Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Whitehall, Palm Beach

Whitehall, Flagler Museum, December 2014.
Photo by John J. Tackett for The Devoted Classicist.
One of the great American mansions of the Gilded Age is Whitehall, built as a wedding gift from Standard Oil tycoon, Henry Flagler, to his third wife.  Inspired by the neoclassical architecture of The White City, as the World's Columbian Exposition, 1893, Chicago, was called, Whitehall was built as an example of Western Culture brought to its full glory in America.

Whitehall, now the Flagler Museum, Palm Beach.
Image: Historic American Building Survey

Flagler, a self-made man with an eighth grade education, had both failures and successes as a businessman before borrowing money from a relative to join Samuel Andrews in becoming one of three founding partners in John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company in 1870.  Flagler was Secretary and Treasurer, helping to establish the company as a multi-state corporation, establishing a foundation for a new business template that developed into the format used today.  This was a time of great economical growth, with industrialization increasing productivity and general wealth increasing the standards of living across the population.  But it also created a new, super-wealthy class with the top 10% owning roughly three-fourths of the nation's wealth.  Standard Oil became the most prosperous and monopolizing oil empire of the time and Flagler, in these years before federal income tax, became one of the richest men in the world.
Flagler's Hotel Ponce de Leon, St. Augustine, Florida.
Image:  Flagler Museum
By 1876, Flagler's wife, the former Mary Harkness, was essentially an invalid, and the couple went to Florida for recuperation.  But Florida was undeveloped at the time, except for a few coastal towns, but with substandard lodgings and little entertainment.  The warm weather helped temporarily and the Flaglers returned to New York with Mrs. Flagler dying in 1881.  In 1883, Flagler married Ida Alice Shourds, a young woman who had attended the first Mrs. during her illness.  St. Augustine, Florida, was their honeymoon destination.  Flagler was so captivated by the city and its potential as a resort that he decided to take its development as a new challenge and adventure.  Flagler hired architects John Carrère and Thomas Hastings, who had just established their own firm after working together at McKim, Mead, and White, to design the Hotel Ponce de Leon which opened to great success in 1888.  Followed by two others around the same plaza, the three hotels made St. Augustine a destination for the day's rich and famous.

Courtyard Entrance to the Hotel Ponce de Leon.
Image via Archimaps.
Flagler was determined to make the east coast of Florida into the American Riviera.  Convenient transportation, of course, was essential;  Flagler bought and improved railroads so that it was possible to travel the whole distance by Pullman (sleeping) car from New York City without changing trains.  Flagler expanded to Daytona, and then on to West Palm Beach where he built a bridge to the barrier island of Palm Beach where he built the 1,150-room Hotel Royal Poinciana, the world's largest wooden structure at the time.  (It opened in 1894 and was enlarged twice, doubling in size each time). 

Flagler's Hotel Royal Poinciana, Palm Beach.
Image: Wikipedia
The Poinciana was on the shore of Lake Worth, and The Palm Beach Inn (later renamed The Breakers) was built just across the narrow island on the Atlantic coast in 1896.  These two hotels with the railroad access helped make Palm Beach a winter destination for the wealthiest of society during America's Gilded Age.
A 1926 map of the Florida East Coast Railroad
showing resort locations.
Image: Flagler Museum.
As a side note, there is a lot more to the story of Flagler's contributions to the development of south Florida than most may realize.  Flagler consolidated his various railroads into the Florida East Coast Railway in 1895.  When a freeze hit Palm Beach that year, but not the area 60 miles to the sough, Flagler extended the railroad to the settlement at the mouth of the Miami River where Julia Tuttle, an acquaintance of John D. Rockefeller owned 640 acres.  With the extension, Tuttle had promised to share half her land;  she divided it into small lots and gave Flagler every other lot, forcing him to purchase her plots. Flagler built the Royal Palm hotel in Miami plus a waterworks and sewage system, founded an electric power company, and donated land for the first public school in Miami.  Additionally, he helped start the first hospital and gave contributions to churches.  Flagler also extended his railroad to Key West, the closest deep-water American port for ships carrying supplies for the building of the Panama Canal.  But that is another story.
An advertisement for the Florida East Coast Railway and Hotels.
Image:  Flagler Museum
In addition to bringing in tourists, Flagler's railroads also brought in supplies for farmers and helped them ship their produce out of Florida.  By creating these new supporting facilities for both tourism and agriculture, the state really began to develop at a faster pace.  Flagler's contributions never wen unnoticed with the state's politicians, however;  as wife Ida Alice had to be institutionalized for mental illness in 1895, and New York did not allow divorce on the grounds of insanity, a change in Florida legislature allowed Flagler to be married a third time, to Mary Lily Kenan in 1901.
Mary Lily and Henry Flagler, 1910.
Image: Flagler Museum
Carrère and Hastings, who were the architects for the Standard Oil building in addition to having designed a library extension to Flagler's house in Mamaroneck, Long Island, and the previously mentioned Hotel Ponce de Leon, are best known for public buildings such as the New York Public Library, 1911. 

The monumental urns at the entrance to the New York Public Library
also designed by Carrère and Hastings.
But the firm was also noteworthy for their contributions to the country house & garden movement of the early 1900s, including Blairsden, 1898, in Peapack, New Jersey, and Nemours, 1910, in Wilmington, Delaware.  For city houses, few could compare to the Fifth Avenue home of Henry Clay Fick, 1912-14, now the Frick Collection and currently the subject of a controversial proposed museum expansion.

The World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago.
Image: Flagler Museum
Both John Carrère and Thomas Hastings had worked in the office of McKim, Mead & White, architects that epitomized The Gilded Age.  The World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893, with several buildings by McKim, Mead & White, was dominated by monumental, white, neoclassical buildings washed with electric light.  Since the fair was sponsored by the captains of industry, it is not a surprise that it inspired design of their new mansions.  The house as a symbol of the owner's appreciation of the arts was the goal of these homeowners wanting to express their social standing in Gilded Age Society.  Flager's desire to represent western culture as the ultimate expression could hardly have been better realized than it was with his building of Whitehall.

Whitehall under construction.
Image: Flagler Museum
The site, bought in 1893, was surveyed in July 1900 for the house completed for the arrival of Flagler and his third wife on February 6, 1902.  It was a time when European markets were filled with antiques, making it possible to create a vogue for Period Rooms.  That many of the purchases were new instead of old is beside the point in this case;  the intent was to express the belief in America as the culmination of western culture, and that did not require an authentic duplication.  Whitehall illustrates that combination of the classical tradition with the benefits of late nineteenth-century technology that was indicative of the times.  The Flaglers used Whitehall as a winter retreat during the months of January and February, traveling to Palm Beach by private railroad car.

The First Floor Plan of Whitehall
redrawn from the original 1/8 inch scale documents
to approximate 'as built' drawings.
Historic American Building Survey.
The Grand Hall essentially occupies the entire main block of the house, the whole length of the main floor behind the portico.  It is an impressive space, entered through ornate bronze and glass doors originally attended by a uniformed doorman 24 hours a day.  Amounting to 5,000 square feet of floor space according to the docent, the floor and walls are covered with seven varieties of marble. 
The Grand Hall, Whitehall.
Image:  Flagler Museum
There is no mistaking that it is a twentieth-century and not an eighteenth-century interior, however, because of the proportions.  The tour guides claim that Flagler asked that the ornate plaster ornamented and painted ceiling be dropped eight feet from the originally intended height to better relate to human scale.  That favoring of the horizontal was a characteristic of the period.  Not unusual during this time, the architects created the entrance hall, but the decoration of the other rooms was left to Pottier and Stymus, a New York City furniture and design firm prominent in the last half of the nineteenth century.

The Library, Whitehall.
Image:  Flagler Museum
At the south end of the Grand Hall, the Library in the Italian Renaissance style was decorated as a masculine space for Flagler to greet guests and business associates.  The lower half of the walls is covered with wood paneling or bookcases with glass doors and the upper half is covered with red damask.  The coffered ceiling is plaster, painted to match the wood.

The Music Room, Whitehall.
Image: Flagler Museum
The Music Room doubles as an art gallery, and also used for less formal functions such as bridge parties in addition to regular musical performances.  There was a resident organist each season to play the 1,249 pipe organ by J.H. & C.S. Odell Company, suppliers for many prominent churches.  The use of indirect electric lighting illuminating the copy of Guido Remi's "Aurora" in the central dome is an early use of that technology. 

The South Hall, Whitehall.
Image: Flagler Museum
Indirect lighting in the South Hall is also used to wash the ornate barrel vault ceiling.  Such subtle electric lighting was not common during this period.

The Courtyard, Whitehall, in 1972.
Photo: Historic American Building Survey.
The Courtyard, Whitehall,
as it appeared December, 2014.
Photo by John J. Tackett for The Devoted Classicist.
The central Courtyard was a critical feature for air circulation.  Here, the European tradition in the Caribbean, notably in Cuba, is observed.  The Flaglers sometimes used the space for open-air dinner parties.  The marble fountain portrays Venus, after the sculpture by Giovanni da Bologna for the Boboli Gardens in Florence.

The Grand Ballroom, Whitehall.
Image: Flagler Museum
A temporary fitted carpet covered the parquet floor of the Grand Ballroom at the time of my visit before New Year's Eve.  (There are now other rooms better suited for dancing, so this space is currently used on occassion for formal dinners).  Edward F. Caldwell & Co. made most of the light fixtures for Whitehall, including these chandeliers with Baccarat crystals and twelve sconces with fruit shaped crystals.

The Bal Poudre, March 5, 1903, Whitehall.
Image: Flagler Museum
The most famous party in the room occurred in 1903, the Bal Poudre given in honor of George Washington's birthday.  The New York Herald wrote that it was "one of the most sumptuous social affairs ever attempted south of Washington."

The Billiard Room, Whitehall.
Image: Flagler Museum
The Billiard Room was a popular gathering spot for gentlemen after dinner.  The interest in sport was a characteristic of the Gilded Age, making a masculine game room popular in mansion during this time.  Here the influence of the Arts & Crafts movement is evident in the decoration of the quarter-sawn oak wainscot and plaster beams painted to match.  The chimneypiece and window surrounds are Caen stone.  There is a record of the 1901 letter from Flagler to Stymus stating, "I have enlarged the billiard room considerably from the original plans."  In another letter, he asked for two spittoons for the Billiard Room, one for each of the Offices, and one for the Library.  But "Mrs. Flagler says she doesn't want any elsewhere in the house."

Mr. Flagler's Office, Whilehall.
Originally occupying the southwest corner of the house
adjacent to an office for his assistant, that space
was altered and is now used for the museum library.
The original Kitchen and Butler's Pantry were altered and that area is now used as business offices for the museum.

The Breakfast Room, Whitehall.
Image: Flagler Museum
The Breakfast Room, inspired by the State Dining Room at Warwick Castle, was used for everyday dining.

The Dining Room, Whitehall.
Image: Flagler Museum
The French Renaissance Revival style for the Dining Room was more appropriate than one might first imagine; a masculine décor was chosen because the room was often used by Flagler to entertain men prominent in financial and literary circles.  The parquet border was designed to the frame the carpet set in a recess.  The existing silk wallcovering is a reproduction of the original.
The Drawing Room, Whitehall
Image: Flagler Museum
The Drawing Room, at the north end of the Grand Hall and adjacent to the Dining Room, was designed in the Louis XVI Revival style just as one would expect in a neoclassical mansion of the early twentieth-century.  Mary Lily Flagler would entertain her friends here with music and conversation.  The Steinway piano was made especially for the room.  Panels of silk fabric that match the curtains are set within the painted paneling accented with aluminum leaf, a costly and rare material at the time.  (A coating of shellac has yellowed, giving it the appearance of Dutch leaf, however).
Returning to the Grand Hall, the excellent docent-led tour ends here.  The Second Floor of Whitehall along with the alterations and additions after the Flaglers' deaths will be presented in Part II, the next post of The Devoted Classicist.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Crème de la Crème

'Bunny Williams Silver Wire Cachepot'
Bunny Williams, the reining queen of lady decorators, hardly needs an endorsement from The Devoted Classicist for her extensive range of retail home furnishings.  But her new moderately-priced table top collection for Ballard Designs is especially noteworthy.  One stand-out for me, as a (self-proclaimed) ice cream connoisseur, is the cachepot designed to hold a pint container of the frozen treat.  Brass with a pewter-color finish and a removable stainless steel liner, who doesn't need at least one?  In my ideal world, they would be considered individual containers, but I will leave the necessary quantity for a gracious table to be determined by the host/hostess.  And yes, they can be used, instead, to hold flowers or greenery at other times.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Ronda Carman

The masthead from Ronda Rice Carman's blog
All The Best
The internationally-renown writer and home-furnishing fabrics entrepreneur Ronda Rice Carman is coming to speak as guest of Decorative Arts Trust to Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Saturday, January 17, 2015, 10:30 am.  A part of the Trust's education programs to promote the decorative arts, the event is open to the public and free with regular museum admission.
Ronda Carman
Photo via All the Best
Ronda may be best known for her extremely popular blog ALL THE BEST | A PASSPORT TO STYLISH LIVING.  The blog gives an up-to-date survey of the happenings in design, fashion, food, and travel, providing an invaluable lifestyle guide to her followers world-wide. 
Drawing on her experiences while living in Scotland, Ronda has introduced an exceptional line of fabrics marketed to the interior design trade as Ronda Carman Fine Fabrics.  Collections include inspirations from men's suiting and a contemporary twist on traditional plaids, plus the most luxurious leathers in a wide range of colors. 

Ronda has also reached a wide audience of appreciative readers with her book DESIGNERS AT HOME: PERSONAL REFLECTIONS ON STYLISH LIVING.  The book profiles fifty contemporary interior designers including Bunny Williams, Barry Dixon, and Charlotte Moss, and gives a tour of their own homes, illustrating their design philosophies with over 300 color photos.  Copies of the book will be available for purchase at the event with all the proceeds benefiting Decorative Arts Trust.  There will be a book-signing and a chance to personally meet and have a few words with Ronda as well.

For more information on the event, see the Calendar of Events on the website of Decorative Arts Trust here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas

A sketch by John Tackett Design
for the Small Dining Room of a new house
proposed for Palm Beach, Florida.
The Devoted Classicist
There is a long tradition, over 35 years now, of my making my own holiday greeting cards.  Some have been printed with rubber stamps and one year, the fold-out cards were printed using the diazo process, the ammonia vapor "blue-line" print that was used for architectural drawing reproduction at the time.  There was even a linoleum block print one year.  But by far the most common printing was done by photo-copying my own sketch, using the common Xerox machine and card stock.  Usually, a bit of color was added with felt-tipped watercolor pens.  The image here was colored with Prismacolor pencils with the wreath added to the bust just for illustration of this post of The Devoted Classicist.
Image via MapQuest.
A John Tackett Design project is often the subject illustrated for the cover of the card.  In recent years, however, it has sometimes been an unrealized project.  That commission may have been "put on hold," a status used more often than a definite cancellation.  So, the holiday card illustration was an opportunity to revive an old sketch, with a wreath or Christmas tree added, to get one more chance to spark some interest.  Such is the case this year.

Image via Christian Angle Real Estate.
The scope of the project was to do a preliminary study to build a new house on a vacant waterside lot at 488 Island Drive, on Everglades Island on the Intercoastal Waterway.

Image via Christian Angle Real Estate.
The site is a little over a half-acre with water frontage on two sides.  There are views to the Lake Worth Lagoon and the marina to the north, and to the golf course of the exclusive Everglades Club to the east.  The vacant land is still available, at this writing, and can be yours for $9,975,000.  And if you do decide to buy it, please feel free to contact me.  I have some great ideas for it.

Best wishes to all my Devoted Readers for a very merry Christmas and the happiest New Year ever!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

LaGrange, Tennessee

Immanuel Episcopal Church,
LaGrange, Tennessee, in a mid-1970s view.
Image by John Tackett/The Devoted Classicist.
About fifty miles east of Memphis is a charming community that I have known all my life since it was on the way to my father's hometown.  However, my first views were limited to the buildings along the highway that I could see from the backseat at 70 miles an hour.
A map of LaGrange, Tennessee, 1862.
U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
But by the time I was old enough to chauffeur my parents, I took advantage of the rule of The Driver's Perogative and would cruise slowly through the town and even detour to some of the side streets of LaGrange.

Historic view of LaGrange, Tennessee.
It is an area where early habitation has been documented.  A few artifacts have been found dating back about 15,000 years when the land was still covered by the Pleistocene glacier.  Many more artifacts have been found to show occupation during the Archaic Period that followed.  The Chickasaw Nation, formed around the mid-1500s, was centered in towns in north Mississippi, and used what is now west Tennessee as hunting grounds.  A trading post called Itey Uch La which meant "cluster of pines" occupied the site located on a high bluff above the Wolf River until the controversial purchase of the area in 1818 that relocated the Chickasaws to the West.  The town of LaGrange, located in Fayette County, was named in honor of the home of the French hero of the Revolutionary War, Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette.  The town was surveyed in 1822 and laid out with 225 lots.  A post office was established in 1828 and the town was chartered in 1829.

Woodlawn Plantation, LaGrange, TN
was built in 1832 just past the eastern border of the town.
It served as General Sherman's headquarters in 1862.
Photo via
Also known as LaBelle Village, the town of over 2,000 occupants enjoyed prosperity before the Civil War.  But over a three year period of occupation by as many as 30,000 Union troops almost devastated the town.  Some of the houses were conscripted for official use and as many as 40 were partially dismantled for salvaged materials for the occupying troops.  Economic depression prevented much building after the war, and a fire destroyed most of the west side of Main Street in 1873.  The Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878 also contributed to the lack of growth.  The Cyclone (tornado) of 1900 wiped out most of the remaining commercial buildings which were never replaced, resulting in a lack of businesses.  There are a couple of churches and a collection of handsome houses however.

Immanuel Episcopal Church
LaGrange, Tennessee.
Photo by John Tackett/The Devoted Classicist.
The most significant architectural survivor is Immanuel Episcopal Church.  Organized in 1832 after a 52 year old widow, Mrs. Mary Hayes Willis Gloster, rode horseback with her son-in-law to Franklin, Tennessee, to seek help from her godson, Reverend James Hervey Otey, later to become the first Bishop of Tennessee, as there were no churches in the area of LaGrange. 

The floor plan of Immanuel Episcopal Church.
HABS drawing.
Built by slaves, the cornerstone was laid May 9, 1840, and consecrated for worship in 1843.  Although no architect was credited, it is a handsome building, especially considering the relative isolation.  (The railroad passing through the town, linking Charleston and Memphis, the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River, was completed in  1857.  See an earlier post of The Devoted Classicist for the nearby town of Holly Springs, Mississippi which prospered from a link to the railroad at the adjacent town of Grand Junction).  The church is said to be a closely inspired by the Gloster family's former Immanuel Church in Warrenton, North Carolina.

The front elevation of Immanuel Episcopal Church,
LaGrange, Tennessee.  HABS drawing.
The front of the church is austere, with only the double doors flanked by shallow niches, more like blind windows.  There was to be a belfry, and the original hand-hewn structural framing shows this intention, but it was never built.

The roof framing of Immanuel Episcopal Church.
HABS drawing.
There was a campaign in the nineteen-teens that raised money to add a belfry tower, but it was decided to donate the funds, instead, to support charitable efforts related to the Great War (World War I).  In the 1970s, an abstract bell tower was built adjacent but separate from the building.

The east side of Immanuel Episcopal Church
showing the 1970s bell tower adjacent.
Photo by John Tackett/The Devoted Classicist.
The sides of the church are more attractive than the front, however.  The hand-made brick laid in Flemish bond provide a handsome background for stucco-covered, simple pilasters, long gothick ogee-head windows and louvered shutters.  (The existing window sash date from a 1968 restoration; they are similar to, but not an exact match of, the original).
A comparison of replacement vs. original
window sash at Immanuel Episcopal Church.
HABS photo.
Inside, the sanctuary measures 50'-4" x 36'-3" with the original 20'-2" ceiling height restored after the removal of a late 19th century vaulted wood ceiling.  A balcony spans the front end of the space, one of the few slave galleries ever built in this region.

East-West Section through Immanuel Episcopal Church.
HABS drawing.
The interior of Immanuel Episcopal Church
looking towards the front.
Photo by John Tackett/The Devoted Classicist.
The North-South section through the church
showing the original window sash.
HABS drawing.
At the other end, the original mahogany cross which had been removed for safe-keeping during the Civil War, has been returned to its intended location above the alter.  The original cruets are placed on a shelf adjacent.

View to the alter from the gallery.
Photo by John Tackett/The Devoted Classicist.
Another view of the alter of
Immanuel Episcopal Church.
Photo by John Tackett/The Devoted Classicist.
During the Yankee occupation, the church was used first as a hospital, then as a warehouse.  The pews were removed and, according to written accounts, the wood was used for coffins.  The wainscot was burned as firewood.  The replacements are said to approximate the design of the original.  The flooring of pine boards 7 1/4" to 7 1/2" wide is original.

Replacement pews, wainscot and windows
approximate the original designs.
Photo by John Tackett/The Devoted Classicist.
The Vestry was replaced after the Civil War.  A half-bath was added in the 1968 restoration.  Central heating and air-conditioning was added at that time as well.

In September, I had the opportunity to visit Immanuel Episcopal Church with three sisters from St. Mary's Convent, an Episcopal Benedictine monastery for women in Sewanee, Tennessee, and a contingent from St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral, Memphis.  It was part of an annual observance each year honoring Constance and Her Companions, the Martyrs of Memphis.  We were given a history of the church by its most gracious warden, Nora Whitmer, the source for much of this information.

Cedar Hall, LaGrange, Tennessee.
Front (South) Elevation.
Photo by John Tackett/The Devoted Classicist.
Afterwards, we were fortunate to be invited to visit the warden's home, Cedar Hall, surely the most charming in a village of lovely homes.  The small cottage dating from about 1831 was sensitively enlarged with additions flanking either side of the original, plus an extension to the rear that also provided a wrap-around porch.

The East side of Cedar Hall, LaGrange,
showing the additions.
Photo by John Tackett/The Devoted Classicist.
For those considering an outing, there are currently no commercial establishments in LaGrange.  However, a no-frills meal can be had at Junction Café about 8 miles to the east on Highway 57 W in Grand Junction.  Unfortunately, their specialty, BBQ, was not available at the time of our visit, but comes highly recommended.  For more information on LaGrange, visit the town's website, a reference used for this essay.