Lanterne, or Not Lanterne, That is the Question
This is territory covered before by other bloggers, but being the Down East Know-It-All, I want to set the record straight on a small point. As the regular reader knows, I am fascinated by design inspiration and sources, and strive for accuracy in noting those sources.
One of the most perfect, and most admired, houses of 18th century France is Pavilion de la Lanterne, so called because of the transparency effected by its many windows combined with its shallow depth. Architect unknown, attributed to Louis Le Vau, it was built as a hunting lodge at the edge of the Park at Versailles by the Prince de Noailles, head of the Royal Hunt and governor of Versailles.
As the palatial French Beaux Arts styles that had been the standard for grand houses in America fell out of fashion in the early 1900’s, simpler French styles came into favor, based on smaller chateaux and manor houses, and La Lanterne was a popular source, with many adaptations built from coast to coast. Herewith a few of those copies, plus my point of disagreement with previous attributions.
The Carolyn Morse Ely House in Lake Bluff, Illinois, designed by David Adler in 1923, is generally considered the finest of the adaptations, and the Dilettante does not argue. Adler makes the design his own, with graceful scale and well chosen details. The house is of buff brick rather than the stucco of the original, the first floor windows are gently arched, and the second floor windows do not go to the floor, as in the original. Neo-classical porches flank the garden facade, and mansard roof wings flank the entrance court, as in the original. The facade of the Ely house is more rustic than in the original, with pared down detail, and punctuated by oeil de bouef dormers in the carefully textured roof.
Next up is the Brookville, Long Island estate of James Clews, head of the banking house of Henry Clews & Co., designed by Horace Trumbauer in 1929, called, originally enough, La Lanterne. Trumbauer may have given up the palatial beaux arts style of his earlier palaces, such as The Elms in Newport, but the scale of this house was, as typical of the architect, enormous, with huge rooms and over size doors and windows. The wings are two full stories, and larger than the original. Trumbauer copies the Oeil de Bouef windows from the Adler version, which he would have known from architectural publications. The Dilettante is convinced that Trumbauer’s measuring tape showed a foot as 18 inches. After years as a convent, the center section of the house was torn down, and the wings became two large and separate country houses, the one on the left home of stylish Mrs. Byron Foy.
In Newport, Rhode Island is Ker Arvor, built for Snowden Fahnestock in the early 1930’s. Its stucco facade suffers much from heavy applications of white paint. Here we come to one of the Dilettante’s Don’ts. Don’t paint stucco. Let it age. Really.
But, I digress. Also in Newport is the pretender that is my bone of contention. Champ Soleil, a lovely French manor house designed by Polhemus and Coffin for Mrs. Drexel Dahlgren, is often called, especially by realtors, a copy of La Lanterne. It is not. The entrance pavilion is based on that of La Lanterne, as are some window lintels, but there the resemblance stops. The house itself has steep roofs, and is composed in three parts. It is modeled on any number of French Manor houses and chateaux of similar composition, and its type was also a favorite from the Beaux Arts onward to the Champ Soleil
Advanced Seminar: Six Degrees of Separation:
In 1947, Champ Soleil was purchased by Robert Goelet, who was seeking to downsize from Ochre Court, the 60 room French Medieval chateau in Newport that he’d inherited from his father years before. He immediately upsized Champs Soleil, adding a ballroom wing and hiring the uber fashionable firm of Jansen to do the interiors. Years earlier, Goelet’s first wife, Elsie Whelan, had left him for sculptor Henry Clews Jr., first cousin of James Clews, owner of the Brookville ‘La Lanterne’. Elsie & Henry fled Newport for the French Rivera, where they renovated the Chateau de la Napoule, which gloomy pile was decidedly not inspired by La Lanterne, so we can stop here.
Now, who else tells you these things?