Richard Morris Hunt Still alive at Belcourt Castle Newport (RI)

Belcourt Castle, Newport

Belcourt Castle, located on the prestigious Bellevue Avenue where most of America’s “Gilded Age” mansions stand, awaited a person to restore it to its original splendor.

Richard Morris Hunt designed this “folie” of over 4,000 square meters and it captured the heart of Carolyn Rafaelian, founder of Alex and Ani Jewelry. She purchased it with her partner and contractor Joe Triangelo. The purchase price was quite low but the magnitude of the restoration was tremendous.

The history of Belcourt is unusual.  It was inspired by Louis XIII’s hunting lodge, which eventually became the Chateau of Versailles!  Completed in 1884, it was commissioned by Olivier Perry Belmont and designed by Richard Morris Hunt. Hunt, at this point, was entering the final years of his professional life. Soon he will be joined by his son, Richard Howland Hunt, graduated also from the Beaux Arts in Paris. O H P Belmont, son of Auguste Belmont a successful financier, was a total eccentric, immoderately devoted to his horses.

At his request, the architect imagined a stable-cum- bachelor’s quarters, the first floor being reserved for horses and carriages.  Belmont’s bedroom; one floor higher, opened on to a ballroom, embellished with a pipe organ. This complex, colorful mansard mansion was built of granite and alternating bands of brick and had an elaborate half-timbered interior courtyard emblazoned with hunting trophies.

Not long after the house was finished, Belmont fell in love with his neighbor,  Alva Vanderbilt, owner of Marble House, her own Richard Morris Hunt mansion.  Alva was a well-known “suffragette” and a dear friend of the architect. She divorced her husband, married Mr. Belmont and moved in to Belcourt.  Soon there were no more horses in the living areas, the decor became gothic and renaissance, and she added a library plus her own bedroom!

Belmont died in 1908 – Hunt designed his mausoleum.  Then the years were difficult for Belcourt. In 1940 it almost became an automobile museum.  Later, in the fifties, it hosted the Newport Jazz Festival until the neighbor’s revolt. In 1956, the Tinneys bought it. Belcourt became a sort of “Gilded Age” pastiche, embellished with fragments of houses lost to demolition.  For example, a fantastic seahorse weathervane was, and still is, planted on the roof. The extravagant reception for over 800 people given in 1999 has never been forgotten as the dress code was: no underwear!  For years the house struggled through complicated family and extra-family disputes, its financial situation became precarious and soon it was empty, abandoned, a lost beauty, justifying its reputation as haunted.

Today, Mrs. Rafaelian has plans for Belcourt, rechristened »Belcourt of Newport”, without neglecting its motto “without fear”.  Next summer Belcourt will be opened to the public for mansion tours, will host an Art Gallery, as well as cultural, social and other events, providing their approval by the City Council.  Always in the spirit of elegance, in the image of Newport’s dedication to preservation.


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