Historic Structures

Building Description Shadow Lawn Mansion - Woodrow Wilson Hall, West Long Branch New Jersey

The house is a massive block of pale Bedford Indiana limestone. James Maher describes the building:

From the porte cochere on the east (right) to the Watteauesque exedra that closes the formal "Versailles gardens" on the west (left), one's eye traverses a sweep of almost five hundred feet. The main block of the palace has a three hundred-foot foundation span along its principal (east-west) axis. The servants' wing, which extends at a shallow angle from the north-west corner of the house, adds another eighty feet to the main foundation. The wing is almost completely screened from the viewer on the lawn by the colonnade that closes the north side of the garden, and the trees behind it.

The great horizontal range of the palace is emphasized by four lateral bands: the terrace balustrades on the ground level, a plain projecting stone course above the first floor, a deep formal cornice above the second floor, and a parapet-balustrade along the edge of the roof.

There are fifty-seven windows on the south facade, all but one of them plain vertical rectangles with deep reveals, simple molded surrounds, and mullionlike sashes (even though they are double hung). The one deviant window has a sober segmental arch at its head; it lies precisely at the center of the composition. The linearity of the facade is relieved by a discreet use of decorative details:

- A shallow, one-story portico in the central bay in which four Doric columns frame three arched French doors that give onto a terrace with steps leading down to a large circular fountain containing a group of sculptured figures.

- A wrought-iron railing above the portico, and a row of block modillions under the deep cornice band above the second floor.

- Small cartouches at the centers of the window heads on the first floor, and decorative brackets, carved volutes, at the centers of the window heads on the second floor.

The formal garden to the west of the palace was designed in Paris by Achille Duchene. The colonnades he used to close the north west sides of the formal gardens, that on the north a peristyle teahouse and that on the west a "water organ", serving as an exedra—adapted from the circular peristyle known as "la Colonnade" bosquet at Versailles. A study of Duchene's plans indicates that ecomomies were made both in the execution of his architectural and in his planting scheme.

Each of the other facades of the palace has interesting features most commanding of them being the massive two-story portico on the north facade which serves as the principal entrance. Six columns across the front, and two more on each side, rise two stories to Ionic capitals which support an entablature and parapet (or attic) behind which, on the flat roof, Maysie continued to give evening parties for Parson, herself, and her sister Bertha, and an occasional friend. Pendant festoons, a characteristic decorative device of the French renaissance, fall from the volutes of the Ionic capitals down the face of the massive smooth columns about thirty inches. The device is peculiarly French, a knowledgeable accent that reminds the viewer that the portico is more French than Italian.

If there is a major flow in the design of the palace, it must be the solarium on the roof that Mrs. Parson demanded-it breaks the symmetry of Trumbauer's design.

The interior court, one of the finest features of the house, is Trumbauer's work. Plastered to simulate courses of limestone, it has bays of French basket-handle arches on the first floor and rectangular gallery openings above, all sepaerated by giant marble pilasters. The cortile is 100 feet long, 25 feet wide, and rises almost 70 feet to an amber skylight. To the south is an adjoining reception area also 100 feet in length and 35 feet wide. A large marble stair rises to the balconies. Maher continues:

A four-manual Aeolian Skinner organ, which automatically played a hymn for Parson each morning during breakfast before he was driven up to New York, used the great hall as a vast resonating chamber that amplified the sound until God's praise shook the palace. Its pipe and echo lofts are concealed at the ends of the galleries; its manual console, rarely touched, is on the first gallery; and its Duo-Art automatic playing mechanism, used daily, is on the mezzanine. The organ cost Parson $100,000.

Maysie had one hundred twenty-eight rooms, twenty-two of them in the servants' wing, to decorate and oversee. There were eight state salons on the first floor: two master suites, each with a bedroom, boudoir, dressing rooms, and two baths; and three guest suites, each with a bedroom, boudoir, and bath, on the second floor; and, nine guest bedrooms, each with a bath, and nine with boudoirs, on the third floor. Each floor had a flower room with marble counters for cutting and preparing the daily deliveries from the gardens. (She had more than one hundred plants strewn about, and she was severe with the house staff when she found a dead leaf on any of them.) And, up on the third floor Maysie had a small kitchen where she sometimes made the family dessert.

It was generally acknowledged that the Parsons enjoyed a hodgepodge of luxury not always tasteless. "Coherence eluded her," it was said, or to be direct, she simply couldn't make up her mind about decor.