So reads an inscription on a garden wall at the subject of today’s post. I warn the reader, that though the text runs under 700 words, there are over 20 pictures, so lush the material available to illustrate this story–and what point a blog if not to be able to well illustrate a point?One who read the January 19th post
about Faulkner Farm, the Sprague/Brandegee estate and garden at Brookline, Massachussets, may experience a sense of deja vu, for the outlines of the two stories are more than a little similar: An heiress granddaughter of Boston shipping magnate William Fletcher Weld marries, buys a hilltop estate on ancestral land in Brookline from a cousin, hires Charles Adams Platt to design a garden that becomes one of the most famous of its time, and has architect Herbert Browne enlarge the already large house. It does all have a rather familiar ring, doesn’t it? Now for the ways in which the story is different…
Isabel and Larz Anderson, by Philip de Lazlo (collection of Society of the Cincinnati)
Isabel Weld Perkins was born in 1877, and was the first cousin of Mary Pratt Sprague, born 6 years earlier. In 1897 Miss Perkins married Paris-born diplomat Larz Anderson, a grandson of Nicholas Longworth of Cinncinnati (as was the husband of Alice Roosevelt). In 1899, the Andersons purchased the 64 acre estate of her cousin, William Weld. In 1901, casting an admiring, or perhaps envious (history doesn’t record which) eye on the famous garden that Charles Adams Platt had designed for her cousin on the next hilltop, a mere half-mile away, she hired the now famous architect to design a garden for her estate, which she named ‘Weld’ after her grandfather. This garden, more elaborate than the garden at Faulkner Farm, was no less a sensation, and joined it as one of the most published and influential landscapes of the early 20th century—the formal gardens by which all others would be judged.
A photograph of Charles Adams Platt’s model of a preliminary design for the new garden at Weld (Architectural Record)
The plan of the garden as executed. The house was at bottom of this plan
His commissions for the Weld cousins were unusual in the Platt oeuvre, as both involved pre-existing houses. In most of his work, Platt designed both house and garden, with perfect integration between outdoors and indoors. The Anderson garden at Weld was further unusual in that it was not visible from the house, unlike the garden at Faulkner Farm, but rather accessed across the bowling green that fronted the house, and thence by paths that approached the garden from the side. The main garden was built on a terrace pushed out from the hillside, and featured a center panel of grass, flanked by parterres, and surrounded by terraces that effected changes in levels and vistas. As at Faulkner Farm, a king’s ransom in antique Italian sarcophagi, urns and columns ornamented the garden. Accompanying the main garden were the usual complement of cutting garden, a rock garden, greenhouses, nursery gardens, wild gardens, and an allee. At the base of the hill lay a private polo field, and between it and the main gate on Newton Street, was an ornamental lake, with bridges and a domed temple at its head. In a generous civic gesture, the high stucco wall that sheiled the estate from the road was pierced with an elegant wrought iron screen to give passers by a vista of this Arcadian scene
Two views of the lake as it appears today
The Andersons now turned their eye briefly toward Washington, where they intended to spend half the year for Mr. Anderson’s diplomatic career. They hired Herbert Browne, the architect of the main house at Faulkner Farm, to design a large townhouse based on early 18th century London precedents. As with many of Browne’s works, it displayed the same bold juxtapositions of scale and liberty with details that characterized his style.
The entrance court of the Anderson’s Washington town house (HABS)
Garden front of the Washington house (HABS)
The Washington house completed, the Andersons dispatched Browne back to Brookline, where a new brick wing in Baroque style was added, becoming the main facade on the garden side. Supposedly, the new wing was modeled after Lulworth Castle. This viewer does not see the resemblance. At any rate, not yet 30, Isabel Anderson was mistress of two of the grandest establishments in America.
The main house at Weld as it appeared when purchased by the Andersons (Digital Commonwealth)
The same view after addition of the new wing fronting the bowling green (Smithsonian Library of American Gardens)
The new wing from the bowling green (Museum of Transportatioin)
Two views of the library (Museum of Transportation collection)
The Brighton Pavilion and 18th century Dresden have an uneasy meeting in the ballroom.
A garden room overlooking the library had murals likely by George Porter Fernald, a frequent collaborator with the architect.
Larz Anderson was appointed Ambassador to Japan in 1912. Their time there was to have a profound effect on the Andersons, and upon their return to America, Weld was to receive a layer of Japanese art and gardening to add to its Beaux Arts splendors. A large bronze eagle that had been in their garden in Tokyo was installed in a new Japanese garden built adjacent to the cutting gardens. A room in the house was sheathed in simple Japanese style (although retaining its baroque mantel), and a superb collection of Bonsai was housed in one of the conservatories (this collection is now at the Arnold Arboretum in neighboring Jamaica Plain).
The Japanese Garden, top, and Bonsai collection, bottom
Life continued along pleasantly, glamorously, for the Andersons. Isabel published memoirs of their world travels, Larz retired in 1913 from Diplomatic service, and they devoted their time to philanthopic affairs. The Depression seems to have been little felt by them. Larz Anderson died in 1937, and Isabel in 1948. They were childless, and with no children to carry on their estates (or even sell and subdivide them), Mrs. Anderson left the Washington house to the Society of the Cincinnati, which maintains it in superb condition as a house museum and headquarters. With equally good intentions, she left Weld, and all its contents, from personal papers and furnishings to the 16 cars in the garage, to the Town of Brookline, for the enjoyment of the public.
The carriage house and garage at Weld, now the Museum of Transportation
It is likely that Isabel Anderson’s concept of public enjoyment was a more genteel one than the one that emerged. She doubtless pictured the house and its collections open to public view, and the lovely grounds available for public strolls and picnics. The 1950’s were a bad time for great houses and gardens, however, and the Powers That Be in Brookline had a few ideas of their own. The polo field was replaced by a baseball diamond–no harm there, and doubtless more democratic. The huge carriage barn and garage, with the Anderson’s 45 year’s worth of elegant cars became an auto museum. The ornamental lake remained much the same. The house did not fare so well. Totally neglected by the early 50’s, it’s collections were dispersed, and the house demolished. Next to go were the gardens, also neglected. In a spectacularly ignominious act, they were partially demolished in favor of the most elegantly sited ice rink in America. It is hard to begrudge the happy citizenry their hockey rink, clearly much loved and muh used, but equally it is undeniable that to build it there can only be construed as a wanton act of vandalism. There were other flat spots on the property, and no doubt other flat spots in public ownership elsewhere in Brookline. One can only imagine the planning meetings—-‘man, that sunken garden sure would make a great ice rink—we’ll just get rid of some of that old statuary, bring in a bulldozer, and Bob’s your uncle!.’
Plan of the estate. House and main garden at center (Museum of Transportation)
And approximately the same view today, with skating rink in formal garden, and steel maintenance sheds in cutting and kitchen gardens.
And in case you missed it, the hockey rink
Sad, very sad. Following are pictures of the garden in its heyday.
Entrance to the Bowling green
Exedra bench on the Bowling green
Views of the main garden, now ice rink.