Thursday, July 5, 2012

'Winfield Hall' Special Part 4

'Winfield Hall', the Frank Winfield Woolworth estate designed by C.P.H. Gilbert c. 1916 in Glen Cove.  Today's photos show the staircase as you make your way from the first to the second floor.  Click HERE for more on 'Winfield Hall'.  Photos courtesy of Eddie Crowley.






These photos were taken with expressed permission.  Winfield Hall is a private residence with no public access.

40 comments:

magnus said...

It's sobriquet has always been "the million dollar staircase". I wonder if there is any basis in fact for that. It sure is a lot of marble.

magnus said...

My beloved iPad auto incorrected "its"to "it's" above. Sorry.

The Ancient said...

Woolworth died two years after construction. So if the staircase cost two million, what was the likely per trip charge for each ascent/descent?

Or did he just use the elevator?

magnus said...

Zach: I passed by Winfield Hall this morning and I can get a pretty good shot of the garden balustrade from the north, showing the garden floodlights. If the photo is taken from the road (no trespassing, God forbid), could you post it for those who might be interested?

Zach said...

Absolutely. You know where to send it.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Magnus, newspaper reporting a hundred years ago was even more unreliable then now--even my beloved New York Times was worse---and nothing sold papers like reporting that a mogul had spent this or that sum on this or that folly. When true cost records survive---building permits, contractor's records, etc.---the actual figure, before adjusting for inflation and building costs, is always disappointing compared to the urban legend. In short, no way that hall ate up a million bucks, though obviously it would chew up a couple of million today---and not be as well executed.

(As I've researched my book, I've been astonished at some of the real cost figures vs. legend. Just for example, in 1917 in Bar Harbor, Edith Vanderbilt Fabbri built a new cottage on the foundation of her burned cottage which had been designed by Grosvenor Atterbury. the new cottage 165 feet long, had a total of five levels including walkout basement and entresol in the servants wing. It was stucco with stone trim and a tile roof, 170 feet long. There were 36 rooms and 11 bathrooms, simple but fine interior finish, including a renaissance chimneypiece or two and some coffered ceilings. The building permit? $80,000 1917 dollars (remember, they were able to re-use the old foundation). Next door at her uncle Fred's cottage, interior renovations including a marble staircase with bronze railing came to 58,000. These are both about the time the Woolworth House was built---simpler houses, but not significantly smaller, and no less well equipped in terms of services than Woolworth's. And as for Uncle Fred's estate at Hyde Park, finished a dozen years before Woolworth, and certainly exactly comparable in terms of palatial quality, the total cost figures for the whole shebang came in at under a million. The largest house in Maine, stone and half timber, but with a total of six floor levels and 68 to 103 rooms, depending on who is reporting, but with nothing particularly luxurious in the way of interior finishes, but everything best of quality, came in at 467,000 1916 dollars. I present all this as a reminder of how skeptical we have to be in separating fact from fiction, and the human desire to be impressed. And remember, half a million in 1916 was a fortune beyond imagination for the 99% of the day

archibuff said...

Fantastic staircase whatever the price. Like Joseph Delamar of Pembroke, Woolworth did not have many years to enjoy his palatial home either. Great photos once again.

Magnus while you are at it can you also take some photos of the contractors the Careys hired to repair the leaking roof, collapsing west portico, fix the damaged interior plaster work throughout the house and rebuild the crumbling terraces, staircases and garden structures? Might be easier if I asked you to shoot a unicorn.

The Down East Dilettante said...

I couldn't help but notice the cheap lumberyard French doors in the music room---clearly old materials have not been either replaced with comparable or repaired to standard. But I digress.

The real story here is that the shockingly low survival rate of CPH Gilbert clients after building. One assumes that they died of terminal buyer's remorse ("If only we'd spent the extra money for Carrere and Hastings, or gone with that new firm, Delano & Aldrich...")

l'il gay boy said...

Now, now, DED!

I seem to recall that the same place I read about the $2M staircase indicated that there was supposedly something special about the type of marble that justified the "cost", and that the total bill for Winfield Hall, including furnishings, was reportedly $11M (the same price-tag as the Woolworth Building going up in downtown at the time.

Apocryphal? Methinks so.

Whatever the true price, it is one of the most spectacular stair-halls in America.

The Down East Dilettante said...

$11 million is also the figure attached to Marble House, whose much handsomer stair hall is the precursor of this one. Also likely apocryphal

I was having a conversation with the Director of our state historic preservation commission just a couple of days ago. We were discussing how quickly bad facts and wishful thinking enter the lore and become accepted as gospel as they are spread by eager acolytes, the very ones who caused the confusion, usually.

Woolworth Buildng really did cost 11 million. Chances are the house was significantly less. All quite amazing when one considers, as I said above, that the truth is usually pretty impressive without embellishment.

The Ancient said...

Coutesy of HPHS, a link to a 1916 article about Woolworth, which includes pictures of the previous house.

http://books.google.com/books?pg=PA345&id=WwE7AQAAIAAJ#v=onepage&q&f=true

(My favorite part -- The claim that Woolworth "is untainted by the slightest hint of ostentation.")

BillinMI said...

What is known of the Carey's intent with this estate? Is he hoping to sell or transform it into something commercial? In my limited experience, the amount listed in the public record for building permits (which are executed prior to construction) rarely match the end total cost of any given job. In fact, many owners hope for a lower amount to be listed to limit any increase by the taxing authorities. I would not think these amounts to be reflective of true costs. That being said, I suppose this just adds to the ability to embelish costs over time. These photos certainly show us a fine quality of materials, whatever the true cost at the time.

The Ancient said...

The other thing that must have contributed to the expense is the extraordinary speed with which it was built, following the destruction by fire of the previous house. That article linked above suggests that the new house was conceived immediately after the fire, and was nearing completion just six months later.

archibuff said...

The Preservation Society of Newport says contemporary accounts have Marble House reportedly costing $11M or which $7M was for the marble alone, so considering the size of marble clad Winfield Hall, plus the marble stairhall, the numbers whether totally accurate or not should be comparable to Marble House for materials and indeed the rush to complete the home must have added to the considerable expense. Yet whether 11, 7, 5 or 3 is what it took to get the place finished, I say Woolworth got his money's worth.

In addition, some cost quotes from this era include furnishings and artwork when today, one would only consider the costs related to the construction and even that sometimes is not a true picture of changes, cost overruns and extras paid for long after the majority of construction has ended.

magnus said...

BillinMi- Cary has had the house listed for sale for astronomical sums for years- $24Million when last I heard. He turned down an offer for $16 Million from a doctor who wanted to use it as a rest home for those recovering from plastic surgery. Despite the entrities of his neighbors and an appeal to his equally delusional family, the offer was declined as insufficient. This was four or five years ago, and the place has deteriorated significantly from then. The house is landmarked, but I firmly believe that it is unsalable at any price. The neighbors won't permit re-zoning for true commercial use- catering hall or hotel- and it's impossible to believe that a private owner could be found who would be willing to restored the blasted thing. So there it sits, an blight on the neighborhood.

Kellsboro Jack said...

Regarding the marble stairs I'll toss this into the mix - Canterbury Court outside of Warrenton, VA. It has a jaw dropping (for looks, design and engineering feat) three story Carrera Marble flying staircase.

(You can see the stairs in the listing link)

http://franklymls.com/FQ7628656

Built between 1932- 1936 and designed by the Chicago architectural firm of Walcott and Work. In 1939, Canterbury was named "one of the two most beautiful homes in America" by the American and French Society of Architects, and featured in the French magazine Le Illustration.

And according to Kitty Slater's 1967 "The Hunt Country of America Revisited," total construction cost for the mansion and grounds (designed by Ferruccio Vitale) at Canterbury was $7 million. Even that estimate likely was inflated a bit.

With LI being far more easy to transport marble than east of nowhere Fauquier Co. Virginia and more plentiful skilled labor I simply cannot imagine $2M dropped for strictly the Winfield's stair hall. Architectural legend. Either Woolworth was happy to be fleeced or thought it was worth it for a dinner party story.

HalfPuddingHalfSauce said...

The eternally grateful owners were swept away to heaven to extol the merits of The Genius. They stand at the Pearly Gates barring all non-believers.

A lot of the cost for the staircase was the effort involved in attaining the matched or "butterfly" effect on the marble panels.

I posted this question on my site - Common practice was to have a architect design the basic shell and have a interior decorator do the interior furnishings. Gilbert and Hofstratter in Winfield Halls case. Trumbauer and L. Alavoine for Whitemarsh Hall. Would Gilbert take credit or blame for the staircase?

l'il gay boy said...

"A lot of the cost for the staircase was the effort involved in attaining the matched or "butterfly" effect on the marble panels."

That rings a bell with me -- don't the refer to that as either "booking" or "book matching" or even "folio" depending on the material?

Still, it is one of the loveliest, whitest-of-white white elephants around...

The Ancient said...

HPHS --

I remember making what may have seemed like outlandishly expensive suggestions to the architect I used in the country. He always reacted in the same way. First, his eyes lit up like dollar signs. And second, he did just as I suggested and then took all the credit for himself.

So when I look at the staircase -- and recalling what that 1916 article says about Woolworth knowing just what he wanted to do before the ashes of the old house were cold -- I tend to think it's mostly the owner's idea. Both the staircase itself and the costly materials used to adorn it. And Gilbert was just as happy to take the credit as he was the money.

l'il gay boy said...

I seem to recall that there was some novelty about the construction process itself (not just the fact that the plans seemed to be completed & waiting in the wings for the ash to cool)...

...something about one of the first instances of round-the-clock construction, through the winter & spring, including huge light to illuminate the construction site.

Did Gilbert kill your MeeMaw or something?

;-)

BillinMI said...

Thank you, Magnus for the Carey backstory. Very unfortunate indeed. LGB, I have also heard of "book matched" marble and granite and believe it refers to pieces cut from the same slab that can be placed to create a mirror image effect; veining can continue and appear unbroken, etc. Let's hope Carey gets a price he can accept and that a new owner begins a restoration.

HalfPuddingHalfSauce said...

From my YouTube video on Winfield Hall - The $2 million marble hall and staircase had a Adams style coffered ceiling in Wedgewood bisque Royal blue and 22-carat gold. Grey Sienna marble custom cut and placed creating a butterfly effect in the marble design. I think the cost is more then the stairs what ever the figure is.

Kellsboro Jack said...

I should tone down my remark before with being "fleeced" in the context of $2M for the stairs.

Obviously the craftsmanship is there with the Winfield staircase and it is visually impressive (albeit a bit too cool for me to call lovely) so whatever the payment was it's continued to marvel viewers.

magnus said...

HPHS- I misinformed you yesterday. I had a good look see today and it appears that pretty much all the garden ornament and most of the garden structures are of poured concrete and not marble or granite.

I'll go out on a limb here and subject myself to endless derision, I'm sure, but I think that the stairhall is actually not bad. In person, it has a lightness and grace wholly lacking in the rest of the house (one man's opinion). Living in North Country Colony, an epicenter of sorts of Gilbert's work, it's about the only interior of his that I find appealing.

magnus said...

By the way, book matching marble has had something of a revival with those hedge fund fortunes fueling it. I saw an amazing bathroom photographed in Architectural Digest a year or so ago, all tricked out in book matched grey marble. I was redoing my bathroom at the time and cut out the photo which I showed to my designer with instructions that it was exactly what I wanted. He just laughed at me. Seriously.

The Ancient said...

magnus --

Next time you want to do something like that, call this guy instead:

http://www.robsonworldwidegraining.com/9215.html

(Wasn't that the work of a Famous Lady Decorator in Palm Beach? Young hedgies are such chumps.)

archibuff said...

"I'll go out on a limb here and subject myself to endless derision, I'm sure, but I think that the stairhall is actually not bad. In person, it has a lightness and grace wholly lacking in the rest of the house (one man's opinion)."

Now now, I would go further out on that limb and suggest it is beautifully executed. Maybe not to everyones taste, but who cares. I even suggest the interiors can only be appreciated in person when you can see the amazing details and workmanship involved. So while Winfield Hall is ostentatious, I again say who cares, it is one of the best intact interiors remaining on Long Island of its period, despite the current crazy deluded owners inactions and neglect.

And while I am out on the edge of the branch, I would also say the odds are fairly good that Woolworth himself lit the torch that sent his old wood and stucco place up in flames only to have his construction crew on the site the very next day to start the rebuilding of the home he truly wanted. Considering he desperately wanted DeLamar's waterfront property and was denied that, I am sure once he got wind of the palace being constructed there, he just had to have an equally grand home himself. Nothing wrong stroking ones ego and if he could afford it, which he could, can't imagine a better way to spend it.

The Down East Dilettante said...

You don't need to be afraid out there Magnus...my chainsaw needs oiling (but I am from Maine, and we're born knowing how to use 'em.

Actually, the stair hall is perfectly handsome, if cold. The workmanship is first rate---but I still hate seeing expensive and ornate confused with great design. They are two different things.

The Down East Dilettante said...

PS. That ceiling is many things, but Adam isn't one of them. Not by two centuries and a couple of countries.

archibufff said...

Confusion? Hello? Anyone out there confused? I was just checking?

Also as a note to Zach, I would suggest mandatory weekly CPH posts. The last 4 posts on a particular great CPH design have generated 75 comments and counting.

The prior 4 posts generated a paltry 19 comments.

Hmmm? Now who is the Genius? Sorry HPHS made me say it.

The Ancient said...

Now who is the Genius?

The Lord of Pelham Manor?

(At least Stanford White had the good sense to die in a building of his own design.)

archibuff said...

Make that 76 comments and counting. Zach may I once again suggest manadatory CPH posts.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Professional or popular acclaim are not necessarily markers of great genius. Ask any Kardashian.

HalfPuddingHalfSauce said...

Pearly Gates - BARRED!

OK Mr Critic what would you take away or add to the look of the stair hall?

If you recall my "fleecing" words - GENERALLY scholarly and witty SOUNDING. What-do-you-have?

ArchitectDesign™ said...

As an architect I can attest that the 'permit prices' are not 'finish prices'. The finish is typically at least double if not more. That is because permit price is just the price required to bring it up to code or a liveable standard. That does not include the prices of finishes or millwork or anything decorative. So you can imagine that if you're using nicer finishes such as marble, brass or stain-grade wood, the price can quickly become 4-5x the permit price.

archibuff said...

ArchitectDesign...........Thank you for throwing some facts onto the pile of opinions.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Archi,

Better go back and read what I wrote about building costs. It was completely data driven and full of facts, gleaned from primary documents. And they, and many other like them, support the fact that most gilded age houses didn't cost nearly as much as legend has come to claim they did---and a building dollar went a lot further than we can even imagine today. Much as we all like to believe in unicorns, why inflate what was already beyond the imagination of 99.5 per cent of the world in its day? Why are we expected to believe in unicorns too?

In context. Dollar adjusted for inflation, and for the rise in building costs, which is dramatically ahead of mere dollar inflation, that '2,000,000 staircase' would be an '85,000,000' staircase in today's money---and magnificent and lavish in material and execution though it is, does it look like an 85,000,000 stair hall (or even a 32,000,000 stair hall, which would be the straight inflation adjustment)?

Exactly.

archibuff said...

DED great calculations on Winfield Hall's staircase, but I was speaking about AD's comment regarding what the initial permit costs for a house usually include at filing, day one, day zero and what the final tally is 2 or 3 years later when the decorators have installed the Italian mural ceiling canvas purchased in Rome in the ballroom and the French chimney piece for the Dining Room and Stanford White has toured Europe and brought back crate loads of antique lighting fixtures, bronze hardware, columns and statuary for the gardens. AD makes the very good point that costs were probably cumulative, dragged out over the course of construction and finishing which took years and years in some cases. Nobody could possibly know at ground breaking, day one what the final cost of some of these places could be and architects like Stanford White were routinely chastised by owners for his unyielding spending sprees during construction. While it was brought up previously, many house figures included antiques and art and sculpture along with the basic bricks and mortar.

So while Marble House maybe didnt cost $11M, maybe after it was completely furnished and filled with the numerous extras and artwork the number approaches that figure as reality? Maybe not? And I dont care what ego driven mansion builder you want to mention, whether from 1895 or 2005, nobody wanted to have the public know what they were actually spending on their homes. Inflated numbers were probably spread by the architects and designers themselves to impress future clients.

Bottom line I think AD's comment is much more factual on house costs than just focusing only on the building permit alone whether from 1900 or 2012.

The Down East Dilettante said...

But there's no argument that cost goes beyond building permit, runs over, etc., and if you actually read what I said, you'd know that I only quoted one building permit price in my examples---the others are all ACTUAL FINAL FIGURES from either/and/or contractor's records/architect's/records/owner's own accounts. And artwork hanging on the wall isn't part of construction cost or interior finishing cost, no matter how you parse it. Labor was a dollar a day. 300 workmen were 300 dollars a day. Make no mistake, many of these places were wildly expensive for their times, as much so as any in history---that's not my point of disagreement at all---but money went a lot further, and things were as prone to exaggeration then as now by the press and the breathless onlookers.

I spent several days going through account books at the Rockefeller archives a few weeks back, just for one example. It was absolutely astounding to trace real estate and construction costs for several houses in several locations over several eras. 100,000 bought what 16 million would buy today.

As for Marble House, it is generally accepted that the 11,000,000 figure included everything, and that it was a wild exaggeration (one notes that on the Preservation Society website, it states that the house was 'said to' have cost that), although beyond doubt it was one of the most expensive houses built in America at that point.

My point is this only: That the figures are almost always exaggerations, and that some people get so devoted to them that they don't even allow FACTS to interfere with the fantasy. The houses were wildly expensive fantasies, but wildly expensive was a much smaller number 100 years ago, when middle class houses cost 7500 dollars.

archibuff said...

DED all valid points and I actually like all the information you provided regarding the construction costs from Maine back in the day.........We dont disagree.........Now if only I can get the mountain moving regarding CPH........but that's for another day and I first need to purchase some major mountain moving equipment..