky Mortimer" that contained this deathless sentence: "In the glory days, no man ever went to Yale to learn anything."

Apparently, it's still true.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Indeed, Magnus, nothing less than dynamite would seem required, though I understand it was a faulty furnace.

Bourbon & Pearls---what fun! I think the Rivera house was one of the most interesting---wonderful library. But how could you possibly leave a Maine Beau behind, you heartbreaker!

Kellsboro Jack said...

Josephine Hartford Bryce (d. June 8, 1992) was a rather interesting woman. Her husband (Ivar Bryce) was purportedly the basis for the character James Bond and she was rather close friends with Ian Flemming.

He set at least one of the Bond books at her Black Hole Hollow Farm near the Adirondacks and visited there frequently. They also had a lovely estate at Lyford Cay in the Bahamas.

The Waves hasn't suffered much with the condo conversation has it? A lovely execution by Pope if you ask me for a waterside mansion.

Anonymous said...

Although the house was converted into apartments (having served as bachelorette party HQ for Jacqueline Bouvier), a condo conversion took place in the '80s and the family that had bid unsuccessfully to restore it to a single-family house has over the last 20+ years slowly been acquiring the non-staff quarters and restoring it to its original glory, albeit with some contemporary additions that do not detract from Pope's work.

Anonymous said...

The Lippitt who originally migrated from England around 1628 worked for the Earl of Warwick. If you look at pictures of Warwick Castle, it's clear that was the inspiration.