Tuesday, July 16, 2013

'Beacon Towers' Before & After

'Beacon Towers', the Alva Vanderbilt Belmont estate designed by Hunt & Hunt c. 1917 in Sands Point.  Above left is the house as it appeared after completion and on the right is as it looked following Mrs. William Randolph Hearst's c. 1927 alterations (click the image to enlarge).  Click HERE for more on 'Beacon Towers'.


Tyngsboro said...

Great images ~ Thanks, Zach ! Keep 'em coming, if you come across other views !

The Down East Dilettante said...

Perfect comparison pics. Definitely not improved by those dormers. It being too hot to move even up here on the coast 100 miles from Canada, I sat at the computer and tried to find the answer to the question of who was Mrs. Hearst's architect, but with no luck. However, I did find a few tidbits along the way---Hearst bought the castle for Mrs. Hearst just after building the Santa Monica Beach house for Marion Davies, and that Hearst himself apparently never lived at Beacon Towers, as by then he was openly living with Marion Davies and his and Mrs. Hearst's separation was complete. Cary Grant is on record as saying that he believed that he was the only person who was accepted both at Mrs. Hearst's at Sands Point, and at Mr. Hearst and Miss Davies' in California.

One account I found had Mrs. Hearst removing Mrs. Belmont's Joan of Arc murals from the house, but this seems odd, as Mrs. Hearst in fact re-named the estate "St. Joan's" from "Beacon Towers".

Despite Mrs. Hearst's occupancy of Beacon Towers/St. Joan's, When WR Hearst's compulsive use of company funds to buy art and architecture caught up with him, many items were removed from Sands Point and included in the massive rounds of Hearst art sales from 1938 onward.

Interestingly, when Hearst removed from San Simeon for the summer, Mrs. Hearst, who principally raised the children, would go with them out to San Simeon for the summer, while Hearst was at Wyntoon or the Beach House. St. Joan's was apparently mostly a between-seasons and weekend house for Mrs. Hearst. By 1942, when she sold it, the boys were mostly grown, and she removed to a large summer estate at Southampton.

And that's what I know now that I didn't know 24 hours ago, but dammit, who designed the ugly renovation?

Magnuspetrie said...

Thanks so much Zach. The house lost a bit of its Deco-esque sleekness in the alteration and with it, some of its magic (to my mind at least). I presume the alterations were made to add more bedrooms. I wonder if they were all used regularly? I also remember seeing a photograph of a Louis XV or XVI stlye drawing room that was fitted into the house in the Hearst revamp. It looked like something out of a Park Avenue apartment, if I recall correctly and had not a bit of the magic that I expected from the creator of San Simeon.

Tyngsboro said...

Giving the Hearst renovation careful consideration, I believe that Mrs. Belmont would not have viewed with disfavor !

Kellsboro Jack said...

Zach, another great perspective on this unique gem from OLI.

I think the original's art deco, cleaner styling is more appreciated when you see it next to revised edition.

The attempt to add in some Gothic details fell short and for that it became neither fish nor foul. A bit half baked if you ask me when they tinkered with it.

I suspect when they started to introduce the Gothic details someone quipped that it was beginning to look far too much like a Church.

If they were going to go that direction they should've employed Ralph Adams Cram.

Anonymous said...

Very Citizen Kane, no surprises there, of course.

Anonymous said...

"I'll take Julia Morgan for $500, Alex."

Anonymous said...

According to the 2008 book "Hearst the Collector", the exterior changes were overseen by architect Charles Birge and the interiors were handled by French & Co.
It is difficult to imagine that Hearst did not offer his advice from time to time.

The Ancient said...


(You're going to have to enlarge it a bit to read it.)

Here are a few links on Charles E. Birge --






I don't think this guy could have done the re-design of the entrance. Maybe not the gables either.

(Didn't Dark Hollow have both an architect and a local architect of record?)

Old Grey Dog said...

Ponder of these things . . . Considering that Alva changed the character of Belcourt from a glorified stable, with a bachelor's apartment above, into a more livable house ~ and an authentic French chateau, at Augerville-le-Riviere, that she considerably remodeled over time ~ I'm sure she would have given Millicent Hearst an "Atta-Girl" for the goosed-up transformation of the Sands Point mansion. Alva donated a statue of Joan of Arc to the village church, near her chateau in France, to honor the Saint that represented, for her, militant womanhood. When Mrs. Hearst re-named the estate, "Saint Joan", Alva may have mused, "Now why didn't I think of that!"

The Down East Dilettante said...

I don't believe Julia Morgan is credited with this job---I don't have her biography handy, but I don't remember this alteration on the attribution list.

I have no trouble seeing Birge as the designer---especially with French & Co., the leading provider of correct 'period' interiors and antique woodwork to rich New Yorkers in the 20's. (that explains the Park Avenue drawing room, Magnus)

Ancient, as to the entrance, doesn't it look to you (it does to me) as if it is cobbled up of one of those antique Romanesque arches, or pieces of, that Hearst was forever buying and of which there were dozens in his warehouses? I have no trouble seeing Birge as the architect. There are two schools of comments above. I belong to the camp that finds the dormers fairly pedestrian in design. Although a hip roof is a very odd choice for the gothic of the house, as composition it leads the eye upward to the spire of the tower.

I'm not usually a big Hunt & Hunt fan---they can be very ponderous and awkward---but they really hit it here.

The Ancient said...

Dilettante --

I won't argue about it. (Much.)

But if Hearst "leaned in" on the design, where else did he get it?

The new windows to the right of the entrance, the "disappeared" window (one of the three) above that, does that seem like Birge's work?

I realize that JM isn't credited with it.

Just as we both now know that Stanford White isn't credited with this or that.

Mar gar et said...

The bank tore down Hearst's rendition: (Very sad, sigh)

In 1917, a large plot of land next to the lighthouse was purchased by a wealthy New York socialite, who built a large and expensive mansion there. The owner, a Mrs. Belmont, convinced the Bureau of Lighthouses to prohibit the lighthouse keeper from having any visitors on summer weekends, so as not to disturb the upper-crust gatherings at her estate. Many feel that her interference was one of the main factors in the decision to close the station.

After it was deactivated, the lighthouse and property were put up for auction. The State of New York attempted to buy it for a park, but Mrs. Belmont objected to that plan and managed to purchase the property for $100,000 on January 31, 1923. In 1927, Mrs. Belmont sold the mansion and the lighthouse to William Randolph Hearst for $400,000. For a while, the Hearsts lived in the keeper’s house and used the mansion for their guests. When Hearst started spending most of his time at his San Simeon estate in California, the Sands Point property was put up for sale, but in the depression era no buyer could be found. The Hearsts finally surrendered the property to a New York bank in 1940 to satisfy the mortgage.

The bank also had a difficult time finding a buyer for the large estate and eventually sold it to a Realtor, who divided it into one-acre lots and built the private residential development that stands there today. Over the years, the light station has been damaged by erosion and storms, and a number of different protection methods have been built, destroyed, and rebuilt. Despite all that, the original lighthouse and keeper’s house remain in good shape. The only view of the lighthouse for visitors is from the water.