Sunday, March 31, 2019

Chetwode (1903-1973) was merely an Astor family "cottage"

The caption on the front of this unused and undated American Art Post Card Co. linen postcard states: "'Chetwode', residence of John Jacob Astor, Bellevue Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island."

Which Astor? The short answer is that it's John Jacob "Jakey" Astor VI, aka "The Titanic Baby."

They moneyed Astors have a tangled family tree, and it's especially tangled when it comes to the use of Roman numerals after "John Jacob Astor." Under the "Name Confusion" subheading for Jakey, Wikipedia notes:
"Even though some sources refer to Jakey as John Jacob V, John Jacob Astor, 1st Baron Astor of Hever (1886–1971) was born first and therefore is actually John Jacob Astor V. Sir Jakie Astor (1918–2000), youngest brother of David Astor, was John Jacob Astor VII; the 3rd Baron Astor of Hever is John Jacob Astor VIII. Jakey is sometimes (incorrectly) referred to as John Jacob III."
Confused yet? There's also this amusing note on the Wikipedia page of the actual John Jacob Astor III:
"Some sources such as Time magazine incorrectly list him as 'John Jacob Astor II' and discount the birth of his uncle John Jacob Astor Jr., who was unstable."
But for the purposes of moving forward on this post, all we need to know is that Chetwode was once owned by Titanic Baby Jakey (1912-1992), who got his nickname because his mother, Madeleine, survived the sinking of the Titanic while she was five months pregnant with him. Father John Jacob Astor IV went down with the boat, and his brave sacrifice is portrayed by Eric Braeden in the 1997 film.

Chetwode wasn't built for the Astor family. It was designed in 1903 by architect Horace Trumbauer1 for Mrs.William Storrs Wells, according to The Preservation Society of Newport County, which adds these details about the building's opulence:
"A limestone-clad brick Louis XIV style chateau, Chetwode ... became one of the most lavish villas ever erected in Newport. The white and gold paneled salons were in Louis XV and Louis XVI taste based on the King's private apartments at Versailles. The dining room, library, and morning room contained old master paintings set into the wall decoration."
That website goes on to note that Mrs. Wells sold the estate, furnished, to Jakey Astor in January 1934 for $150,000. There then followed some diminishing returns. Astor, following on his divorces, sold Chetwode for $70,000 in 1948. In was further sold for $45,000 in 1954 and $40,000 in 1957. It went through iterations as a church, apartments and an art school. A devastating fire in January 1972 made the 1973 razing of the structure all but inevitable.

1. Trumbauer has another Titanic connection: He designed Harvard's Widener Library, which stands in remembrance of another victim of the sinking, bibliophile Harry Elkins Widener.

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