- Historic Sites
An exclusive preserve of New York’s social elite —its rise, its flourishing years, and its slide into genteel decline
August/September 1978 | Volume 29, Issue 5
There was also during this period a weird epidemic of laboriously moving cottages built during the modest period to more felicitous, or at least more impressive, locations. And many of the older and smaller cottages were enlarged, often to twice their original size. One was enlarged so much that it needed fourteen rooms just for the servants.
Victory in these architectural jousts probably belonged to the Richard Mortimers. The Mortimers were pioneer settlers who, in 1905, deserted their cozy cottage for a fifty-four-room villa in the Italian style. It was not so much the villa itself that won the palm for the Mortimers as it was the massive iron entrance gate, flanked by an imposing pair of lions, and a majestic avenue, lined with marble busts of Roman emperors, that led awed visitors to the Mortimers’ front door.
Although the monuments to vanity at Tuxedo Park were relatively restrained compared with those at Newport and other resorts where the parvenu roamed at will, they not only were incompatible with Lorillard’s concept of country living in refined simplicity but they carried within them the seeds of future disaster. Like antediluvian monsters that could not adapt to changes, the overblown cottages and grandiose manor houses of the pretentious period became increasingly prone to attacks of financial distemper.
Nor was grandiose architecture the only peril to which Tuxedo Park was exposed. As a seasonal resort, it was vulnerable to the whims of fashion, and although it developed into a remarkably stable community compared with other resorts, it was always plagued by transients and deserters. William Waldorf Astor, Tuxedo’s richest and most insistently aristocratic colonist, was an early defector. In 1890, following a series of humiliating social and political fiascos, Mr. Astor announced that, with the exception of Tuxedo, “America is not a fit place for a gentleman to live” and left in a huff for Great Britain. There he founded the distinguished English branch of the Astor family, became more British than the British, and eventually was rewarded with a hereditary title. Even Tuxedo Park could not match that kind of social security.
The most deplorable defection, however, was that of the founding father himself. Ten years after he had presided over the park’s opening ceremonies, the chronic discord between Lorillard and his wife became too acute for comfort, and he went elsewhere to live with a mistress. He retained firm control of the Tuxedo Park Association, however, and on his death in 1901 at the age of sixty-eight, his still substantial holdings were left in trust for his grandchildren. The reign of the Lorillard dynasty over Tuxedo Park, though diminished in energy and power, was faithfully carried on by his son and grandson, Pierre V and Pierre VI.
Tribal clannishness, nourished by frequent intermarriages among offspring of the pioneer settlers and intensified by the insidious effect of the fence syndrome, bred both disdain for outsiders and fear of their contaminating influence. Unrelated but otherwise perfectly acceptable newcomers sometimes found it so difficult to break into the activities of a tightly knit cousinage that they gave up in despair and departed. Snobbery at Tuxedo came in such concentrated and virulent doses that it produced a stifling air of complacency and stilted formality. Although Tuxedoites might, as individuals, deplore the elaborate formality that prevailed in the park, it seemed to be a group affliction for which there was no cure. Even Emily Post, who was the daughter of Lorillard’s harrassed architect, Bruce Price, and had been brought up in the park, eventually found Tuxedo manners too artificial for her taste and she too defected.