Continuing our virtual vacation of Newport, RI, this week we’re stopping at the home of Alva Vanderbilt herself, Marble House. So sit back on your (expensive) lawn chair, grab something cool to drink, and enjoy the history.
2. Marble House
Marble House was built by William K. Vanderbilt, another grandson of the famed Cornelius, and a brother to Cornelius Vanderbilt, II. You may remember Cornelius II as the owner of The Breakers, where we stopped last week. I seem to remember that there was some sister-in-law rivalry during the design of the two houses. Richard Morris Hunt was the architect of the Versailles-inspired Marble House. He did a fabulous job, as usual, but Alva Vanderbilt’s stamp is all over it. Mostly, that stamp takes the form of marble.
There is marble everywhere. Just take a look at the dining room, the foyer, random halls…
Anything you can put marble on, Alva tried it. Marble House was magnificent in the sense that you really got that feeling of European royalty. Which, I believe, was one of Alva’s aims, given that she ultimately arranged a marriage between her daughter and the Duke of Marlborough. This is the room where they most likely became engaged:
Called the Gothic Room, this one really stood out to me. It had the solemn feeling of a church and duplicated the old history of some castles in Europe particularly well. Even though the marriage of Consuelo Vanderbilt and Sonny was doomed to failure, I couldn’t help thinking that this was a great place to get engaged!
Here are some other neat tidbits. Does anyone else love library stairs?
What about fancy servants’ stairs?
Resplendent sitting rooms?
Or bedrooms fit for a queen?
At most of the Newport houses, they also do a great job of interpreting the lives of the servants. You definitely get Downton Abbey vibes, for any lovers of Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes out there!
The thing I most remember about Marble House is Alva. She was a complicated, fascinating woman. She undoubtedly pushed her daughter into marriage for social gain—and then, in order for her daughter to divorce and be happy, she testified before a court that she compelled her daughter to marry. She was the victim of her husband’s adultery—and then divorced him, married his best friend, and moved across the street. She was a champion of women’s suffrage and of art. On the whole, she was a woman ahead of her time.
So whom do I think won the sister-in-law rivalry? Well, if you remember, Alice had those stunning verandas. Then again, Alva had 500,000 cubic feet of marble. Plus, she caught the Duke. So you tell me.
Below, this happened to be my favorite photo from Marble House. It reminds me of Alva and speaks to her strength—and to how she was (just a tad!) over-the top:
Photo Credits: Tara Cowan or Hannah Cowan Jones