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Newport, Rhode Island

Completed in 1914, for Mrs Eleanor (Elkins) Widener (1861-1937) and her husband, George Dunton Widener Sr. (1861-1912), who lost his life on the Titanic prior to it's completion. Neighbouring Clarendon Court, Miramar is one of the finest examples of traditional French neo-classicism in Newport. At 30,982 square feet, it's the 4th largest of the Newport Cottages, behind The Breakers, Ochre Court and The Elms. Today, it remains a private residence and is currently on the market for $25 million.
The Widener's lived at Lynnewood Hall and in 1911, George purchased a 7.8 acre property overlooking Rhode Island Sound at Newport, commissioning their family's preferred architect, Horace Trumbauer (1868-1938), to build him a summer residence there. Both George and Eleanor shared a particular interest in French architecture, art and furniture; and, in considering the design and furnishings for their new mansion they decided to take a two month trip to Paris.

In the spring of 1912, they departed for Europe accompanied by their valet, lady's maid and eldest son, Harry Elkins Widener (1885-1912), who wished to add to his rare book collection in London. For the return voyage they had booked rooms on the ill-fated Titanic. After having seen Eleanor and her lady's maid safely into a lifeboat; George, Harry and their valet stayed on board and went down with the ship. Distraught, Eleanor nonetheless saw her husband's plans through and work began on the mansion in 1913. In memory of her son, Eleanor also commissioned Trumbauer to construct the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library at his alma mater, Harvard University.

Built of limestone, Trumbauer modelled the 30,982 square foot, neoclassical mansion on an 18th century French château. Eleanor named the house Miramar, which is Spanish for "look to the sea". From the interior, floor-to-ceiling French windows open up on each side of the house to the balustraded terrace that entirely surrounds it, loosely inspired by Le Petit Palais in Paris.

In keeping with the French style of the house, the formal rose gardens were laid out by the young French landscape designer, Jacques-Henri-Auguste Gréber (1882-1962), who had recently completed the gardens at Lynnewood Hall. Set within them, was a bronze fountain sculpted by Gréber's well-known father. The property included several outbuildings, such as the 6,000 square foot carriage house, garage (they were rumored to have kept 16 Rolls-Royces), greenhouses, an ice house, gardener's cottage and gate lodge. In 2012, a former footman at Miramar related his memories of working there to The New York Times:
At Miramar, Mr. Silvia was in charge of the 42 awnings. “They hated a dark house, but had beautiful tapestries,” he remembered. “I had to sit in the front hall, and watch the sun, and when it shifted I had to race, race, to lower the awnings, and then put the others up.” Most of the time the male staff wore black pants with a tan linen jacket with the family crest on the buttons.
Miramar contained 27 bedrooms, 14 bathrooms and was designed to entertain up to 700 people at one time with a dining room that sat 50 guests. The wine cellar has a capacity to hold 10,000 bottles and it incorporates a 20-foot trough in which to keep 200 bottles of champagne iced at any time. The interior was designed by the the Parisian firm of Carlhian, and it's furnishings were acquired by the influential British art-dealer, Joseph Duveen (1869-1939), 1st Baron Duveen.

The 27 by 63 foot Louis XVI drawing room-cum-ballroom opens directly on to an ocean view and was designed after one of the state rooms at the Château de Louveciennes near Paris. A late 17th century pine-panelled room salvaged from Hamilton Palace was intended for Miramar, but instead it remained in storage there. Among the many treasures that adorned the mansion were a pair of Louis XV Ormolu-mounted Chinese porcelain vases that in 2006 were sold at Christies in New York for $102,000.

In 1915, at the opening of the library dedicated to her son, Eleanor met Alexander Hamilton Rice, Jr. (1875-1956), the explorer and Harvard's Professor of Geography. They were married that year and in August they gave a ball to officially open Miramar to Newport society. The trees on the property that night were lit up and three orchestras played for the 500 guests who danced in the ballroom and on the terrace. 

At Newport, the Rices developed quite a reputation for the lavish parties they hosted and their annual ball during Tennis Week was one of the highlights of the social season. It was also the Rices who in the 1930s were the first to serve champagne in pitchers, in what became known as "the English style".

The Rices frequently travelled the world and Eleanor even joined "Ham" on several of his explorations into the Amazonian rainforest, but each summer they held open house at Newport. It was also in the library at Miramar that Ham kept his collection of 10,000 books on exploration.

On Eleanor's death in 1937, she left Miramar to her husband for his lifetime (he died in 1956) after which it passed to her two surviving children by her first marriage, George Dunton Widener, Jr. (1889-1971) and Eleanor Elkins Widener (1891-1966). Eleanor's children were by then living respectively at Erdenheim Farm and Homewood. In 1956, they sold the estate and it briefly became a private school known as "Miramar School".

In 1971, Miramar once again became a private residence when it was purchased for $118,000 by Andrew Panteleakis (1927-2013), who ran his land developing business from the mansion too. In 2006, he sold the estate at auction, accepting an offer of $17.1 million. At the time, this was the highest price ever realised for a private residence in the State of Rhode Island, a record that was recently broken by Taylor Swift, with her home on Bluff Avenue.

The new owner was identified as David B. Ford, who lived there with his fiancée, Pamela Fielder. Formerly a banker with Goldman Sachs, Ford is Chairman of National Audubon Society and a director of The Philadelphia Orchestra Association. A committed preservationist, he renovated Miramar to it's former glory with the help of John Tschirch, who works with the Preservation Society of Newport as their architectural historian. Fully renovated, Miramar is currently back on the market for $25 million.




Sales Brochure; The New York Times - Whatever Happened to the Fourth Footman?