Elm Court, the garden elevation
The most elaborate of the half dozen structures designed by Chicago’s talented practitioner Howard Van Doren Shaw (1869-1926) for men associated with the B. F. Goodrich Tire and Rubber Company, Elm Court was built for Arthur H. Marks (1874-1939) in 1910. Replete with no fewer than six fountains, the house might have easily been called Fountain Court instead of having been named after American elms, which have mostly vanished. If Elm Court formed the template for Shaw’s highly similar Clayton Mark House, built at Lake Forest, Illinois in 1913, it, in turn, contains a host of features definitive of Shaw’s highly personalized almost idiosyncratic rendition of Italian Renaissance-inspired architecture. Sharing with Wright and Sullivan a predilection for highly horizontal earth-bound structures, despite its massive size and two-and-a-half stories, Elm Court has a long and low profile that’s been emphasized and underscored in a number of ways. Most noteworthy is the façade’s lengthy continuous shed dormer above a deeply overhanging overscaled cornice. The limestone sillcourse on which the second story windows rest is given a prominence through its bold projection above a series of rectangular tablets which correspond to French doors on the first story. Shaw’s recurrent entrance loggia with Tuscan columns set in antis creates a welcoming void at the center of the building’s rectangular block.
Eagle emblazoned entry gates at Elm Court
Elm Court, the entrance loggia
Elm Court, a fountain pool
So too do projecting wings on the garden front, containing the living room on one side, the dining room on the other, along with matching porches, all connected along a central gallery. These wings embrace a balustraded terrace centered on a lily pool and a figurative fountain. Gigantic Byzantine columns that emphasize the stair to a larger lower terrace are echoed by a pair of flagpoles that flank the stair to a lower garden. This descended toward a decorative lake and the originally undeveloped farmland and forest of west Akron.
Elm Court, garden evevation across the lake
Elm Court, a garden path
Elm Court, the grass terrace
Elm Court, the upper terrace pool, featuring a figure by Willard Padock
Elm Court, view to the horizon
Elm Court, the terace flagstafs
A drinking nymph by Willard Padock
After selling Elm Court, Arthur Marks transfered the Padock fountain to his estate in rural New York
Outfitted with heroically proportioned stone mantelpieces, the living and dining rooms were juxtaposed to provide an unmistakable counterpoint. Where the dining room boasted a beamed plaster ceiling with festooned friezes, antique verede marble columns and walnut paneling, the living room, hung with silk damask and Flemish tapestries, had a more elaborate polychrome beamed ceiling with touches of gilt. Just as the principal bedrooms correspond to these rooms below, a pair of sleeping porches so characteristic of this period corresponded to the porches adjacent to them.
Elm Court, the drawingroom
Elm Court, the dining room
Elm Court, the dining room mantelpiece
Elm Court, the breakfast porch
Indicative of Shaw’s preoccupation with making every part of his design as beautiful as possible, the garage court, entered through an elaborate wrought iron archway carried on graceful urn-capped piers, featured a herringbone-patterned brick pavement, distinctive vine-covered trellage and a charming wall fountain. In a farm group at the edge of the property, Mr. Marks. Like his neighbor, Harvey Firestone, kept a herd ofmilch cows. While an unassuming log cabin in the wooded westernmost reaches of the property probably served to remind this self-made man, famous for having invented the alkali process for reclaiming scrap rubber, of his modest roots in Lynn, Massachusetts. Married three times, Mr. Marks died in Palm Beach in 1939. Related to his marital discord surely must have been the fact that he lived for so short a time in his beautiful Akron home. It was sold in 1923 to the Sisters of St. Dominick, who operate it is Our Lady of the Elms, a fashionable convent school.
Elm Court, the garage court
Elm Court, dairy and cow
Elm Court, the log cabin
2012: A salvaged antique, the door of the elegant entrance to "Cornus Hill" has been altered by removing the panels
Why is it that a man just as soon as he gets enough money builds a house much bigger than he needs? I have a house at Akron many times larger than I have the least use for; I have another house at Miami Beach, which is also much larger than I need. I suppose that before I die I shall buy or build other houses which also will be larger than I need. I do not know why I do it – the houses are a burden...
1938, from Men and Rubber by Harvey S. Firestone, father of Russell A. Firestone, who built "Cornice Hill".
…all my friends who have acquired wealth have big houses…When it is done, no one quite knows what it was started...
2012: An overgrown gateway at Cornus Hill
Why ? One wonders, was this house ever built ? Was it meant to be a summer retreat ? For, its privileged owners wintered in New York, at 1040 Park Avenue and at Miami Beach. Completed in 1937 atop wooded slopes, Cornus Hill, west of Akron, in Fairlawn Heights, was the last truly extensive estate built in the area. It was set at the center of three hundred scenic acres, profusely embowered by drifts of white and pink Dogwood, which give the place its name , Thanks to landscape architect Donald Gray, the stately house enjoys panoramic views in every direction. Made from whitewashed, ruddy Holland bricks, the Colonial Revival style building strives through innumerable carefully considered details to authentically suggest all the elegance associated with American architecture from the early republic.
1938: Cornus Hill
Granite Belgian blocks paving the large forecourt at the entrance were salvaged from a W. P. A. project eliminating the streetcar and replacing stones with asphalt in Cleveland. Long, rectangular and two and a half stories, the handsome façade, is divided into five sections, with projecting, gabled bays at each end . Ennobled by a double height portico of wooden piers, the main elevation is derived from Federal plantation houses , at Akin and outside of Charleston. Stylistically, such houses were the source of the attic’s arched dormers, featuring “ Gothick ” traceries . By way of genuine historic fabric, one particular old Kentucky area house also enriched Cornus Hill . It supplied the gracious fan lighted doorway outside and within, the dining room’s delicately ornamented mantelpiece and flanking elliptical archways
At Cornus Hill, Granite Belgian blocks paving the large forecourt at the entrance were salvaged from a W. P. A. project eliminating Cleveland's streetcars
Terminating on a screened porch, the central hall similarly boast reused early Nineteenth century Zuber wallpaper. However a giant reminder, next door, on the right, that it’s 1937 and not 1837, or earlier, is the bow window at the curving staircase’s landing, Glaringly anachronistic in its asymmetrical position outside, even inside this over scaled opening is decidedly unlike any documented period example. Indeed, once noted, such contradictions, infusing this revivalist pastiche with an aesthetic expressive of its own epoch, the modern age, makes pretending otherwise, impossible.
2012: The screened porch
Cross ventalation was provided by a center hall with a front door and an entrance to the garden
1938: As Clifford Norton's photographs show, Cornus Hill was sparely, but deftly furnished. Two handsome and exceptional tall case clocks grace the entrance and stair halls
A dedicated student of early American Neo-Classicism, Robert O. Derrick was among Detroit Michigan’s top architects. While young Mr. and Mrs. Russell A. Firestone had several friends who patronized him for decorous Colonial houses in suburban Gross Pointe, a more likely link is one of the Firestone families closest friends, Henry Ford. It was Ford, who at the eve of the Great Depression, bestowed Derrick with his dream commission, to design the Independence Hall inspired, Henry Ford Museum, at Dearborn. With both jobs, not only was cost not, the foremost consideration, but thanks to the dollar’s relative greater purchasing power, it was easier than ever for the designer to indulge twin passions. Fine hand craftsmanship and the latest high technology figure consistently in all his work.
1937: Mr. and Mrs. Russell Akin Firestone, pictured at a Miami racetrack, were married in 1925
This penchant of Derrick’s, explains the superb custom woodwork that adorns suites of Neo-Georgian reception rooms disposed on either side of the entrance. It also accounts for the louvers of Cornus Hill’s central air conditioning system, a discrete presence in each room. Notwithstanding the living room’s scrupulously correct broken-pediments, the library’s knotty pine paneling or the shell-crowned arched cupboard above the breakfast room’s Delft tiled fireplace, the period decor at Cornice Hill, no less than its architecture, betrays a boldness and simplicity that’s most typical of the 1930’s.
1938: Detroit interior designer Gertrude Cox cleverly re-purposed a Georgian apocathary's japanned canisters as lamp bases. Air conditioning vents indicate a marvelous and still quite rare innovation
Selecting Gertrude Cox, who frequently collaborated with Derrick, as their interior decorator, the Firestones got a great deal of high style glamour. Her deft use of antique furnishings, eclectically combined a Chinese Chippendale looking glass with a Heppelwhite breakfront and Provencal Louis xv fauteuils in the living room. Lined with scarlet damask , the breakfront echoed the color of a pair of lamps, imaginatively made from tole canisters, from an Eighteenth century English druggist shop. Made from French copperplate printed cotton, the dramatically fringed curtains here, are surely as smart as anything that Frances Elkins or Elsie De Wolfe might have offered. Big expanses of bronzed mirror frame the master bedroom’s late Georgian marble chimney-piece. More importantly though, depicted on the hall wallpaper, in statuettes, china figurines and in prints, splendid steeds appear every where one looks, attesting to the Firestones shared devotion to racing and breeding horses.
Dramatically fringed, Gertrude Cox's toile curtains are surely as smart as anything that Frances Elkins or Elsie De Wolfe might have offered.
1938: Library. In eighteenth century England and America alike, pine paneled rooms were always painted
1938: The dining room chimney piece at Cornus Hill was acquired from an early nineteenth century house in Kentucky
Cornus Hill's rustic Colonial Pennsylvania influenced breakfast room
A polo player and Lawrenceville and Princeton graduate like his four brothers, unfortunately Harvey Firestone’s second son had another pastime to rival even his enthusiasm for the turf. Ordinarily, alcoholism would hardly be worth mentioning. In Russell Firestone’s case though, it is. First, because thanks to his and his father’s involvement with the evangelical Oxford Movement in the Episcopal church, Firestone was critically involved with the establishment of Alcoholics Anonymous, in 1935. Sadly, he was destined to loose to addiction. Despite having built a showplace where it’s easy to imagine him, his wife, their two sons, the horses, the dogs and their servants, living happily, even idyllically, instead , the Firestone Tire and Rubber Co.’s assistant treasurer died at only fifty.
1938: The master bedroom's late 18th century English mantlepiece is surrounded by bronzed mirror
1938: The north-eastern view from Cornus Hill's low flagged terrace
Heartbroken, several years latter his widow remarried. Real estate tycoon, John Wilmer Galbreath of Darby Dan Farm near Columbus, had also lost his spouse several years before remarrying in 1955. One of only four men to have raced both a Kentucky Derby winner and an Epsom Derby champion, it’s hardly fair to call his love of horses greater than Dorthy Bryan Firestone’s. Yet apart from from periodic seasonal distraction ownership of the Pittsburgh Pirates entailed, horses were a single minded pursuit, that brought the new couple much joy.
Mr. & Mrs. John Wilmer Galbreath, who married in 1955 were devoted to the turf
Sold immediately following Mrs. Firestone's remarriage, for a time Cornus Hill served as a nursing home before being converted into offices. Its Sylvan dominion reduced to just seven acres, the property has been on the market for five years.
Fifty-four rooms make for rather a large house and Roundwood Manor, on Daisy Hill Farm in Hunting Valley, was in fact the second largest private dwelling to be built in Ohio. Smaller than sixty-five room Stan Hywet Hall, thirty miles South, it had only 600 acres, as opposed to 3,000 and eleven bed rooms, instead of a full dozen. None the less, there is at least one superlative connected to the Mount Vernon-mimicking Colonial Revival style building that helps to make it unique. With an interior measuring well over 90,000 square feet, on average , most rooms at Round wood Manor were, far more spacious than, most rooms in most other country houses anywhere else in the state.
1928: Roundwood Manor depicted by Cleveland's foremost studio photographer, Clifford Norton
But then, considering the owners of Daisy Hill Farm, this is no less than fitting. Nor is it in any way a shock to learn that so eager were they to reduce the time required to build a new house, that in 1923, the builders took the unusual expedient of having their architect remodel and extend an existing structure, a nearly new, hollow tile and concrete dairy barn.
Sharing a passion for work and American history, the Ohio farm boy Van Sweringen brothers, Oris Paxton, ( 1879-1936 ) and Mantis James ( 1881-1935 ) surely rose from early obscurity, as rapidly and spectacularly, as any Dickensian hero. Life long bachelors, who always appeared together and slept in the same room, inevitably they were addressed collectively as, ’ the Vans.’ With caviler daring-do, they might well to of coined , as a personal, motivational motto the famous admonishment, “ make no little plans .” For, whatever it was they undertook, they never did.
What’s more, from the very beginning of their success in business, around 1909, until the amazing collapse of their mammoth real estate, railroad, timber, coal, shipping, rubber, auto, hotel and securities conglomerate, worth $9,000,000,000 in 1929, they customarily used other people’s money. Their first coop was to exercise an option to develop the farmland of a utopian, but celibate Shaker settlement, on Cleveland’s Eastern edge, into the city’s première upper middle class residential district. Restrictive deed covenants mandating architect-designed houses, minimum set backs and prohibitions against Jews or Negros helped to attract a few buyers. But, what really caused exclusive Shaker Heights to take off, was the Vans’ construction of a rapid transit line that made the trip Downtown, to the office, the club ,the bank or stores an easy and pleasant commute. Starting ‘ the Rapid ‘ had necessitated acquisition of a right of way owned by the New York Central’s Nickel Plate Railroad, in turn, launching the brothers as rail-barons. Their inter-urban line, all the way out to the countryside and beyond, followed. This was what brought the Vans, along with scores of servants, to Hunting Valley, where they were already building speculative estates to encourage land sales.
The Van Sweringen brothers' built Cleveland's Union Terminal in 1928, to serve as an office building atop the city's new railway and rapid transit station, for $ 179-million. Designed by the Daniel Burnham's successor firm, Graham, Anderson, Probst & White of Chicago, it was inspired by McKim, Mead & White's New York Municipal Building.
Originally envisioned to be a mere14 stories, the Terminal Tower was expanded to 52 floors with a height of 708 feet. An engineering triumph, it rests on 280-foot pylons.
The Terminal Tower, sufficently complete to open to tenants as early as 1928, wasn't officially dedicated until 1930. Until completion of the State University Tower in 1953, at Moscow, this hub of the Van's empire would remain the tallest building in the world outside of New York City.
Circa 1930: Terminal Tower by Margret Burke White
Philip L. Small, their architect, was enlisted with little effort from among a group who’d produced their model houses at Shaker Heights . Both Vans were much taken with the Washington D.C. native, admiring his efficiency . They appreciated as well the aesthetic and fiscal economy Small employed building Roundwood Manor. With its completion, in 1927, the brothers rewarded his firm, Small & Rowley, with the commission for their pioneering shopping center, Shaker Square. It was the aplomb with which Small again mastered this complex job, that caused the Vans to hire him full time as their company’s official designer in 1928 . Only a short time latter, this led to his work at the Greenbrier Hotel at White Sulfur Springs .
The importance of laying out this background is to put Roundwood in context. Small’s collaborator in both these commercial projects and at ’ The Country Club , in Shaker Heights , was the interior design firm Rorimer-Brooks . Cleveland’s leading decorating studio, it was operated by Louis Rorimer . Both men showed a genius for deftly manipulating echoingly big structures, for providing them with a human scale. But, where Rorimer increasingly grew to favor modernism, Small, was mostly a dedicated traditionalist. If his preferred Neo-Colonial-Neo-Classicism played up to his patron’s sense of American exceptionalism, Small’s fellow architect, Alexander C, Robinson, recalled, how for the designer, it held far more significance.
Circa 1981: Pittsburgh native, Columbia-trained acclaimed Cleveland architect Alexander C. Robinson, expounds on the work of his colleague Philip Small, to Mary Louise Knerly, the author and others at a party in Robinson's honor
“ For Phil Small, he wanted to make someone immediately feel at home. And, he was absolutely great at it, by introducing something so familiar--that it was iconic. “ Robinson also spoke of the designer of Roundwood’s connoisseurship, saying, that this was something that the Vans had especially valued about him . “ Just imagine, they gave him carte blanch to buy their antiques! Both at their home in the country and at the triplex apartment he did for them downtown, at the top of the Terminal Tower . At the Greenbrier Hotel, at nearly all of the jobs he did for the Vans, Phil choose their art and antique pieces . As much as anyone, outside of their family, he was their friend. They trusted him, absolutely! ”
The Terminal Tower's 14th floor contained the Vans' unrivaled triplex apartment, designed by Philip Small and decorated by Louis Rorimer. Fully furnished, even the great hall-like living room seemed welcoming. Note the balusters in the roof timbers, a distinctive, lost, Philip Small touch
As for Small’s style, Robinson at least, had some reservations. “ Here, you had these two rough and tumble brothers, who hadn’t gone to college and were not a part of ‘ Society ’. Only, on paper at least, they were richer than almost everybody. They wanted, they wished, to be well thought of. It only made good business sense. They had their spinster sisters, and a brother who married and his family who visited them, as well as a small clique of close friends and some extremely loyal, even devoted business associates---these were the people who they entertained. Guided by Phil, they got a gracious setting , with one million dollars worth of antiques and custom reproductions. He gave them ’ background ’, with spinning wheels and an entire library devoted to Dickinsia. His broken scrolled pediments, somewhat stylize, exaggerated, were elegant. That’s beyond question. But, overall, I’d have to say that I found it all a trifle dry . But it was exceptionally good work of its kind you see. “
Winding along a serpentine driveway, Albert Taylor’s park-like landscape, with its rustic bridge and a round, stone tower built by famed local mason Gorge Brown, unfailingly seduced the visitor to Daisy Hill Farm. Seen long before the house, the farm group, ranges of greenhouses, eleven cottages, stables and extensive garaging, set the stage for the house’s star role in an environment conceived as a romantic pageant .
A tributary of the Chagrin River runs past the farm group at Daisy Hill Farm. Today the picturesqe complex is a seperate 'estate'
As big as it was, on the façade, most of the house was only one and one half stories high. This was on account of the original dimensions of the existing barn, which was long and low ,with a gambrel roof. Distended over 200 feet, its remains can still be made out. Only, near the center Small raised the main, five bay, block, a floor higher. He gave it further emphasis with a double height porch of slender, square post topped by a latticed parapet. From this main gabled section, three-bay hyphens , with one storey porches retained the gambrel roof. At a Colonial era Tidewater plantation, Small’s projecting , gabled wings would have been dependencies. At Roundwood , more than anything else, they were meant to detract from the building’s endless length that so recalled a resort hotel.
On the garden front, providing one walked some distance, it was clear to see that Small had laid out the house as an enormous letter T. Extending between two former silos, reused as stair towers, the two and one half floor guest wing, at the middle of the main block was stucco, instead of brick. This clever device of varying materials, also helped to reduce Roundwood’s visual enormity. While, in addition to providing guest easy access to their rooms and a maximum of privacy, positioning this long wing at the center of the house also helped to literally hide its vastness, as when near it, the guest wing was difficult to see around .
Half of the guests room wing, above Roundwood Manor's indoor pool, has been eliminated
The outdoor pool at Roundwood was filled in after the Vans' death
Despite familiarity, a host of “ iconic ’, well executed details, wind vanes atop the towers, shaped as riders and horses, or the front door’s eagle knocker and bottle glass transom-light, offer delight . Wind mill cut-outs, in the window’s shutters refer to the brother’s illustrious Dutch heritage. Once inside it’s not the proliferation of such charming elements however that most attracts one’s attention. Instead, it’s impossible not to note the brilliant way that the architect has taken a structure with an entirely conventional exterior, with a straightforward a layout, and invested it with as much brio as San Simion. He’s done it through judicious juxtaposition. Dark and low ceilinged , the vestibule leads to a soaring stair-hall. The full height of the house, it’s top lit by skylights between the beams of a timber framed roof . Here and elsewhere, Small also introduces surprise, with an interior that’s by far more vernacular than suggested by his façade. Some of his components, like random flagged slate floors or the beaded chestnut paneling in he main reception rooms, almost seem rustic. But this was meant to contribute to an informal atmosphere.
1930: An eventful welcome
Current conventional 'taste' could not countenance the dramatically 'modern' juxtaposition of plain frosted glass between massive timber beams that originally lighted Roundwood's hall
Two tunnel-like lateral passages sustain the drama. The way into the 'Ship Room' is even rather inspired. The short corridor leading to it from the stair-hall , has a wide, eighteen foot high opening. Ingeniously, Small has inserted a gallery of the stairway above it . Quite distinct from the function of creating a architectural flourish , this gallery’s balustered grill concealed one of largest and last house organs installed in the U.S.
The passage to the Main Dinning Room at Roundwood Manor
With the organ original to Roudwood removed, the grills for the instrument's pipes were covered over
The view from this balcony into the ‘ Ship Room ’ was terminated by the fireplace, where the mantelpiece displayed a caravel model that gave the room its name. At Roundwood, it was the timber roofed 'Ship Room', furnished with six chintz covered sofas that made it reminiscent of the lounge of a large country club, that functioned as the living room. Thirty-eight by sixty-four feet with a thirty by thirty-two foot alcove, it occupied almost half of the front of the house, with a screened porch next door.
Following the Van's tenure at Roundwood, their grand living room was altered to conform with changed taste. The chestnut paneling was painted, the floors were covered with the modern cliche of conspicuous luxury, a white carpet, and the room was greatly reduced in size. The screened porch beyond it was eliminated altogether, and the lofty space proceeding it, trimmed by half. A large arched window was inserted in much closer original 'fireplace' wall and a new fireplace positioned to replace an eliminated alcove. Needless to say, the resonate, old fashioned status symbol-organ, was dispensed with.
There are three ample dining rooms at Roundwood. For the sake of entertaining, the two largest open onto each other. They were divided only by curtains and while the smaller one is raised a step above the’ Banqueting Room’, the beamed ceilings of both spaces are pleasingly low.
Upstairs, in the main block of the house one found the Vans’ large, but unassuming bedroom, with twin double beds that had rush bottomed settees at the foot. Their room was by far the most modest of all Roundwood’s bedrooms. These were grouped along a passage with slanting beams, meant to look like the companionway of an old sailing vessel. Some had scenic paper and canopied beds. One had an inglenook, all had fireplaces and adjacent , private baths and dressing rooms.
1930: The ship-inspired bedroom passageway
1930: At the top of the main staircase, the Vans had twin beds in their shared bedroom
Occupying the whole of the guest wing’s ground floor was the sixty foot long pool, a gymnasium and changing rooms. More windmills ornament the pool’s blue-green tiled walls. Through its enfilade of French doors, just outside, there was a bowling green as well as tennis courts . In front of the house there was yet another pool, out-of-doors. It adjoined the rehabbed eleven room farmhouse original to the property. Famous visitors included Charles Lindberg and several member of the Rockefeller clan.
But, as Alexander Robinson suggested, although the Vans might have entertained their family and a small circle of close friends with some regularity, at Roundwood, entertaining only twice approached the large scale social events that were common place at houses like Gwinn or Stan Hywet Hall. Overextended, with ‘The Crash ’ the Vans became embroiled in a titanic struggle to save their empire. In 1935 and 1936 they died, only fifty-four and fifty-seven. Orris went first, causing Mantis to lament, “ I don’t know what I’m going to do ! ”. Both brother’s funerals brought out an assemblage of five hundred representatives of America’s industrial elite, most of whom had never before seen the Vans’ fabled place.
2010: The Dicken's Room
Leaving an entangled economic wreckage that took decades to fix, huge swaths of Daisy Hill Farm were subdivided. Philip Small’s painstakingly amassed English silver, Staffordshire figurines, Audubon engravings, settles, churns, whale oil lamps and early American quilts, many as fine as similar examples owned by the Webb’s at Shelburne Farms, were knocked down for a lowly $89,286.50
Purchased in 1946 by Gordon Stouffer, a restaurateur and frozen food magnate, Roundwood was rechristened “ Stowood ” . Subsequently , changing hands six times more, the house has undergone several radical alterations. Outside, the pool was filled in and while the inside pool was spared, part of the guest wing above it was demolished. So was the service wing and half of the 'Ship Room'. Currently, only retaining seven acres, Roundwood Manor is offered for sale at a little less than $5-million.
Circa 1928: A quadrant of Shaker Square, the early shopping center designed for the Vans by Philip Small
Gordon Stouffer's restaurant at the Vans' innovative Shaker Square residential, transit and shopping center development was so renowned that it led to the foundation of his successful upscale frozen food business. Yet despite such enterprise, even he found the Van's rustic but imposingly proportioned estate difficult to maintain
1930: Following the death of the Van Sweringen brothers, their rural retreat was extensively reduced by at least one third
Despite all the dramatic alterations that ensued after 1904, Harbor Hill was essentially completed by 1902. Thereafter, for Katherine Mackay, a good deal of the rich person’s favorite pastime, building, had begun to loose its initial appeal. True enough, even after Stanford White’s murder, she had still had the pleasure of terrorizing, with demands and rebuffs, others who took up the business of completing Trinity Church, Roslyn, a lovely and lovingly planned monument to her parents memory. However, this was not enough to fill her days of leisure. Where for some, the duties of motherhood might have occupied the void, Katherine required far more. More even than an unending round of shopping trips, fittings, bridge games, lunch dates, parties, yacht cruises, golf games, coaching or race meets, horse shows, interviews, or tea-time nursery visits, were required to occupy her boundless energy and creative outlook.
What’s remarkable then, are all the unexpected places, persons and new experiences, her combination of curiosity, an ambition to make a difference and the “old ennui,” attract Katherine Mackay to them. The media adored her and she was always careful that most of her fine exploits be chronicled. So in looking back, she cast such a wide shadow, that one can never quite guess with certainty, just where she might show up.
Not long after Stanford White’s death, for instance, accompanying her pal Consuelo, Katherine had come face-to-face, with his murderer, mad Harry K. Thaw, at the notorious Tombs! The duchess, it was explained, had a message from his sister, the former Alice Cornelia Thaw, who was now the Countess of Yarmouth, another American heiress who’d married an aristocrat. More importantly, prison reform was an interest of hers. Katherine claimed merely to be supporting her friend, but she too had shown an interest in improving living conditions, for inmates.
Capernaum synagogue, another monument that ended in ruins.
Favorably positioned, close to New York, might Harbor Hill to have been rescued, repurposed and saved, successfully serving as a regional art museum, as a resort, a spa, a school or a catering hall? For many, the answer to such a question, pitting crude commerce and an exquisitely realized and irreplaceable architectural expression of distinctive beauty, the answer must be: Yes! For those, this is, one trusts, a multi-layered cautionary tale, And it is one, hardly discounting commerciall expedience, but rather instead, giving consideration to every kind of cost and loss at stake
Just as today, a century ago the success of ‘good causes,’ often depended on the charitable largess of affluent patrons parading piety and concern at festive public benefits. To give Booker T. Washington a good start toward collecting the $1,800,000 he wanted to endow Tuskegee Institute, Mark Twain, Joseph H. Choate, Robert C. Ogden, and Dr. Washington himself, organized a gathering at Carnegie Hall. It was billed as a "silver jubilee," since Tuskegee Institute was founded, in 1881. There were impassioned speeches by Secretary of War Taft, President Eliot of Harvard, Bishop Galloway, and Andrew Carnegie.
Naturally Katherine Mackay was there too. For society had turned out in full force, or at least, a certain segment of high society. Women in brilliant gowns, resplendent with jewels, and men in evening dress filled the boxes. Despite the object of the meeting, to get money from the posh audience with which to combat racist subjugation through instruction and training, an atmosphere of hilarity and lightheartedness prevailed. Notwithstanding the ‘Negro’ octet that sang between the speeches, somber melodies and revival songs, the mere presence of Mark Twain, as much as his wry remarks had prompted and sustained great gaiety.
Besides Mrs. Clarence H. Mackay, occupants of the boxes included Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Mrs. Henry H. Rogers, J. G. Phelps Stokes, Isaac N. Seligman, Carl Schurz, Mrs. W. H. Schieffelin, Mrs. William Jay Schieffelin, Mrs. Joseph H. Choate, Mrs. Henry Villard, Nicholas Murray Butler, Mrs. Cleveland H. Dodge, Mrs. Felix M. Warburg, Mrs. R. Fulton Cutting, Mrs. Collis P. Huntington, Mrs. Robert B. Minturn, Mrs. Jacob H. Schiff, Mrs. Paul M. Warburg, and Mrs. Arthur Curtis James.
This was one of those pioneer efforts that had brought together a diverse group of artists and socially prominent Jews, Catholics and the White Anglo Saxon Protestant elite. It is well worth noting these worthies, inasmuch as, many, would join Katherine latter, in an enterprise equally controversial.
1913: On top of being the focus of a raging scandal, how Katherine must have minded being shown in a hat from four seasons ago!
She explained how after at first having been staunchly opposed, she had only come to the cause of extending the franchise to women, by incremental degrees. If hosting a Harbor Hill picnic for school children and their parents had helped win election to the Roslyn School Board in 1905, attempting, even unsuccessfully, to eliminate corporal punishment, had gained her popularity among school boys who covered fences far and wide with the scrawl, “Mrs. Mackay is alright!” Tea for teachers, at her commodious estate, redecoration, at her own expense, of the teacher’s room, which, coincidentally, was where the school board met, had also found favor. Katherine was alas, unable to get a second school built, but indeed, in time, one was erected on a portion of Harbor Hill acreage that Clarence Mackay would present to the village. More importantly, coming into contact with working women, helping to make executive decisions that improved people’s lives, led Katherine Mackay, little by little, to see the wisdom of other women, other wives and mothers, being given more opportunity to shape public policy. Even then she was reticent, feeling that women should focus their attention on local concerns, leaving national politics to men. So, though it was Katherine Mackay’s activism as a suffragette that first involved Mrs. Belmont and her daughter in the cause, on this matter, they had stood in firm disagreement.
These three, Alva Belmont, her daughter, Consuelo, Duchess o Marlborough and Katherine, were always goading each other to venture further than they might have otherwise dared to go. In time, Katherine was won over by Mrs. Belmont's side, due to Counselo's gift for tactfulness. ‘But of course women had a rightful place participating in national politics too,’ Katherine came to decide. But as to the violently unbecoming, confrontational tactics of Emily Pankhurst and other radical English suffragettes, these she abjured completely.
Progressing from being among metropolitan New York’s first women school board members, to a full-fledged champion for women’s rights, unanimously Katherine Mackay was elected President of the Equal Franchise Society, that she helped to set up in 1908. Ably assisting Katherine, who in addition to being mother to two daughters and a son by this time, was still very much the active socialite, was one, Ethel Gross. What an unlikely candidate for Katherine Mackay’s secretary and assistant many thought she was. Decisively, the encounter had helped her to grow and to mature. Born Etelke Gross into an acculturated, middle-class, Hungarian Jewish family in 1886, Miss Gross immigrated to the United States at the age of five with her mother. Settling in New York's Lower East side, inhabiting the "typical, dark and airless dumbbell tenement," she left school in 1898 at the age of twelve, starting work as a counselor to younger children at Christadora House. Recently established, the East Village settlement meant to help assimilate the city’s foreign-born masses, had a Christian-affiliation. As private secretary to Katherine Mackay, Gross was enmeshed in all aspects of this organization targeting the rich, from helping to draft appeals, to marching in suffrage parades. Katherine established an office for the Equal Franchise Society in rooms at the Metropolitan Life Tower. At 505 Fifth Avenue, nearby, was Mrs. Belmont’s ’sister group, the Political Equality League.
1909: "Only what is real endures"
Whenever society super star, Katherine Duer Mackay had spoken out on the need for “women of all classes to work for civic improvement through the agency of the ballot box,” more than a decade before the 19th Amendment was ratified in August 1920, she’d been quite eloquent. Her persuasive, approach, presuming male generosity even gallantry, was not so different from the flattering guise she had sometimes taken in order to cajole Stanford White. So it comes as something of a shock, learning, just how strident, imperious and insensitive, she could still be. Was it her youth, her privilege or self-righteousness, that caused her to momentarily abandon discretion and charm in such a way as to belie her skill as a perceptive political maneuver-er? Absolutely, her first serious public misstep toward the road for disillusionment, in addition to exhibiting uncharacteristic gracelessness, betrayed as well a central conflict that was to destroy the very marriage that had been made to fulfill her destiny.
Off and on, between 1905 and 1910, Clarence and Katherine had made their city residence for autumn and witer, the leased Theodore A. Havemeyer house at 244 Madison Avenue. This was the house in which their son John William Mackay would be born in 1907
Evidently, assisted perhaps by Stanford White, the Mackays made certain enhancements to their rented city house. Banked with palms and lilies for a party the entrance features wall sconces and a sedan chair of the same kind White provided for William Whitney.
On March 31, 1908 Katherine hosted a Sufferage lunch party that included such important matrons as Mrs. Alexander, Mrs. Aldrich, Mrs. J. J. Astor, Mrs. Belmont, Mrs. Blatch, Mrs. Corbin, Mrs. Catt, Mrs. Fabbri, Mrs. Goelet, Mrs. George Gould, Miss Ida Husted Harper, Mrs. Irvin, Mrs. Reginald de Koven, Mrs. Lydig, Mrs. Maynard. Miss Anne Morgan, Mrs. Miller, Duchess of Marlborough, Mrs. Nathan, Mrs. Pulitzer. Mrs. Speyer, Miss Tarbell, Mrs. Wm. K. Vanderbilt and Mrs. Winthrop.
The beginning of the end of Mrs. Clarence Hungerford Mackay’s reign as queen of Harbor Hill, ironically, came about as a consequence of her role as a philanthropist. She’d been advocate and the lady bountiful both, reforming education as a lady school board member. So when a young woman had had to seek funds for a new Brooklyn parochial school, the much publicized generosity of Katherine Mackay immediately sprung to mind. Perhaps, ‘Mrs. Mackay might like to contribute?’ shed thought. She was hardly prepared then, for the brusque reply she received from Saratoga:
Circa 1913: Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont
Miss B. A. McNamara:
Madame---Yours of the 15th has been forwarded to me here. In reply I wish to tell you that I absolutely disapprove of parochial schools of the Romanist faith, and consider them a grave menace to our country. Needless to say, I am not a Romanist, and will not help you.
Yours Truly, Katherine Mackay
The priest at St. John’s Catholic Church that was building the school, was taken aback as well. But all too aware of how he might utilize the grand Mrs. Mackay’s abrupt letter, to draw attention and funds to his project, he quickly recovered his composure and sprung to write a snappy response. He’d then saw to it, that both letters, were published in the New York Times. His read in part:
.…that you absolutely disapprove of parochial schools of the Romanist faith, and that you consider them a grave menace to our country, simply reveals a condition of mind. The opinion is characteristic. In the schools you dislike so much, we teach our children the ordinary courtesies of life. As an example, we would tell them the use of the word “Romanist” betrays bad form, and that nice. intelligent people would not be guilty of such a blunder.
Faithfully Yours, ROBERT H. DUHIGG Rector St John’s.
Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish, in the New York Times, February 5, 1908, asserted that a good husband was a woman’s best assurance of happiness and that: “I think too well of women to imagine that they can benefit from mixing in the mire of politics… Any woman of brains, I will not say beauty, but of charm and attractiveness, can draw what she needs from most men…” , But thanks to the efforts of Katherine Mackay and Mrs. Belmont, in the New York Times of January 16, 1910 she would concede , how she’d ‘been won over to the cause of votes for women…’
What an affront this episode must have seemed to many, not least, to Katherine’s friends who were Roman Catholic. It could hardly to have failed to outrage her husband and his devout mother as well. Hence, there were hints quietly raised early on in the Mackays' marriage, that all was not well, that mutual enchantment was fading. But for a long time no such disharmony was broached publicly, as the ‘golden couple’, sailed on, seemingly, from triumph, to triumph.
That Clarence Mackay, a leading businessman often embroiled in the rough and tumble, of labor relations, had reservations about granting the franchise to women without reservation, is made clear by the letter excerpted below . It was addressed by Katherine to a fellow suffragist, the crusading writer and lecturer, Harriet Eaton Stanton Blatch, daughter of pioneering women's rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton:
FEB 27 4:30 PM 1908
T. Miss Anne Fitzhugh Miller, The Stratford 11 East 32nd St.
ONLY WHAT IS REAL ENDURES
My dear Mrs. Blatch:
Your wire has just come, and I am delighted that you will accept my invitation for luncheon Friday, but instead of lunching at Delmonico's, my husband wishes us to come down to his office, & lunch with him. Colonel Harry will be there too. My husband is anxious to meet you, & to listen to you, and I want you to convert him from his present attitudes of partial suffrage for Educational & Philanthropic officers only.--Col. Harry believes in suffrage, & seems ready to help the cause, & as you know he runs several magazines, & has a clever political instinct, he is a valuable co-operator.---Surely it will be worth while to interest these two men, & to explain what kind of a campaign you plan for the coming year and that is why I am so glad you will take this opportunity…
With friendly greetings,
Katherine and the Duchess of Marlborough
Was Clarence Mackay ever fully won over as society leader and famous wag Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish was? He was to the extent of accompanying his wife to high profile events like the Woman’s Suffrage Banquet, but, he must have been preoccupied. For, just age thirty-four, in 1908, his life was at risk. Clarence Mackay had been diagnosed with cancer. He survived only due to the renowned skill of his surgeon, a personal friend, Doctor Joseph Blake. Dr. Blake was a frequent house guest at Harbor Hill. How had he and Mackay originally met, one wonders? His meeting with Katherine at a suffragists’ meeting is documented. So, did she introduce Clarence to the man who saved his life, but ‘stole’ his wife?
In appearance, Dr. Blake, if anything, looked like a slightly older version of Clarie, raising the question, what was it about him, exerting such great appeal?
If nothing else, Katherine Mackay’s foray into literature, proved one thing. Incurably, helplessly, hopelessly, she was a romantic to her fingertips. Deep in Harbor Hill’s woods, she maintained a rustic cottage retreat, called, her ‘Hameau’. This referenced Marie Antoinette’s Hameau de la Reine. This was a farm, with the most elegant interiors imaginable behind the camouflage of a peasant hamlet, built in the park of the Château de Versailles according to designs by Gabrielle. For once Katherine’s fantasy was more straight-forward than her ultimate role model’s. Harbor Hill’s Hameau, was just a cabin, in a glade. Katherine’s “Gabrielle. A Dream from the Treasures Contained in the Letters if Abelard and Heloise, published in the venerable North American Review, in 1903, was similarly direct. As the title predicts, it is a full-blown romantic swoon, suitably delivered in lofty language, from cover to cover. Nothing if not consistent, this applied equally to “Stone of Destiny,” which Harper & Brothers brought out the following year.
'Blake Lodge', Katherine and Joseph Blacke's summer house at Bar Harbor was a far cry from Harbor Hill
A famous healer of his fellow beings, the visionary who conceived of the comprehensive Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, Dr. Blake projected a different sort dynamism from Clarie’s more convention sportsman-connoisseur. Moreover, for someone of Katherine’s temperament, a disillusioned believer in ‘true love’ and ’destiny,’ there can have been few things so attractive as, a well-respected prosperous man, willingly risking all he had, courting society’s condemnation, for the sake of, the woman he loved.
Circa 1915: Mrs. Joseph Augustus Blake by Boldini
Soon enough reports surfaced to the effect, that, the aggrieved Mrs. Joseph Augustus Blake, the mother of three, would file for divorce and sue Katherine Mackay for alienating her husband’s affections. She would seek damages for $1-million, comparable to someone seeking a billion dollar judgment today! To those in-the-know signs of an impending divorce between the Mackays had been evident for some time. Katherine’s having renounced her rights to her most glorious wedding gift of Harbor Hill, which was placed in trust for her young son, was telling, people said. So was her hasty resignation from the school board and the leadership of the Equal Franchise Society,
Circa 1917: John William, Clarence, Ellin and Katherine Mackay
Today, many upper class people might happily invite a gay couple for the weekend and coyly provide them adjoining rooms. By now, divorce was dealt with in this spirit. Among the very richest set of people, if divorce had not yet become a kind of raffish new fashion, thanks largely to Mrs. Belmont’s example, it was gaining ever greater acceptance. Certainly, divorce and ostracism, were no longer synonymous. Katherine and Claire had discussed the idea early and often evidently, but the requirement under New York law, of a ‘guilty’ party, made an unofficial separation, with their lives largely led independently, more sensible. What changed things was the discovery of no-fault divorce, obtainable in France even were one not French. Unexpected, Clarence Mackay’s cancer, and Dr. Blake’s seduction both sped up the an inevitable parting. Events poisoned the dissolution of the Mackays’ marriage as well.
A century ago, in September of 1913 Katherine Mackay divorced her husband in Paris. With the start of the World War in August Blake operated a hospital to care for French soldiers. Katherine toiled dutifully by his side as a nurse. In November, 1914, one day after his divorce was finalized, Katherine and Dr. Blake, took a break from sugary and without fanfare, were married. Inexplicably, the first Mrs. Blake had called off her court case threatening Katherine. However, after her divorce decree had been granted, her ex-husband’s remarriage imminent, she told a reporter, she hoped that, ’the ex-Mrs. Mackay would know all the unhappiness she deserved…’
Built in 1904, number 3 East Seventy fifth Street was designed by C. P. H. Gilbert for John Duncan, the importer of Lea & Perrin's Worcestershire Sauce. Soon after April, in 1920 negotiations were finalized to sell the house for $750,000 to Clarence Hungerford Mackay. The master of Harbor Hill would maintain this as his city house until his death seventeen years latter
The Blakes, who lived on quietly in Paris during war, afterward settled Upstate and at Bar Harbor. They had three daughters and a son. Professionally, Dr. Blake seems to have suffered little consequence from either leaving his wife and children, or from ‘taking’ the wife of a friend and patient. For Katherine Blake societal assessment was harsher. Branded a mother who had selfishly ’abandoned’ her children and husband, she was shunned by many who had once so sought her company and approbation.
In some ways, it seems that the parting curse the first Mrs. Blake, had intoned against the second, had come to pass. What pathos there was in Katherine Mackay having also contracted cancer. With the same skill and care that he’d administered to ‘cure’ Clarence Mackay, Blake tended to the woman they had both loved. Sadly, even so, Katherine Blake was to loose an eye to cancer. But as a consolation, she soon learned that her remaining sight had grown even more acute. As a consequence it had not taken very much time for her to realize that her husband and her young nurse, had embarked on a torrid love affair. Divorced from the esteemed Dr. Blake in 1929, a chastened Katherine carried on as elegantly as ever. The good doctor had remarried–for a third time–almost immediately.
1924: The golden agr of Harbor Hill
Despite her new life and family for years Katherine Blake endured a kind of exile, separated from Harbor Hill. In her place her combative former mother-in-law presided over a domain that had been decreed for her. That was for the sake of public notice. Discretely, not behind the scenes, but always, almost. properly chaperoned, Clarence Mackay, had a mistress. He refused to even broach the idea of remarrying after the divorce. In the eyes of the church, marriage was insoluble and his wife yet lived. So entreating the Prince of Wales in 1924 and Lucky Charles Lindbergh in 1927, his mistress was present and many were aware of the status she held, but officially, it was Mother Mackay, called mammy by her family, who was the hostess of grandiose Harbor Hill.
How typical that society should have viewed Clarence Mackay as injured and abandoned, embracing him even as he carried on openly with his paramour. Katherine by contrast, was cast by many as a gold-digging adventurous from the first, who deserting her home, was justly suffering the consequences. In many houses, she was no longer received. Bolstering her throughout this ordeal was her daughter Ellin Mackay, in the middle among the offspring from her first marriage. Blond, beautiful, and impetuous like her mother, Ellin also shared Katherine’s gift as a writer. First in the family to reestablish contact with her mother, though loyally avoiding her new spouse, their relationship deepened once Ellin found she had a champion when she fell deeply in love with a man almost everyone else thought was all wrong.
'Happy House', was what John and Gwen Mackay named their estate adjoining Harbor Hill. A rambling dwelling, it was based on sixteenth century prototypes in England’s Cotswold’s and was designed by John W. Cross, of Cross & Cross. In 1957 the J.W. Mackays would leave this wedding present house, for historic 'Matinecock Farm' in Lattingtown.
It was not altogether a chance to do combat with her ex-husband that had made Katherine Blake back her daughter up. It was not even because through her varied suffrage activities, Katherine had come to know a greater diversity of people, and established greater ties of intimacy than he had. No, when Ellin Mackay found herself in love with Irving Berlin, the composer, a Russian immigrant and a Jew, when she threw down a gauntlet to her father and her class, taking her first subway ride to marry him at City Hall on January 4, 1926, her mother had given her blessing. Why? For sure it was not only because Ellin acted against her father’s expressed wishes, but because, it had all happened before, with everything turning out fine!
Though also Jewish and an immigrant, educated in Frankfurt, Germany, a partner of his family's banking house, Lazard Speyer-Ellissen, James Speyer had not been born poor. This usually propitious particular however, had made little difference when it came to his audaciously presuming to marry one of New York’s WASP elite. “A man who has been in love with me for some months wants to marry me. Please give me your advice….I should like to accept him…but you see he is a Jew….” the would-be bride had pleaded.
Anna Case (1888–1984) of Clinton, New Jersey would become Clarence Mackay's second wife. She was a lyric soprano who sang with the Metropolitan Opera and as a concert soloist. Encountering her at musical events from time to time, taken with her beauty and the quality of her voice, around 1916, Mackay engaged her to perform at a musical he held at home. She so pleased him, that he had sent a railroad carload load of flowers to her at her next Carnegie Hall recital, enclosing a small diamond band with an enamel bluebird in the center, emblematic of the happiness he felt in her company.
This sad speech, we are told by that dazzling chronicler of Gilded Age high life, Elizabeth Drexel Lehr, was made contritely to, THE Mrs. Astor, by a widow, Ellin Dyneley Prince Lowery. The year she implored that she not be outcast for the affront of marrying a Jew, was 1897! According to Mrs. Lehr, this was the first alliance between a Jew and a member of society. Its moment, notwithstanding an earlier infiltration made by the Belmont family, Mrs. Lehr makes most plain, reflecting on a consensus of opinion among her set, at the close of the nineteenth century. Certain of Mrs. Lehr‘s colorful descriptions and designations are indicative as well, of biases persisting in 1935:
A Jew! Such a marriage would violate one of the fundamental principles of the Four Hundred’s code. While half the ancient families of Europe had allied themselves with the race of Israel, while the English aristocracy following the lead of Edward VII, not only tolerated but held out welcoming arms to its swarthy sons and daughters, American society had withstood the invasion….
“Who is he?” THE Mrs. Astor had inquired solicitously.
“James Speyer,” Mrs. Lowery replied. “I want to marry him, but I can‘t if it means losing all my friends…” At length, THE Mrs. Astor had put her fretting friend out of her misery. She was assured that everyone had such fondness for her, that they must do whatever it took to keep her close to them.
With Katherine Blake's death in 1930, Clarence Mackay and Anna Case were married at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Roslyn, New York the following year. Clarence regarded his new wife, as a woman who had stood by him without complaint, forsaking the spectacular sort of collection of gems, which propriety had previously prohibited him from giving her. So notwithstanding recent monumental financial losses, his wedding gift, was a remarkable necklace of emeralds and diamonds, beautifully set in platinum. Its Colombia emerald pendant, weighing 167.97 carats, is the largest cut emerald in America. The necklace it adorns was designed by Boucheron. At her death, in 1984, Anna Case Mackay bequeathed this magnificent jewel to
the Smithsonian Institution.
As Lilly Bart learned and the perspective Mrs. Skeffington appreciated from the start, it was indeed well that THE Mrs. Astor should extend her ‘acceptance’. To begin, her friend was already past fifty, Speyer, in addition to being quite rich, was eleven years younger. Secondly, this friend of THE Mrs. Astor's, had been left so badly-off with her first husbands death, that she had taken a decidedly un-lady-like step. Putting baking skills to good use, with a similarly hard-up friend, she opened a group of popular tea shops. Since her fashionable friends had not failed her then, she’d been a success.
First connected with the Paris and London branches of his family’s firm, James Speyer had come to New York to start a bank that was all his own. In addition, he was one of the founders of the Provident Loan Society, a trustee of the Teachers' College at Columbia University, to which he presented the Speyer School and also a trustee of the Museum of the City of New York. Perhaps his most lucrative pursuit was acting as financial agent for the railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington. Only Speyer’s pro-German sentiments during the Great War, meaning his London office had had to close, diminished his bank’s preeminence. With a new world conflict, in 1939, the York branch of Speyer & Co. shut down. Even so, what an eventful life, filled with purpose, the Speyer’s had managed to make together.
1937: Reduced, in financial terms, by catastrophic losses suffered during the Great Depression, to but a shadow of his former self, Clarence Mackay still managed to retain Harbor Hill and a few of the art works he prized most. When his cancer reoccurred, Anna Mackay provided essential care and support that helped to sustain him. With the necessity of giving up Harbor Hill imminent, his death in 1938, might be looked on as somewhat merciful
Katherine Blake knew all about Mrs. Speyer’s saga, about the fine Horace Trumbauer designed Fifth Avenue house her Jewish husband had built for her. Besides a town house, he gave her ‘Waldheim’, their peaceful country place on the Hudson. By marrying Speyer, a once genteel but poor nonentity, in a stroke had gained houses, cars, jewels and position, becoming a contender in New York City, both socially and in terms of a remarkable philanthropic contribution. It took some time, but the example caught on.
Ellin Prince was a first cousin of Katherine Blake’s mother. In fact, as an orphan, she’d been raised with her mother, the family of Katherine’s grandfather William C. Travers. Katherine’s two aunts had married John Hecksher and Walter Gay, the painter of interiors. Katherine considered Mrs. Speyer to be like an aunt as well. And so, she had realized that if Ellin Speyer’s married life could be happy, that Ellin Mackay’s, with the most successful popular song writer in America, just might be too.
19o6: Ellin Mackay
Ellin Mackay would remained married to Irving Berlin until her death in 1988. Described as a loving couple, they had three daughters: Mary Ellin Barrett, Linda Emmett, and Elizabeth Peters. An only son, Irving Berlin, Jr. died in infancy, on Christmas day, in 1928. This had been only a short span after the death of his great-grandmother, Louise Hungerford Mackay. The old lady’s dying wish had been that her son Clarie and his daughter might reconcile. And, after three years of pretending that his middle child was dead, the loss of this grandson was to effect, just that.
Just what sort of man was Clarence H. Mackay anyway? Reunited after much mutual enmity, suddenly sharing in joyful celebration, as their son married, Clarie and Katherine reconnected. But, what had it meant, this reunion of former adversaries? According to their granddaughter, Mary Ellin Barrett, in her captivating history, Irving Berlin, A daughter’s Memoir, from this moment, Clarie had begun to call on his now visibly ill former wife, but to what purpose?
1928: Still in the wilderness, the Berlins visit the Atlantic City boardwalk
Can it be true? could any person who had once really loved someone, become so thoroughly, terribly cruel, merely in order to exact some measure of revenge? Did Clarence Mackay really one day come along bearing a little box? From it, had he actually taken a jeweled ring? Smiling, had he knowingly slipped it onto Katherine’s trembling shrunken finger? Mrs. Barrett maintains that, as if in fulfillment of her dying grandmother’s fondest daydreaming, that indeed, he had.
Proud Katherine, had responded with a gift of her own. She forswore the faith of her parents and ancestors. She took instruction from a priest and became a "Romanist"!
What a gesture, but what did Clarence feel about this capitulation? Forever, Katherine ended what Mrs. Barrett contends had caused their greatest conflict. But from his actions, it is difficult to determine what Clarence Mackay thought about her relenting. Katherine, daily ebbing in and out of consciousness, during brief intervals awake, waiting, watching, repetitiously had inquired, 'Where's Clarie?' “ Before too long, we’ll be back on easy street, back in the castle on the hill. We’ll have a wonderful life again,” she’d told the young daughters she'd borne Dr. Blake wistfully speaking of the house she’d created with her first husband. “Where's Clarie?” she’d asked, one last time before dying. Abruptly, without word, he had gone away. But Ellin's comforting response, betrayed not even the slightest hint that anything was amiss, 'He’s preparing your room at Harbor Hill...’
Had Clarence Mackay only meant to be compassionate as well, extending a foolish dream to a dying woman he once had loved, a woman who was just fifty years old, a woman her daughter Ellin summed up after her passing with the tender but frank observation,
How much she had of beauty and brilliance and glamour...How lovable she was and how much courage she had and how little wisdom...
Katherine Blake's Aunt Ellin Speyer, whose happiness after marrying a Jew, made her realize that Ellin Mackay might be happy too, marrying Irving Berlin
Ellin and James Speyer with guest at 'Waldheim', second from the left and on the far right
Saying her Mackay offspring had been well provided for with trust established by their grandfather John William Mackay, Katherine Blake left the entirety of her gross estate, $817, 658.00, in trust for her three daughters and son by Dr. Joseph Agustus Blake.
Katherine Blake's final home in New York at 12 East Eighty-seventh Street was designed by brothers George and Edward Blum of the partice, Blum & Blum
Owning books worth $29,233.00 and silverware valued at $4,397.00, the most important individual object among her possessions, was an Aubusson tapestry. Woven from silk and wool, bearing royal French coat of arms, it was appraised at $1,500.00. At the time of her death the tapestry was hanging in the penthouse apartment with a roof garden at 12 East Eighty-seventh Street, that Katherine leased for ten years in 1929. In better days, it hung over the staircase at Harbor Hill.
Could she have faced it had she lived and Clarence Mackay had been disposed to getting back together? Might she have laughed heartily at the sardonic financial collapse dictating Harbor Hill's doom, followed by recurrent cancer, spelling Clarie's demise? Perhaps, but one can never know for sure.
Is it true? Do those victimized by bigotry and discrimination, always seek some group or groups, more vulnerable, to oppress in return? Certainly, rather than confront the Protestant elite that had demeaned him and his family, Clarence Mackay had determined to join them instead. Far from decrying their narrow outlook, on the whole he had embraced all their prejudices and even their notions of innate superiority. No Jews’ names appeared on the guests lists of his lavish entertainments. As a greater consequence of prevailing anti-Semitism, it’s said that notwithstanding serving on boards with fellow art and opera lovers, Julius Bache and Otto Khan, that Clarence Mackay had refused to ever do any business with Jews. Even when it had meant undermining his company’s interests, for Clarence Mackay religious scruples had precluded dealing with descendants of the killers of Christ.
Selling the Postal Telegraph Company his father started and he caused to flourish, Clarence Mackay had reached the zenith of his career. Richard Guy Wilson says that he was aware of impending ‘trouble’ with the marketplace, that this was why he’d sold out to Sothnes Behn Brothers, the parent firm of International Telephone and Telegraph Company, in 1928. The terms seemed favorable enough. Mackay was to chair the merged companies’ United States’ division. He received payment totaling nearly $300-million! Why had he taken this payment in stock? Undoubtedly, where Mackay was concerned, the issue was a matter of exerting control. Ironically then, it’s not hard to understand, that when in the next few years, ITT’s share price plummeted, from $149.00, in 1928, to just $3.45, in 1937, Clarence Mackay was ruined.
1928: Irving Berlin with his daughter Mary Ellin
1932: The Berlins with their daughters, Mary Ellin and Linda. Linda had been named for their friend, Mrs. Cole Porter
1930: Mrs. Irving Berlin photographed by Cecil Beaton
With the ‘Bank Holiday’ in 1932, Clarence Mackay sold some of his most notable artworks, armor and tapestries. At Harbor Hill expenses were slashed and the staff was cut back, with salaries reduced for any workers who stayed on. Yet still, by 1933 Harbor Hill had still had to be closed. The Mackays moved into the house of the long-serving estate superintendent near Glen on Cove Road. Katherine and Clarie had lived here as newlyweds anxiously awaiting completion of their new house. Mr. Hechler and his family in turn, moved into the former tennis pro's house.
Come June, 1935, Mackay’s personal financial condition improved somewhat. He and his wife were able to resume residence at Harbor Hill, albeit with a staff reduced still further. That the situation was still dire, was shown in July 1935. That was when the Postal Telegraph Company filed for bankruptcy.
Clarence Mackay left his beloved beautiful country estate for the last time on November 8, 1938. Four days later he died, age sixty-four at his imposing city house across Fifth Avenue from Central Park, 3 East 75th Street. The funeral, conducted at St. Patrick's Cathedral, was Clarence Mackay’s final ceremonious pageant.
By now, with one hundred acres adjoining the harbor front sold-off in 1932, Harbor Hill’s acreage was already diminished. By the agreement made between his parents, it had been held in trust for John W. Mackay. Well enough provided for by the provision of other trusts he enjoyed an upper class existence with frequent travel, a New York apartment, a county house and servants.
Starting in 1932 Irving and Ellin Berlin took a duplex penthouse in the fourteen-storey cooperative apartment building designed by Emery Roth in 1929 at 130 East End Avenue. At the edge of Carl Schurz Park and Gracie Square it looked out over Hell Gate along the East River.
Moving by 1940, Irving Berlin fifty-one-years old, a Russian immigrant who had left public school after completing the eighth grade was on top of the world. Ellin Berlin, his lovely wife was thirty-one. Their daughters: Mary Ellin Berlin, was thirteen, Linda L. Berlin was eight and Elizabeth J. Berlin just three. Living in a sedate house at 129 East Seventy-eighth Street, rented for $335.00, they were all looked after by a large household of helpers. If they no longer employed a butler. As they had at East End Avenue, they were still amply attended to.
Jenet Tennant forty-eight, was the English child nurse. Nellie Willis forty-one, was Ellin’s English lady’s maid. The parlor maid, who answered the door, served and meals and cleaned the drawing room, was Florence Phisholin, a thirty-one year old Canadian. Jessie Taylor, forty-eight was English and presided over the kitchen, assisted by twenty-two year old Rose Fore from Ireland who was kitchen maid.
Russian painter Savely Sorie's portrait of a demure twenty-year old Ellin gases out over he elegantly subdued drawing room with its midnight-blue carpet
A lamp formed from a rose-quartz Chinese incense burner
The river view
Irving Berlin's double-height library upstairs was at times the family living room in addition to being the studio in which he composed from a specially devised transposing, upright piano
Eighteen feet of knowledge including Havelock Ellis, on the top shelf
Number 17 Beekman Place, the quintessence of urban elegance
By 1946 the Berlins and there three daughters moved into a dignified Georgian Revival house. Number 17 Beekman Place, had been designed by Fredrick Sterner and built for James V. Forrestal, a Wall Street banker, in 1932. For this drawing room the carpet is cream-colored, Louis XVI fauteuils are recovered in blue damask and Katherine Blake's Boldini portrait is center stage. The small oil study nearby is by Ellin Berlin's uncle, Walter Gay
The Berlin's inviting dining room with an inherited Sèvres porcelain garniture and Coromandel lacquer screens.
Happily living here for the remainder of their lives, 17 Beekman Place was the scene for many memorable events. In 1948 this was where their daughter Mary Ellin was married to Mr. Dennis Sheedy Burden. A seemingly impeccable WASP socialite, whom her grandfather would no doubt to have commended, Burden was, as everyone had tried telling her, 'all wrong'. Both a Christian clergyman and a Rabbi gave their blessings, but to no avail. After just one year of married life, Marry Ellin had come to agree with everyone else. Happily, sometimes there are second chances
One-hundred-and-two years old when he died, Irving Berlin's former home is now known as Luxembourg House, home to the Permanent Mission of Luxembourg to the UN, the Consulate General of Luxembourg and the Luxembourg Tourist Office. In our time, such houses have become no more viable as private residences, than Harbor Hill
Particularly gracious, was the caring way Ellin Berlin looked out for her half-brother and sisters. In 1933, she led her Mackay siblings in hosting a joint debutante dance for the two eldest. The Time storey read:
The Misses Katherine and Joan Blake, daughters of Dr. Joseph A. Blake and the late Mrs. Duer Blake, were introduced to society last night at a large supper dance in the Crystal Room of the Ritz-Carlton, given jointly by Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth O'Brien, Mr. and Mrs. Irving Berlin and Mr. and Mrs. John W. Mackay.
1934: Joan Blake wasted little time fefore wedding Henry H. Harjes, in what the Times described as a; "Colorful Ceremony in Church of Heavenly Rest Unites Prominent Families." Alas, Mrs. Harjes' divorce was not long in the offing
Ellin Berlin was especially clever in the way she updated her mother's jewels
This emreald on a diamond chain sold not long ago in Hong Kong for over $2-million
1953: Ellin Berlin bedecked in emeralds and diamonds her father had given to her mother as her husband and daughter Mary Ellin Berlin look on
Diamond clips from Cartier given to Ellin Berlin by her husband in 1944
Ellin Mackay Berlin writing about her grandmother, Louise Mackay, produced Silver Platter, an engrossing work, published in 1957. This was her third novel published by Doubleday. The others were Land I Have Chosen, and Lace Curtain. A later novel, The Best of Families, that appeared in 1970, was autobigraphical as the others had been.
Mary Ellin Barrett is eldest of the Berlins’ three daughters. Emulating the example of her mother, she is the author of three novels, American Beauty, An Accident Of Love and Castle Ugly.
Prodigious and affecting story telling is a perennial gift that seems to have been passed from mother to daughter, starting with Katherine Mackay. They are a veritable dynasty of writers. Each is never better, than when telling their tale and making it ours
After the very top treasures from Clarence H. Mackay’s storied collection were left to his family, with others sold to museums and still high flying collectors like Samuel Kress, much still had remained to be dispersed. Rather ingloriously, in the company however, of another magnate-collector laid low, William Randolph Hearst, a trove consisting of four thousand objects, furnishings, armor, porcelain, tapestries, linens and more was, dispensed, starting in 1941, at the Gimbel Brothers Department Store. Via so humble a venue, sores were enabled to purchase their piece of history quite often at bargain basement prices.
As his finances worsened Clarence Mackay sold this masterful work by Mantegna, Adoration of the Shepherds, from 1495-1505, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Neither Clarence Mackay‘s son, nor many others had been in any position to maintain a property like Harbor Hill, one requiring a mint of money and a phalanxes of retainers. Indeed Clarence's vastly depleted estate valued at close to $3-million, had been left to young Mackay’s stepmother. Lacking the means to keep Harbor Hill, in 1940 John William Mackay leased fifty acres to the US Army Air Corps for what later became known as the Roslyn Air Force Station. Poorly attended to, his father’s house and the other estate buildings gradually fell forlornly into disrepair. In a spectacular explosion, the house was demolished with dynamite in 1947. Harbor Hill was then acquired by a developer. The community of modest speculative houses built on Harbor Hill in the late 1950s and early 1960s is known as Country Estates.
Retained by his widow, Anna Case Mackay, this lovely bust was a bequest to the Metropolitan Museum, in memory of her husband Clarence H. Mackay. Depicting a noble lady, its believed to be by Mino da Fiesole? Mino di Giovanni ? An Italian, of Papiano or Montemignaio 1429–1484 Florence
Among the most cherished objects in Mackay's collection, was this celebrated painted terracotta bust of Lorenzo de' Medici, made in Florence at close of the 15th, or at the start of the 16th century, probably after a model by Andrea del Verrocchio and Orsino Benintendi. Today it is owned by the National Gallery in Washington where the more vibrant original colors have been restored
Vainly seeking to purchase this superlate suit of parade armor made for Henry II of France around 1555, following designs by Etienne Delaune. even whilst selling-off lesser treasures, Mackay had aquired if anyway. An ubrivaled example, although it might have been prudent to, he never let it go
Both in aesthetic terms and in regard to their poetical narrative, many of Mackay's tapestries, such as this example from the Fifteenth century, showing scenes from the Trojan War, were unsurpassed.
Hector is watched putting his armor on, while Andromache on her knees, with her two children, her mother Hecuba, and her ladies, tries to persuade him not to go to battle
Clarence Mackay and all his children are now gone. Anna Case, his second wife, was the former Metropolitan Opera soprano who had sung the role of Sophie, in the first American production of Strauss's ''Der Rosenkavalier'', in 1913. In 1984, Mrs. Mackay died after a long illness in her apartment in the Stanhope Hotel in Manhattan. In sharp contrast with Katherine Blake’s half century or her husband’s sixty-four year life’s-span, she was ninety-five-years old.
Following the loss of over one hundred acres along New York Sound
Favorably positioned, close to New York, might Harbor Hill to have been rescued, re-purposed and saved, successfully serving as a regional art museum, as a resort, a spa, a school or a catering hall? For many, the answer to such a question, pitting crude commerce and an exquisitely realized and irreplaceable architectural expression of distinctive beauty, the answer must be: ‘Yes!’ For those, this has been, one trusts, a multi-layered cautionary tale, And it is one, hardly discounting commercial expedience, but rather instead, considers every kind of cost and loss at stake.
2007: 'Country Estates'
HARBOR HILL, THE LOST END OF THE RAINBOW!
It's much to be regretted, not being able to locate photograps of any of Harbor Hill's twenty or so bedrooms, except for Katherine Mackay's. Even with the private sanctum of the queen, nothing new has been uncovered, at least no so far as locating new images beyond the few which have been reprinted repeatedly.
Harbor Hill's superb oak staircase, like the wainscoting, far, far darker than shown here, occupied the entirety of the lower levels of the south-east pavilion. No more so than in the great hall, with its pendant ornamented molded plaster ceiling, did the staircase, with parapets of luxuriantly scrolling, pierced arabesque, remotely reference "Louis XIV and Henri II precedents." Instead, it had an English pedigree, derived from seventeenth century Sudbury Hall and Cassiobury Park.
Depicting King Herod's slaughter of the inocents, the large Flemish Tapestry seen in this image dated to the late sixteenth century. François Boucher, the celebrated French painter who lived from 1703 to 1770, as director of the Gobliens' factory, sometimes supplied cartoons for tapestries. No "Boucher tapestry", could possibly have been made, before his birth. That would be required, if this had been a "Boucher tapestry", as Wilson and Craven both say
Sudbury Hall's early seventeenth century staircase, along with the late seventeenth century stair from Cassiobury Park, were models for what was done at Harbor Hill. The latter stairway is today installed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
January 28, 1906: The New York Times. Difficult to make out, the heraldic tapestry showing the Bourbon arms, was on the order of the one shown below. French and dating to the eighteenth century, it indeed might have been designed by Boucher. Whether it was or not, this must be the tapestry mentioned in a number of letters by the creators of Harbor Hill
French heraldic tapestry, 1760's
What's new then and rather exciting, is a fresh knowing look and analysis of what many have gazed on, seemingly, without seeing.
Our journey to this sacred precinct begins downstairs. How clever of Katherine to have so imposing a grand staircase erected. What a picture she must have made, in her graceful descent, dressed in some filmy silken stuff, flashing with jewels. Thanks to the upper windows, more than abundant light made the spot at the foot of the stairs, perfect as a place to grow plants. Ferns and palms were used mostly. The plain antique oak of the wainscot, undecorated except by a simple Virtruvian scroll, half-way up, was a wonderful foil for the virtuoso carving of the stair's parapet. Similarly, the velvet-weave, deep-pile carpet, with a damask pattern, running along the entrance and up the many treads, the same claret color as the curtains, related beautifully to the important tapestry always hung here. What trouble Katherine had caused, attempting to change the color to green after it had already been approved, woven and laid. Victor Twiss, who lived on 144th Street near Hamilton Terrace, saved Davenport & Co. through the careful paper trail of authorization he was able to produce. Such thorough record keeping, no doubt, he leaned was an essential strategy for surviving, when working for the Mackays.
Absent to begin with, by 1909 more and more armor was placed here abouts. Across from a formidable mounted suit of jousting armor, stationed at the start of the staircase, was the discreet door into the electric lift. Provided with a cushioned seat and lined in mauve silk with a large panel of mirrored glass, here heralded by Katherine's signature color, was ones initial intimation of some special destination above.
The armor of a jousting knight placed at the bottom of Harbor Hill's staircase
Executed by H. F. Davenport & Co. the Harbor Hill staircase was a tour de force of virtuoso carving. Where is it now, or was it destroyed?
Is anyone ever fully happy with their lot in life? Marie Antoinette, the anointed queen of France, in pursuit of the wholesome existence advocated by Rousseau, was only really following the folly of fashion. The cows she and her ladies milked, had been pre-washed, curried and combed in anticipation to royal ministrations. The dairy where they clotted cream, to eat with wild strawberries, were marble lined. The containers they used, were made from Sevres porcelain. Katherine Mackay, was in more ways than one, the tragic French consort, in reverse. She rellished the balls and social ritual that queen had disdained. Queen Marie Antoinette had a low-ceiling suite of private, intimate, cozy rooms in which to live. Even the king asked permision to visit her there. Returning daily to act out the public spectacle which ritualize each aspect of royal life, to apartments of state, she lived to momentarily escape the duty of decorum that was the destiny she was born to. By Contrast, Katherine reveled in reliving the games of her childhood come true. She'd happily taken her ease on a thrown-like divan, elevated on a dais, draped in regal ermine. She bathed in a sunken tub, carved from a single block of marble. Her's were all apartments of state. She slept on a bed raised on a platform and her chest of drawers were on platforms as well.
1902: The ante room into Katherine Mackay's suite
1903: Dressed in an ermine collared tea gown, Katherine Mackay assumes the affect of a queen, enthroned on a chaise, elevated on a dais in her orchid colored boudoir
Imported highly figured French walnut boiseries, with furniture supplied by Allard en-suite, were both upholstered with panels of mauve damask, woven with a custom pattern of cherubs disporting amongst flowers. Vessels as desperate as small steins, Chinese baluster vases and cut glass beakers, mounted in gold, all held bouquets of the orchids that Katherine adored.
Orchids and a photograph of a mother with her daughters. Katherine Mackay once ordered what a newspaper called the most expensive photographic ever made. Showing the two Katherine's, mother and baby daughter, framed, the photograph measured five x seven feet!
An orchid in a small vase and silken cherubs at play
Among photographs of friends, gold writing implements and potted ferns, were still more orchid
Besides the romantic games of girlhood, that Cinderella named Alva Vanderbilt must have encouraged Katherine's fascination with royal fantasy. At Marble House, Alva's palace by the sea in Newport, she had just the sort of bedroom Katherine dreamed of inhabiting. Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, it was produced by Allard, who would construct Katherine's rooms at Harbor Hill. It boast the same sort of bed upon a dias and lavender-colored figured silk wall hangings Katherine would use. But, as to the French walnut furniture and the polar bear rug, one must search further afield for that precedent.
Visiting London in 1900, the Mackays had stayed mostly at Carlton House Terrace, with Clarie's mother. However, they were also entertained by and asked to stay with, the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough. Examining the duchess' bedroom, imagining the ceiling height reduced, by half, how much Katherine's room at Harbor Hill resembles it. The fur rug, the 'royal' platforms, the dark shining rocco furniture, so many parallels, hardly seem coincidental. Then, quite suddenly, by 1905, it had all changed! Why?
Circa 1899: The room redone by the Ninth Duke of Marlborough for his rich American bride, prepared more in terms of his ideas of suitable surroundings for a future duke's birth, than a young bride's comfort
A glimpse of the bedroom mantelpiece
A dias for everything
Alva Vanderbilt's bedroom at Marble House in Newport, prefigured Katherine Mackay's at Harbor Hill also, in part, probably influenced its alterations
For just what reason was Kathrine's room completely changed, with new wall hangings, no daises and all that beautifully finished French walnut, walls and furniture alike, painted over, a cream color, in 1905? Most likely these drastic steps had been motivated by an article published by House Beautiful, early in the new year. The piece was the second in a series. The first had dealt with the Bradly Martins' eclectic townhouse, where it was complained that expensive and exquisite art works, sat side-by-side with gleanings from the junk shop. The scathing series, frankly described as "sermons", were entitled "The Poor Taste of the Rich ". Singled out for especial scorn, was the queenly suite of Katherine Mackay. Of her bed room the journalist concluded:
It is fussy and trifling. It shows that a room may be luxurious and yet lacking in comfort: that it may contain costly things, and yet be commonplace. There is nothing livable about the apartment and it is devoid of charm. Individuality, on the one hand is absent and historical accuracy on the other. It fails lamentably from both aspects...
1905: Transformation! If the fitting out of Katherine Mackay's room, had first been influenced by the Duchess of Malbrough's, Katherine's 1905 renovations, that scrapped exalting platforms and brightened her orchid-colored palette overall, seems to have been copied in turn, by the duchess! Please observe below
Circa 1910: The Duchess of Marlborough's bedroom at Blenheim
Grisaille painting of cherubs in overdoors similar to Katherine's at Harbor Hill
Katherine's bath drew even harsher disparagement:
If the bedroom is a notable example of poor taste what can be said of the bath and dressing room---rather what cannot be said of it! This astonishing room room must cause the presiding genius of house decoration hours of anguish...It is, properly speaking, not a bath-room, but an over-decorated and over-furnished room in which a bath-tub has been placed. Puzzel: Find the tub!
The bath-dressing room floor was covered in a carpet made from mountain sheep pelts. The space contained a fireplace, dressing table, chaise lounge, books potted palms and a sunken tub. Difficult for the House Beautiful writer to locate, the three-feet deep tub, carved from a single block of marble had alone cost of $6, 300,00
Cracked glass! Had this picture frame been thrown?
Clareie and Kitty
A bisquite clock is introduced
How many carved rosewood Chinese tables were there at Harbor Hill?
A reported commented on the gold toiletries arrayed on tables in Katherine's bath
She had prided herself so far as matters of the best taste were concerned. Yet, the artistic sensibility for which she was frequently complemented, had been questioned. All the lovliness of her queenly abode was belittled as "common place" So Katherine took action. In her bath, beyond a new paint job and new hangings, plants and books with fine bindings, were swept away. Still other alterations, substituting dark velvet walls, new carpets and old tapestries were to come later, until finally. Katherine had gone herself.
In terms of decoration at least, she would seem to have accomplished, all she'd set out to. Was this not enough? No, of course it had'nt been. Next we will consider the question of the inquiring: Why?
TO BE CONTINUED...
Contained in a separate wing, built at a smaller more human scale, more familiar to us today, the service wing at Harbor Hill, truly was a realm apart, across a slender line.
Four footmen. Their silken liveries are ornamented by silver buttons and their shoes, by silver buckles
From an extraordinary article written by Grace Fowler entitled, 'The Servant Question at Harbor Hill', published in 1904, in Harper's Bazaar, we know an amazing amount about the first rate service facilities provided at The Mackay‘s country house. Servants are indispensable for the smooth operation of the house. But due to technology, the staff comprising around 103, is far smaller than the retinue required to keep up the admittedly larger chateau it was modeled after a couple centuries earlier.
Not surprizingly, the silver miner's son had masses of plate and flatware. To retard oxidation it was stored in felt-lined drawers and boxes, and on shelves behind heavy felt curtains
After 1920, when Clarence Mackay's mother moved to Harbor Hill to act as his hostess, she brought with her the famed Mackay, Tiffany & Co. silver. Her husband had sent a half-ton of ore from his own mine for it. Awarded a prize when exhibited at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1878, the dinner and desert service for 24, comprised, 250 pieces. It included as well hollowware and centerpieces. Flower-encrusted with thistles, shamrocks, and blossoms native to American, the unique creation took two years and 200 craftsmen to complete
We have arrived at a date when an internal and outside telephone network were found to be useful. Electrically powered lighting, elevators, mangles and refrigeration are also a given, at least in so affluent a household. A central vacuum-cleaning system, gas fueled clothes’ dryers and fireplace ‘logs’, are similarly, standard equipment.
Outside gasoline powered lawn mowers, rollers, water hoses and sprinklers save on labor. So do hoses and drains in the stable, a grease pit and turntable for cars, in the garage. Coal, for heating and for cocking, burned by the freight train car-load, have not yet been dispensed with however. In a house dedicated almost entirely to princely hospitality, there is always a great deal of preparation, clean up and service that’s demanded of the staff. Much as the garage has twelve cars, two vans and three trucks, in the big house, the sun around which all activity revolves, there are a dozen guests rooms and twenty-two bathrooms. Bed room water pitchers and wash basins, fireside hip-baths and chamber pots, may have all disappeared, but an unending amount of work in at so enormous an establishment, remains to be done.
Like a diminutive separate domain, Harbor Hill's service wing was made compact by fitting four rooms and more, into the space occupied by one in the main house. To further obscure this vital necessity, from guests and employers who felt that the most superior service, was all-but invisible, behind a screen of shrubbery, the service wing was sunken into a well for deliveries.
Four levels devoted to the enterprise of service, disguised as two
At the time of her girlhood, in the 1870’s and 1880’s, men servants with whiskers, butlers dressed in their ‘dress suit’ during the day and gentlemen wearing black and white waistcoats interchangeably with evening clothes, had all been acceptable. However now, even at the White House and at many other elegant houses, rules about watch chains and mustaches, have come to be relaxed to such a degree, they are not even remembered.
“In fashionable houses, the butler does not put on his dress suit until six o’clock. The butler’s evening dress differs from that of a gentleman in a few details only: he has no braid on his trousers, and the satin on his lapels (if any) is narrower, but the most distinctive difference is that a butler wears a black waistcoat and a white lawn tie, and a gentleman always wears a white waistcoat with a white tie, or a white waistcoat and a black tie with a dinner coat, but never the reverse.
Unless he is an old-time colored servant in the South a butler who wears a “dress suit” in the daytime is either a hired waiter who has come in to serve a meal, or he has never been employed by persons of position; and it is unnecessary to add that none but vulgarians would employ a butler (or any other house servant) who wears a mustache! To have him open the door collarless and in shirt-sleeves is scarcely worse!
Emily Post naturally, discusses race very little regarding servants. That’s because, in the communities she frequented, like their employers, most servants were white. After the Civil War among New York's bon ton, African American servants had been increasingly, deliberately, avoided. There were of course conspicuous exceptions. Customarily black household help were paid much lower wages than their white counterparts. Few love a bargain as much as the rich. Yet outside of the South, in lavish establishments like the Astors’, Vanderbilts’, or the Mackays’, more costly white servants, who were mostly Irish and other European immigrants, where hired for the greater cachet they conveyed.
At their Newport ‘cottage’, "Sherwood Lodge", for instance, southerners Mr. and Mrs. Pembroke Jones, always engaged black help. Proficient at expertly preparing 'down-home' delicacies, their cook indeed, was by far more widely renowned than the French chefs of the area’s most deluxe households. But more typically, nearby at the "Breakers", Anderson Cooper’s great grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, kept only white servants, with the sole exception of their laundresses. Living and working in a sequestered laundry building on the grounds, never seen by family or guests, these black women were responsible for the most arduous job there was associated with running an exacting and elite household. The luxury of fresh linen damask bed sheets daily, new napkins nearly a yard-square for dinners, for each person at each meal, and three changes of what one wore, every day, for everyone in the household, including servants, was not easily achieved.
The immaculate kitchen, with a gleaming Gustavino vaulted ceiling and a coal range imported from France
Copper pots and vessels for every preparation possible. Note the top row's molds for mouses, souffles, ices and aspics
One observer marveled over Katherine Mackay’s punctilious practice of having a daily change of fresh bed linen. If a look at her Harbor Hill household as enumerated by the United States Census in 1910 is instructive, unfortunately, it fails to reveal which of fourteen women working in the great house was responsible for laundering mountains of wash weekly. None at any rate are African American and like their male counterparts they are mostly classified with the vague designation “servant.”
Despite a phalanx of copper-ware, a battered enameled tin pot still has its place
Near the bottom of the heap in the pecking order was Edward Tumblin, the ‘odd man’. Born in New York, he was forty-years old. Englishmen, William Warndy at thirty-six was near the top of the heap. He was the fastidious Anglophile Clarence Mackay’s valet. Only identified as ‘house servants’ the other young Englishmen in the household might to have been footmen. There was twenty-three-year old Edwin Frost Agate, twenty-six-year old William H. Hulse, twenty-one year old Arthur Tuppen and twenty-four-year old John Walker. Henry Schlagel, thirty-two, was a New Yorker. Where employing a French chef was thought to be the ne plus ultra so far as providing for the pleasure of guests at one’s table, the Mackay’s cook, twenty-eight-year old John Domenico, was Portuguese, though assuredly French-trained.
Harbor Hill's servant's hall, where meals were taken and breaks spent
The dining room reserved for the small group of upper servants with supervisory responsibilities
At forty, Catherine Thompson, born in Scotland was the housekeeper. This was a time when whether married or not, housekeepers were addressed for the sake of their dignity and authority, as Mrs.---. At Harbor Hill in 1910, there are thirteen women servants who fall under her supervision. Elizabeth Prondboot twenty-nine and Isabella Macintyre twenty five, are also from Scotland. Twenty-five-year old Margaret Mcluse was born in Ireland. Theresa Stafutti, born in Austria, is twenty-one and Agusta Wesner from Germany, was thirty-seven. Rudolpha Rigelson, twenty-two years old, hailed from Belgium. Margaret Sweeney, thirty-six, is the only one of these women born in New York. Minnie Carson, a chambermaid is twenty and like thirty-six-year old Hilda Olsen, she was Swedish.
Cedar-lined, the linen room had glass doored shelves that made it possible to readily inspect the supply available
Away from the more boisterous servants hall, maids could sit talking together doing mending in the top lit sewing room
A maid's room at Harbor Hill. Only in the servant's rooms did wash basins and slop jars presist
Clarence Mackay’s father habitually had given his mother orchids. This was an epoch when a regular workman earned a dollar per day. American Beauty Roses also commanded a dollar. But a single exotic, flamboyantly showy orchid cost five dollars: nearly an entire weekly wage, as much as dinner for two with champagne at the Plaza. Charmingly imitating his father, by showing his wife and the world how he felt with expensive orchids, Clarence Mackay was well matched by Katherine Duer. During their courtship, when he wagered he could give her more orchids than she could wear, he’d lost. Becomingly, after pining bunches to her waist and bodice, she ornamented her hat with the remainder. By the time she married, Katherine Mackay adopted the orchid as her personal talisman.
With an 80,000-square foot interior, Harbor Hill ended up costing $830,000.00. This figure is exclusive of the remarkable art collection, painstakingly gathered to fill it, like important and historic gem stones, meticulously gathered and matched, to fill an exquisite new platinum setting by Cartier. Contemplating and accessing the lost value of a 1900 dollar however, is rather complicated. To multiply by one hundred is often useful. A skilled laborer, working on the construction of Harbor Hill, eared $2.00 per day, unskilled, $1.00. Were they earning the equivalent of $100-$200.00 per day? No. Did a dollar have the purchasing power of $100.00 then, at the grocery store? No again. It seems reasonable, to imagine that one could reproduce a house like Harbor Hill today, for $ 83-million. But, the $5.00 or so the finest a la Carte dinner at Sherry’s Restaurant cost, that seems preposterous now, at $500.00? Perhaps, a nice wine is included?
Why, one might wonder, was this great house ever built? The answer to this question has to do with the ambition and self-image of the patrons who commissioned and oversaw its painstaking execution. An exceptional dwelling, Harbor Hill, is a place some have called, "Heartbreak House". From completion, to destruction, it lasted just forty-five years!
Like others before, and since, they captured the public's imagination. Gertrude and Harry Whitney, Nancy and Charles Gibson, Linda and Cole Porter, Constance and Kirk Askew, Ernesta and Samuel Barlow, Eleanore and Archibald Brown, Amanda and Carter Burden, Katherine and Clarence Mackay. They were their epoch's golden couple.
Clarence Hungerford Mackay, Esquire, (1874-1938), was a gentleman-sportsman-farmer-philanthropist-captain-of-industry-connoisseur. He surely saw his beautiful wife as a thoroughbred. Her children, his children, would be thoroughbreds too. Katherine Alexander Duer, (1880-1930), was allied to the city’s oldest and most prominent families. As a spirited girl, she’d been a darling of the ‘best society.’ As his wife, he would crown her, queen of New York. He would give her the world and build a castle befitting of her loveliness, a palace worthy of the wealth and wisdom that made him invincible. He envisioned Harbor Hill as a dynastic seat, one which, thanks to Stanford White’s genius and his careful supervision, would be as stately as any historic pile in far-off England, or in France. By distinction, Harbor Hill, in addition to a superb setting and the requisite collection of priceless treasures, was to be outfitted with every technological marvel, every provision for convenience and comfort, conceivable.
It would be passed on to Mackays, generation after generation. And, in the fullness of time, matured, mellowed, further refined, burnished ever more brightly, to a wonderfully satisfying glow, its fame would shine down through the ages. As Clarence Mackay pictured his house, for centuries to come, from Harbor Hill would emanate a portion of the Mackay family’s lustrous stature for all the world to admire.
Exposed to the elite, to thoroughbreds, aristocrats and blue-bloods, all his life, despite great affluence and a fine education, Mackay had always just missed fully belonging to the ‘best society.’ For her part, his wife, by birth, was fully a creature of that world. But she’d also been painfully aware of the limitations imposed upon her, for lack of great means, to fully enjoy all her world afforded.
So if Clarence Mackay had intended for Harbor Hill to be a show place on a summit, a castle where she would be a queen, while he benignly ruled, Katherine Mackay was in perfect accord with such a vision.
1904: In her bid to join the Roslyn School Board, Katherine Mackay entertained 500 local children and their parents at a fete that became an annual event for a time
Why then, one wonders, did she not covert, and become a Roman Catholic? At the time of her engagement it was much talked about in the papers. There were suggestions that she was taking instruction, from a Jesuit priest, that her embrace by ‘the church,’ was imminent. Conversely, well aware that the Episcopal faith, was the religion of English-speaking aristocrats everywhere, why had Clarence Mackay insisted on rearing their children as Catholics? Certainly, for his father, religion had never been any imperative whatever. But his mother on the other hand, French heritage made the Catholic church more central to her. Having survived crushing poverty, distress and want, in large part through the sustenance and comfort availed of a God-focused life, she’d endeavored to make Catholicism important to her children too. As for the younger Mackay’s faith, in the long run, as events would reveal, to them, orthodoxy was more symbolic and affiliation more flexible, than any youthful adamancy might have indicated.
Clarence Mackay, was the second son of John William Mackay, one of the four men, famous as the Bonanza Kings, who struck it rich with the discovery of an expansive and remarkably pure vein of silver and gold ore. It was known as the Comstock Lode. Joining forces with James Gordon Bennett, John Mackay parlayed his windfall into the Commercial Cable and Postal Telegraph Company, laid cables across the Atlantic, and broke the Western union monopoly, to amass still more millions!
This was how his son had become a box-holder, patron and chairman of the Metropolitan Opera, a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Philharmonic. A decorated layman of the Roman Catholic Church, Mackay used every advantage at his command, to make himself into a full-length portrait of the prefect gentleman.
With a wedding gift of six hundred rolling acres from his father to Katherine, joining various Vanderbilts, Whitneys, Morgans, and others with names synonymous with ‘many millions,’ the Mackays proceeded to build. The idea of their group was to transform the sleepy farming community round about Roslyn, in Nassau County, into a realm of privilege and pleasure for their rarefied class, not so different from parts of Sussex. Their headquarters would be the Piping Rock Country Club, although many provided sports facilities on their properties, graced with houses and gardens based on villas, Colonial neo-Palladian houses, chateaux and manors, exceeding the offerings of any club. Among all their grand houses, it was readily acknowledged that Harbor Hill was unsurpassed for luxury. Of all the fine places from this period, along the north shore of Long Island’s ‘Gold Coast,’ Harbor Hill was held by many to be the most opulent and beautiful. Sadly, this coterie which built landed estates meant to endure through the ages, enjoyed but the briefest optimistic season before their gilded dream came crashing down around them.
If costly clipped bay trees, requiring wintering in a cold green house, were widely employed as a status symbol, orange trees like these were only found at the most palatal places
Who today is comparable? The young, lovely and impulsive Gloria Vanderbilt comes to mind, so does Stephanie Seymour, Paris Hilton and even Kim Kardashian. She was so very young, so very rich, so resolute, to have what she wanted, how she wanted it, when she wanted it. Katherine Mackay had posted over one hundred, mostly commanding, letters to Stanford White, to make sure, that he knew what she wanted too. Clarence Mackay, with fewer, more tactful memoranda sent to both of the principal collaborators with whom he created Harbor Hill, White and Katherine, kept things in check.
What sort of dwelling would the Mackay castle on a hill be? Katherine was adamant on the subject: “a very severe house…based on Louis XIV and Henri II precedents…” It fell to Clarence to alternately agree to all sorts of alluring extras, seductively suggested by Stanford White, only to then demur, complaining, once he had grasped just how much the game trophies proposed for the billiard room, or a sunken bath, carved from a single block of marble, would cost. In repeated missives he was at pains to remind White about money being a serious consideration, once even going so far as to remonstrate with White, ‘ I will tell you right here that I would not think of paying such an absurd price as 100,000 francs for any mantelpiece, unless I had the income of a Rockefeller or a Carnegie!..’ Of course, in a way, he did have such an income! To be sure, in fairness, only after his father's death, in 1902, was a stupendous income his absolutely. But, before then, his close relationship with his parents was such, that he had had access to all the Mackay money, as much as if it had already been his. That this availability was not at first official, allowed Mackay to play a kind of game. Nor did it help that he was well aware of Whites insolvency.
September 4, 1904: Katherine Mackay leaving Harbor Hill to arrange for the fair she staged there, for the benefit of the Nassau Hospital
Few houses Stanford White designed are as straightforward, so seemingly conventional as this, his last house. Some are quick to dismiss Harbor Hill as a result of the derivative nature of its facade from the specific source of Masions-Lafitte. What such un-analytical critics fail to perceive is how much in adaptation, White has refined, manipulated and otherwise striven to 'improve' his model. He has admirably transformed something grandiloquent and overblown, not suitable at all, as a setting for the family and social life of early twentieth century inhabitants, into a gracious residence. In stripping away extraneous ornament and elements meant merely to overawe, he left what's essential to evoke the famous chateau, minus its burdensome excesses decreed by courtly convention and etiquette. Today of course, someone seeking to do likewise, as adeptly, would be reduced to adapting Harbor Hill's water tower, on just ten acres as a country retreat. None the less, what White accomplished, was to transfigure Mansart's work in such a way as to made it like New York neo-Renaissance style towers admired by Corbusier: "better", more functional, taunt and disciplined, than the original.
Misleadingly the date "1902", does not refer to the disposition of Harbor Hill, but only to the time it was deemed "complete."The cause of tremendous confusion, this is a revised floor-plan, made for the publication of Mckim, Mead & White's monograph, in 1915. The large room in the south-west pavilion, with three windows, on both the south and the west, was, from 1902, to about 1905, the library, Harbor Hill's French oak paneled-principal living room. Transformation of this space into the"stone room", a salon that served exclusively as a space for entertaining, required that the billiard room, be made into a new, more intimate library. By 1925, thanks to Joseph Duveen finding a nearly complete French gothic room, the new library was redone, a third time and rechristened, the "gothic room". Twenty years earlier, the billiard room had been relocated, in the casino.
None of the dramatic mystery, with which Sir Edwin Lutyens invigorates his erstwhile conventional houses, with the unexpected, is present. Instead, one entered-into a broad long gallery, twenty feet-high and one hundred feet long, that acted as the entrance hall.
Harbor Hill's interiors, conceived by the Mackays and White, working together, were realized by three different well established firms of decorators. A. H. Davenport & Co., with showrooms in Boston and New York, had worked with Stanford White since his start in the office of Henry Hobson Richardson. Due to exacting skill shown over a long association, they participated in many Mckim, Mead & White projects, including the White House 'restoration'. In 1914, the firm merge with Irving & Casson, continuing in business until 1974.
Beginning his salutary career working for Herter Brothers, not surprisingly William Baumgarten, in establishing his own firm, continued to be patronized by the bon ton.
Jules Allard et Fils, a flourishing concern in Paris since Louis Philippe‘s reign, was another supplier of “complete furnishing, decorations, cabinetry, sculpture, seats, tapestry and drapes.” Jules Allard’s son Fernand Allard maintained the company until 1919. Allard’s collaboration with ’showplace’ builder Richard Morris Hunt, starting in 1880, led to his phenomenal success in America. It was following Hunt’s advice that Allard opened an office in New York, where the demand for aristocratic surroundings from the decorator of the Emperor of France, knew no bounds. Coordinated by White, his decorators and an army of subcontractors, miraculously formulated a harmonious result.
Lengthy, lofty, utterly impersonal when newly completed, Harbor Hill's entrance suggested the elegantly arid anonymity of some rather smart, public accommodation, like the Ritz. Some enthusiasts of great houses from the period of of Harbor Hill, find fault with most of its interiors for this reason, characterizing its rooms as "unappealing, with a heavy Edwardian grand hotel..." cast.
It's instructive then to examine both the long gallery-entrance hall and Harbor Hill's other interiors, over the course of the house's evolution. From the start, no matter how complete, nor even how handsome some room might be, as my post strives to show, all rooms and their details were subject to the whims of the Mackays' and repeated alteration. In the case of the entrance hall, what a difference and warming effect, the introduction of shining armor, colorful banners and richly detailed tapestries made.
Mediated only by a columnar screen, Harbor Hill's impressive great hall occupied most of the center of the house. No more so than the staircase, with parapets of luxuriantly scrolling, pierced arabesque, derived from seventeenth century English examples at Sudbury Hall and Cassiobury Park, does either room reference solely “Louis XIV and Henri II precedents…” Each space instead was articulated by pilasters, corresponding to the composite columns of two screens. Leading at either end into the great hall, they de-marked the entrance hall and front door and the passage separating the library and dining room, with a 'back door' exit onto the south terrace. Their capitals, were hung with pendant garlands, a feature not unknown in the seventeenth century, but in 1900, by far, more associated with Louis Seize mode, the revival of which, was coming to the forefront of architectural fashion.
By means of vivid word pictures, photographs and numerous drawings, White effectively bewitched the Mackays into making of their house and its enormous great hall, thirty-eight feet high, forty-eight feet wide and eighty feet long, far more than even they had dared imagine. The rendering below, replete with antique choir stalls, silken heraldic banners and an array of armor, indicates what he had had in mind. It shows the same sort of historicist and highly atmospheric, but eclectic flair for which White was famous. It was a personal style that Incorporated many fashion status symbols of the time, lion, tiger and polar bear rugs, potted palms, antique furniture, lustrous textiles and flowers and ornaments in profusion. Concurrently, for the Mackay's Roslyn neighbor and friend, William Collins Whitney, at his palatal Fifth Avenue house, White was completing rooms that epitomized his style. The Mackays knew the Whitney project well and frequently referenced it, hoping for something similarly fine.
Certainly Clarence Mackay, who, the legendary art dealer, Joseph Duveen, helped to further infect with the collecting bug, was susceptible to inducement, to build better than he'd set out to. The merchant of masterpieces who became baron Duveen of Milbank, wrote of their mutually beneficial association,
Visiting Clarence Mackay at his manor, Harbor Hill, in Roslyn, soon after making his acquaintance, my gaze took in certain tapestries on the walls. Those tapestries, my dear Mr. Mackay, are very good, but they are not good enough for you. I can't bear you to have them in your chateau. I'll buy them from you, as I have a customer they're good enough for. I'll pay you thirty-five thousand dollars for them...
His host, agreed, without hesitation. Duveen's check arrived promptly the next day as Mackay incredulously shipped off the tapestries, for which he had only paid a fraction of what the dealer offered.
Duveen in fact, had had no client awaiting the hangings. They went directly into storage in the vast basement of his showroom. Yet through this sound investment, Mackay had been ensnared, to became one of Duveen's best customers. Moreover, in cultivating Mackay's taste, Duveen was able to help him to elevate his house, a house as good as the John S, Phipps' place at Westbury, to the stratispheric aesthetic level of Mrs. Gardner's Fenway Court.
Stanford White's compelling illustration of his intentions for Harbor Hill's great hall, amply justified his assurances to Clarence Mackay, that he would be getting a house which, with the exception of Hunt's Biltmore, was without peer
One might easily imagine that the four, Four Season Arras tapestries in the following pictures, are the ones Joseph Duveen disparaged? Acquired in Paris for his clients by White, identified as of Gobelin manufacture, the early eighteenth century allegorical works had come from the collection of the Princesse de Sagan. Enhancing the provenance, attribution and manufacture of artwork and objet de vertu, was nothing unusual for high-end purveyors like White and Duveen. In all events, Clarence Mackay having zeroed in on making the great hall the focal point of the interior of his home, led to change. He sought to give it greater cohesion and continuity, telling his architect in 1902, 'My heart is wrapped up in making a success of that hall...' This meant, tapestries appropriate to the ballroom the great hall seems to have started out as, were moved.
'Summer'. Removing the Season tapestries into the salon, which made it better accord to the first state room at Blenheim Palace, also made the hall more purely an expression of fused medieval and Renaissance tastes. This might be seen as a promotion as it were, but eventually, the Arras tapestries were relegated to Katherine's boudoir, before being sold. The two smaller panels from the set, Summer and Autumn, ended up in Akron Ohio, at the estate of rubber baron, F. A. Seiberling, Stan Hywet Hall.
Harbor Hill's prized pierced and repousse brass Venetian lantern. Soon enough, the time would come for its banishment
Designation of Harbor Hill's hall as a showcase for fifteenth through the seventeenth century armor, also called for removal of the entryways' green Connemara columns with white marble bases and capitals. What trouble and discord they had caused. Angelo Fucigna, the stone mason, in the end was unable to supply either monoliths, or the perfectly matching shafts specified. Yet foolishly, he had installed them anyway, leading to rejection, and, for him at least, ruinous litigation. Piccirilli Brothers did the job properly. But the changed direction of the hall meant that their columns too were removed, replaced by Davenport & Co., with fluted oak pillars that matched the pilasters they had also made.
Viewed between the lost columns, the front door's 'cantonniers' or valances, were made from the fruit and flower festooned top and side borders of a 17th century Flemish tapestry. One of two, by 1914, they had made their way from in the great hall at Harbor Hill, to the Stan Hywet Hall's music room in Akron, Ohio
Stan Hywet Hall, Akron, Ohio, the residence of rubber baron Frank A. Seiberling, showing the music room stage, framed by a 'cantonnier' from Harbor Hill. A large house with sixty-five rooms comprising nearly 50,000 square feet, Stan Hywet, as the photograph indicates, lacks Harbor Hill's more monumental scale
Following White's unexpected death in 1906 and Katherine Mackay's equally abrupt 1914 flight to Paris to her husband's friend and doctor, the Harbor Hill hall grew ever more elaborate and filled furniture and armor. Always, in the hall as well as the rest of the house, there was a process of the weeding out of the indifferent and upgrading at work. In this way, a formerly much esteemed Venetian lantern, Davenport lounge chairs, floridly carved rosewood Chinese stools, used as plant stands and other unremarkable accumulations were displaced by arms and armament, paintings, sculpture and furniture of the highest order.
A rare Levantine shield that once helped to form a trophy of arms in Harbor Hill's great Hall
Circa 1930: Harbor Hill's hall chimney-piece, composed from sixteenth century elements
Mackay would gather together the world's finest private armor collection
Finally, just as White would have wished Clarence Mackay, whom he had helped to tutor, was acclaimed as a major connoisseur. His collection of superb Medieval tapestries, was as celebrated as his armory, praised by visitors as diverse as Edward, Prince of Wales and the great art critic and friend of Stanford White, Royal Cortissoz. In the December 1929 issue of the International Studio, the critic's tribute was fulsome"
I cannot forbear glancing at the character of Harbor Hill as a whole. Across the threshold one steps into a corridor that runs almost the length of the house. Traversing it the visitor finds himself in a vast hall or chamber of lordly dimensions, with a ceiling more than thirty feet high. Gothic tapestries enrich the walls. Against them are ranged some of the most famous suits of armor in the world... Vast shadowy and splendid, the whole room breathes of history, as it does of consummate art and craftsmanship. Color is everywhere, in the rosy glow of the Chaumot tapestries, in those faintly moving banners, and in scattered incidents of ruby velvet. And the marvelous thing is the manner in which the myriad objects here assembled from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance all "pull together," making one superb effect and creating one harmonious atmosphere. It is the atmosphere of beauty. It was an axiom of Stanford White's that the work of any period would go with the work of any other period---if both were of superlative quality. Mr. Mackay has worked on the same conviction, maintaining the high standard which validates it... This Collector has not only specialized in architecture, painting, sculpture, tapestry and furniture but has specialized in so fusing them as to produce a collection in itself a work of art..."
1927: Miss Katherine O'Brien in the Great Hall at Harbor Hill, Sir John Lavery ( 1856-1941). The sitter was the Mackay's granddaughter
With a 'backdoor', opening onto the south terrace, the passage between the library-'stone room' room and the dining room, faced the hall, to which it was an extension. For a time, it obviously acted as an auxiliary sitting room. As such, it was comfortably furnished by Katherine, with easy chairs, tables laden with new books and magazines, glass lamps, with pictorial paper shades and potted ferns. Assisted by Joe Duveen, so adept in locating more loot, Clarence Makay soon made it back into a formal space. It proved ideal for the display of his outstanding parade armor and stuffed steeds dressed in the proper trapping of the tournament .
January 28, 1906: The New York Times
Circa 1925: Harbor Hill's south passage
A German knight's Maximilian Armor, made in 1525 and seen at the feft, in the passageway photograph above
To begin with, the salon at Harbor Hill was an almost perfunctory Allard & Sons rendition of Louis Quinze taste. There was no great glistening central chandelier, no pile carpet on the basket-weave parquetry floor. The only memorable feature in fact, was the life-size, full-length portrait of an eighteen-year Katherine, painted by Edmund Cartran. Desire for authentic, pristine, important French furniture has not yet been prompted in 1902, so Allards reproductions will do.
1902: Harbor Hill's salon
Clarence Mackay’s eighteen-year old fiancée was painted by Edmund Cartran holding an orchid in her hand. Still others ornamented the corsage of her white satin dress and more still, a cascading coiffure. In short order, Mrs. Clarence Mackay, a socialite-celebrity, due to wealth, beauty, literary ambitions, philanthropy, her work on the local school board and for the suffragist's cause, came to write in purple ink, on pink, lavender and orchid-colored letter paper. In building Harbor Hill, she’d employed her favored mauve thoroughly, in the color scheme of her suite of rooms upstairs, while here, in the salon, the bright white walls were softened with mauve lines
Had discontent with the notion of a largely 'gilt-free', pristinely white, salon, occurred once the Mackays saw the state rooms at Blenheim Palace, that Allard probably had had a hand in redecorating?
1904: Blenheim Palace, the first state room
Redecorated with other 'show rooms' by the ninth duke of Marlborough immediately following his marriage to Katherine Mackay's friend, Consuelo Vanderbilt, Blenheim's first state room probably inspired the introduction of a carpet and tapestries in the salon at Harbor Hill.
January 28, 1906: The New York Times , Harbor Hill's salon
Was the decision to move and then sell their Four Season tapestries, based on the Mackays purchasing a finer set, four silk and wool panels of Gobelins manufactory, made between 1770 and 1773? With a narrative the exploits Don Quixote, based on the highly popular romance novel by Miguel de Cervantes, the designs were derived from paintings by Charles-Antoine Coypel.
Sancho’s Feast on the Isle of Barataria from The Story of Don Quixote series, 1770–72, woven at the Gobelins Tapestry Manufactory now owned by the J. Paul Getty Museum, it had come from the collection of Clarence Mackay. This tapestry and three related hangings, perhaps hung in Harbor Hill's salon.
Frustraitingly, the ability to only find two images of this room, seperated by just four years, makes it difficult to say how it changed. It's facinating to considor the changes that occured over those few early years. Were they indicative of any subsequent rethinking, the salon might have come to look dramatically different. The tapestry above, like the chair below, could not have easily been in other rooms at Harbor Hill. Unfortunately however, they would have suited the townhouse he acquired at number three East 75th Street quite well.
One of a set of six exceptional Louis XV fauteils with tapestry covers that were owned by Clarence Mackay. Today in the collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, they were a bequest of Mackay's friend Forsythe Wicks
In the era prior air-conditioning, an important provision for any country house, be it cottage or summer palace, was a shaded porch, piazza or terrace. At Harbor Hill, naturally, one might enjoy all three. Because the 'glass piazza' had double-pane wondows, in addition to serving as a summer living room, it also acted as a lush winter garden, filled with palms, ferns and blooming plants, including prized orchids.
Having moved to New York, the innovative Valencian architect and builder, Rafael Guastavino, was granted a US patented for his “Tile Arch System” for making structural vaults, in 1885. Such ceilings were capable of supporting a load much greater than ordinary wooden joists. Using interlocking terracotta tiles, laid in a herringbone pattern, with layers of mortar, they’d been appropriated from traditional Roman building. The system formed taunt, resilient, fire-proof, thin and light-weight ceilings that White’s firm exploited often to form unobstructed spaces.
Used in the casino, for the plunge and other rooms, Guastavino vaults were extensively employed in Harbor Hill’s service wing as well, for pantries, the two servant’s halls and most notably, for the gleaming kitchen. The only application in the ‘show’ part of the house, was in the ‘glass piazza, where the tiles formed a shallow saucer dome that seemed weightless.
In 1902 an attraction of the Mackay's glass piazza was a ping pong table. That year the fast-paced past time had taken the nation by storm. However, after November of 1904, the conservatory-like 'glass piazza,' gained a far more unusual item of interest. Traveling in style, in his client-friend's private railway car, White and Clarence Mackay had visited the Louisiana Purchase Exposition at St. Louis. When too red-blooded club-men attend a world's fair together, one has no idea just what is liable to strike their fancy. For Mackay and perhaps for White too, it was a brazen whore, beautifully made up and bedecked with a quantity of gold colored barbaric jewelry, including a necklace of tiger's claws.
January 28, 1906: The New York Times
"Cornith" portraying a priestess of Venus, a ritual prostitute, is a late work of the painter and sculptor Jean-Leon Gerome. Whether depicting the first Thanksgiving, a victor in the Roman arena, Christian martyrs or orientalists scenes of fantasy, his oeuvre was academically researched and polished, sensual and imbued with theatrical bravura. White had known the artist, who'd just died. He owned at least two of Gerome's history paintings. The son of a goldsmith, Gerome had only taken up sculpture after turning fifty. After a while, causing great controversy, using wax bases pigments, in the manner of the ancient Greeks, he began tinting his marble figures. Hence the popular title the 'Tinted Venus.' Done in several variations, much regarded as the artist’s “Most spectacular testament,” it was also his last creation.
November 1, 1908: New York Tribune
One of several variations, this version of French painter and sculptor Jean-Leon Gerome's 'Cornith,' is owned by the Getty Museum. But lacking a jewel-mounted bracelet, it is not likely to be the sane one Clarence Mackay brought home from the 1904 World's Fair.
Famous for helping clients to disavow their youthful folly, had Duveen been able to banish Mackay's Gerome? All things considered, as focal point of the conservatory, it must have been disconcerting for many much as the portrait of his wife, Stephanie Seymour, that Peter Brant commissioned. More than anything, one wonders, what did Katherine think?
By the late 1920's Harbor Hill's west portico was enclosed by glass to provide still more space for entertaining
On the first floor, the large room occupying Harbor Hill's south-west pavilion, had three windows, on both the south and the west sides. This in part, it what makes it possible, to positively assign it, in a house where change was not infrequent. From 1902, to about 1905, as accords with the drawing below, dated 1899, this was the library, Harbor Hill's principal living room, paneled in French oak, outlined in old gilt. Its woodwork, chimney-piece, curtains, wall hangings, carpet and furniture, were supplied by Allard and Sons.
They are magnificent books. The breath and depth of new research undertaken by Wayne Craven with his, Stanford White: Decorator in Opulence and Dealer in Antiques, published by the Columbia University Press, in 2005 and Professor Richard Guy Wilson's more recent offering, Harbor Hill: Portrait of a House, produced by the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, through the auspices of the Norton Press, in 2008, is absolutely prodigious. Quite little of what I relate here would have been possible without the great help and many clues to the history of Harbor Hill both contain. I have not had the advantage of personally plowing through the hundreds and hundreds of letters, invoices, drawings, news clippings and other varied materials related to this history.
Even doing research from journals, photographs and newspapers on-line, together with consulting their work, as well as Elizabeth and Sam White's, Paul Baker's and Mosette Broderick's, has been daunting. How, might one order, organize and keep un-jumbled, so much information and a host of imperative dates? Invariably, almost unavoidably, despite all one's fine plans, writing a book, on gets something, not quite entirely right. Mr. Craven and Professor Wilson have, as regards Harbor Hill's short-lived, original library.
1902: Harbor Hill's original library. This image is from a Mckim, Mead & White office album owned by the New York Historical Society. Wayne Craven contended; "The library at Harbor Hill was located on the first floor, directly behind the main hall, although for unknown reasons it does not appear in the plans."
Reading this, made perfect sense, as no illustrations showing a room with book shelves appears in the 1915 monograph. The photo above however was used in articles published to announce Harbor Hill's completion. They include one from the New York Herald on Sunday, August 10, 1902 and "The Founding Of An American Estate" in the August 16, 1902 issue of Town and Country magazine. The 'stone room,' is nowhere to be seen, but, perhaps the library could have been behind the hall. Where would the service wing's stores and offices have been located though, if that had been so? It's the laws of physics make this explanation impossible
Their error is easily understood. Given the state of records concerning White's firm, located in three different institutions, given the changeable nature of the Mackays, one can hardly see how it came about. Indeed the discovery that something was amiss, only occurred due to their worthy efforts. Foremost, the culprits are Katherine and Clarence Mackay.
Professor Richard Guy Wilson, like Wayne Craven, shows no illustration of Harbor Hill's libraries, one and two in his book, only the billiard room. He's definite enough about the billiard room metamorphosing into the library, but discusses the library-'stone room,' as a contest between the strong wills of Katherine and Clarence. In his telling of the saga of this room, Clarence Mackay wins, but it seems that events unfolded differently
It is very difficult to believe indeed, that a pair who so often complained about escalating costs, the disruption of changes and the inconvenience of construction, could have done it. There was their fine library, complete, comfortable, homey and welcoming, outfitted in strict accordance with the the express, detailed, wishes of Mrs. Mackay and after just two years, it was completely redone!
What had been her directives? With much the same vehemence shown in determining the style and form of her house, she had decreed a Louis Quatorze style library. Just a few of Katherine's requirements included a high wainscot, of carved French oak, highlighted with gold. Green silk covered the walls above the wainscoting. It was to be a velours, woven with alternating velvet and satin stripes. The chimney breast was also paneled in oak, but the modillion bracketed cove at the top of the walls, that appears to be oak, was not. Just as the marble cove of the dining room at marble house, was not marble, here a trompe l'oeil painted finish skillfully imitated oak. Allard's estimates of 1899 outline many of these particulars, shown in the photographs that follow:
We will hang the walls with green stripe velours as per sample submitted, we will manufacture and put up window draperies, as per design submitted, using same velours as for walls... We agree to furnish and put up eight electric brackets---Louis XIV, Two ceiling fixtures as per design submitted...
1902: Harbor Hill's gemütlich library
There are the gilded bronze light brackets, shaded and recalling an hotel. In a house with few chandeliers of any kind, not surprisingly, the ceiling fixtures seem to have been eliminated. Indeed, all about the room, along with pairs of shaded candlesticks, glass kerosene lamps with pictorial paper shades are found. Used latter in the passage between this room and the dining room, which Katherine furnished as a sitting room, they'd been electrified, although rather than drilling the glass cords dangled from the sockets. Of little intrinsic value, might these lamps have belonged to Katherine's mother, who had died so soon after her marriage?
Very like the drawing room mantel of her girlhood friend, Cornelia Martin, who became the Countess of Craven, the red veined marble Louis XIV style mantelpiece had been much discussed. It was not to have a shelf, on this Katherine was most definite.
The fireside in Harbor Hill's original library
A portrait of the founder of Harbor Hill's sybaritic feast, Clarence Mackay's father, John William Mackay. had a prominent place of honor above the library's shelf-less mantelpiece. The ornate gilded frame was carved by an Allard craftsman
1902: The velvet draped writing table
Was it nostalgia that caused candles and kerosene lamps to be used in Harbor Hill's first library?
A wedding gift often given by grand friends, not rich or intimate enough to give jewels, was gold; objects such as gold vases, like the two unmatched beakers on this bureau plat. One can just glimpse as well, a leg of the tiger skin hearth rug
Confusing as hell, but understandable, was the tendency of those involved in transforming the 'private' Harbor Hill library in a 'public' space, meant for display and entertaining, to persist in referring to it as the. 'library', well after every book had been removed. Till now, this has tricked every scholar examining the house. Both the billiard room and the new 'stone room' had antique stone mantelpieces. Wilson, in speaking of the billiard room's alterations, tells how: "Robert Fisher's carvers modified the original, antique mantle and placed on it a bust of Voltaire copied by Piccirilli Brothers from Jean-Antoine Houdon's famous portrait." This did all occur of course, only, not in the billiard room, but the 'stone room.'
It is difficult to picture the 'stone room's' bust of Voltaire, surmounted by a painting of John William Mackay, as Professor Wilson and Wayne Craven outline discussing the evolution of Harbor Hill's library
Voltaire, by Jean Antonine Houdon
Although other work, in anticipation of the elimination of Harbor Hill's original library might have already started, the over-mantle design drawing shown above, with other plans for the 'stone room,' are dated 1904, two years after the house was officially completed
January 28, 1906: The New York Times: Harbor Hill's 'stone room,' first appears in the press
Both Craven and Wilson when speaking of tapestries and an order that "no color" be introduce into "my library," instead should have been discussing the 'stone room'. "I will not have tapestry anywhere but in the library...hung on the windows as I said and i wish it hung this week," Katherine stressed, meaning, the former library that was becoming the 'stone room'. Clarence Mackay himself clears things up, writing to White: "I wish some time you would take a run down to Harbor Hill in your automobile and see how that new room is progressing. It is a very important piece of work, and I should be very much obliged if you would..." The "new room" mentioned, is not the new library, progressing in the former billiard room, but the new 'stone room', made from the former library.
As instructed by Katherine Mackay tapestry hangings framed the 'stone room' openings
One intrusion of color into the 'stone room', was provided by a second portrait of Katherine Mackay.
One of the qualities of Katherine Mackay which perennially drew praise, was her originality. Her costume for the fancy dress ball of James Hazen Hyde, was no exception. Called the ball of the century, in January of 1905, it caused a maelstrom of controversy, such was its extravagance. Katherine Mackay’s costume however prompted delight in all, even Stanford White.
At a great fete meant to evoke the charm an ancien régime
court at Versailles, Katherine assured distinction by portraying Adrienne Lecouvreur, the famous actress of the eighteenth century. Only, she did not powder her hair and wear a ruffled gown, as others did. Instead, she was Adrienne in her great role of the mythical Greek queen, Phedre from Racine’s play.
1906: Katherine Mackay as "Phedre", by John W. Alexander
Her dress was of silver cloth studded with turquoises, with a silver tunic and skirt. From her shoulders fell a long train of silver cloth. It was carried by two young black page boys in costumes of pink brocade with sandals. She wore a tiara of turquoises and pearls, a necklace of the same jewels and carried a crystal scepter in her hand. Her little pages followed her everywhere throughout the evening. But they do not appear in her portrait by John W. Alexander, commemorating a night of social triumph. Stanford White designed a Renaissance style frame for this work destined for the ’stone room’.
Stanford White designed a Renaissance style frame for John W. Alexander's portrait
Circa 1920: The 'stone room' has a chandelier as well as tapestry at the door
Rhapsodizing about Harbor Hill and its sumptuously appointed great hall, art critic Royal Cortissoz had not neglected the 'stone room', by now dubbed the Renaissance room, writing:
The same glamour envelopes the stately Renaissance room in which most of the pictures are housed.
Among the most cherished objects in Mackay's collection, was this celebrated painted terracotta bust of Lorenzo de' Medici, made in Florence at close of the 15th, or at the start of the 16th century, probably after a model by Andrea del Verrocchio and Orsino Benintendi. Today owned by the National Gallery, in the photograph found below, de Medici has displaced the reproduction bust of Voltaire
Circa 1924: Purchased in 1920 for a staggering $40,000.00 Clarence Mackay's Mannerist chest, discussed below, can be seen in the image above, positioned to the left of Renaissance room's door
Being cheated is perhaps the worst fear of the rich. Fashioned by some brilliant but unknown French workshop in about 1580, this monumental, intricately decorated cabinet had cost Mackay $40,000.00. Some questioned its authenticity and he was desperate to know for sure. Finally, on the advice of a leading expert, Mackay returned it to Duveen. The dealer was furious, but abided by a policy that today only exist at luxury retailers like Bergdorf Goodman, a dissatisfied customer, may return anything, at any time, for a credit equal to an item's purchase price. Mackay's rejection made the mannerist masterpiece impossible to sell. The Getty Museum got it on most reasonable terms. Their research however determined that, while it does indeed include late-19th-century additions, on the whole, the cabinet that was sent back, is quite genuine.
A Mannerist French cabinet, made circa 1580 from Walnut, oak, paint, brass, and iron; with a linen-and-silk lining
Velvet hangings, velvet sofas and easy chairs, oak wainscoting and a trabeated ceiling all contributed to making a bastion of masculinity. But what really imparted a a sense that this was an exclusively male preserve where the ranks of elk and stag hunting trophies that encircled one with with unblinking stares. A leaping fire, old brandy and cigars are all that's left to start the tall tales and braggadocio flowing and Clarence Mackay and Stanford White have provided for each.
Transformation of the library, into the"stone room", a salon that served exclusively as a space for entertaining, had required that the billiard room, be made into a new, more intimate library. These first adjustments had been rather restrained. The ceiling, with molded plaster panels between oak beams was retained. So were the curtains, wainscot and velvet wall hangings. The Times photograph from 1906 shows how initially at least, even the hanging light fixture over the billiard table with four fringed pleated silk shades, was kept, to light the central library table. The costly hunting trophies, whereby which the room gained much of its character also stayed in place at first.
January 28, 1906: The New York Times
Bigger interventions were in store. The billiard room's Italian Renaissance chimney piece moved to the dining room, while the silver sconces around that room's walls, came here. The panoply of stuffed heads vanished, recalled by but four elk sculls. A portrait of daughter Kay and some majestic Louis XV seat furniture rounded things out.
By 1915, the dining room's silver sconces moved to the library
What mantelpiece was used here, the dining room's antique mantle, the old library's Louis XIV style example? Over the course of events incremental change saw the reuse of a two tiered table from the first library here.
A two tiered Allard table from the first library
CIRCA 1906: Clarence Mackay with his daughters, Ellin and Katherine in Harbor Hill's second library which had formerly served as the billiard room. He is seated in a reused billiard room chair. Behind him atop the hastily improvised glazed bookcases, are the mantle clock and candelabra originally in thr dining room, To the right is a two-tiered table that Allard had supplied for the first library.
By 1925, thanks to Joseph Duveen coming upon an available and nearly complete French gothic room, from a church in Burgundy, the new library was redone a third time. The introduction of Duveen's Medieval salvage required that the library by rechristened, the "gothic room". Twenty years earlier, the billiard room had been relocated, in the casino.
There is, for example, a little gem of a room at the end of the corridor aforesaid, a Gothic room with ancient boiserie and stained glass, and a renowned group of marble pleurants sending the imagination straight back to the heroic tombs of Phillippe le Hardi and Jean sans Ouer at Dijon, in the heart of the old Burgundian tradition. It is a distinctly individualized key. But it is, in its beauty, akin to... the Sassetti, some more armor and divers other treasures, one is conscious of the unity to which I have referred, of an organized purpose seeking the perfection in the specific object and in the grand alliance of all the objects together. Exacting taste tells in every detail of arrangement, even to the placement of a bowl of yellow roses before just the sculpture that invites its presence.
Circa 1926: The Gothic room
1927: Tea Time in the Gothic Room at Harbor Hill, Sir John Lavery ( 1856-1941). Clarence Mackay, his son John William Mackay, and his mother, Louise, Mrs. John William Mackay take tea. Long a noted society leader in London and Paris, in 1920 Mrs. Mackay moved back to the US. Living with her son, at Harbor Hill, Palm Beach and on East 75th Street, she acted as his hostess and as a chaperon for her grandchildren
The flamboyant door into the Gothic room from the entrance hall
Like the billiard room as originally built, architecturally, Harbor Hill’s dining room was hardly striking. The molded plaster ceiling and oak wainscot made the room seem vaguely Elizabethan. Otherwise, an antique continental marble mantelpiece, that was exchanged soon enough, dominated the enormous space. Dinner for forty, was not uncommon. Size gave the dining room versatility. Two round tables of twenty-five were used for dinner in 1907, one of several, over the years, where the Duchess of Marlborough was guest of honor. The centers of the glistening white damask cloths displayed masses of roses and orchids, partly enveloped maiden hair fern and bathed in soft light from shaded candles. Six delectable courses, expertly prepared by the Mackay’s French chef, were passed by the butler assisted by nine footmen.
Contemplating such an occasion, let’s turn the clock back, to 1904-1929. Step through the front door of Harbor Hill, follow the elegantly liveried butler. He’s leading to the west terrace, before the fountain where four allegorical bronze equestrian figures represent ever flowing rivers, the Rhine, Seine, Volga and Mississippi. Or perhaps we’re being taken to the ‘stone room’, to sit beside the fire? In any case, once there, we’ll meet the family and be given an aperitif. After a little while it’s time to link arms and with our hosts and fellow guests, enter the glowing dining room. Here, at last, we will fully experience the consummation of Harbor Hill and all such places.
Why had the charming Mrs. Clarence Hungerford Mackay been so impatient. Demanding that a chateau materialize, she’d insisted that it ought appear overnight and be perfect. Partly, she was motivated by the example of her friend Consuelo, Duchess of Marlborough’s mother. A dynamo of intelligence, determination and ambition, Alva Erskine Smith was born in Mobil. She’d been as focused acting to escape the genteel poverty of her girlhood as Katherine was to escape her far less dire situation. Marrying a Vanderbilt, then divorcing him, forcing her daughter Consuelo into a loveless match with one of England’s premier nobles, Alva Vanderbilt had next established an important president. Marring a second rich husband, Oliver Belmont, she managed something no one had believed to be possible. In the process of remarrying, though divorced, she’d ably managed to maintain her lofty position as a social force.
After 1920, when Clarence Mackay's mother moved to Harbor Hill to act as his hostess, she brought with her the famed Mackay, Tiffany & Co. silver. Her husband had sent a half-ton of ore from his own mine for it. Awarded a prize when exhibited at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1878, the dinner and desert service for 24, comprised, 250 pieces. It included as well hollowware and centerpieces. Flower-encrusted with thistles, shamrocks, and blossoms native to American, the unique creation took two years and 200 craftsmen to complete
In between, and afterward as well, to assert her position as Mrs. Vanderbilt and then as Mrs. Belmont, she had entertained. In Fifth Avenue’s first house worthy of any claim of being comparable to the finest residences of London or Paris, in Newport at lavish “Marble House”, she hosted dinners, dances, teas and luncheon parties. The thing each entertainment she gave shared, was the attention she paid to detail. No cost was spared. Her meals were more delicious, beautifully presented and indeed in every way, better than anyone else’s. So was the orchestra chosen for a dance, the flowers selected for a lunch table.
One of a serries of 'grotesque' late seventeenth century Beauvais tapestries, 'The Offerings of Bacchus' that formed an apropos decoration for Harbor Hill's dining room
Katherine had observed how after coming to New York unknown, that Alva Smith had fashioned for herself, a station of invincibility. Marshaling the Vanderbilt fortune entreating, she identified and created an important role for herself, as a leading hostess. With Mrs. Belmont and her mother-in-law as role models, Katherine Mackay was anxious to start having guest in the impressive setting of Harbor Hill, and in doing so, to create a well-lived life of her own.
A properly laid dinner table of the sort that persisted at Harbor Hill until the end
1904: Harbor Hill footmen
TO BE CONTINUED...
Even today, it’s not so difficult to imagine what it might be like, to be a Cinderella, or a Sleeping Beauty, longing to be rescued. Trouble is close enough at hand, for many, to make desperation and hope of removal from danger, common enough.
1901: Katherine and Clarence Mackay with their daughter Katherine, who was call Kay, at Newport. Despite his enthusiasm for the turf and fine horse flesh, as Clarence Mackay's electric Victoria attest, he was an early and avid motorist
To the wider world, Clarence Hungerford Mackay seemed far beyond the tawdry possibility of everyday menace. In the mid-1890’s, his dashing, taller older brother, John William Mackay, was unexpectedly killed, in a riding accident. When their father, a Dublin-born, self-made silver mining and communications magnate, who had grown up fatherless, in grinding poverty, died in 1902, Clarence Mackay inherited an estimated $55-million. How many hundreds of billions would that be today? Absolutely enough to make many imagine that the possessor would be immune to sorrow. But, is even this amount enough, enough to overcome a lifetime of hurt and indignation, caused foremost, by unrelenting religious and class-based scorn, then compounded, by love turned to loathing?
1898: Painted by Edmund Cartran the year she married, eighteen-year-old Katherine Duer was shown in a glade, holding an orchid in her hand. Still others orchids ornamented the corsage of her white satin dress and more still, a cascading coiffure.Where and why, had a golden couple gone so wrong? Why did Katherine convert to Roman Catholicism? Newspaper accounts at the time of her engagement said she was taking instruction. What happened? Why did Clarence Mackay, eager that they be accepted as American aristocrats, insist that their children must be raised in his faith?
Conversely, now, more so than ever, just ask any old Livingston, Astor or Vanderbilt, ‘ How much does ‘exalted’ lineage mean without sufficient ‘lucre’ to make one ‘filthily, stingingly’ rich?’ Quickly enough one learns that to most folks, a ‘fine old family’ makes no difference at all. A century ago certainly ‘good’ manners and antecedents meant more. But even then, in the absence of great wealth, neither was enough: not nearly enough, to make one count as a social leader.
1909: Heirs in ermine. Ellin, Katherine and John William Mackay
On Christmas Day, 1905, Mrs. Clarence Mackay announced her decision to build for Roslyn, Long Island’s Trinity Episcopal Church, a Parish House as a memorial to her mother. The gift was soon followed by a offer to errect a new church in memory of her father
So, once upon a time, when two people who desperately longed to matter most met, on an otherwise calm Atlantic crossing, it seemed to be destiny. Relative to her future husband, Katherine Alexander Duer was ‘genteelly impoverished’, although her father left an estate of $781, 077.00. Accomplished, she was a tall Episcopalian and celebrated as a striking beauty. Fabulously rich, the Irish-Catholic Mr. Mackay was short, but athletic. An avid sportsman his entire life, Mackay was rather muscular. Each imagined that the other held that component crucial to happiness that they lacked in their self.
Specified to cost, "not more than $40,000 plus $5,000 for landscaping," Rosly's Trinity Episcopal Church, like Harbor Hill was designed by Stanford White
Deluded in this way, theirs was to be a pathos-filled saga. Ironically, a shared compulsion to prevail, doomed them from the start. What seemed to others to be supreme self confidence, was instead, quite often, mere willfulness. It was based on her good looks and his big bucks, which each wielded as lethally as any sword. For both, this trait was attendant to an array of self-sabotaging insecurities.
Initially a mutual distaste for compromise had seemed endearing. It signaled to each, high-mined principle in the other. Moreover, they were so much in love, so much that, to joyfully defer, one to the other, was at first, a delight. Better than anything else possible that might be bestowed, that might be accepted, it was in yielding that they could most perfectly convey the depth of their affection. Both understood fully, for their self and for each other, all that this entailed and related.
Setting oneself up to be admired and envied as foremost among the ‘best’, is a simpler process today. New York’s ‘elect’ seem no longer to even remember ever having hated the Irish. But hate them, they did. For many today, Roman Catholicism, is yet another religion to be politely ignored, no better or worse, than any other. The Irish, for us today, are mere equals among the privileged class called ‘white people’. To gain some understanding of the extent of hostility with which most Catholics, especially Irish Catholics, were once targeted, one must look to the Jews.
As quietly as it’s kept, there are still exclusive cooperative apartments and clubs unwelcoming to Jews. In response, Jews have always had elite clubs of their own. In retaliation for housing discrimination, the most sought-after and expensive apartments nowadays, are no longer in cooperative apartment buildings. Those in the market today for the average $100-million flat, opt instead for a no-nonsense condominium, where a bank book that enables one to pay all cash, supersedes the caprice of the Social Register and arbitrary rejection.
Unthinkable a short fifty years ago, Michael Bloomberg, the city’s richest resident, is a member of the Brook. Long gone as well, is the exceptionalism of Countess Leary, and Janet Lee Bouvier, Auchencloss Rutheford. Irish heritage need no longer be a barrier for the novitiate social aspirant. But, in living memory, among most of York’s gentry, bigotry, towards African Americans, Jews, the Irish and others deemed ‘different’, was a reflexive reaction. Sometimes, towards the poor, disdain was tempered by paternalistic ‘charity,’ meted out in moderation to promote assimilation. Paradoxically then, what awaited the few who actually succeeded in overcoming the soul-killing burden of poverty, was enmity. The Wasps’ obsessive fear of being overwhelmed by immigrants or ‘undesirables’, of even being displaced by rich Jews and Irish Catholics, on the order of the Schiff’s, Khan’s, Ryan’s, Coogan’s, and Mackay’s, was not an entirely baseless worry. It was grounded in the dexterity with which, primarily through sheer numbers, Irish bosses had wrested control of New York politics, almost completely.
Assiduously shunned, pitiless parodied, animus toward the Irish, was due not so much to the ingenious villainy some employed as a tested, well trod road to riches, but because of the skill, with which they manipulated political power to advantage. It made little difference that Stuyvesants, Astors and Vanderbilts before them had acted no differently.
circa 1930: Warren & Wetmore devised for Harbor Hill among the most magnificent private stable blocks in America. It was, thought some critics, more ornate than the house it served
Inevitably, as much as because of any democratic advancement, it is the omnipresence and near universality of greed, which has seen the worst fears of yesterday’s elite, come true. There was considerable anxiety, lest Jews and the Irish, stealthily infiltrate and destroy the exclusive dominion of Wasps. Through an insistence on justice, business associations and intermarriage, they have.
Both in business, starting with his father’s partnership with James Gordon Bennett, and with his marriage, to the socially unimpeachable Katherine Duer, this was the bid made by Clarence Mackay. He was to never abandon his Catholic faith, but in every other particular, he emulated and aped those who had sought to demean and exclude him. In the process, he in turn, sought to defy and even to reproach the discrimination he endured, by using his acumen and wealth to outdo and dominate every adversary.
Richard Corey-like, whatever he chose to do, Clarence Mackay invariably did exceedingly well. In building Harbor Hill, his determination was to become a sportsman-country gentleman-farmer, along the lines of a recent acquaintance, another man who also had a very beautiful and taller wife. His new ‘friend’ was the ninth duke of Marlborough, who was married with great pomp, to his wife’s girlhood friend. Just three years prior to her own weddibg, Katherine had attended the duchess, as a bridesmaid, so it was hardly unreasonable that they should stay at the reluctant chatelaine’s palace when in England in 1900. Is it mere coincidence, the many parallels, between the Spencer-Churchill’s at Blenheim and the Mackay’s, at Harbor Hill?
Comparing this photograph with the one immediately above, indicates the extent to which ivy was encouraged to flourish as a means of tying the buildings at Harbor Hill to the surrounding landscape
Harbor Hill's stable gate post, with the cupolaed water tower in the distance
1902: Harbor Hill's stable
A prize Mackay Hackney
Clarence Mackay played polo and raised and raced thoroughbred horses. Because he fished and hunted, he took a long term lease on Gardiner’s Island, as a hunting preserve to enjoy with his friends. Whether Guernsey cows, Hackney horses, chrysanthemums or orchids; those raised by Clarence Mackay always won prizes. He was US Amateur Racquets Champion in 1902 and hence, in 1906 spent $250,000.00 to build a ‘casino,’ a ‘playhouse’ like John Jacob Astor’s at Rhinebeck or George Gould’s at Lakewood. Facilities for squash, bowling, swimming, billiards and even tennis, were common enough, but few other places in America also provided for ‘court tennis’, the game of kings, as Mackay did.
1908: The half-timbered Harbor Hill casino, designed by Warren & Wetmore
Circa 1930: The casino 'plunge'
Embraced still by America’s super rich, “the sport of kings” was indeed favored by Henry VIII in England and Francis I in France. This forerunner of lawn tennis, in the United States is known as 'Court tennis'. Formerly, in England, it was 'royal tennis.' There now, and in other commonwealth nations, the game is known as, 'real tennis.' In France, it is 'courte-paume,' immortalized by Jacques Louis David, in his painting, the "Tennis Court Oath," celebrating the establishments of the rights of man..
According to Wikipedia: "the rules and scoring are similar to those of lawn tennis, which derives from real tennis. Although in both sports game scoring is by fifteens (with the exception of 40, which was shortened from forty-five), in real tennis, six games wins a set, without the need for a 2 game buffer as in lawn tennis although some tournaments play to 9 games per set. A match is typically best of three sets, except for the major open tournaments, in which matches are best of five sets for men, and remain best of three sets for women."
1902: Clarence Mackay became US Amateur Racquets Champion
The club room, sluplementing regulation galleries, it also overlooked Mackay's tennis court
Harbor Hill's lawn tennis courts adjoined the casino
Extensive ranges of hot houses provided Harbor Hill with year-round, prize winning fruit and flowers
The cutting garden, vegetable plot and orchard, similarly produced fresh seasonal produce for the Mackays, shipped to Newport, Saratoga and New York when the family moved
The cottage of the Harbor Hill dairyman. After the Mackay house was razed in 1947, the dairyman's dwelling was purchased as a country house by Hal David, the famed lyricist
Stanford White, like Warren & Wetmore was at pains to make any out buildings picturesque. His water tower is one of only a handful on the extensive estate to survive
Here was a different sort of Queen Ann. At the start of their life together, John William Mackay, a dotting father-in-law made it difficult to see the fissures present in the Mackays’, cracks as imperceptible as the flaw in James’ Golden Bowl, destined only to widen with time. Inasmuch as Katherine had said she wished to build a new house as opposed to occupying a house someone else had built, as a wedding gift he presented her with the deed to the abundant Long Island acreage that became Harbor Hill. Clarence vowed to build his wife as regal a country retreat as existed anywhere. His promise was in keeping with his insistence on supplying his wife with the loveliest clothes to be had from Paris, the most spectacular jewels that could be obtained: in short, because she was his wife, the best of everything.
1898: Katherine Mackay habitualy wore the learge pearl pendant Clarie had given as an engagement present
1900: Holding and wearing orchids, Katherine Mackay, ready for presentation to London society and the Prince of Wales at her mother-in-law's house. Her Worth Ballgown, is woven with a pattern of Prince of Wales feathers, like the curled ostrich plum on her shoulder. Its train, is edged in royal ermine
Draped across the bodice of her dress, Katherine wears a diamond and emerald necklace
Katherine Mackay's chain of diamonds was a new fashion
An emerald cabochon
Mrs. Mackay's demi-parure of emeralds was certainly along royal demensions, as was the diamond pendant at the end of her chain
Katherine Mackay wears a French ballgown woven with trailing roses
Beyond giving his wife independence, a house in Paris and another at Carlton House Terrace, in London, in addition to superb clothes and magnificent jewels, Clarence Mackay’s father habitually gave his mother orchids. This was an epoch when a worker earned a dollar per day. An always perfect American Beauty Rose also commanded a dollar. But an exotic orchid blossom cost far more. Flamboyant, showy orchids cost five dollars: nearly a laborer’s entire weekly wage, more than dinner for two with champagne at the Plaza. Charmingly imitating his father, by showing his wife and the world how he felt with expensive orchids, Clarence Mackay was well matched by Katherine. During their courtship, when he wagered he could give her more orchids than she could wear, he’d lost. Becomingly, after pining bunches to her waist and bodice, she ornamented her hat with the remainder. Adopting the orchid as her personal talisman, Clarence Mackay’s eighteen-year old fiancée was painted by Edmund Cartran holding an orchid in her hand. Still others ornamented the corsage of her white satin dress and more still, a cascading coiffure. In short order, she came to write in purple ink, on pink and orchid-colored letter paper and in building Harbor Hill, she’d employed her favored mauve thoroughly, in the color scheme of her suite of rooms.
1900: Louise Hungerford Mackay, Clarence Mackay's mother. Arranging flowers in a royal rocco cradle used as a jardiniere in her London ballroom, she is wearing a small fortune in lace and jewels
Mrs. John William Mackay's breathtaking Boucheron sapphire necklace, worn in the photograph above
When Katherine declined to convert, it gave her prospective mother-in-law and Clarie, cause for concern. Only John William Mackay’s indifference to religion and the intensity of the couple’s passion saved the situation. Unlike his son, not born to riches, John William Mackay had no time for excessive piety and strict convention. In this and in early yearning for the security and power of great wealth, Katherine was much like him.
Profiling Clarence Mackay as “The Country’s Most Famous Host” for the Brooklyn Dailey Eagle, in 1927, Marjorie Dorman reveals a good deal about his self-made father. John William Mackay was born on November 28, 1831, in Dublin, Ireland in 1840 his family, victims of the “Great Hunger”, artificially worsened by English landlords, made the hopeful but perilous journey to new York:
Old John” immigrated to this country when very young. The wealth and pleasures of the Metropolis filled him with a longing for riches. As a boy playing in the streets, he and his comrades knew by sight all the millionaires of the city in the days when "a million dollars" meant great wealth. Soon after gold was discovered in California the Irish lad decided to join the Forty-niners. From a laborer in the mines, with a pick and shovel, he became one of the wealthiest men in the world…
One of the many orchid bouquets in Katherine Mackay's mauve sitting room
Katherine was most like her husband’s father, because she also had a dream. Hers too was a vision of imperial proportions. Less ‘highly’ born, the great heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt recalled the magnitude of an innate sense of entitlement, “Katherine was very handsome…her dark eyes flashed with ardor and the love of life. She wanted to dominate us all; she was one of those who assumed it to be her right. She was always the queen in the games that we played…”
Boldini's 1905 portrait of Katherine Makay's friend, 'Coon', Consuelo, Duchess of Marlborough, with her son, Lord Ivor Spencer Churchill, seen in a photograph in the image below, on Katherine Mackay's bedroom mantlepiece .
1907: Katherine Mackay arrayed for a fancy dress ball, portrays her prominent ancestor, Kitty Duer, Lord Stirling's daughter, and a famous belle of Revolutionary days. Taken in Katherine Mackay's bedroom, this photograph shows the gas fire, from ceramic 'logs', utilized upstairs at Harbor Hill
How telling then, is Harbor Hill, a palace for a queen. Recall as well, a penchant for regal ermine. In a mauve boudoir, a flowing mantle draped a queen’s throne-like chaise lounge. From infancy she dressed her children in ermine coats, capes and hats. Borders of ermine outlined her trains and wraps. How at odds Katherine’s desire to rule had been to her reality. How painfully aware she was of all that was possible with money, No less than the fictive Lilly Bart, Regina Hubbard Giddens and “Jasmine” Francis, Katherine Duer had astutely understood her position. Though a daughter of knickerbocker privilege, whose family had once been thought well-to-do, by the time of her début, it took far more to be a swell. Compared to her friends, she was poor, akin to a decorative handmaiden to the rich. To escape the limitations of being a nonentity, in order to effectively serve the arts and help liberate women; to improve the world, Katherine too, like Clarence Mackay, would also join and try to best an adversary. For although much in love, well-intentioned and generous, Clarence Mackay was a dedicated conservative. A devoted traditionalist, he’d become a man among men, to whom the oppression and control of women, was second nature.
Circa 1902: Katherine Mackay and her first child, her daughter katherine, called Kay, note the ermine robe
Circa 1905: Katherine Mackay with her daughters, Ellin and Katherine. Photographed in Katherine's sitting room, this photograph is great interest, as it shows a dramatic transformation of the French walnut room, which has been painted cream color, the mauve damask wall panels, replaced with velvet and hung with the Arras "Four Season" tapestries. Mistakenly identified as made by the Gobelin factory at this time, they had started in the great hall, and then moved to the salon, before finding their way here. The original fitted Wilton carpet has also been exchanged for a Louis XV Savonnerie style carpet
Circa 1905: Katherine Mackay with her daughters, Ellin and Katherine. Photographed in Katherine's sitting room. The dais on which Katherine's chaise lounge, bed have been banished, but not her ermine robe
An Italian garden at a chateau, as Ian Dunlap points out, is nothing strange. Even before Catherine de Medici’s arrival as queen, the French had long been looking to Italy for ideas to improve their cuisine, art, architecture and gardens. Amply aware of this, Stanford White jumped at the chance to snap up a baroque marble fountain which had provided a southern Italian town’s domestic water supply for over two centuries. The purchase price he paid, was said to have been ample enough to build a modern pumping station and filtration plant providing indoor plumbing for the bemused villagers. The focal point of a great greensward, the fountain depicted who? Was it Perseus, Hercules or some Triton or another, who surrounded by spouting dolphins, assisted by cupid, slays a bat-winged sea dragon, causing the expiring monster to heave in a gushing spray, a tall stream of gall skyward.
1898: Guy Lowell's original garden scheme, established the tripartite layout that was enhanced after 1910
An early alternate design by lowell, proposed as many as six terraces
Extending over some six-hundred and fifty acres of fields and woodland, from atop Long Island’s highest elevation, Harbor Hill majestically overlooked Hempstead Harbor. Almost eighteen miles away, one could view both the sea and Long Island Sound. On a clear day, the very towers of lower Manhattan were visible. Guy Lowell, the patrician Bostonian, was the landscape architect collaborating with White. His green carpets of well manicured lawn, cut through forest, seemingly stretched endlessly to the horizon. By a dozen years, articulated by rows white marble figures, his garden front tapis vert, through a grand allee anticipates Olmstead brothers’ more famous homage to André Le Nôtre at, “Castle Hill”.
Many landscape designers are skilled enough to carefully plan a vista, foreshortened by terraces, with intervening trees, so that houses on adjacent properties are hidden from sight. This creates an effective illusion; all one can see, seems to entail, one vast property. The spot where one stands, seems to be, at the center of the universe. At Harbor Hill, such a subterfuge had not been so necessary. For from his broad terraces, Mackay did own all within the range of his vision. The beach at the bay, had belonged to him too. But, anticipating the uncertainty of the future, discounting the ability of folly and arbitrary circumstances to undo even the wisest plans, Lowell did plant a screen of trees along the edge of the lowest of three terraces descending toward the shore, that in maturity would have masked any unintended sprawl.
The Triton fountain, Stanford White's fabulous find for Harbor Hill, the focus of Guy Lowell's fashionable Italian garden, did not last very long beyond the architect's inglorious demise. Somewhere, there must be some photograph that shows it playing in this setting?
Standard Oil Heir and connoisseur, John L. Severance, was all too happy to take White's grand fountain off Mackay's hands. It was installed in the garden of his Cleveland Heights' estate, "Longwood", neighboring John Rockefeller's place, "Forest Hill". Both Severance and Mackay were customers of Duveen and patrons of the arts. Severance Hall, home to the celebrated Cleveland Symphony, is still regarded as one of the world's premier concert halls.
The end, when it came to Longwood, was not especially different from the end, at Habor Hill. A 'mall', Severance Center, along with houses, obliterated all the care and cultivation of half a century, almost overnight. Considered, but declined, by the Cleveland Museum of Art, forlorn and overlooked, White's fountain spent as much time at the edge of the now defunct emporium's parking lot, as it had beautifying millionair's gardens.
Noticed at last, the oldest piece of non-aboriginal public sculpture in the Cleveland area, has been moved and holds pride of place, in front of the Cleveland Heights' City Hall
As it was, Stanford White’s death and the growing involvement of Makay in the ever greater enhancement Harbor Hill, as his wife’s interests waned, changed everything. Selling his fountain through P. W. French & Co., Clarence Mackay engaged Jacques-Henri-Auguste Gréber to give Harbor Hill a Versailles-inspired garden with dwarf boxwood, clipped into elaborate parterre de broderie and sun-dappled bosquets, cut into forest. Much as at “Whitemarsh Hall,” “Miramar” and “Lynnewood Hall, Gréber called upon his father, the skilled sculptor Henri-Léon Gréber, who replacing White’s genuine baroque extravaganza, , he produced a fountain containing four allegorical bronze equestrian representations of the world’s great rivers. Providing a diverting cross-axis, an exedra of trillage alcoves, harboring marble statuary, sheltered a rose garden.
Like Bernini's embracing colonnade at Saint Peter's, Jacques Gréber's deft plan gave Harbor Hill a unity that integrated the somewhat disperate house, garden, water tower, stables and woodland, as never before.
Oriented toward a well-screened delivery well, Harbor Hill's service wing was as thoufhtfully designed as the 'main' house
Jacques-Henri-Auguste Gréber's Versailles-inspired parterres de broderie, referenced intricate neddle work, with meticulously clipped dwarf boxwood
Occuli atop the treillage niches at Harbor Hill allowed sheltered statues to glow as if spotlighted
1922: Clarence H. Mackay and his mother, flank his oldest daughter, Katherine, at the Harbor Hill reception that followed her marriage to Mr. Kenneth O'Brien, who became a judge. Notwithstanding the family's Catholicism, and the beauty of their rose bower, after several years and children, the O'Briens divorced.
A bosquet near Harbor Hill's grand allee
To best appreciate Gréber's exceptional accomplishment at Harbor Hill, it's important not just to contrast the garden here, with others he devised for great estates. It's useful to recall as well his extraordinary success as the urban planner. This was the genius who gave us the matchless beauty of the stately Benjamin Franklin Parkway. According to James T. Maher’s insightful The Twilight of Splendor, Jacques Gréber came to Philadelphia after he worked for Clarence Mackay to work for Joseph E. Widener in 1913, at “Lynnewood Hall”. Teaming up with architect Horace Trumbauer several times after this initial project, the pair produced what Maher praised as:
formal gardens…as lucid as geometry and eloquent of the ancient theatrical visions of architectural fantasy, may have been the finest example of French classical landscape art in America . . . It is his lucidity which gained Gréber several major urban planning commissions, including those for Philadelphia and Ottawa. Basing his designs on the boulevard system implemented by Haussmann in Paris, Gréber created wide cuts in the urban landscape leading to major buildings …
Jacques Gréber had intended to provide Clarence Mackay with an arched wall fountain like the one seen above, supplied for “Whitemarsh Hall,” by his accomplished father, Henri-Léon Gréber. instead, as many photographs attest, the similar space at Harbor Hill, remained vacant, until 1927!
1927: In preparation for a dinner-dance he was to host in honor af Charles Lindbergh, the acclaimed aviator, clarance Mackay commissioned the most 'modern' work in his renowned collection. "Theseus and Ariadne", was carved from limestone by Paul Manship Born, whose ventures toward the new, entailed evoking archaic Greek sculpture.
Misremembered by Ellin Mckay Berlin, in her charming memoir recounting her grandmother's life, "Silver Platter," as the sculptor who replaced White's baroque fountain, Manship is similarly credited in Richard Guy Wilson's book: "a contemporary sculpture by Paul Manship replaced the neoclassical Triton fountain Clarence and Katherine had acquired from Stanford White in 1902..." he says in error.
Donated to the New York State Parks and Recreation Department, in 1982, Manship's damaged "Theseus and Ariadne", was transferred to the Smithsonian's American Art Museum, where it is currently held in storage.
Circa 1918: Clarence Mackay showing a visiting officer around his famous garden
During Harbor Hill's heyday, in the 1920's, two dozen men worked diligently to maintain the garden in good order
Henri-Léon Gréber's dynamic fountain, with four allegorical bronze equestrians figures personifying the world’s great rivers, was equipped, from the start, with electric lights. Under water, they mimicked the rainbow
1924: Harbor Hill's west terrace and 'River' fountain, spectacularly illuminated with colored lights, for the dinner, reception and ball held in honor of HRH Edward Prince of Wales
Restored after the demolition of Harbor Hill, in 1957, Henri-Léon Gréber’s ‘Fountain of Rivers’, was installed at Mill Creek Park, adjacent to the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri
Where Lowell had allowed the slopping terrain on three levels, to gently incline toward a far off terrace, Jacques Gréber established a much higher intervening retaining wall, providing for three distinct levels, each, perfectly flatl. Curving marble flights invited one down to the lower of the three terraces. The screen of trees that had previously obscured the prospect, revealing the glint of sparkling water near the westward horizon, was also eliminated. It was replaced by two heroically-scaled marble sculptural groups, on high plinths. Showing a sight that would have been most familiar to Mackay, these wild stallions, restrained by their handlers, were modeled after sculptures commissioned in 1739 by Louis XV, for the royal Chateau de Marly. “The Horse Tamers”, moved to the Champs-Elysees and are now on display at the Louvre. They were reproduced for Mackay by sculptor Franz Plumelet. Dramatizing the vista, Plumelet’s energetic steeds and straining men, exhibited the same sort of natural power as the living picture they helped to compose.
Commissioned in 1739 by Louis XV, for the royal Chateau de Marly. “The Horse Tamers”, were moved to the Champs-Elysees and are now on display at the Louvre. Reproductions made for Clarence Mackay were sculpted Franz Plumelet.
1911: One of Franz Plumelet's "Horse Tamers" being hoisted into place
Following Harbor Hill’s destruction with dynamite in 1947, the garden’s pink Tennessee marble “Horse Tamers” went their separate ways. One spent years in front of Roslyn's High School, that Mackay and presented a parcel of his estate to build on. The other remained in place. For another 60-odd years it slowly crumbled, atop its high base, in the backyard of a modest speculative developer’s suburban house, otherwise differing little from a thousands like houses that were built on Harbor Hill’s vast acres.
Meticulously restored through a publicly subscribed fund, in the Autumn of 2013, Franz Plumelet's "Horse Tamer", commissioned by Clarence Mackay, was unveiled by his grandson, at Roslyn's Gerry Pond Park
Enclosed in the 1920's, Harbor Hill's west portico, shaded by awnings, first served as an outdoor living room
In addition to clipped standard bay trees and Orange trees in wooden tubs, cannon came to form a part of the decoration of Harbor Hill's west terrace at the end of the Great War
Rattan furniture and flower boxes made the roof of the west portico, outside Katherine Mackay's mauve sitting room, into a wonderful outdoor sitting room, enjoying the best view to be obtained from Harbor Hill
1903: Katherine Mackay holding her daughter Ellin
an historian with an eye to the future and so, eager to save, savor and share the glory of the past and the best of today