Newport's Belcourt Castle has ambitious new owners, and the Times is on it, featuring the past, present, and future of the 1894 behemoth. Originally designed by Richard Morris Hunt, the 40,000-square-foot mansion was scooped up last year by Alex and Ani founder Carolyn Rafaelian; though she only paid $3.6M, she's already invested $5M into the renovations and plans to reopen it next year as a "tour house, art gallery and event space." "This one was like a neglected and abused woman," says contractor Joe Triangelo, Rafaelian's boyfriend. "We've given her attention and love, and slowly but surely she's a new woman."
13. A bit about the Hunt's philosophy: "It was designed in the style of a French hunting lodge and emblazoned with much hunting insignia."
12. When the house was built, the first floor housed stables and carriages for owner Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont's animals. Upon shacking up with Belmont, fellow Newport-mansion dweller Alva Vanderbilt promptly relocated the animals and built a banquet hall, among other rooms.
11. "Upstairs, Belmont's bedroom opened onto a ballroom with an enormous pipe organ that loomed over it (and still does)."
10. "The 'back' of the house is actually its front. According to local lore, Mr. Belmont was turning his back on Bellevue Avenue, but in all likelihood he was after the stunning water views (which are now hidden by trees and contemporary houses).
9. After Belmont died, the house sold for $1,000 to someone who planned, unsccesfully, to turn it into a car museum; it went on to house the Newport Jazz Festival "until the neighbors revolted."
8. It was named "Belcourt Castle" by the Tinney family, who purchased the place in 1956 and turned it into a "Gilded Age pastiche embellished with the fragments of lost houses, like a fantastical seahorse weather vane that is still planted on the stable roof, as well as the Tinneys' own decorative flourishes, which tended toward garish gilding and stained-glass work. Donald even made a gilded carriage, which looks like a Disney fantasy in photographs."
7. In 1999, the castle hosted "no-underwear party," where 800 guests attended without, well, underwear. Neighbors are still scarred.
6. When Rafaelian purchased the castle, it was a big, heaping mess, with drainage issues, mold, a wrecked roof, and so on. A description, from the architect working on the renovation: "There were layers of things attached to the walls on pilasters. Fluted, fake columns all over the place painted in gold and gaudy colors. Downstairs was dark and gloomy and covered with all kinds of religious icons. It was like a beautiful woman with very bad makeup."
5. The words on the castle's crest, "Sans Crainte" or "without fear," are now the castle's motto.
4. The library contains copy of a Hyacinthe Rigaud portrait of Louis XIV.
3. Rafaelian plans to install solar panels and geothermal climate-control.
2. The castle's front doors are 500 pounds and made of solid oak.
1. The castle is zoned for only 12 events a year, and each one must be approved by the Newport City Council.
· Ghosts Be Gone [NYT]