Historic Places

Rosecliff (My Newport Adventures)

Rosecliff staircase
Rosecliff’s pretty, heart-shaped staircase is perfect for making a grand entrance to one of the fabulous parties hosted there.

Of all the mansions I saw in Newport, Rosecliff was my favorite. It was owned by Hermann and Tessie Oelrichs and designed by Stanford White, completed in 1902. Tessie Oelrichs liked to host parties, and Rosecliff was definitely designed to be her perfect venue. She hosted her first of many, highly-theatrical galas before Rosecliff had even been fully completed.

The great hall has a beautiful grand staircase that makes a heart shape when you look at it from below. It’s perfect for making a grand entrance! From the staircase, it’s a short walk to my other favorite room in Newport – the Rosecliff ballroom. It is light, airy, and beautiful, with relief-carved figures on the woodwork and allegorical paintings on the ceiling. Best of all, it opens out onto the large back porch via wall-to-wall glass doors. During parties, the doors would be opened to connect the ballroom with the uninterrupted ocean view beyond.

Rosecliff is white and frilly, like a wedding cake. Like Marble House, it is inspired by Versailles, but its use of stuccoed brick instead of marble gives it a lighter and softer tone that I find much more beautiful. The upstairs rooms aren’t quite as impressive, but I found this to be the case in most of the other houses., too Upstairs at Rosecliff, there are a series of temporary exhibition galleries, which were showing a collection of Pierre Cardin fashion designs while I was there.

While the home is quite beautiful, the story of Rosecliff is rather sad. Tessie Oelrichs  was first separated from her husband and then widowed. Then, her friends moved on from the Newport party scene long before she was ready to. Towards the end of her life, she struggled with some sort of psychological problems and hosted her parties for imaginary guests instead. I think she entered Newport society at its height and looked forward to things continuing that way for ever, not realizing that it was at its peak and would soon start to decline. Poor Tessie!

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