9.5.11

WHAT SURVIVES: LA ROCHELLE


During the gilded age, when the remote Maine resort of Bar Harbor was considered second only to Newport on the summer social tour, partners in the Morgan Bank, or 'Morgan Men', as they were known, were mainstays of the opulent summer community.  It was understandable.  Their employer had long and deep ties to the resort---J.P. Morgan's wife, the former Frances Tracy, had summered there since childhood, when Bar Harbor was still called Eden and had returned most summers since.  The great banker, more restless, traveled back and forth on his yacht Corsair, an imperial presence on the social scene.  Louis Auchincloss, in A Voice From Old New York, remembered his parents, who summered in Bar Harbor, cancelling a previous social engagement when summoned to dine with Morgan aboard Corsair.  When young Auchincloss questioned his parents---his father did a great deal of business with the Morgan firm---about throwing over their intended hostess for that evening, his mother simply told him that 'someday you will understand'.  



One of the Morgan partners at Bar Harbor was George S. Bowdoin, a grandson of Alexander Hamilton---another of whose grandchildren was married to Morgan's son-in-law Pierson Hamilton, also a partner in the bank, also a Bar Harbor summer resident.  Mrs. Bowdoin, the former Julia Irving Grinnell, was the great niece of Washington Irving.  

The newly completed 'La Rochelle', 1903
Ocean Front
In 1901 Bowdoin purchased an in-town shorefront lot on West Street, and commissioned a cottage from architects Andrews, Jacques & Rantoul.   Completed in 1903, the house , curiously urban in that way of houses in grand resorts---were it not for the ocean behind it, one could imagine this house in Kalorama---was a surprisingly harmonious blend of French Renaissance & English Georgian, of brick trimmed with Indiana limestone.  Large (Some 35 rooms on four levels) but not vast, elegant but not opulent, it was the first major brick house in a resort hitherto filled mostly with massive stone, shingle and stucco cottages.  The new cottage was called 'La Rochelle' after the Bowdoin family's ancestral town in France.  

First floor and grounds plan
Second Floor Plan
Andrews, Jacques and Rantoul, who designed many of Bar Harbor's finest cottages---Herbert Jacques summered on Schooner Head south of town---excelled in the design of integrated houses and landscapes, and 'La Rochelle' sat well supported by an elegant entrance court separated from the street by an brick and iron fence.  On the ocean side, a huge curving terrace with lattice brick and limestone balustrade on the ocean bluff anchored the house to its site.  An intimate sunken walled garden was adjacent to the entrance court.  Although the architectural framework was provided by the architects, the layout and planting plan were by Beatrix Farrand, whose family had an estate nearby.

The sunken garden at 'La Rochelle', once upon a time, and last week
George Bowdoin died the same year as J.P. Morgan, 1913, and his son, Temple Bowdoin, also an associate of the Morgan Bank, died the next year.  "La Rochelle' was inherited by the Bowdoin daughter Edith.  Miss Bowdoin, intensely proud of her Huguenot heritage, sometimes styled herself as Edith Baudoin.   Earnest and serious, a major supporter of the ASPCA, she was a firm opponent of the motorcar on Mt. Desert---a battle soon lost---and is best known today for her donations, both in Bar Harbor and New York, of watering troughs and fountains for horses. 


The entrance portico is beautifully detailed.  Sadly, the balsutrade on the entrance terrace, seen in the top photo, is lost.
After Miss Bowdoin's death in the 1940's, 'La Rochelle was acquired by the Tristam C. Colkets of Philadelphia.  Mrs. Colket was the former Ethel Dorrance, daughter of John T. Dorrance, the Campbell's Soup king, who had summered at Kenarden Lodge south of town.  The Colkets maintained 'La Rochelle' in perfect order---one of the last houses in Bar Harbor to be kept to the precise standards of earlier time, every shrub groomed to perfection, the lawns mowed in English stripes by reel mowers, the gravel in the drive raked daily, the shutters kept in perfect gloss.

Also lost are the brick balustrades that defined the terraces around the house.
 After Mrs. Colket's death, 'La Rochelle' was donated to a favorite charity, The Maine Seacoast Missionary Society, which maintains the boat Sunbeam as a floating church, providing services to the islands of the region.   As so often happens, the Mission took their lovely gift, and immediately started thinking of ways to change it.  And change it they did, almost immediately.  Down came the lovely brick balustrades, whose plinths had only the summer before held pots of perfect geraniums.  Out went the French doors to the lovely iron balconies on the driveway side, replaced by solid panels topped by a single square pane of plate glass.  The iron gates were removed.  Inside, a partition went up, separating the central hall from the cross hall, and cutting off the vista of Frenchman's bay from the front door.


A small circular vestibule opens under the curved double stairs and looks ahead to French doors to the ocean terrace, and a 90 foot cross hall.  Notice the curved mahogany door.
Although Ogden Codman is known to have done the interiors of the Bowdoin's Park Avenue town house, this picture of Mrs.Bowdoin's sitting room at 'La Rochelle' would suggest that he probably wasn't involved at Bar Harbor.
 After a few years, happily, the Mission reconsidered these early changes.  The partition was taken down inside, and although the windows have been replaced in recent years, with square heads instead of the graceful round head they once had, French doors were put back, although not as well designed as the originals, it is a vast improvement, and despite the loss of the balustrades, a chimney, and the formal landscape of the entrance court, I will complain less than usual, because unlike most of its peers, at least it survives and is respected.

Side terrace, once upon, and now.  The eastern end of Bar Island, once owned by another Morgan partner, E.T. Stotesbury, is visible on the right.  Stotesbury purchased it in the early 1900s and had intended to build a cottage there, but, his second wife clearly had other ideas about accessibility for entertaining, and the Stotesburys finally built a cottage on Eden Street, dead center in the heart of fashion
The sun never shines in Maine in May.  When I picked up the camera, the sky was blue with puffy clouds.  By the time I started taking pictures, blue had turned to gray. If one squints one's eyes, the neighborhood around 'La Rochelle' retains a bit of its old lustre.  The house on the left, seen from the side terrace, is 'Reverie Cove', once the summer home of Abram S. Hewitt, mayor of New York, and later his daughters, founders of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum.  It too has lost its elegant terrace balustrades.
Another survivor near 'La Rochelle' is Greenlawn, built in 1884, and typical of the medium-size shingle cottages interspersed among the grander houses throughout Bar Harbor.  Not so many years ago, the brick red windows shades were in every window, a perfect counterpoint to the blue trim.
 Of the gilded age resorts, Bar Harbor's decline was more dramatic and final than that of any other.  After weathering the vicissitudes of the Great Depression and World War II, a forest fire swept through Bar Harbor, destroying half the remaining great cottages overnight.  'La Rochelle', the first house on the West Street as one turned from Eden Street, Bar Harbor's grandest thoroughfare, missed the fire by only one building.  Its neighbor on the corner of Eden and West, the exclusive De Gregoire hotel, burned.

The De Gregoire hotel on the Corner of Eden and West streets, burned in the Bar Harbor fire. A few hundred feet to the right, La Rochelle escaped the flames.
 And there the tale would end, but for a tiny postscript:  In 1905, 'La Rochelle' was published in House & Garden.  The article was seen by a Hartford industrialist, Dr. George C.F. Williams, who so admired it that he commissioned Andrews, Jacques & Rantoul to design a smaller variation of the design on Prospect Avenue in that city.  The Williams house is now the Connecticut Governor's mansion.

The Connecticut Governor's mansion
 For the 1905 House & Garden article about 'La Rochelle', click HERE

21 comments:

Reggie Darling said...

Excellent post, well researched, and scholarly. Thank you for the tour. I am familiar with the governor's house in West Hartford, having driven by it many times. It is most enjoyable to now understand its inspiration.

Why is it that people think that shutters are a mere decorative accessory, and are quick to take them down, moaning about the expense of their maintenance? Our next door neighbor recently took down the shutters on their colonial revival house, when it was painted. It now looks denuded and blank, and far less interesting.

It's not all about expediency.

Donna said...

Excellent and enlightening post, as usual. I find myself thinking and writing about FIRE and its impact quite a bit, both in my blog and my work: I'm wondering if anyone can suggest some insightful texts on fire and its impact on urban planning and architecture in the early modern and modern eras? Thanks.

The Devoted Classicist said...

Yes, the design of the house is decidedly urban, is it not? But, plan-wise, it seems to be well-suited to the site. I will never cease to be disappointed at the efforts and expense that go into bad renovations.

Flo said...

"I find myself thinking and writing about FIRE and its impact quite a bit, both in my blog and my work: I'm wondering if anyone can suggest some insightful texts on fire and its impact on urban planning and architecture in the early modern and modern eras?"

Definitely, I can recommend an excellent text re: the Great Fire of 1901 where I was born and raised [Jacksonville FL].

http://www.jaxhistory.com/Book-page-fire.html

DED, thank you this superior post, heartsick over the replacement square-head doors but, as you say at least it survives.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Fascinating and thourougly researched - you always post the best 'articles' because surely they are more than mere 'posts'. I agree that the house is a bit 'urban' for the area perhaps -but really stunning; No wonder why it was copied!

Blue said...

Your saying of this house that at least it survives brings to mind Flat Top Manor, the home of Moses Cone and his wife at Rolling Rock, NC. Though it admits thousands of tourists per year and overlooks a beautiful lake, it it completely empty. Tours are given to desultory groups by docents who fail to evoke the life lived in the house - a pointless activity when there is nothing, not even an original paint or paper layer, to help. Yes, the house survives under its layer of neutralizing white but, as will all houses once the component that made them 'home' is gone, survival is barebones at best.

I realize this could sound like criticism but I do not mean it so. I hate to see old buildings torn down - Atlanta's latest loss reported by Terry on Architectural Tourist was a row of Philip Shutze Neo-Georgian shops that looked, despite the modernity around, as if they were a transplant from a small Kent town. That row of shops was virtually a lone survivor, excepting a couple of churches, of the residential neighbourhood that was Peachtree Street.

Sickening, really, what over the years was lost to corporate profits.

Always a good and informative read, Dilettante. I'm glad I finally have time to spend time with you.

Daniel-Halifax said...

Wow! I love how much you know about your area (and mine). I, naturally, knew none of that and am fascinated by it all.

The house without shutters is so sad. And the thought of tearing out that garden makes me weak.

On a positive note, I think it's time for a book deal for you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for another fascinating post Mr. DED. It's always interesting for me to experience the great variety of domestic architectural styles that existed (and still exist) along Maine's beautiful coastline. I tend to think of simpler shingled cottages when I think of Maine, but obviously there were all sorts of homes built there over the years. Greenlawn is much more suited to my style, personally, but La Rochelle is (or was) a lovely home, even despite its rather formal personality.

Although I've visited a few parts of Maine, sadly I've never been to the Bar Harbor area. One day I will actually see Bar Harbor, I hope. That said, though, I did grow up viewing a specific image of that particular part of Maine on a weekly basis. In our little old church here in the Hudson Highlands, there is a large and beautiful stained glass window towering over the altar. It is meant to depict "Creation." The window was evidently made by Louis Comfort Tiffany and donated to the church by Mrs Herbert L. Satterlee in honor of her late father, J. Pierpont Morgan, who had been a vestryman of our church for many years. I'm told that the window in fact depicts real scenery that exists somewhere on Mount Desert, and where young Pierpont and his bride had spent some happy times together.

As you noted, Morgan's second wife, Frances Louisa Tracy, had been visiting that part of Maine since childhood. I heard she loved it so much that she insisted her new husband let her introduce her to all her favorite spots during their honeymoon. Fanny's father and she had first visited in 1855 with a group of 26 friends and family members from the New York area (plus one piano), and the logbook Charles Tracy kept during that trip is still in the possession of his ancestors, who still occupy the old Tracy place in the Hudson Highlands. Also in their possession is a group of sketches depicting Mount Desert scenery (along with one or two drawings of a pretty, young Fanny Tracy) done by one of their traveling group, a young artist by the name of Frederick Church. I believe that logbook has since been published by some historical society up there in Maine. Anyway, to make a long story end, all of this has only made me more and more eager to visit the Bar Harbor area, and I'm very disappointed in myself for not having done that yet!

Someday!

ChipSF said...

Down East -
Very interesting post! It reminds me of Burrwood, the Walter Jennings house. Interesting that you post this today since Charlotte Colket Weber was in the news Saturday with a horse in the Kentucky Derby.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Reggie, although shutters are indeed a maintenance pain, I am still amazed at how lazy people have gotten about them

Donna, a bell is ringing in my head, and it just isn't coming to me. Every major new england city seems to have had its identity altering fire---salem, boston, bangor, portland, etc.

Devoted, oh how I share your perplexity about needless and senseless renovation---or what I call in occasional posts 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it!!!'

Flo, thank you for the superior comment.

Stefan, you make me blush----praise from on high.

Blue, it is the sheer madness of destroying what is good in favor of what is bad, or destroying essential parts, that drives me absolutely bonkers.

Daniel, welcome back!

Anonymous, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I'm off to google the windows. And yes, I have seen the reprint of the Tracy/Church notebook, and it is marvelous. I am in process of trying to find an elusive article about the spectacularly located Satterlee 'Camp' at Bar Harbor. I saw it about 35 years ago and lost the date and issue notation. And I agree about the shingled houses. Greenlawn, except for its very suburban lot size (so fascinating to me that for many people it was more about being in close proximity to society than about privacy or land).

Chip, I quite seriously thought about mentioning the Burrwood influence--I think La Rochelle, built 1902-1903 is very definitely the design offspring of much published when new Burrwood, built 1899. Another house built on the La Rochelle form is Champs Soleil in Newport. As you know, I love doing a series of morphing designs.

Elaine said...

I came across your blog some time ago when trying to find some information about a Bar Harbor house. I just love it! I have been in a number of the homes you have posted about, including La Rochelle and am always interested in learning more about them. It's also great to learn more about "what used to be there", between the fire and the tear-downs so many wonderful places have been lost. In response to an earlier post about Chummy's chair, I also had occasion to sit there. Keep up the great work, your posts are fascinating.

ernø said...

It is so nice to learn with your blog!!!

The Down East Dilettante said...

Elaine, thank you so much---and clearly we've followed some of the same trails through the area.

Turner Pack Rats said...

looks like the oli blogger isn't the only one thats screwed. from now on, i'm making a copy of my comment before i try to publish as i'm getting tired of trying to recreate. what's going on?

Turner Pack Rats said...

so, this dumb google thing published my non comment and erased the real one. sounds a little too super editorial to me.
what i said was: the good thing about this house in the present age is that no one has built anything on the vacant lot next to it where the hotel burned 60+ years ago. i always liked this place for its imposing, "i've got money" air. its siting is not bad either. west st until lately was always nice for its leafy away from the tourists feel.
re: shutters - not hard to maintain but must be checked frequently which doesn't get done as they are one of those things that you like to look at but fade into the background and get forgotten at maintenance time.

security word def - "vitansiv" - a medical preparation in pill form, the ingredients of which are known only to residents of Bar Harbor and a select few Blue Hill antique dealers, which is used only to cure the doldrums brought on by Maine May weather (may be inhaled in the leaf form)

Garrison said...

My grandparents used to own Bagatelle, one of the Victorian shingle "cottages" on Eden Street overlooking Frenchman's Bay. It was a wonderful, sprawling house that was so fascinating to me as a child and no doubt is one of the reasons why I became interested in historic preservation.

They sold it in the 90s to the owner of Tyson Chicken (or that's the family story, anyway).

sarahsbooks said...

A brief footnote to your post - yesterday one of the chimneys was struck by lightning in the big storm that barreled through. Cracked the chimney but did not cause a fire, thank goodness...

The Down East Dilettante said...

Garrison, I love Bagatelle---Rotch & Tilden, if I remember correctly, with some marvelous features---and yes, I think your family story is right

Sarah, my goodness!

Rafaelo said...

The current owner of Reverie Cove when informed of your blog entry said: "Ah, the terrace balustrades. They haven't actually been lost, but have been stored, awaiting restoration -- and a winning lottery ticket." I might note also some terrible damage to La Rochelle that you can't see from the front: the clueless Seacoast Mission was persuaded to let some miscreant cart away for their own use many of the huge cut granite blocks from the seawall, replacing it with with "rip-rap." The seawall now progresses from magnificent precisely fit granite blocks to dumped gravel anarchy, a cautionary tale, the Decline and Fall of something or other.

Country Girl said...

Dear DED,
Wondering if you ever found that elusive article about the Satterlee 'Camp' at Bar Harbor.

mamun rana said...
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