680 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island
This house is best associated with...
James Buchanan Duke
James B. or "Buck" Duke, Founding Partner of the American Tobacco Company
Born from Scandal
In 1878, Frederick and Lulu had been married in secret, against the wishes of his father. Lulu's mother came from a well-respected Rhode Island family, closely connected to the now not-so respectable DeWolfs of Linden Place, while her father had counted Frederick's father among the pallbearers at his funeral. But, despite the friendliness and equal social standing of the two families, Lulu was... a divorcee! But, she hadn't just divorced anyone to marry Frederick, she had divorced Frederick's first cousin, the playboy Alfred! A popular rumor adds spice to the story by saying that she was also twelve years older than Frederick, but this is untrue: back then, a parlor maid made an off-hand comment that she "guessed" Lulu might have been twelve years older... and then old lady gossip did the rest!
To get an idea of the significance of her divorce at that period, this was all happening some 20-years before Frederick's indomitable sister-in-law, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, rocked Gilded Age Society by divorcing his brother Willie K. So, it wasn't surprising when Billy Vanderbilt heard about Frederick's intentions with Lulu that he threatened to disinherit him. As such, the newly-weds waited a month before breaking the news.
Frederick wasn't disinherited, but when Billy built the Triple Palace in Manhattan for himself and three of his children, Frederick was fobbed off with his old brownstone - now usually referred to as the F.W. Vanderbilt Mansion - a significant ten blocks away! The King of Railroads may have ostensibly forgiven, but he had certainly not forgotten!
The First of Newport's Giants
In 1887, Frederick and Lulu Vanderbilt commissioned Peabody & Stearns to design their Tudor-style sandstone and granite summer house, while the gardens that stretched down to the cliffs were laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903). Inspired by its earlier neighbours, Wakehurst and Vinland, the mansion cost $1 million to build and was completed in 1891. The Vanderbilts moved in the following year and christened their home Rough Point for the waves that crashed into the cliffs at the foot of their lawns.
The colossal size of Mr Frederick Vanderbilt's new house at Newport, and especially of his entrance hall, is still a topic of conversation. Sydney Smith (1771-1845) once said of an abnormally stout woman: "One might take one's morning walk round her, always supposing that one is in rude health and good physical training." And the remark would apply equally well to Mr Vanderbilt's house, the inmates of which must get all the exercise they want within its walls.
What was fit for a Princess needed improvement for a Duke!
The Leeds' had been renting Rough Point for the previous two seasons, and on it becoming theirs they hired John Russell Pope (1874–1937) to make some minor exterior alterations. But, after having passed just one summer in their newly acquired mansion, William Leeds died at Paris in 1908. His widow, known as Nancy, ostensibly remained in Europe and in 1920 remarried Prince Christopher (1888-1940) of Greece and Denmark. Known from then on as "Princess Anastasia," she died just three years later at Spencer House in London.
By the addition of an east wing, the length of the house was almost doubled, as were the number of rooms that now numbered 105. In 1925, Duke died and left his all his residences, plus his $100 million fortune to his only daughter, the thirteen year old Doris Duke (1912-1993), who was immediately dubbed, "the richest little girl in the world".
"The Richest little Girl in the World"
Once the mansion was back in use, Doris began to refill it with old family heirlooms and hundreds of pieces of priceless art that she herself had collected. Among the many treasures - that can still be seen there today - are paintings by Renoir, Gainsborough, Reynolds and van Dyck; Chinese porcelain vases from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644); 16th century French and Flemish tapestries; and in the Yellow Room, side tables with ivory insets bearing the Russian Imperial crest of Catherine the Great (1729-1796).
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Daniel loves Rough Point
Daniel loves Rough Point