Friday, July 30, 2010

Astor Courts, Historical Site of Chelsea Clinton's Hitching


Listen poodles, Your Mama was really trying hard not to get on the Chelsea Clinton wedding bandwagon. The gurl deserves to have her day in peace. However, try as we might, our resistance has been worn down by all the hoopla and frequent requests from the curious for information about the upstate New York estate where it is widely rumored and oft reported that Miss Clinton will get hitched to her man Marc Mevinsky, an investment banker at Goldman Sachs.

Although no one will publicly confirm, it appears the former presidential daughter will be married tomorrow at an historic and privately owned estate overlooking the Hudson River in the quaint village of Rhinebeck, NY. The 50-ish acre estate, most often referred to as Astor Courts, was once part of the sprawling 2,800 acre spread of John Jacob Astor IV, the great-grandson of John Jacob Astor who made a mountain of money in real estate, opium, and fur trades. Iffin you want more extensive information on the Astor family, here's a good place to start.

Astor Courts–sometimes referred to as Ferncliff Casino and/or Astor Casino–was commissioned by John Jacob "Jack" Astor IV and his first wife Eva in the early 1900s as a sporting pavilion and guest quarters to go along with the estate's main house built in the late 1850s by another of the wildly wealthy of the Astor clan. The long and low Beaux Arts style building, inspired by the Grand Trianon at Versailles and completed 1904, was one of the last buildings finished by architect Stanford before he was shot and killed in 1906 at Madison Square Garden by Harry K. Thaw, the notoriously volatile heir to a Pittsburgh coal and railroad fortune.

Along with vast entertaining spaces and several guest rooms, the Astor Courts housed what some believe was the first indoor swimming pool at a private residence, as well as an indoor clay tennis court with soaring vault and truss ceiling of industrial glass, two indoor squash courts, a bowling alley, and a shooting range. There was a grass tennis court that sat along side the building. A scratchy and difficult to make out floor plan of the original structure can be seen here. The children will note the indoor swimming pool on the far left (east), the indoor tennis court at the top (south), and the guest rooms to the far right (west).

Mister Astor divorced Eva in 1909 and married the much younger Madeleine Force in 1911. In April of 1912, at the tail end of an extended European honeymoon, Mister Astor went down with the Titanic. A preggers Madeleine was one of the lucky few who survived the sinking but, it should be noted, neither she nor her son the future John Jacob Astor VI inherited Ferncliff or the Astor Courts sporting pavilion.

The entire estate was instead inherited by Mister Astor's oldest son William Vincent Astor who in the 1940s razed the monumental main house at Ferncliff and, after an extensive renovation and re-purposing of some rooms, moved into the sporting pavilion. In 1953 Vincent Astor married for a third time. His new bride was the once-divorced and once-widowed Brooke Russell Kuser Marshall who became the powerful queen of New York high society Brooke Astor, a formidable woman who once upon a time Your Mama would sometimes see swaddled in fur at big shindigs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Although it has been reported that Miz Astor didn't particularly care for the drafty and vast Astor Courts, the couple used the former sporting pavilion as a country retreat until Mister Astor died in 1959. Subsequent to Vincent Astor's death, Ferncliff was cut up into bite sized pieces, some of which was sold off and some of which–the part where Astor Courts is situated–was donated by The Widow Astor to The Catholic Archdiocese of New York who used the former Astor family playhouse as a nursing home where the old folks were cared for by nuns.

By the 1980s the Astor Courts was once again brought into use as a private residence but much of it architectural luster and detail had been lost, destroyed, or covered up with insensitive "renovations" and layer upon layer of paint, linoleum, and carpeting. In the spring of 2003 the property was purchased for $3,200,000 by its current owners, real estate developer Arthur Seelbinder and his Democratic fundraiser and former tee-vee producer wife Kathleen Hammer.

The well-heeled couple, no stranger to home renovations, soon set off on a journey of renovation and restoration so lengthy, emotionally taxing, and costly they refuse to get specific. According to a New York Times article from 2008, the couple sold a house in Palm Beach as well as antiques and artworks to help fund the massive renovation and restoration costs. The renovations included installing a sky-lit barbering station and bathroom fixtures copied from Stanford White's original plans.

The couple hired architect Sam White–Stanford White's great-grandson–to oversee the renovation of the hotel-sized house that stretches out over 40,000 square feet. According to the New York Times article, the Astor Courts building is divided into three areas: public, private, and guest. The owners' private quarters in the east wing include the master suite, a library–a room Brooke Astor had installed in what was formerly the squash courts–and a Middle Eastern inspired indoor swimming pool with a turquoise groin vaulted ceiling and enormous arched windows with views of the bucolic landscaping that surround the house.

The west end of the building includes a large living room with fois bois moldings, fireplace, and access to a terrazzo terrace that overlooks the Hudson River, a newly enlarged kitchen, dining room, and 4 guest rooms that share two poopers. In between the east and west wings is the entrance hall and the extravagantly scaled main hall that measures 35 by 60 feet with 14.5 foot high ceilings. Underfoot are over-sized herringbone parquet floors and overhead is a shallow domed sky light. The room is ringed with heavy 30-inch moldings and elaborate plasterwork and French doors with with dramatic fan lights on either side of the aristocratic 9 by 10 foot fireplace mantelpiece swing open and overlook the indoor tennis court.

Recent reports guesstimate that the cost of Miss Clinton and Mister Mevinsky's nuptials could soar to as high as three or even five million clams. Although we have no idea where anyone got their information on this stuff, some of the costs of the wedding are reported to include $500,000 for flowers, $200,000 for security, $500,000 in transportation costs for guests, a $25,000 Vera Wang designed wedding dress, and $15,000 for dee-luxe portable terlits of the sort that high-class folks like supermarket mogul Ron Burkle will feel comfortable doing their bizness.

According to one of Gawker's top secret sources, preparations for the big event have included repainting the entire house, installing new landscaping, and preparing a clearing on the property so that invited guests can arrive by helicopter. A no-fly zone has been instituted over the property so that airborne paps won't be able to buzz the nuptials with their telephoto lenses and the children can be assured that the property is crawling with so much Secret Service and other security that iffin your were even to drive by and look cross-ways at the estate's front gates you'll be unceremoniously shuffled off in a brusque and unfriendly fashion.

Since Your Mama and the Dr. Cooter can't make it to the wedding, we'll just wish Miss Clinton and Mister Mevinsky a happy day and happy life.

photos: New York Social Diary

28 comments:

StPaulSnowman said...

Brava! Interesting and well written. I read that this event is costing between two and three million smacketrs. Even that amount can't overshadow the equine facies of the bride to be. I am sure Mr. Stanford White would have vetoed this pony show if he were around. Didn't Ms. Chelsey try to identify with community service a while ago? She should have thought about what could have been done in Haiti with that amount of moulah. I like a wedding as much as the next guy but it sounds like Busby Berkley did the planning. What will you be wearing Mama?

SPLENDEROSA said...

One also hears that the Clintons are NOT paying for most of the wedding expenses, like maybe they are being gifted to the happy couple? I do not think that could be true of the gowns though. Wonderful post, My Lord Doctor of Real Estate!!

lil' gay boy said...

The riverside setting is sure to add, in the words of Hyacinth Bucket, "...a riparian delight!"

It's lovely to see the results of such dedicated restoration work; would that Ferncliff itself still stood.

I agree with Snowman that the money could be better spent in these trying times, but I'd begrudge no one, even the equinely-endowed bride (and her hopefully equally blessed groom) their moment in the sun. But it does seem a little crass given the current economic climate; I understand the security (and political) issues vis-a-vis expected guests, but still feel they should take it down a notch or two.

Off to take a handful of nerve pills; the thought of all those penguins inhabiting this gem whilst tending to the dear old ones has caused a wave of horrifying memories to crash over me; my metal ruler scars itch.

Jeannified said...

lil' gay boy, your comment about her "hopefully equally blessed groom" made me laugh my ass off!

Beautiful place. Was at first shocked to hear of the price attached to the wedding, but factoring everything in, I'm not surprised. Can see you point about taking it down a notch, but we ARE talking about the Clintons and they only have one daughter, so I can see how the price tag spiraled out of control.

Anonymous said...

Her "day in peace?" Puhleese. The very reason there is all this interest is because of the way the Clinton's publicity machine has handled the event. Item 1: if the press has been speculating about when and where you are going to get married for going on two years, don't make absolutely nothing about your impending nuptials available to the press. What in the world could be more enticing than thousands of words of speculation as opposed to a press release outlining the weekend event?
I am actually surprised it has gone down this way. We all know that Hillary and Bill have zero class, but Chelsea seemed to be above it all. Apparently not. The bulk of the huge fortune that Bill has amassed since leaving the Presidency is not from inspirational speeches about Haiti, etc. It is from his, um, how shall we say this, "influence" in various less lofty reaches of global financial affairs. The fact that they are now flaunting this new-found wealth in such a blatant fashion is really idiotic of them, given the state of most American's pocketbooks at this juncture. But, it appears they just can't help themselves.

Anonymous said...

Astor Courts also came up in the recent writings around the trial of Brooke's son, Tony Marshall. It seems that soon after the bizarre marriage that was the genesis of Brooke's ascendency to the very pinnacle of New York Society, Tony came to visit his mother at Astor Courts whereupon her husband Vincent (Astor) announced that not only was she was never to invite Tony there again but she should have no contact with him whatsoever. This was not because of anything Tony actually did, except for the fact that he was Brooke's son and Vincent didn't like the competition for his attention. So, what did Brooke do? You guessed it. She had no more contact with Tony until after her husband's death! (Luckily for her, he only lived some six odd years after they married.) Yep, the whole Brooke Astor mythology is based on an arranged marriage of very short duration. In fact, his previous wife, Minnie Cushing, sister of Babe Paley and Betsey Whitney (talk about sisters who knew how to marry rich!), couldn't stand another year with him, but for some strange reason agreed to find him a new wife before divorcing him. Enter Brooke, newly widowed, very upper but with zero bank account and working as an editor at House and Garden.

Anonymous said...

Mama you forgot to mention this place has been on the market for the last year @ $11mil. They have taken it off the market for the wedding. You couldn't buy this much publicity.

Aunt Gina said...

I spent many years co-ordinating the weddings and receptions of upper crusty types; believe me when I say for the most part, while everyone including Hillary keeps saying "this is Chelsea's day", I can assure you it is not. Weddings on this scale are not about the bride, or the groom, or marriage at all. They are about business alliances, social connections and in this case, political ties. Typically if you ask the bride at a reception for 600 or so "close friends and family only", she will tell you she has no idea who most of the guests are. This is not Chelsea's day, this is Bill and Hillary's day, and it's been a long hard social climbing slog from cornpone hillbilly Arkansas to Astor Courts.

Anonymous said...

I could care less about this wedding and Chelsea is a dog.

Aunt Gina said...

ps meant to mention there is no doubt in my mind that the old money
blue blood Astor ancestors are spinning in their respective mausoleums.

Anonymous said...

Very beautiful house. That area of the hudson valley has so many nice old homes like. Unfortunately most not as well kept as this.

I do find it hysterical that Chelsea works for a hedge fund and is marrying a Goldman employee while Jenna Bush is a teacher and Barbara is a social worker. Would not have expected those 2 families children to turn out the way they did.

angie said...

Chelsea seems to have turned out very well and I have to credit her parents for that. I think the Clintons did a great job arranging a spectacular send off for their only child while keeping the wedding as tastefully private as possible. I think a chunk of the money reportedly being spent for a one day celebration could have been put to better humanitarian use, but that's their business.

Thanks for the background info anon 8:44 PM, and thank you Mama for the smorgasbord of eye poppin' real estate porn this week!

FonHom said...

Yo Mama,
Love the RealEstalking, but personal attacks ("equinely-endowed," "dog," "cornpone") sound so unmoderated...

Anonymous said...

Did you mention, Mama, that Miss Clinto's father-in-law to be was sentenced to prison in 2003 for a ten million $ scam and released in 2008? The son may be just fine of course. Still....and the obscene expense of all this can't do her image much good, I would think. I am vastly disappointed in the Clintons for not marrying her modestly and privately. Not top drawer people, I fear. Not at all. But we already pretty much knew that, didn't we?

Anonymous said...

FonHom: appropriate, nicely wrought insults are part of what make this blog so much fun. Don't be a stuck up party pooper.

Rosco Mare said...

Thanks for the great real estate porn, Mama Dearest. Where is a Marlboro when you need one?

lil' gay boy said...

"...("equinely-endowed," "dog," "cornpone")..."

Well, I was going to say she resembled Princess Anne, but I didn't want to be mean...

=8‧O

Aunt Gina said...

"If you can't say anything nice about anyone else, come sit next to me."
— Gertrude Stein

Anonymous said...

The most complete set of Wedding Photos I could find. Wedding guest Vera Wang created the gown. Chelsea looks lovely.

FonHom said...

Hi Anon 2:47,
FonHom loves the nicely wrought insults. As graciously spewed by 'lil gay boy and Aunt Gina.

Anonymous said...

"Chelsea looks (as) lovely (as any filly.)" I hope you won't be offended if I tidy up your statement a bit.

Kristine said...

Yes it looked like a lovely wedding and the couple looked very happy!


You'll never guess who Chelsea is related to? How many of them attended the wedding?

http://familyforest.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/chelsea-clinton-family-forest-kinship/

Anonymous said...

The wedding took place on the river-side of the back-of-the-house extension (see last of Mama's pics for the interior of the extension); the next-to-the-last pic provides a "window" to the L-shaped walls that created the yard space where the chairs were all set, where the aisle was, etc.... Now that the wedding is over, if you want an aerial peek, Bing Map 199 River Road in Rhinebeck NY and drag your mouse along the winding drive west toward the river. The exterior looks plain to say the least. But, the setting was great for the river backdrop, security, interiors as needed to prepare, etc...

Lastly, while we have fun dishing the sometimes distasteful (inanimate) decor of some homes Mama features, I am distressed at the distasteful comments made about other PEOPLE in the Comments Blog. Restraint and appropriateness are key to tasteful decor and architecture, and should equally, if not more so, be demonstrated in comments about PEOPLE.

Anonymous said...

Yeah well, the homes that are dished belong to PEOPLE.
So when you dish the decor, make no mistake, you are also dishing the PEOPLE. Let's not fool ourselves. However, in saying this, I am in no way approving of making nasty comments about someone's looks. Snark has it's boundaries, I believe. And, by the way, Chelsea looked absolutely beautiful in the pictures that were released, and the adorable way that she and Marc were looking at each other in some of them was very heart warming and reassuring.

Anonymous said...

Mrs Astor gifted at least part of the estate to the Catholics. I am too lazy to do the research but I wonder if the reason her estate was "gifted" as was other large estates, due to the property taxes? There are quite a few folks in large estates who can only afford to get the minimum oil delierved in the winter...will we see a wave of gifted estates in the near future as folks are overcome by taxes and maintenance on these outsized cribs?

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