The 1940s brought enormous change to houses on this block of Bellevue Avenue as Gilded Age glamour faded due to demolitions, fire, and acquisition of many properties for use by schools. Increasing income and real estate taxes and a changing lifestyle in post-World War II America made the grand houses of Newport appear as relics from another era. Newport was seen as a fading beauty. Built in 1902 for an estimated $2 million, Rosecliff sold in 1941 for only $21,000. Whitney Cottage, to the north of Rosecliff, burned in 1942. The Hatch Preparatory School and Vernon Court Junior College acquired many houses in the 1960s at a time when they were viewed as expensive tax burdens and no longer practical as private residences. By the 1980s, a revival of the block occurred due to a renewed interest in ownership of historic estates.
1. ? Rosecliff
(1899 - 1902)
Architects : McKim, Mead and White
· To make way for a grander Rosecliff, Mrs. Oelrichs purchased and demolished the wooden cottage (c. 1852) of George Bancroft, noted diplomat, historian and horticulturalist famed for his roses.
· Nevada silver heiress Theresa Fair Oelrichs hired noted architect Stanford White to create this rendition of the Grand Trianon (1697), King Louis XIV's retreat in the gardens of his palace at Versailles. Gilded Age Newport's most spectacular parties took place at Rosecliff, such as the White Ball of 1906, when Mrs. Oelrichs moored a fleet of mock white ships off the coast. In 1913, Mrs. Oelrichs dressed as Mother Goose to greet guests to her Fairy Tales Ball.
· In 1941, the Oelrichs family sold Rosecliff to singer Gertrude Neissen for $21,000. Left unattended, the house suffered severe water damage. Mr. Ray Alan Van Clief carefully repaired Rosecliff but was killed in an automobile accident en route to spend his first night at the house. Mr. and Mrs. J. Edgar Monroe of New Orleans, the last private owners of Rosecliff, donated the house to the Preservation Society in 1971.
· Rosecliff's romantic and theatrical qualities made it a perfect setting for motion pictures, such as The Great Gatsby (1973).
2. ? By the Sea
Architect : George Champlin Mason, Sr.
· Mr. and Mrs. August Belmont built this Italianate style villa. Mr. Belmont, originally from Germany, was a U.S. agent of the powerful Rothschild bank. His wife, Caroline, was a daughter of Newport's Commodore Matthew Perry, who opened the ports of Japan to American trade in 1854.
· The Belmonts were the first to bring glamour and grand living to Newport in the 1860s as the town became a fashionable summer resort. The worldly August Belmont and his beautiful wife inspired the fictional couple, the Beauforts, in Edith Wharton's 1921 Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Age of Innocence, which used Newport's cottages as a backdrop.
· The Belmont's son August Jr. depleted his fortune by investing in New York subway system and the Cape Cod Canal, later bought by the U.S. government. The Belmonts' second son, Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, married Alva Vanderbilt after her 1895 divorce from W. K. Vanderbilt.
· "Parteere" (1997-1999) now occupies this site.
3. ? Seacliff
Architect : Frederick Rhinelander King
· Christopher Wolfe of New York built an Italianate house called The Reefs on this site in 1853.
· Mr. and Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney owned the house from 1896 to 1942. Mrs. Whitney was born Gertrude Vanderbilt. She became a noted sculptor and founded the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Her modernist studio (1939) still stands on Cliff Walk at the edge of this property.
· Newport architect Frederick Rhinelander King designed the present Colonial Revival style house called Seacliff, in 1953 for Mr. and Mrs. Reginald B. Rives.
4. ? Sunnylea
(1881 - 1882)
Architect : Dudley Newton
· Mr. and Mrs. Charles F. Chickering of New York built the Queen Anne Revival Style Sunnylea. Mr. Chickering worked with his father, Jonas, the founder of the famed Chickering Piano Company.
· Newport architect Dudley Newton received his first grand house commission with the Sunnylea project. Newton apprenticed with the notable Newport designer George Champlin Mason, a builder of many Newport summer houses and author of Newport and Its Cottages (1875).
· Typical of many Newport houses, Sunnylea had several owners, including the Hatch Preparatory School (1959-1961) and Vernon Court Junior College (1964-1970). Today, the house is again a private residence.
5. ? Ivy Tower
Architect/Builder : J.D. Johnston
· Harriet Pond was one of eight New Yorkers building houses in 1887 during Newport's cottage construction boom.
· The picturesque Queen Anne Revival Style was the height of fashion for Newport houses in the 1880s until the arrival of the classically-inspired formally planned great mansions of the 1890s, such as neighboring Rosecliff (1902).
· Hatch Preparatory School purchased Ivy Tower in 1959. The school owned six Newport houses in the late 1950s at a time when these buildings were viewed as tax burdens.
· Today the house is again a private residence. A new house was built on land to the north in 2007.
6. ? Sherwood
Architects : George Champlin Mason;
remodeled by Francis L.V. Hoppin
· Newport architect George Champlin Mason designed a Stick Style house in 1872 for Loring Andrews of New York, a self-made leather goods merchant and banker.
· Sugar refining magnate Theodore A. Havemeyer, of New York, acquired the house in 1880, renamed it Freidheim, and remodeled it in the Queen Anne Revival Style.
· Pembroke and Sarah Jones of North Carolina bought Freidheim in 1906, renamed it Sherwood, and hired architect. Francis Hoppin to remodel it in the Georgian Revival style.
· Noted for their lavish lifestyle, the Joneses hosted the engagement party for John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier at Sherwood.
· Sherwood became apartments in 1971.
Voices from the Past
"Among all Newport's stately summer palaces, Rosecliff stood out as one of the most glittering white elephants of them all . . . Theresa Fair Oelrichs began building Rosecliff when there were already some mighty mansions to surpass . . .Into Rosecliff she packed what Henry James called the ?loot of Europe' . . . last week, house and furnishing were auctioned."
"The Dismantling of Newport" in Time Magazine, July 28, 1941
" . . .they stand in stately rows along Bellevue Avenue in Newport, RI, once ?the richest street in the world.' Since the passing of the Gilded Age that these houses symbolize, two wars, a long depression, high income taxes and a shortage of servants have dimmed Newport's splendor. The doors of these villas will never be opened again."
"Life Visits a Fading Newport" in Life Magazine, October 16, 1944
Bellevue Avenue: A Preservation History
This marker is a joint project of The Newport Restoration Foundation and The Preservation Society of Newport County.
Bellevue Avenue National Historic Landmark District
Bellevue Avenue is a treasury of American architecture from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Generations of the nation's leading architects made Newport a laboratory for design during the city's "cottage" construction boom. This remarkable architectural legacy in American culture was almost lost through demolitions and neglect during the latter half of the 20th century.
This self guided walking tour consists of several history markers along both sides of Bellevue Avenue. Most of the buildings on this tour are private residences. Please respect their privacy.
The Bellevue Avenue History Marker Project is sponsored by The Preservation Society of Newport County, a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to preserving Newport's architectural heritage.
For more stories and photos of the architecture, history and preservation of Bellevue Avenue, visit www.NewportMansions.org and click on education.