Clarendon Court was later purchased by Claus von Bülow and Martha Sharp Crawford, who was known as “Sunny von Bülow”. Sunny was worth over $75 million and updated the mansion and grounds to exceptionally elegant conditions. It was known that Sunny and Claus had a rough marriage, but it came to a head when on December 26, 1979, after the family had come together for Christmas at their mansion, she was found unresponsive and was rushed to the hospital where she slipped into coma but was revived. After days of testing, doctors determined the coma was the result of low blood sugar and diagnosed her as hypoglycemic, warning her against overindulging on sweets or going too long without eating. No foul play was suspected at the time. One year later, on the evening of December 21, 1980, while celebrating Christmas with her family at their mansion, she again displayed confusion. She was put to bed by her family, but in the morning she was discovered unconscious on the bathroom floor. She was taken to the hospital where it became clear that this time she had suffered severe enough brain injury to produce a persistent vegetative state. A hypodermic needle was found in a black bag in Bulow’s study and coupled with their maid’s testimony he was subsequently charged with her murder, accused of injecting his wife with insulin so he could live at Clarendon on her money with his mistress. His mistress was the actress Alexandra (Moltke) Isles, better known as “Victoria Winters” in Dark Shadows. In 1982, in a sensational case that gripped the country, Bülow was convicted. But, he appealed in 1985 and was acquitted. His stepchildren then filed a $56 million law suit against him, which was dropped two years later: Bülow agreed to divorce his comatose wife, relinquish all rights to her fortune, leave the country and never to profit from the story. Bülow moved to London where he kept a low profile for the rest of his life while Sunny remained in a vegetative state in New York until she eventually passed away in 2008.
Completed in 1880, the Newport Casino building is one of the best examples of Shingle style architecture in the world, and despite its name, it was never a gambling facility. Planning for the casino began a year earlier in August, 1879. Per legend, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., the influential publisher of the New York Herald and a summer resident of Newport, bet his polo partner, Captain Henry Augustus Candy, a retired officer of the Queen’s 9th Royal Lancers and skillful British polo player, to ride his horse onto the front porch of the exclusive gentlemen’s-only club, the Newport Reading Room. Candy took the dare one step further and rode straight through the clubrooms, which disturbed the members. After Candy’s guest membership was revoked, Bennett purchased the land across the street from his home, on Bellevue Avenue, and sought to build his own social club. Within a year, Bennett hired the newly formed architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, who designed the U-shaped building for the new club. The Newport Casino was the firm’s first major commission and helped to establish MMW’s national reputation. The building included tennis courts, facilities for other games such as squash and lawn bowling, club rooms for reading, socializing, cards, and billiards, shops, and a convertible theater and ballroom. In the 20th century, the casino was threatened with demolition as Newport began to fall out of fashion as a summer resort. Saviors Candy and Jimmy Van Alen took over operating the club, and by 1954, had established the International Tennis Hall of Fame in the Newport Casino. The combination of prominent headliners at the tennis matches and the museum allowed the building to be saved. The building remains a National Landmark for its connections with gilded age society and possibly the first commission by McKim, Mead and White, who became one of the most prominent architectural firms in American history.
One of the best Queen Anne style summer cottages in Newport is this gem, named Sunnylea. The house was built in 1881 for Charles F. Chickering, who ran the Chickering & Sons Piano Company in Boston. Chickering hired local architect Dudley Newton, who had previously apprenticed under George Champlin Mason, a builder of many Newport summer houses. Sunnylea was the first independent commission that Newton designed with his own firm. The house was later owned by Luther Kountze, a New York banker and his wife Annie. After WWII, the home was converted away from single-family use, and was occupied as a prep school, before being converted to condos late in the 20th century. It recently sold, and wow, the interior is just as beautiful as the exterior!
John Noble Alsop Griswold (1822-1909) was born into wealth, with his family business involved in land speculation in New York as well as the N. L. & G. Griswold Company, which imported sugar and rum from the Caribbean on clipper ships. In his 20s, John traveled to China for a trade and within a year of that trip, was appointed United States consul at Shanghai, serving in that role until 1854. Upon his return to America, he helped develop several prominent railroads, serving as president of the Illinois Central Railroad and chairman of the board of directors of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad. He eventually settled in Newport and helped shape the sleepy town into a summer resort town for high-society. His statement-piece in town was his own mansion on Bellevue Avenue, built in 1863 from designs by Richard Morris Hunt, and completed that next year. It was the first of Hunt’s many notable works in Newport, and is considered a prototype work of the Stick style of architecture in America. Hunt would go on to design Ochre Court, The Breakers, and other Gilded Age mansions in Newport and all over the northeast. Griswold died in the house in 1909; it remained vacant until 1915, when it was acquired by the Art Association of Newport, which now uses it as a museum gallery. I really want to see the inside of this beauty!
Bellevue Avenue in Newport is best-known for its massive summer cottages, many of which are built of stone and look more like art museums than a house. “Rest Haven” is one of the most stunning summer cottages in Newport and can stand toe-to-toe with the later mansions which neighbor it. The Stick style cottage was built in 1870 as a spec. house for merchant and financier John N.A. Griswold, who had his own cottage farther up the street (last post). Similar to his own house, he hired world-renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt to design the house, which was to be sold soon after completion for a profit to Anna Gilbert of New York, a wealthy widow who wanted to keep up with high-society in Newport. Anna Gilbert’s son, Charles Pierrepont Gilbert, was a New York architect who trained at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He and his wife, Clara, summered at Resthaven until 1916. The home was likely renamed “Le Chalet” by a subsequent owner. The cottage was altered over the years, but restored a number of years ago by Newport Collaborative Architects and Behan Bros, and looks stunning!
Margaret Barker Sigourney was the wife of Boston lawyer Henry Sigourney (1783–1849). In 1864, just as the Civil War was coming to a close, Sigourney purchased a piece of land on Bellevue Avenue in Newport soon after the time that Newport had been rediscovered as a tourist destination for the elite class. Sigourney wanted to make a splash as a single woman summering in Newport, so she hired local architect George Champlin Mason to design her cottage in the fashionable Second Empire style. The refined facade is more academic, while the rear and side facades exhibit porches with delicate bargeboards and trim. Sigourney spent summers at her cottage with her only son until 1873 when he and his family perished and were lost at sea aboard the Ville du Havre, when it collided in the Atlantic with another ship, killing a total of 226 aboard the ships, many of which drowned and their bodies never recovered. Alone, Margaret Sigourney continued to spend her summers in Newport until her own death in 1885.
Ochre Court, one of the grandest mansions in America was built in 1892 for New York banker and real estate developer Ogden Goelet (1846-1897) and his wife, Mary Wilson (1855-1929). In 1879, Ogden and his brother, Robert, inherited a real estate empire in Manhattan of 259 houses then worth a combined $40 million which was second only to the Astors. In 1892, Goelet and his wife Mary were included in Ward McAllister‘s “Four Hundred“, purported to be an index of New York’s best families, published in The New York Times, a position only solidified after his summer “cottage” was completed that year in Newport, Rhode Island. Named Ochre Court, the 50-room chateau overlooks the Cliff Walk and Atlantic Ocean and is the second-largest mansion in Newport (after The Breakers). Ochre Court was designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, who also designed The Breakers, and summered in town himself. Shockingly, the Goelet’s only occupied the home during an eight-week summer season, and they spent the rest of the year in their homes in New York City, France, or London. The operation of Ochre Court usually required twenty-seven house servants, eight coachmen and grooms for horses and their carriages, and twelve gardeners for the grounds. In 1947 the Goelets’ son, railroad, hotel, and real estate developer Robert Goelet IV (1880-1966), gave ‘Ochre Court’ to the Religious Sisters of Mercy to establish Salve Regina College after it became too expensive to maintain. ‘Ochre Court’, which housed the entire college during its first years, is still in use and remains the heart of the greatly expanded Salve Regina University.
Built in 1887 for John O’Brien, a direct descendant of Brian Boru, the High King Of Ireland, “Inchiquin” in Newport stands out for its bold stone exterior and proper siting. The mansion was named after Inchiquin, a barony (or state) in Ireland, likely where O’Brien’s ancestors were from. The cottage was designed by John Dixon Johnston, a well-known Newport architect, who designed the stone mansion in a sort of hodge-podge of styles, which actually work well together somehow! In 1901, Inchiquin was acquired by The Baroness Seilliere, the adopted daughter of John O’Brien. She was a daughter of Mrs. O’Brien by a former husband. After her first husband died she married the Baron de Seilliere, brother of the Princess de Sagan. Like some other massive, expensive mansions in Newport, this home was converted to condos.