After Mrs. Wetzel’s death, Sonogee was sold to a local family, the Colliers, who operated it for a couple of seasons as a tourist attraction. The results were disappointing, and the Colliers sold the furnishings at auction, and converted Sonogee to a nursing home, adding large wings, and shearing off the upper two floors. The marble staircase survives, leading nowhere.
The Main Gate
In the late 19th century, some of the major monuments of the Shingle Style were erected in Bar Harbor. By the turn of the century, the Italian villa, creamy stucco with a red tile roof and arched loggia or courtyard–inappropriate though it may seem for the Maine climate and landscape–had displaced the turreted and shingled as a favorite for fashionable cottages in that resort At least a dozen sprang over the first ten years of the new century on the hills and shores of Bar Harbor, including the neighboring trio of Eegonos, Buonriposo, and the present subject, Sonogee, built for Fifth Avenue Hotel heir and honorary Princeton researcher Henry Lane Eno in 1903. A New York Times article mentions a pagoda adjoining the drawing room as a unique feature, but no evidence of this has surfaced in old photographs.
Ocean Front, 1920’s View
Unlike its matching neighbors to the north on Eden Street, Sonogee did not enjoy long ownership by its original builder. Temporary financial reverses forced Eno to sell the house in 1911 to prominent stockbroker Lyman Kendall and his wife Ellen, the daughter of Governor Ballantine of Idaho. (Feel sorry not for Eno— a few years later, his fortune revived, he moved to England and lived out his days at lovely Montacute House in Somerset). In 1916, The New York Times reported that the Kendalls had expensively altered the interiors from the ‘modern’ to Italian renaissance. These improvements included a marble staircase and hall.
Two views of the stair hall
During World War I, Mrs. Kendall opened Sonogee as a hospital for recovering soldiers . One of these soldiers was Major Matthew Roberts, an American serving with the British Royal Flying Corps, and by 1918, the New York Times was reporting the Kendall’s divorce, with Mr. Kendall marrying singer/actress Betty Lee, and Mrs. Kendall marrying the Major. In the divorce settlement, which the Times called one of the largest ever at the time, Mrs. Kendall received the couple’s Park Avenue apartment, an annuity of $100,000 (a lavish income in an era when a servant’s wages were $5-$10 a week), $1,000,000 in cash, and Sonogee, valued by the Times at $2,000,000, including furnishings (unlikely).
Mrs. Kendall did not linger at Sonogee after marrying her Major, and in 1919 sold the house to the Frederick Vanderbilts of Hyde Park, who in 1915 had forsaken their Newport cottage, later owned by Doris Duke, for the simpler social pace of Bar Harbor. Mr. Vanderbilt had a long history with Bar Harbor, having first visited with his parents, the William Henry Vanderbilts in the 1870s. His late brother George, of Biltmore fame, owned Pointe d’Acadie, one of the largest estates in the resort, with grounds by Olmstead, and their niece, Mrs. Shepard Fabbri, owned Buonriposo just north of Sonogee. The Vanderbilts made few changes to the property, arriving each summer on their steam yacht Vedette, until Mrs. Vanderbilt’s death in 1927, when Mr. Vanderbilt sold Sonogee to inventor and radio tycoon, A. Atwater Kent.
The new owner, who had recently closed his giant companies,was about to embark on a new life as socialite and party-giver. On the eve of the depression, Sonogee became Party Central for the new set in Bar Harbor. Kent had fashionable architect Frederick Rhinelander King freshen up the old Renaissance pile, shearing off the porte cochere in favor of a copper hood in the Regency style, heavy renaissance mantels were replaced with Georgian and 18th century French models, and the solarium received a tented ceiling.
Reception Room, old newspaper photograph
Kent famously did not like to drive the same car two days in a row, and a local architect was brought in to rebuild the carriage house with space for a dozen cars, a car wash and machine room,and a motorized turntable in the center to aim cars to the right location in the vast room. Above were 16 bedrooms for staff, and a caretaker’s apartment in the lower level.
Kent then bought the adjoining Robert Abbe estate, Brookend, across Duck Brook and joined it to Sonogee. The original Abbe cottage was a large shingle style cottage by William Ralph Emerson, that had been added to in typical haphazard fashion ever since.
Brookend, Kent’s adjoining estate, 1930’s view
Kent modernized Brook End, and joined its grounds to Sonogee’s by converting the former mill pond at Duck Brook, which separated the two properties, to form a large naturalistic swimming pool. At the head of the pool, facing the ocean, he built a stylish cabana, also by King, with changing rooms, kitchen, and a near ballroom size entertaining space. The roof and walls of the cabana were covered in red and cream striped canvas, echoing the colors of the houses, and giving the whole a jaunty Riviera air. With the stage set, Kent was ready to party, and party he did, on through the depression, even as many of his fellow resorters were cutting staff and boarding up their cottages.
One of the formal gardens
A perusal of the society columns of the day tells the story—almost daily—Mr. & Mrs. Atwater Kent entertain 20 at Dinner”, “Atwater Kent gives Luncheon in his cabana at Sonogee” ” Mr & Mrs. Atwater Kent entertain Archduke Franz Josef and wife with dinner dance at Sonogee” “Two orchestras, one on yacht, one in house, at Kent party in Bar Harbor”, and on it went, until the eve of World War II.
Garden Gate, from The Social Spectator, September, 1937
By World War II, Kent had left Mrs. Kent and the children behind, and decamped for Bel Air, California, where he partied on until his death, known as ‘Mr. Host’. Sonogee was sold to industrialist Richard Wetzel, and Mrs. Kent and son stayed on at Brookend, which was torn down at her death.
The Ocean Front, 1970’s
NOTE: Despite its size and luxury, Sonogee was admittedly less than an architectural masterpiece. This fact was underscored for me this morning as I logged onto Old Long Island , where is posted the far more masterful H.H. Rogers cottage at Southampton, a house of similar size and composition which was one of the most admired of its day.