Thursday, September 8, 2011

'Idle Hour'

'Idle Hour', the William K. Vanderbilt estate designed by Richard Howland Hunt of Hunt & Hunt c. 1899 in Oakdale. Click HERE for more on 'Idle Hour' and HERE to see the brochure from when 'Idle Hour' was for sale.

22 comments:

magnus said...

It looks a bit better grainy and from a distance.

The Down East Dilettante said...

and with a tad of natural landscape around it. As well built, as big, and as odd and ugly as they come.

John J. Tackett said...

This blog has the best comments! I was trying to think of what the house reminded me of. Of course, a railroad station! I also appreciated the earlier commenter's link to the college site. The house is relatively intact except for the cloister?

The Ancient said...

If Dante returned to repopulate the Inferno for a modern audience, what would he do with all those third and fourth generation Vanderbilts?

(How about a perpetually-burning SRO in Hell's Kitchen, where they could be eternally abused by the Commodore for squandering his fortune? Too urban? How about a small trailer in one of Staten Island's less fashionable neighborhoods? Or even some vast and desolate construction site, where they could wander endlessly, proclaiming, "Don't you know who we were?")

Anonymous said...

I know I'm the minoritity on this site, but I like this building. I like the gothic feel of it...maybe that's the ugliness you all speak of?

Doug Floor Plan said...

Ancient, I suspect you have read ‘Fortune’s Children’ by Arthur T. Vanderbilt II – interesting book although it buys into some stories about the family that I believe are myths. But at the end it quotes a December 6, 1877, ‘New York Daily Tribune’ editorial which I quote in part:

“The Vanderbilt case is an impressive lesson in the folly of attempting to ‘found a family’ upon no better basis than the possession of money. … What becomes of all these stupendous fortunes? Most of them vanish as quickly as they came.’

‘… we have little doubt that in the course of a few years, it will go the way of most American fortunes; a multitude of heirs will have the spending of it … and if he [Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt] ever revisits the earth to look after what he had so much at heart in his last years, he will be satisfied that the art of founding a family was one of the things that he did not know.”

Of course the editorialist in 1877 could not foresee two world wars, a great depression, & the passage of income & inheritance tax speeding things along; but even if the third generation Vanderbilts (like the one who built ‘Idle Hour’) could see what was coming I wonder if it would have even slowed them down.

I agree with DED about this house being well built, big, & odd; but I don't know if it's ugly because it is so odd.

The Ancient said...

DFP --

I think I previously recommended The First Tycoon by T. J. Stiles. It's very, very good on The Commodore himself.

(Wendy Burden would have profited from a reading of it.)

The Down East Dilettante said...

LOL, no Doug, it's not ugly because it's odd, it's ugly because it's ugly.

Interesting that with Richard Morris Hunt, Alva & Willie built two of the masterpieces of the age (Marble House, the masterpiece on 5th Avenue, then after divorce, with the Hunt sons, they built some of the oddest houses of the age (Brookholt, Idle Hour...)

Although I do have quite a bit of affection for the Hollywood/fairytale excess of Beacon Towers

Ancient, at a recent dinner party at neighbors of the Burden's in Northeast Harbor, I was amused to note that Wendy Burden's book is still a subject of amused controversy

Anonymous said...

I agree on Brookholt, but I still feel Idle Hour is an interesting, and unique piece of architecture.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Indeed, a railroad station. I've always shivered when looking at this house. Utterly unpleasant, hamfisted, and it isn't just fireproof, it actually looks fireproof, which is a pity. What was Hunt thinking of? Could Alva Belmont have bought him off so he wouldn't design anything wonderful for her former husband? Certainly his second wife, Anne Rutherfurd, wouldn't have stood for this monstrosity being built on her watch.

The Down East Dilettante said...

So true about Anne Rutherford, Aesthete. She certainly made her own preferences known in her lovely little Georgian house in Sutton Place.

Doug Floor Plan said...

Hmmm, Zach, since this is your site -- would YOU like to opine on whether 'Idle Hour' is ugly or something other than ugly? [DFP smiled as he typed]

The Down East Dilettante said...

Of course, bottom line, the Hunt brothers, although they could be as lavish as their father, just didn't have the feeling for form and proportion that their father did.

Just for fun, I give the other end of the Hunt brother's spectrum, a shingle/colonial revival summer house here Down East, rather stiff and ponderous in its way also, compared to some of its far more graceful and organic neighbors (and incidentally, it is now owned by Zbignew Brezinski). As I said, basically the Hunt Brothers were just a little heavy handed, even with Maine summer shingles.

http://www.mountdesertislandrealestate.com/product.php?productid=16909&cat=453&page=1

verification word 'smoxi', a favorite camprire treat of marshmallows and graham crackers marinated in Moxie

Doug Floor Plan said...

LOL DED, but the Realtor's listing says, "'Tranquility Base' is a classic, beautiful, shingled Maine Coast summer home, strong in character, and gracious in style."

But of course you are correct about it being stiff & ponderous -- if you remove the one porch & encase it in brick you could drop it on many a suburban street & it would belong there.

About 'Idle Hour' -- I'll concede it probably is ugly for a house; but if I saw a photo of the front & was told it was an old library (or train station) I'd think, "That's an odd but interesting look for a library."

But I also think lava lamps are kind of retro-cool.

The Down East Dilettante said...

I think Lava lamps are kind of cool too, as long as they're someone else's.

And Tranquility Base to me looks like many of the schoolhouses of the era around here. It's a perfectly pleasant house, but it doesn't just melt into its site the way one would like--stiff. Compare with its next door neighbor, by Peabody & Stearns:

http://www.visionappraisal.com/photos/MountDesertMEPhotos//00/00/27/48.jpg

Lodi said...

Anon 9:16 - I thought maybe I was the only one who liked this house.

DFP - I love lava lamps, especially the old ones they were way cooler than the new ones.

Turner Pack Rats said...

DED - now you've got my mouth watering for one of those smoxies. sounds wicked good.
i can't believe that not one of you whiners and architectural critics never once mentioned the extremely opulent interiors. sure the outside is a little quirky but do all these piles have to have that overblown pseudo tara look to please you. i like quirky and i definitely like those interiors esp. the wood panelling and the fireplaces but the interior has many other goodies too that make this place absolutely spectacular. as if there were a single one of you out there who wouldn't move in tomorrow if they gave you the place with taxes and utilities included for life. maybe that high horse will throw you on your butt.

security word def - "phicele - Al Quaeda fraternity as in that very popular Islamic song "The Sweethear of Sigma Phi

Doug Floor Plan said...

TPR, I'm glad you like this house & aren't shy about saying so -- it's another example that one-size does not in fact fit all. I think anyone who didn't like the house didn't mention the interiors because they didn't like those either. While I admire the workmanship inside I don't think the interiors are attractive.

As far as moving in if I were given the house remember the next generation of Vanderbilts inherited these houses free & clear & furnished & still didn't want them.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Doug, I have mixed emotions about the interiors. Finest workmanship money can buy, but mostly ponderous. In other words, wonderful but wonky. The living room fireplace is just marvelously over the top (but not pretty), and the living room ceiling makes me a little nervous. The interiors lack the wonderful circulation and sense of endless perspective that characterizes Hunt senior's houses (as I keep saying, the boys weren't nearly the planners that their father was).

And, though the Vanderbilts have given up most of the houses, it is worth noting that they still own Shelburne, and Biltmore, and owned the Breakers until the early 70's, and still maintain an apartment there on the third floor.

Zach said...

DFP...for what it's worth...'Idle Hour' is not what I would have come up with had I been in W.K.'s shoes but I don't dislike it. It's certainly an interesting deviation from the rest of OLI.

Anonymous said...

Glad I'm not the only one who likes "Idle Hour", I was starting to get a complex. As for the interiors, I especailly love the staircase.

Lodi said...

I would take it in a heart beat. But then like my Mom says it's the Bohemian in me. You're just like your father! :)