Astors’ Beechwood Takes Shape as Larry Ellison Art Museum

Astor's Beechwood renovationRestoration of Astor’s Beechwood underway 12/30/12

on Bellevue Avenue, Newport, RI

Yesterday, while cruising down Newport’s Bellevue Avenue, I glanced over at Astors’ Beechwood and, much to my surprise, it wasn’t there!  After a quick double take I realized the big, beige Italiante mansion WAS in fact there, but it was no longer the cream-colored wedding-cake-of-a-house I remembered, but rather a somber red brick edifice with pale quoining along the corners and roof line.

It’s a temporary look, as plans call for the reapplication of the stucco, but the mansion’s current “nakedness” combined with the wintery, leafless landscape accentuates the dignity of the original architecture.

Astors’ Beechwood is undergoing a complete restoration thanks to Oracle co-founder, Larry Ellison who purchased the property in 2010 for $10.5 million and plans to open it as a non-profit museum to display his collection of 18th and 19th century art.  The Atlantic Arts Museum will be a bonus for Newport’s residents and visitors and a happy outcome for Astors’ Beechwood.

Artist's rendering of Astor's Beechwood RestorationRendering of Astor’s Beechwood from Bellevue Ave.

Beechwood is often attributed to architect, Richard Morris Hunt, but Andrew Jackson Downing and Calvert Vaux designed the original summer cottage for Daniel Parrish in 1851. The original house burned to the ground 1855 and was rebuilt closer to Bellevue Ave.  In 1881 William Blackhouse Astor Jr. purchased this replica, and his wife, Caroline Webster Shermerhorn-Astor, immediately commissioned Hunt to renovate the manse and add a ballroom large enough to entertain the elite members of Newport’s famous “400,” the most prominent families of the day.  25 years later Beechwood’s pale stucco exterior was applied.

The current plan includes renovation of the carriage house, a new slate roof, demolition of a 1980s garage, renovation of the greenhouse and extensive landscaping.

Artist's rendering of Astor's Beechwood RestorationRendering of Astor’s Beechwood from Cliff Walk

A dramatic arched loggia destroyed in the hurricane of 1954 will be rebuilt restoring lovely Atlantic Ocean views enjoyed by the homes along Cliff Walk.  Once complete, the 26,000 square foot Italianate mansion will house the a residential style museum similar to New York’s Frick Museum on the first floor and private residence above. The first floor museum will be open to the public, and the residential second floor will be open when no one is in residence.

This is one of several big projects going on around here this winter.  

It just keeps getting better and better here in Newport, RI.  Happy New Year!!