Historic Structures

Building Description Marble House - William Vanderbilt House, Newport Rhode Island

Marble House was commissioned by Mr. and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt in 1888, the architect being the already famous Richard Morris Hunt; the building was completed in l892. It is of two principal stories upon an inconspicuous basement, and a third or penthouse story is concealed behind a roof balustrade. The house is of U-shape: its entrance facade faces west on Bellevue Avenue, and its other, indented, principal elevation overlooks the sea to the east. It is faced and decorated with white Tuckahoo marble, over, probably, an iron or steel frame with brick reinforcement and casing. While the house itself is not of great size and does not contain a large number of rooms, its architectural scale is large and very intentionally imposing.

The entrance pavilion in the centre of the west front has a tetrastyie unpedimented portico using the full Roman Corinthian vocabulary, before it. (A horseshoe-shaped drive,with marble balustrade, wrought m iron railing, large torcheres, leads to this portico from the elaborate Bellevue Avenue gates.) The front elevations three wide bays on each side of this portico; the house is five bays deep; the rear wings or projections have each two bays and there are four in the rear centre of the house. The Corinthian order is carried fully around the house, all bays being separated by colossal fluted pilasters; above the ornate entablature, a balustrade rims the house. Two close-together flat beltcourses separate the simply-ecvframed round-headed windows of the first floor from the simply-enframed, flat-capped ones of the second floor. A paved and balustraded terrace is at the rear (east) of the house, partially contained by its two seaward projections.

A very wide screen of wrought iron and glass within the portico allows entrance to the first-floor hall, which runs straight through to the rear terrace the main stair climbing on one side and having a landing or mezzanine level across the hall's rear. This hall is panelled and paved with yellow Siena marble, and there is rich plaster ceiling treatment. At front left, the dining-room opens from the hall; it is pilastered (Corinthian) and panelled in pink Numidian marble and has large bronze wall sconces for lighting; its coiling of stucco relief contains an allegorical painting. Opposite, at right front, is the ballroom, which employs full Louis XIV-Versailles decorative treatment in an explosion of gilt and carved wood, moulded plaster,.plaster relief sculptures, marble fireplace, bronze statxies, mirrored surfaces, huge giltbronze chandeliers nothing is omitted. Behind (east of) the ballroom is the reception-room or gallery trimmed throughout in high Gothic style, with carved oak, plaster ceiling with pendants, stained glass in the window embrasures (the stained glass has been removed). At the left rear corner of the first floor is a not-large library or sitting-room panelled in walnut in Louis XV style.

At the level where the wide stair-landing forms a mezzanine there are small flanking family sitting-rooms. The second floor originally accommodated not more than eight or nine bedrooms (some rearrangement of the lesser of these chambers has been made;, of which the most lavish were that of Mrs. Vanderbilt and the main guest-room.

Marble House's site is not a large one, and it is narrow as it extends from Bellevue Avenue to a steep drop above the shoreline. Bordering trees, a plain eastern lawn comprise the only landscaping. However, as an added luxury and a terminal visual attraction there was built in 1913 a Chinese tea-house in the form of a one-storey pagoda on bastions above the water. Panelled, coloured and gilded, it has a green-tiled roof with concave outline, swooping projecting ribs and much symbolic adornment in the way of Chinese dynastic structures. This was designed by the sons of Richard Hunt.

From 1897 to 1909 and from 1917 to 1933 Marble House was not occupied, but it was cared for. In 1933 it was put back in use by a new owner who resided there regularly. He made no changes, except for alterations of convenience in the bedroom and terrace areas and at the penthouse level. Many of tho original furnishings, made for the house, stayed there through the second ownership and are still there.