Marble House at Bellevue Avenue

Newport, Rhode Island is famous for its luxury mansions. Despite their imposing size and obvious opulence, they are also known as summer “cottages”. Once, the private residences of Newport’s finest, the extravagant homes now function as museums for interested tourists. These museums reveal how the past residents of Newport lived, and, judging by the looks of their “cottages”, they lived extremely well. These mansions are now operated and managed by the Preservation Society of Newport County. One such mansion is the Marble House. It is located at 596 Bellevue Avenue. The Marble House’s four-year-long construction started in 1888 and ended it 1892.

It was owned by the grandson of renowned Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt who struck gold when he went into the business of steamships and when he got involved in the New York Central Railroad. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt’s grandson William was married to a woman named Alva who turned out to be one of the leading hostesses in Newport’s elite society.

William commissioned an architect who was very well-established and well-connected with Newport’s wealthy families. Architect Richard Morris Hunt designed the Marble House after the Petit Trianon, which is a chateau in the Palace of Versailles in Versailles, France. The chateau is a product of the Rococo-Neoclassical architectural transition. It is basically a simple but elegant cube and the vertical surfaces of which are designed differently depending on the direction that they face. The columns of the chateau are mostly of the Corinthian order. The Petit Trianon was built during the 1760s by Ange-Jacques Gabriel for his mistress, Madame de Pompadour.

The cost of the Marble House amounts to eleven million dollars, and a very large part of that was spent on five hundred thousand cubic feet of solid marble. Marble was the main building material and was heavily used throughout the residence. When the project was completed, William gave the Marble House to his wife Alva for her 39th birthday.

The Vanderbilt couple had three children. They were Consuelo, William, Jr., and Harold. All of whom grew up in the Marble House. Consuelo grew up to be the 9th Duchess of Marlborough. William, Jr. became an icon in the world of American auto-racing. Harold became an award-winning yachtsman. Unfortunately, in 1895 William and Alva’s marriage ended in divorce. Alva married her second husband, Oliver H.P. Belmont, and moved out of the Marble House. When Belmont passed away, Alva reopened the Marble House, where she began hosting social events.

Thereafter, Alva put the Marble House up for sale and it was bought by Frederick H. Prince in 1932. Prince was a stockbroker, investment banker and financier born in Winchester, Massachusetts. It was from his estate that the Preservation Society of Newport County was able to acquire the Marble House. In 2006, the mansion became a National Historic Landmark.