_Rosecliff Mansion

How the multi-million dollar Rosecliff Mansion became the setting for Pickett’s Dream

Backstory of Rosecliff Mansion

“Rosecliff was not the grandest of the mansions. And this was part of its charisma. On a street that held dream after dream of nineteenth-century robber barons, who had come to believe in their monarchies in an unfortunately democratic state, its graceful restraint in the company of The Breakers and Marble House, allowed it a presence that didn’t have to prove its preeminence.  

It was fashioned after the ‘Little Palace’ in the gardens of Versailles. In lieu of pink marble, the mansion was constructed of brilliant terracotta, which radiated in the day and held the sun into the cool of the summer evenings. A stately bank of Palladian windows stretched across the front of the house, holding in its frame a hundred-foot ballroom and three thousand miles of ocean.”

Views of Rosecliff

The first time I saw Rosecliff as I was passing by on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, there was something about its stunning façade that suggested physical perfection. It was as though its architect, Stanford White (who was soon to be shot by a jealous husband on a rooftop restaurant in New York), knew what I had yet to learn about the beauty of understatement amid an egotistical materialism that was uniquely American. In comparison, overblown mansions like The Breakers and Marble House looked like cheap imitations of the European villas they would never be.

White’s genius as an architect began with his decision to imitate the “Little Palace.” Last weekend I went to see it firsthand, and was taken by its scale relative to its gargantuan parent, “Palace of Versailles.” Perfectly proportioned, grand as it was, by comparison, it was almost modest—inviting commoners like me to bask in its grace rather than being overwhelmed by size.

To me, there is something about Rosecliff’s façade that is as tragic as wealth itself—a magnificent attempt at immortality that was doomed from the start. Yet perhaps like most, the illusions of wealth overtake my better judgment, giving me to wonder if Rosecliff were mine, would I live forever? In this spirit, I “stretched” the length of Rosecliff’s ballroom from 80 to 100 feet, and fictionalized extravagant parties it could have hosted a hundred years before:

Inside the Rosecliff Ballroom

“It was said of its first mistress, Mrs. Morrison Bamberger, wife of Adolph Bamberger, the Philadelphia coal magnate, that in her first day of residence she lined up a platoon of gardeners in the ballroom, and with her own strong foot, rolled out an oriental carpet and demanded: “Reproduce it!”  The next proprietress, Mrs. Jameson Whitney, gave the dazzling parties that made Rosecliff the preeminent venue of the 1920’s.  When the Navy declined the small fortune that she offered to anchor the fleet out on the water, she allegedly hired every boat within twenty miles of coastline to don ten thousand lights and moor out in the dark as a mock flotilla.”

The choice of Rosecliff as the setting for the novel didn’t happen by accident. Rosecliff constellated perfect paradoxes: between greed and generosity, humility and hope, privilege and generosity; between ephemeral beauty beyond our reach, and the inevitable specter of defeat. Convinced as I am that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, so am I haunted by some earthly vision that will render paradise.

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