|| Introducing a New Force in Preservation
Some of America's finest houses were built in classical Greek
or Roman style in the early 19th Century - like Edgewater, shown
above, built in 1824 on the Hudson River in upstate New York.
Our early Presidents were in the forefront in popularizing the
classical style in their own homes, witness George Washington's
Mount Vernon, Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, James Madison's Montpelier,
James Monroe's Oak Hill and Andrew Jackson's Hermitage. To that
list, one can add the White House itself. All feature massive
colonnades in the classical manner across their front facades.
Greek Revival mania soon swept the nation, lasting until the mid-19th
Century and recurring periodically in the 20th Century.
My own interest in classical architecture, undoubtedly stimulated
by growing up in the American South and watching Gone With
the Wind too many times, reached a fever pitch in the late
1960s when I acquired not one but two spectacular examples of
classical residential architecture in America - Edgewater, shown
above, and Roper House built in 1838 in Charleston, South Carolina
(below). These two acquisitions set the tone and direction for
what was to become a fascinating lifetime hobby - collecting and
restoring old houses and antiques of the period.
Forty years, more or less, have passed and during this time I
have bought and restored at least a dozen old houses, all in the
classical American architectural style that so captivated me.
Some were sold or given away, but I retain six of the best. These
houses are filled with antique furniture, paintings and other
decorative arts, much of it original to the houses. The decorative
arts of this period manifested the same fashion in classical Greek
and Roman forms that had inspired the houses. The Duncan Phyfe,
Lannuier and other antique furniture that I acquired to go with
the houses represents the final flowering of hand-carved furniture
in America, before machines replaced these craftsmen in the mid-19th
Why I Am Going Public
During a long career on Wall Street, I was involved in bringing many companies "public," including our own firm (Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette) which became the first NYSE member firm to sell its shares to the public.
So now, at age 77, I believe it's time for me to go public with all these houses and their related collections. That is why I formed Classical American Homes Preservation Trust (CAHPT), a not-for-profit foundation that will eventually own all of these houses and open them to the public. Two of the houses are already owned by CAHPT, and the others will be given to the Foundation as my tax and personal circumstances dictate. Meanwhile, the houses that I still own also are open for special group tours by museums, garden clubs, and various preservation organizations. All proceeds from these tours are donated to either the sponsoring organization or CAHPT, as are the proceeds from the sale of the book Adventures With Old Houses, which describes my 40-year odyssey in collecting and restoring old houses and antiques.
There are quite a few things that are different or contrarian about Classical American Homes Preservation Trust vis-à-vis other preservation organizations, which I would like you to know about before you consider participating in our activities.
A Highly Focused Collection
First off, unlike many museums or preservation groups, we are not trying to be "all things to all people." Our collection of old houses and decorative arts is tightly focused - first half of the 19th Century, residential (as opposed to public buildings, churches, etc.), classical (i.e. inspired by Greek and Roman precedent), and American. When it comes to antique furniture we are even more focused, especially in New York-made furniture (Phyfe, Lannuier, etc.). Exceptions to the Americana rule are imported luxury items, used but not made in the U.S. at the time. The six houses include an important collection of classically inspired early 19th Century English, French, and other European crystal chandeliers, mirrors, clocks and porcelain, some of it original to the houses.
Why are we so focused on the early 19th Century art and architecture in America? It's partly happenstance, since I accidentally stumbled across the two magnificent Greek Revival houses. Of more historical importance, this was America's critical first 50 years - the "take-off stage" - following our success in gaining independence and founding a new nation. The classical architecture of the Greeks and Romans became our national style. It seemed to reflect the Republican values of early Rome and Athenian Democracy at its peak.