Italian Villas on the Maine Coast: Partying with Atwater Kent

Sonogee, the main gate
In the late 19th century, some of the major works of the Shingle Style were erected in Bar Harbor.  By the turn of the century,  the Italian villa, creamy stucco with a red tile roof and arched loggia or courtyard--inappropriate though it may seem for the Maine climate and landscape--had displaced the turreted and shingled as a favorite for fashionable cottages in that resort   At least a dozen sprang over the first ten years of the new century on the hills and shores of Bar Harbor, including the neighboring trio of Eegonos, Buonriposo, and the present subject, Sonogee, built for Fifth Avenue Hotel heir and honorary Princeton researcher Henry Lane Eno in 1903. A New York Times article mentions a pagoda adjoining the drawing room as a unique feature, but no evidence of this has surfaced in old photographs.
Sonogee, Ocean Front, 1920's view
Unlike its Buonriposo and Eegonos, its similar neighbors to the north on Eden Street, Sonogee did not enjoy long ownership by its original builder.  Temporary financial reverses forced Eno to sell the house in 1911 to prominent stockbroker Lyman Kendall and his wife Ellen, the daughter of Governor Ballantine of Idaho. (Feel sorry not for Eno--- a few years later, his fortune revived, he moved to England and lived out his days at lovely Montacute House in Somerset).  In 1916, The New York Times reported that the Kendalls had expensively altered the interiors from the 'modern' to Italian renaissance.  These improvements included a marble staircase and hall. 
Sonogee.  Stair Hall
Sonogee. Upper stair hall
During World War I, Mrs. Kendall opened Sonogee as a hospital for recovering soldiers . One of these soldiers was Major Matthew Roberts, an American serving with the British Royal Flying Corps, and by 1918, the New York Times was reporting the Kendall's divorce, with Mr. Kendall marrying singer/actress Betty Lee, and Mrs. Kendall marrying the Major.  In the divorce settlement, which the Times called one of the largest ever at the time, Mrs. Kendall received the couple's Park Avenue apartment, an annuity of $100,000 (a lavish income in an era when a servant's wages were $5-$10 a week), $1,000,000 in cash, and Sonogee, valued by the Times at $2,000,000, including furnishings (unlikely).
Sonogee, the drawing room, with faux stone wall (the door with opener bar dates from Sonogee's brief time as a museum
Mrs. Kendall did not linger at Sonogee after marrying her Major, and in 1919 sold the house to the Frederick Vanderbilts of Hyde Park, who in 1915 had forsaken their Newport cottage, later owned by Doris Duke, for the simpler social pace of Bar Harbor.  Mr. Vanderbilt had a long history with Bar Harbor, having first visited with his parents, the William Henry Vanderbilts in the 1870s.  His late brother George, of Biltmore fame, owned Pointe d'Acadie, one of the largest estates in the resort, with grounds by Olmstead, and their niece, Mrs. Shepard Fabbri, owned Buonriposo just north of Sonogee.  The Vanderbilts commissioned Andrews, Jacques & Rantoul to make minor alterations to the house. in 1920.   With the house renovated to their liking, the Vanderbilts arrived each summer on their steam yacht Vedette, until Mrs. Vanderbilt's death in 1927, when Mr. Vanderbilt sold Sonogee to inventor and radio tycoon, A. Atwater Kent.
A guest room at Sonogee
The Master Bedroom, 1940's.  Note the Venetian blinds drawn against the spectacular ocean, island, and mountain views.  And how about those curtains?
The new owner, who had recently closed his giant companies,was about to embark on a new life as socialite and party-giver.   On the eve of the depression, Sonogee became Party Central for the new set in Bar Harbor.  Kent had fashionable architect Frederick Rhinelander King freshen up the old Renaissance pile, shearing off the porte cochere in favor of a copper hood in the Regency style, heavy renaissance mantels were replaced with Georgian and 18th century French models, and the solarium received a tented ceiling.  
Sonogee. Newspaper photograph of reception room
Kent famously did not like to drive the same car two days in a row, and a local architect was brought in to rebuild the carriage house with space for a dozen cars, a car wash and machine room,and a motorized turntable in the center to aim cars to the right location in the vast room.  Above were 16 bedrooms for  staff, and a caretaker's apartment in the lower level. 
Sonogee.  The garage, Horace McFarland, architect

Kent then bought the adjoining Robert Abbe estate, Brookend, across Duck Brook and joined it to Sonogee.  The original Abbe cottage was a large shingle style cottage by William Ralph Emerson, that had been added to in typical haphazard fashion ever since.
Brookend, also owned by Kent, adjoined Sonogee
Kent modernized Brook End, and joined its grounds to Sonogee's by converting the former mill pond at Duck Brook, which separated the two properties, to form a large naturalistic  swimming pool.  At the head of the pool, facing the ocean, he built a stylish cabana, also by King, with changing rooms, kitchen, and a near ballroom size entertaining space.  The roof and walls of the cabana were covered in red and cream striped canvas, echoing the colors of the houses, and giving the whole a jaunty Riviera air.  With the stage set, Kent was ready to party, and party he did, on through the depression, even as many of his fellow resorters were cutting staff and boarding up their cottages.
Sonogee, one of the formal gardens.  This garden was backed by a decorative wall shared with Buonriposo, the cottage of Frederick Vanderbilt's niece, Mrs. Fabbri, next door.
A perusal of the society columns of the day tells the story---almost daily---Mr. & Mrs. Atwater Kent entertain 20 at Dinner", "Atwater Kent gives Luncheon in his cabana at Sonogee" " Mr & Mrs. Atwater Kent entertain Archduke Franz Josef and wife with dinner dance at Sonogee"  "Two orchestras, one on yacht, one in house, at Kent party in Bar Harbor", and on it went, until the eve of World War II.
Sonogee.  Wrought iron garden gate.  Social Spectator, August 1937
By World War II, Kent had left Mrs. Kent and the children behind, and decamped for Bel Air, California, where he partied on until his death, known as 'Mr. Host'.  Sonogee was sold to industrialist Richard Wetzel, and Mrs. Kent and son stayed on at Brookend, which was torn down at her death.
Sonogee.  Ocean front, c. 1970
After Mrs. Wetzel's death, Sonogee was purchased by local family, the Colliers, who operated it for a couple of seasons as a tourist attraction.  The results were disappointing, and the Colliers sold the furnishings at auction, and converted Sonogee to a nursing home, adding large wings, and shearing off the upper two floors.  The marble staircase survives, leading nowhere.

Sonogee.  Ocean front as it appears today, shorn of two upper floors
Sonogee.  Present day view of Drawing Room.
NOTE: Despite its size and luxury, Sonogee was admittedly less than an architectural masterpiece.  This fact was underscored for me this morning as I logged onto Old Long Island , where is posted the far more masterful H.H. Rogers cottage at Southampton, a house of similar size and composition which was one of the most admired of its day.


Frognall Dibdin said...

Your lovely post reminded me of something Cleveland Amory wrote about the Mr. Kent's parties in "The Last Resorts" (1951):

"The late Atwater Kent was perhaps the country's greatest latter-day party giver...But even at his best party weight--which consited of three orchestras and some three thousand guests--Kent was not up to Newport. Bar Harbor's Mrs. John Dewitt Peltz recalls that after watching Kent for several seasons at the Maine resort she had the pleasure of going down to Newport and attending several functions there. Returning to Bar Harbor, she was asked to describe them. 'Why,' she said, 'they make At Kent look like pot luck!'"

A great-aunt of mine, a Bar Harbor summer resident for nine decades, said her father coudn't stand Kent's parties because the food was "tinned and dull" and Mr. Kent apparently liked to woo chauffeurs away from his neighbors.

The Down East Dilettante said...

aaaargh!!! I really write these posts too fast, and rely too much on memory---had I half a wit about me as I did this, I would have headed straight for The Last Resorts for material---especially considering that I regularly recommend it to people. At any rate, thank goodness you're more alert---I think the Amory anecdote adds immeasurably to this post, as does your great aunt's pity remark. Cheers!

The Down East Dilettante said...

type too fast, also. I meant 'pithy', not pity

Anonymous said...

Down East -
Fascinating house & story. Thanks much!

soodie :: said...

amazing the drama one house can experience over time. what those walls have seen! but then to become a nursing home???

home before dark said...

Always fascinating, DED. So is there a literary predecessor to Edith Wharton who told/tells the tales of Maine's cottages as they aged through time? How interesting that the end game is the nursing home.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Good question, Home Before. Many popular novelists of Wharton's era did Bar Harbor novels, but none with the intellect of social insight.

The nursing home is the gentlest of the crimes that the Collier family imposed on Bar Harbor. Poised to take advantage of the depressed real estate market in Bar Harbor after WWII and the Bar Harbor fire, they bought up estates, both ruined and intact, and bulldozed their way through town, erecting motels and more on the ruins. The ugliness of the place today owes as much to them as any other family save one. It seems that every faded resort has such a developer or two. In Newport it was a guy named Louis Chartier, who carved up or demolished many an important house, with the sensitivity of a butcher.

The Down East Dilettante said...

I meant to add that the way that people like Chartier or the Bar Harbor developers so badly used their cheaply purchased mansions seems almost deliberate, as if retaliation for the perceived oppression of the summer folk.

Anonymous said...

A wack-a-do of a house and a wacky story....love it!

Anonymous said...

Down East -
Have you done a post on the G.W. Vanderbilt place yet or if not is that coming up soon?

The Down East Dilettante said...

Anonymous 4:44, A wack a do? Love it.

Anonymous 5:24

Am planning a post...but with three houses, 3 architects, 3 generations of owners, research materials scattered everywhere, --wouldn't look for it in less than two months.

オテモヤン said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
JohnT said...

I am delighted to have discovered your wonderful blog. This post is fascinating and I can't wait to go back and read all. Sadly, I think there is far too much truth in that some seem to really enjoy destruction. My mentor, James Marston Fitch of the historic preservation program at Columbia University, helped me reconcile my architectural career when he told me that sometimes demolition really is required in the name of progress. But the replacement has to be better than the previous.

Regina Joi said...

I wonder if you have any idea who was the ironsman for the Garden Gate pictured in your wonderful tale of four walls.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Unfortunately, I do not. It was a very beautiful gate, I remember it well---very fluid in design, superb in execution.

Bibione hotels said...

The buildings and the surroundings are marvelous and peaceful, without any doubt!