Dylan Coulter Collection / Auberge Resorts
It will take much longer than the recent influx of nouveau riche robber barons for Newport to move beyond its centuries-old association with the Golden Age, and with one legendary family in particular: the Vanderbilts. Not only did the descendants of “Commodore” Cornelius have the good sense to build spectacular summer homes hugging the cliffs of this seaside idyll, they were also smart to leave the best of these grand buildings to historic preservation societies and institutions. public.
The most famous, of course, is the 70-room Breakers, built between 1893 and 1895 by the supposed favorite of the Commodore’s grandchildren: Cornelius II. Its amazingly decorated and sprawling neo-Renaissance style palace turned museum still holds the courtyard as one of the city’s crown jewels, as does Marble House a few doors down, which was completed in 1892 for his brother William Kissam. . In the same year, Rough Point was completed for their younger brother Frederick William (although he is now associated most often with Doris Duke, who inherited her father’s estate in 1925 and retired there until his died in 1993). Even their sister Florence Adele quickly became a neighbor, when she bought Vinland from a tobacco heiress in 1896.
In 1908, Cornelius II’s third son Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt followed suit to build something of his own in Newport proper (he and his wife Elsie French lived at Oakland Farm in nearby Portsmouth), though his is a little more modest than that of his father. And rather than facing the Atlantic Ocean like all the rest of family real estate, it would be in the heart of downtown, with a view of Newport Harbor. But by the time the stately Georgian-style residence was completed a year later, Alfred had donated it to the city, and in October 1909 it opened as a YMCA and remained the home of the organization. for 65 years.
Why he never moved in remains a mystery, although a brief glimpse into his biography offers some clues. In 1908, Elsie, tired of her husband’s not-so-secret affair with Agnes O’Brien RuÃz, the Cuban attache’s wife in Washington, filed for divorce and left Oakland Farm. A media storm ensued, causing such distress that Agnes committed suicide in 1909 – according to some reports Alfred had commissioned the house for his mistress, and when she died he gave it to the people. (He eventually remarried but died in 1915 aboard RMS Lusitania, which was torpedoed by a German submarine.)
It was not until the late 90s that the mansion began its hotel life. Now, the Vanderbilt, Auberge Resorts Collection, has just launched a top-to-bottom transformation with Dallas-based design collective SWOON, the first since the luxury hotel group purchased the property in 2018. âHonoring Vanderbilt’s original Georgian architecture in more of the simplicity and honesty of its American colonial conception was our starting point, âsaid General Manager Jordi Valles.
Comfortable nooks, custom plush padding, a mix of artistic and vintage pieces, and a rich palette of emerald, dark teal and navy blue evoke the charms of old silver from the Golden Age, all while layering to a modern eclecticism. Other luxuries are also firmly entrenching the 33-Key Vanderbilt in the 21st century: a spa, fitness center, indoor and outdoor pools, rooftop terrace, and a signature restaurant menu revamped by celebrity chef April Bloomfield. .
“It was an opportunity to reinvent an already beloved pillar of Newport and not only to honor its rich history, but to reinvent it as well,” said Valles. “We were inspired by the insatiable thirst for travel and the rebellious spirit of Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt.”
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