Friday, August 5, 2011

Architectural Americana: The Mount Vernon Deluxe

Lazy days on the porch are a beloved symbol of summer in America, call it a piazza or veranda if you will, but whether it’s on a southern plantation or seaside bungalow no piece of architecture is more quintessential Americana than the slender columns of Mount Vernon.

Architect John Russell Pope clearly had this in mind when he designed Rest Hill the Robert J. Collier residence in Wickatunk, New Jersey in 1911. Robert Collier, editor of Collier’s Weekly magazine, inherited the dramatic hilltop site from his father, publisher Peter F. Collier, who acquired the estate to pursue a passion for foxhunting that remains a Monmouth County tradition to this day.

Enormous size and extreme simplicity seem to have been the architect’s main guidelines in this restraint Colonial Revival design, making the massive yet wholly unpretentious house unique among gilded age mansions. Approached through an old orchard rambling right up to the facade provided a perfectly patriotic country setting while helping to conceal the buildings vast scale. The simple elements of cypress shingles, louvered shutters, and basic moldings echo those seen on local farmhouses throughout the region.

The cavernous recessed entrance porch overlooking the orchard was charmingly furnished with high backed chairs and potted trees while a huge pair of hunting trophies flanked the Chinese Chippendale balcony over the front door. From here one could look out over the orchard toward Collier’s private polo field and the landing strip for the private biplane this aeronautical pioneer purchased from Orville Wright, a friend and guest at Rest Hill.

The Mount Vernon porch sprawls along the rear façade commanding a spectacular view down the hillside to the valley below. From this vantage point Collier would host legendary entertainments, most notably a three-day housewarming extravaganza attended by thousands that combined the old money pastimes of polo and foxhunting with stunning displays of the latest in aviation technology.

Another view of the rear façade showing one of the wings that flank the central block gives some idea of the scale of this massive house, nearly three times the size of Mount Vernon itself. Be sure to check back soon for an interior tour of Rest Hill, domestic domain of Mrs. Collier nee Sarah Van Alen, a granddaughter of the legendary Caroline Astor.

Photos 1, 3, and 5 from here, photo 2 from here, and photo 4 from here.

Click here to read more on Collier's wild housewarming including how he accidentally scared of one of J.D. Rockefeller's horses to death.
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