601 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island
This house is best associated with...
Mary Wadsworth Lummis
Mrs Mary Wadsworth (Lummis) Douglas, Jewellery Designer & Fashion Editor
Lucy was left $20 million by her father and a further $5 million when her mother died in 1912. It was Lucy's husband who was hardest hit by the divorce: She had taken custody of their children and except for his bedroom, she stripped out every room of their Madison Avenue mansion of all its art, furnishings etc. Eric was left with an empty house, the upkeep of which he could not afford without her, and it was foreclosed on in 1914.
After her divorce, Lucy had spent much of her time in France, notably with her sister, Bessie, at her magnificent palace in Paris, L'Hotel de Cavoye. In 1927, Lucy sold her Manhattan townhouse at 15 East 96th Street to the famous jeweller, Pierre Cartier (1878-1964). She then hired the architects Polhemus & Coffin of New York to build her a new home at Newport inspired by La Lanterne, a royal hunting lodge at Versailles which is today the official country seat of the Prime Ministers and Presidents of France.
House & Gardens
The estate is entered through a pair of early 18th century gilt-edged, wrought-iron gates that came from a Queen Anne townhouse in London. The manor is surrounded by 5.5 acres of gardens laid out by Umberto Innocenti (1883-1969). The idyllic grounds include a formal parterre, grand terraces flanked by garden walls, two dovecote gazebos, several outbuildings and a croquet lawn considered to be one of the finest in the country. The gardens overflow with a profusion of azaleas, roses, rhododendrons, boxwoods, dogwoods and magnolias, while lindens and huge copper beech trees give shade to the lawns.
Covering 13,000 square feet, the 22-room house was designed for entertainment with an elegant ballroom and a dining room wing for 62 guests. The dining room has ivory-painted panelling and gilt-framed mirrors to reflect the light from the chandeliers and windows. This wing also includes three kitchen areas that face the garden for use during the summer season. Wrought-iron balconies on the upper floors overlook the gardens and the drawing room with its 12.5-feet ceilings opens up onto its own private terrace.
Robert & Roberta Goelet
Lucy had spent much of her time in France before the War, but when the Nazis approached Paris in 1940 she returned to Newport, living the rest of her life there.
Gordon & Mary Douglas
The new owners of Champ Soleil were J. Gordon Douglas Jr., who had spent his early summers at Stonor Lodge, and his fourth - and final - wife, Mary Lummis (1917-2015), the jewellery designer best associated with Charleston and former fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue magazines. Gordon's first wife, Peggy Phipps, is best remembered for opening her family home Old Westbury Gardens to the public.
Russ Aitken was something of a Renaissance Man. He trained pursuit pilots in World War Two and in 1949 he won the "High Gun" as the best shot in the nation. But, he was also an artist, sculptor, photo-journalist, writer, conservationist, bon vivant, former big-game hunter and croquet champion who laid out the lawn at Champ Soleil. Both he and Annie were serious, knowledgeable collectors of art: Her passion was for English antiques - the British period rooms at the Met Museum are named the "Annie Laurie Aitken Galleries" - while his was for French antiques, notably anything to do with the Napoleons I and III.
Annie died in 1984, but Russ Aitken remained in the house and afterwards lived there with his second wife, Irene Elder Boyd (b.1931), the widow of John Aspinwall Roosevelt (1916-1981). Russ died in 2002 and Champ Soleil was put on the market by his widow the following year for $5.9 million. She also put its contents - a collection of 522 antiques - up for auction which included much of Russ and Annie's collection: a mix of 18th-century Georgian chairs; Louis XV and XVI furniture by Cresson, Tilliard, Gordin etc.; carved German 18th-century hunting trophies; a nearly life-size sculpture of a stag with real antlers; Chinese Export porcelain; china, carpets, paintings, sculpture etc.
The Zarrillis & Champ Soleil Today
Sometime before 2012, Mrs Irene Aitken sold Champ Soleil to Messrs Kenneth Zarrilli and Joshua L. McKinney-Zarrilli. While they own it, they also lease it out and Champ Soleil is available for hire both during the summer and winter seasons.
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