Issue 1 - King Of Neon - Image 1

King of Neon

Bracey's backyard in East London – christened “God’s Own Junk Yard” – is like Las Vegas’s Neon Boneyard in miniature: a four-decade jumble of industrial metal, discarded advertising signage, architectural salvage and, as he says, random letters that had been earmarked for recycling. His is a family trade – his father made neon signs, and Bracey has been beguiled by the art since he was a boy. The Londoner collects anything to do with old signs, and some of it he lovingly incorporates into new works of his own. “I might drag out an ‘L’ from a Planet Hollywood sign and an ‘O’ from the Trocadero and go on to spell out ‘LOVE’ on a backing board from an old First World War barracks,” he explains, describing the creative process. “I put it all together with old neon and bulbs, and then I fall in love with it. It’s carved from my heart.”


Other pieces he collects for the pure love of this vintage craft,
traveling the world to pick over old junkyards and secondhand shops. “I never throw anything away. I have loads of old signs my dad made for fairgrounds and circuses in the 1950s and 1960s, and then there are vintage American signs I found on road trips on Route 66,” he says.


Discarded neon from circuses, carnivals, end-of-the-pier joints,
London’s theaterland and Chinatown fill four warehouses across the city. Which has made Bracey the go-to guy as collector, artist and dealer when film companies want to recreate period sets for their productions. Batman’s Gotham City was propped with some of Bracey’s prized vintage signs, and Stanley Kubrick borrowed a few pieces and commissioned some new neon for Eyes Wide Shut. Vogue has shot fashion in his yard, and the artist Grayson Perry decorated a party with some neon that originally came from an old clip joint in London’s Soho.


These days, his own neon and colored-bulb artworks are garnering him a reputation internationally, with high-profile collectors such as Lady Gaga, Elton John and Mark Zuckerberg buying his pieces. At an exhibition of his work last winter, he showed one piece made from a weathered old metal stepladder, its surface thick with paint and plaster marks. He’d attached the words “Stairway to Heaven” in cool white scripted neon on its steps. “I’ve had the ladder for years and years,” he says, “I knew it would be useful one day.”

Issue 1 - The New Jazz Age - Image 1

The New Jazz Age

Breaking down barriers is what jazz is all about – music that lives and breathes collaboration and assimilation, both instrumentally and culturally. Aptly, the great melting-pot of New York City is jazz’s spiritual home – the center for swing in the 1920s, bebop in the 1940s, avant-garde in the 1960s and the loft scene of the 1970s that created world-famous venues such as The Cotton Club, Birdland and The Village Vanguard. Musical movements may come and go, but jazz continues to thrive in NYC as new generations discover, absorb and renew the genre.

And central to this participation is Wynton Marsalis’s ground-breaking Jazz at Lincoln Center, part of the famous arts venue and a hub for jazz education and performance since 1987. In the spirit of the great jazz ambassadors of days gone by – Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington and the recently departed Dave Brubeck – Jazz at the Lincoln Center has extended its reach to the Middle East and teamed up with The St. Regis Doha to open its first club outside New York – a partnership that flows naturally from The St. Regis New York’s longstanding connection with the genre, having hosted celebrated performances by the greats, including Count Basie, Buddy Rich and Tommy Dorsey, from the first Jazz Age up to the present day.
 Its spirit will be heard in upcoming performances from virtuoso trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who is the program’s director, and from pianist extraordinaire Ahmad Jamal, bass wunderkind Christian McBride, drummer Willie Jones III and new vocal talent Cécile McLorin Salvant. An astonishingly bright and nimble trumpet player, 51-year-old Marsalis has been thrilling jazz audiences since his appearances with legendary drummer Art Blakey at the age of just 19.

A proud New Orleans native, Marsalis has been the jazz figurehead for his generation and the next. “Throughout its history, jazz has connected with different cultures, races, religions and generations,” he says. “This is an especially important time to communicate the sanctity of our collective human heritage. Jazz is a perfect tool to do this.” Marsalis, one of the key contributors to Ken Burns’s famous Jazz documentary series of 2001, is also a gifted and respected teacher, and in his role as artistic director of New York’s Lincoln Center he is passing on all he’s learned to the next generation of jazz greats. His recording career, now spanning 30 years, includes the Pulitzer Prize-winning Blood on the Fields and his legendary eponymous 1982 debut album featuring Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams. The St. Regis Doha may not seem the obvious setting for a jazz club, but walk through the wooden doors on the fourth floor and you could be in The Village Vanguard or Blue Note. The sightlines and acoustics are perfect. Marsalis approves: “I grew up in clubs – I know what clubs should be like, and this is beautiful. Our goal is to uplift everyone who hears us.”


Your address: The St. Regis DohaThe St. Regis New York

Images by Corbis, Max Reed, Ayano Hisa & Hanayo Takai, Anne Webber


Artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, Wynton Marsalis brings his talent, influence and associates to the new jazz club at The St. Regis Doha

Cécile McLorin Salvant

Hailed as one of the most gifted jazz vocalists to emerge on the scene in recent years, 23-year-old Cécile McLorin Salvant was born and raised in Miami, Florida, by her Haitian father and French mother. She regularly wows audiences with her huge range, incredible control, advanced melodic sense and intriguing repertoire that draws on everything from Erik Satie to John Lennon. Critics have been comparing McLorin Salvant to Sarah Vaughan, Abbey Lincoln and Carmen McRae. In 2010, she won jazz’s most presigious award, the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, which recognizes the next generation of masters. She spent August 2012 recording her eponymous debut album for the thriving Mack Avenue label, and has been performing as Wynton Marsalis’s special guest with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Don’t miss one of jazz’s brightest young stars.

Ahmad Jamal

Jamal is a hugely innovative and influential pianist, one of the giants of post-war jazz. His sense of space and conception of rhythm was a significant influence on Miles Davis, and his trio is one of jazz’s most enduring small groups. You can hear the whole history of the piano in his masterful, effortless playing, from Earl Hines and Erroll Garner through Keith Jarrett, right up to Brad Mehldau. A child prodigy, he was tipped for greatness at the age of 14 by the legendary Art Tatum. Jamal has been at the forefront of jazz piano for five decades, and recently released his studio album Blue Moon. Now, at the age of 82, Ahmad Jamal continues to thrill jazz audiences worldwide with his Zen-like solos, and is rightly considered one of the all-time greats.

Christian McBride

McBride’s vitality, virtuosity and pure love of jazz have given the acoustic bass a new lease of life, and in doing so he has also joined the pantheon of greats alongside the likes of Milt Hinton, Ron Carter and his idol Ray Brown. Musicians joke that there’s nothing Christian McBride can’t play – he’s equally at home cranking up the jazz/rock with Chick Corea, burning with Sonny Rollins at Carnegie Hall or arranging and composing music for his own big band. Still only 40 years old, McBride has released ten acclaimed albums, including the Grammy winner The Good Feeling and Conversations with Christian, a joyous collection of duets with the likes of Sting, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Hank Jones, Dr. Billy Taylor and George Duke. Don’t miss this chance to check out one of the young giants, and arguably the most important jazz bassist since Jaco Pastorius.

Willie Jones III

We’ve all heard the old saying: a band is only as good as its drummer. Taking his cue from past masters Philly Joe Jones, Billy Higgins and Art Blakey, Willie Jones III, born in LA in 1968, knows exactly how to drive a band with his inventive sense of swing, slick grooves, subtle dynamics and natural power. Utilizing a very small kit, Jones has always been in huge demand, performing with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Horace Silver and Milt Jackson. He co-founded the innovative Black Note band in 1991, which regularly served as Wynton Marsalis’s opening act, and won the coveted John Coltrane Young Artist Competition in 1991. Initially inspired by his pianist father, and later studying under the legendary sticksman Albert “Tootie” Heath, Jones understands jazz music inside and out. Soloists adore his playing – he’s a drummer to silence drummer jokes forever.

Issue 1 - The Empire Strikes Back - Image 1

The Empire Strikes Back

Artisans have always been the heart and soul of Italy. Although “haute couture” began in Paris in the early part of the 20th century, the great Italian ateliers emerged on the international stage in the 1950s thanks to the fashion pioneer Giovanni Battista Giorgoni. The entrepreneur cleverly persuaded US buyers to stop in Florence the day after the Paris collections, before flying back to America. Both buyers and press returned home inspired by what they saw, and Italian “alta moda” (or couture) was born. Three talented sisters, the celebrated Sorelle Fontana, led the way, the glamour of cinema immortalizing their designs in the public imagination when they unforgettably dressed Ava Gardner in The Barefoot Contessa and Anita Eckberg in La Dolce Vita.
Giorgini cemented Italy’s fashion reputation internationally, and when he stopped hosting shows in Florence, Rome gradually took over. Galitzine, Lancetti, Fausto Sarli, Renato Balestra and Raffaella Curiel were among the many prestigious houses – the greatest though, were Valentino Garavani and Roberto Capucci. Both equal in genius in the pursuit of beauty, Valentino was more commercial and international, while Capucci, who never ventured into prêt-à-porter, was more known at home than abroad, memorably dressing Italian socialites in fantastical sculptural creations. With the rise of Italian prêt-à-porter, led by designers such as Walter Albini and Giorgio Armani in the 1970s and 1980s, Milan gradually eroded Rome’s position and turned the spotlight on itself.
But today, there is a renewed focus on AltaRoma, as the assembly of Italian couture houses is known, showing twice a year in January and July, immediately after the haute couture shows in Paris. Currently under the stewardship of Silvia Fendi, the doyenne of celebrated Fendi accessories such as the Baguette bag, and granddaughter of the legendary house’s founders, its aim is to promote and sustain the extraordinary wealth of Italian artisanship passed down through the centuries. “AltaRoma has a specific vocation – that of treasurer of our artisanal heritage,” Fendi says, “as well as being a launch pad for innovative, creative people seeking to develop their international profile. Rome is now a scouting centre for global talent.” With the support of Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzani, the best young designers are being discovered through the competition Who’s Up Next? Today, former winner Sergio Gambon is the creative director of Galitzine, and is one such talent continuing the tradition of haute couture in Rome. Most of the “hands” – as the top-level seamstresses are known – learned the craft at their grandmothers’ knee, sewing dresses for their dolls.
Witnessing these unsung artisans at work in ateliers across Rome is enlightening and humbling, like observing the weavers of 15th-century tapestries. The care, precision and expertise given to each stitch recalls a true artist at work, and to know that this craft is being kept alive in a world of accelerated change, is a vital connection to the past that safeguards the integrity of haute couture.
Your address: The St. Regis Rome. A private visit to the Fendi atelier, design studio and boutique can be arranged for guests.


Since Valentino’s legendary 1968 White collection knocked the fashion world sideways, he has been at the epicentre of Italian couture. Jackie Kennedy gilded his reputation when she ordered a wardrobe of clothes for her official mourning period as JFK’s widow. Later, the picture of her white-lace mini-dress for her wedding to Aristotle Onassis in 1968 became an iconic image. Many of the house’s premier seamstresses have been working there for decades, and some have memories of fitting Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn.
Neighbouring rooms with glass doors overlooking the Piazza di Spagna are furnished with large tables at which six or seven seamstresses work under the eagle eye of a premiere. Photographs of some of the world’s most famous women, wearing dresses made within these very rooms, occasionally interrupt the whitewashed walls. Powerful neon ceiling lamps illuminate the workshop, and metal irons of different weights are neatly stacked on shelves. The ladies at the table are currently working on the top-secret haute couture collection to be presented in Paris in July.
In one small room, four focused young seamstresses and one young man, all with pin pouches attached to their chests, painstakingly embroider a landscape on a single black sheet of tulle. It’s utterly beautiful, reminiscent of an ancient Chinese pen-and-ink drawing. But this, I learn, will only be one of the four layers of the finished dress.


In another larger room, several “hands” are constructing delicate flesh-coloured bustiers. It’s exhilarating to see exactly what’s behind each item of clothing: the geometry, the imagination, the skill, patience and dedication afforded to every single hand-sewn stitch. Some dresses are first made in paper, then in fabric. Each part of the craft is complex and demanding because they are unique pieces, but perhaps the hardest part is to achieve the perfect “drop” of the dress.


At Valentino, different “hands” are needed to handle different fabrics, but the current creative directors of Valentino, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, are known to sometimes use a seamstress who, say, usually works with lace, to drape leather.


The dresses produced here are one-off pieces and when Valentino has a “bestseller”, it means that just three editions of the same dress are made.

Tommy e Giulio Caraceni

This celebrated sartoria, founded in Rome by Domenico Caraceni (1880-1939), has dressed Italy’s most dashing men for generations. The legendary Fiat boss, Gianni Agnelli, was a regular customer. “I was taken on full time to make his suits,” explains master-cutter Giancarlo Tonini, who has worked at the same table for 53 years. “He would bypass the fitting room, head straight to where the tailors were at work, sit on the edge of a counter and talk football with them.” When Gary Cooper had a breakdown in 1931, he left Hollywood for a year of travelling in Europe and big-game hunting in Africa. He stopped at Caraceni to get suited up, marking the beginning of his reputation as Hollywood’s best-dressed man.
Tonini points out the particular trait that makes a Caraceni suit instantly recognisable: the top buttonhole remains unused and exposed on the lapel of the jacket. “There are those who always want the same fabric,” continues Tonini, “like the incredibly smart Count Cini, and those like Agnelli, who tried everything. Agnelli had his own style.
Still, today, customers arrive with photographs of him, asking me to make them the same suit.”  Tonini is currently making a blue pin-striped suit, which will take him a minimum of three weeks to complete. The customer’s measurements are drawn out on brown packing paper and spread onto a three-meter counter where the fabric is cut to size. “The only thing done by sewing machine are the hips, the back stitch, and the exterior of the sleeves – the rest is sewn by hand.” “Sadly, new ‘hands’ are few and far between in this craft,” explains Guido Finigalia, who manages the business. Tonini, the slim 75-year-old master tailor, impeccable in his Caraceni suit, is more pensive: “When Italy loses its artisanship, it will lose its history.”

Antica Cappelleria

In 1935 the Cirri brothers from Florence opened the Antica Cappelleria in the heart of Rome, in the days when society demanded diligence in gentlemen’s and ladies’ clothing. The Cirris worked and slept on the premises. “Hats are an incredible form of communication as well as objects of seduction,” says the current owner Patrizia Fabri. “Just look at what a crown symbolizes.”  Fabri bought her first hat at this very shop when she was 18 in the early 1980s. “I bought a straw hat, decorated it myself and sold it on immediately. I went back the next day and ordered 25 more, took them around to fashion stores and got more orders.”
Born from this enterprising spirit,  Fabri had her career cut out for her. So when the Antica Cappelleria was about to go out of business in 2003, she took over and saved the day. The atelier reverberates with her enthusiasm for the craft. “The first bashing the hat got was in the 1920s with the advent of the motorcar,” explains Fabri, “and then later and more severely in the 1970s due to feminism.” The premises are stacked with elegant hats in all shapes colours and sizes. They are custom-made in the back room by master hatter Sandro Bellucci. “I started by chance at 14 and never looked back,” he says, while steaming a hat made from rabbit hair in a dome-shaped, cast-iron oven. “The raw material as a rule for all hats is rabbit fur because it’s water repellent. It’s then treated so it can be dyed and shaped.”
Above us on surrounding shelves is an infinity of wooden hat molds from different eras that Fabri travels the world to collect for her archive. “We’re determined to maintain traditions unaltered through time,” she says passionately. “There is only one producer of raw materials for hat-making left in Portugal, otherwise one must order now from China.” Fabri has made hats for many designers, including the great Roberto Cappucci for an exhibition currently being shown in Beijing. Handmade top hats and panamas are suspended above our heads. Here a customer can come in, be measured up, choose a hat for day or evening and have it on their head before close of business. Fabri slips on a 1920s cloche, looking as though she were born in it. “A person has a good relationship with a hat when they feel as though they’re not even wearing one!” she laughs.

Renato Balestra

A former engineering student and pianist, Renato Balestra is especially known for his fabrics, hand-embroidered in his basement atelier, and for Blu Balestra, a particular tone of peacock blue that he has always been passionate about and uses in each of his collections. Famous clients include Farah Diba of Iran and the Queen of Thailand.


Angela, the premiere, has been working for him for 20 years. She learned the craft from the age of six at home. “It’s difficult to find new ‘hands’,” she says. “I think one can only do this job out of passion.” At the next table, Chiara is doing embroidery. Being a new “hand”, she studied at the Accademia in Rome.
Once a dress has been ordered it takes around 20 days to complete. Balestra, now 88, is still closely involved with every aspect of his collection. “Haute couture is a whole culture, an art,” he says.

Issue 1 - Playground Of The Gilded Age - Image 3

Playground of the Gilded Age

Squeezed between Vermont and Canada in the north-easternmost corner of Upper New York State lie the wild, remote Adirondack Mountains. At first sight it is an uninhabited wilderness; on closer inspection you will find, nestling by myriad lakes and folded into the hills, some of the most spectacular vacation homes ever seen in North America. These are the so-called “camps” and “lodges” built by the steel, oil and fur tycoons of the late 19th and early 20th century, among them the names of the great families who formed America’s first aristocracy. Except they were hardly “camps” in the true sense of the word, but rather luxurious feats of rustic architecture, which have been documented in Gladys Montgomery’s book An Elegant Wilderness, a fascinating history in sepia that celebrates an extraordinary period in American life when moneyed New York sought to reconnect with nature.
Bluff Point, for example, on Raquette Lake, was home to Sara Stewart Van Alen, a descendant of the mighty Astor family. Although built in rural-backwoods style, within these vast log cabins there existed the height of urban luxury. Bluff Point had its own bowling alley, boat launch, clubhouse, a separate dining tent of gaily striped canvas and a network of covered walkways and bridges leading to an island gazebo. Playing at “country” by no means meant roughing it. Few of these gilded pleasure houses are still in private hands, but those days of high luxury with an Astor connection live on in the St. Regis Hotel on Fifth Avenue, a few blocks from Central Park – the city’s own patch of wilderness. A splendid Beaux-Arts hotel built by John Jacob Astor IV in 1904, its name was borrowed, at his niece’s suggestion, from Upper St. Regis Lake – an idyllic spot popular among the vacationing Astors and their wealthy circle.
By the turn of the 20th century, the Adirondacks had become a playground for America’s aristocrats of the eastern seaboard. Easily accessible from the fleshpots of New York for a weekend round trip, this wilderness was where the Gatsbys of the Gilded Age acted out the plutocrat’s version of the simple life. With their luxury timber cabins and secluded lakeside villas, they fished, sailed, walked, shot deer, painted, played tennis and golf and acted in amateur dramatics. It all made for a country-club set in genuine wild country. And what a vast country club it was. The Adirondack Park, where most of the camps and lodges were to be found, is around six million acres – bigger than Yosemite, Glacier, Everglades and Yellowstone national parks combined, claiming more than a hundred peaks.
Among the members of this wilderness club were the leading families of the day: the Roosevelts, Vanderbilts, Cabots, Guggenheims, Astors and others. The Astors were the most famous of all. Descendants of 18th-century German immigrants, they made their vast fortune out of fur trading. In a strange accident of fortune, many of the beavers that had died in the name of the Astor millions were, in fact, caught in the Adirondacks. The Astors then turned to property speculation, earning the moniker “the landlords of New York”, lending their name to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and the neighborhood of Astoria in Queens.(When John Jacob Astor IV went down with the RMS Titanic in 1912, he was the richest man aboard.) As the Astors and the other elite dynasties took up residence in their Adirondacks homes, they opted for a more rural-looking chic. The log cabins they slept in had a fine pedigree. Eight presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, had been born in log cabins, albeit more rugged ones than the superluxe Adirondacks versions that later came into vogue. At the 1876 Centennial Exposition of Arts and Manufacture in Philadelphia, the Swiss chalet had been a big hit. Soon afterwards, the Swiss chalet and log cabin became fashionable styles for homes in resorts, from the national parks of the west to the Adirondacks in the east.
Architectural elements that had originally been purely pragmatic – porches, screens, natural materials, gables and bays – became must-haves for the new millionaires. Particularly fancy owners, such as the Connecticut governor Phineas C. Lounsbury at his Echo Point Villa on Raquette Lake, had the names of their villas picked out in twig work on their front porches. Distinguished architects, such as Andrew Jackson Downing and Alexander Jackson Davis, published sought-after designs for weekend retreats, from cozy cottages to rustic British country houses. Ultra-luxe campsites were built, too, imitating the layout of Civil War military camps, but without the tough lifestyle.
The push towards the New York country weekend had been sparked by the 1869 publication of Adventures in the Adirondacks, by the Reverend William Henry Harrison Murray. Reverend Murray sang the praises of the free and open wilds to a new generation of tourists with enough time and money on their hands to explore the countryside on their doorstep. Already the Hudson River School of artists had enshrined the beauty of the land lying north of New York City, a few days’ journey up the Hudson River. In 1837, the founder of the school, Thomas Cole, visited Schroon Lake in the Adirondacks. In the same year, the painter Charles C. Ingham accompanied the geologist Ebenezer Emmons on New York State’s first-ever natural-history survey, when he came up with the name Adirondack, taken from the Iroquois word for the Algonquin Indians.
The Adirondacks became the hot destination for aspiring wilderness artists – among them the ladies of the Horicon Sketching Club, a group of well-heeled Manhattan women who canoed across the lakes to find the most picturesque vistas. They painted in broad bonnets and immaculate white cotton dresses, their packed lunches carried in wicker “Adirondack baskets” by robust guides. Then, in 1871, Dr. Thomas C. Durant of the Union Pacific Railroad completed the line to the Adirondacks – or “a Central Park for the world”, as the New York Times called it, now that it was so easily reachable from Manhattan. America’s first accessible wilderness was open for business – with perfect timing. Just as industrialization was roaring across the nation, ripping open the landscape for mining, despoiling it with mills, chimneys and factories, so Americans woke up to the romance of their disappearing countryside. The Adirondacks were under particular threat as they were progressively stripped for their timber. However, in 1894, the park was granted state constitutional protection, ensuring that the territory would be “forever wild”. The lodge and camp owners were determined to preserve their holiday retreats, setting up the Association for the Preservation of the Adirondacks in 1901.
This new class of tycoons certainly had money to burn. In 1892, the New York Tribune published a list of 4,047 American millionaires, a large chunk of them in New York, their fortunes founded in steel, railways, oil and textiles. The story of these princes of the American Renaissance are the subject of a new NBC series, The Gilded Age, written by the creator of the British period drama Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes. The Gilded Age refers to the title of an 1873 novel by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner, who both vacationed in the Adirondacks. They, in turn, borrowed the expression from Shakespeare’s King John:
“To gild refined gold, to paint the lily...
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.”

The gazillionaires may have played up to the simple life, but their behavior was dictated by codes as strict as those that ruled their weekdays in the city. In her 1923 book on etiquette, Emily Post wrote a chapter on the Adirondacks house party: “Let no one think that this is a ‘simple’ (by that meaning either easy or inexpensive) form of entertainment. ‘Roughing it’ in the fashionable world (on the Atlantic coast) is rather suggestive of the dairymaid playing of Marie Antoinette; the ‘rough’ part being mostly ‘picturesque effect’ with little taste for actual discomfort.” For these brief spells in the country, the new rich pretended to defer to a new order where country skills outranked wealth and position. The poet Ralph Waldo Emerson lampooned the idea:
“Look to yourselves, you polished gentlemen!
No city airs or arts pass current here
Your rank is all reversed; let men of cloth
Bow to the stalwart churls in overalls;
They are the doctors of the wilderness,
And we the low-prized laymen.”
Of course, this was all an illusion. The kings of Wall Street guarded their country retreats as jealously as they did their Fifth Avenue palazzi. At the entrance to Camp Uncas there was a forbidding sign saying: “Private Park. All trespassing hereon is hereby forbidden under penalty of the law. J. Pierpoint Morgan. Owner.” Morgan was the banker and art collector behind J.P. Morgan bank and the Morgan Library in New York. But it wasn’t all log cabins for the deep-pocketed. Some wanted to live like their European counterparts in vast, stately homes. Grander cabins were fitted with stained-glass windows, antler chandeliers, Moroccan wall hangings, Gothic Revival roofs and Mock Tudor paneling. The Wild Air cabin on Upper St. Regis Lake, built in 1882 for Ella Spencer Reid, the niece of the publisher of the New York Tribune, had its own billiards room. At Bull Point Lodge on Upper Saranac Lake, the banker Otto Kahn had two billiard tables.
At Litchfield Park, Edwin Litchfield built up one of the best-stocked hunting estates in America, wrapped around a château in the French regal style found at Fontainebleau and Chambord. Often, however, the urban incomers weren’t much good at the country sports they idolized. Between 1898 and 1900, three guides were shot dead by clueless weekenders who’d mistaken them for deer and bears.
At Sagamore, the Vanderbilts holidayed in a “Swiss chalet” the size of a schloss, with its own separate, free-standing dining hall. They got there from New York in a private Pullman car, the Wayfarer, finishing the journey in carriages drawn by four horses. In the evening, the dinner menu was printed in badly written French. But they were hardly slumming it with “huitres on the half shell, consommé Paelermo, Truite du Lac grillé m’d’hotel, Quartier de Venaison St. Hubert, and Poulets rotis, Salades Grape Fruit, Plum-Pudding and Patisserie.” They ate off silver and drank from glasses etched with the spruce logo of Sagamore. The lodges had to be vast, given the number of guests that these wealthy families often invited to stay. In the mid-1930s, the Garvans of Kamp Kill Kare invited the Yale and Harvard baseball teams for the weekend so that they could slug it out on the Garvans’ private diamond. They also had to accommodate an enormous staff. In 1903, at Knollwood on Lower Saranac Lake, the lawyer Louis Marshall employed 24 maids, chefs, grooms and butlers to maintain his simple “country cottage” lifestyle.
At Camp Inman, the boathouse was outfitted with its own casino, while on Upper St. Regis Lake, the Vanderbilts commissioned a huge, floating teahouse, a Japanese pagoda with swooping roofs supported by ornate, painted pillars. Inside, even modest cabins were decorated with Eastern touches – Japanese fans and parasols and Cantonese china were popular. Some weekenders took to wearing Chinese peasant hats as they paddled Indian canoes across Raquette Lake.
Taxidermy, too, was fashionable – stuffed water buffaloes, tigers, zebras, bears and bison populated the drawing rooms of the grander cabins. In the summer of 1926, President Calvin Coolidge stayed at White Pine on Osgood Pond, built in 1913 for half a million dollars for Archibald White, the president of Ohio’s Columbia Gas & Electric Company. Time magazine reported how the President awoke to the sight of a portrait of the Emperor Napoleon, and heard “the soft voice of luxury speaking through French tapestries, Oriental rugs, Italian paintings, a Japanese pagoda, an alpine rock garden, a billiard cabin, a bowling alley, a grand piano, a personal telephone exchange and private house-movies.”It was these levels of luxury, comfort and modern conveniences that John Jacob Astor IV determined to bring back to Manhattan for his new hotel. As the 20th century progressed, Astor’s fellow Adirondacks holidaymakers also headed back to the city, for good. For many, it was no longer practical to pour money into maintaining these beautiful but sprawling country piles. As the dynastic heirs repaired to their Park Avenue palazzi, their old holiday homes were neglected.
The state’s constitutional pledge to keep the Adirondacks “forever wild” seemed at odds with the preservation of these grand weekend cottages. Nehasane, the elaborate camp of Lila Vanderbilt Webb and William Seward, was even destroyed by the state in keeping with the wilderness sentiment. In recent years, that attitude has changed, and the camps and lodges are increasingly seen as an integral part of the Adirondacks landscape. Today, a tiny number of survivors remain as family retreats, the way they were intended to be. Others have become university teaching facilities, homeowner associations, non-profit educational institutions, destination lodgings and country clubs. The camps and lodges of the Adirondacks may have only had a brief flowering period of 80-odd years, but they left a continuing, living legacy in the form of The St. Regis New York. The grand hotel was the last word in turn-of-the-century glamour, and rapidly became the drawing room of choice for the emerging tycoon dynasties of Manhattan, before the horrors of the First World War, the Great Crash of 1929 and the Depression which followed it brought this golden age to an end. But to this day it is that legacy of life as lived by a new American aristocracy – of the Astors and Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Carnegies – that gives The St. Regis New York the air of the most luxurious of private homes.
An Elegant Wilderness: Great Camps and Grand Lodges of the Adirondacks 1855-1935 by Gladys Montgomery is published by Acanthus Press, $75.