This past September for Labor Day weekend, I finally made a trip to Rhode Island to visit the Newport Mansions built during the Gilded Age and opened to the public by the Preservation Society of Newport County.
Rosecliff, also known formerly as the Hermann Oelrichs House or the J. Edgar Monroe House, was built 1898-1902 at a reported cost of $2.5 million by Theresa Fair Oelrichs, a silver heiress from Nevada. Her father James Graham Fair was one of the four partners in the Comstock Lode. Her husband, Nermann Oelrichs was an American agent for the Norddeutscher Lloyd steamship line. Together with Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish and Mrs. O.H.P. Belmont, Mrs Oelrichs was known as one of the three great hostesses of Newport.
Rosecliff gets its name from the original wooden cottage of the same name built by the noted horticulturalist, George Bancroft. Bancroft’s rose cuttings were used to develop the American Beauty rose, the signature flower of the Gilded Age.
The “new” Rosecliff that we see today was designed by principal architect Stanford White of McKim, Mead and White to be suited for entertaining on a grand scale. Modeled on a scaled-down version of the Grand Trianon of Versailles, Rosecliff emulates the romanticism, the grandeur and the mystic of the French golden age with added accents ranging from the heart-shaped grand to Newport’s biggest private ballroom at 40 by 80 feet.
In an highlight of architectural ingenuity, White’s Rosecliff adds to the Grand Trianon a second story with a balustraded roofline that conceals a set-back third story which contains twenty small servants’ rooms and a laundry pressing room. This “hidden” third story is only barely visible to visitors looking out the winder from the second floor.
King Louis XIV referred to the Grand Trianon as his “Palace of Flora” where he could cultivate the finest flowers and dine out of doors. The same spirit permeates Rosecliff in which the grand French doors of the ballroom open directly to a sweeping terrace and grassy expanse overlooking the Easton Bay.
In addition, if you look closely at the decor and plaster molding designs, inside and out, you’ll notice presence of countless flower bouquets and stylistic references to flora and fauna.
In particular, if you look closely, you’ll find that no detail, not even the crystal on the wall lamps, has been left to chance.