Alice Antoinette DeLamar came into this world 120 years ago today. While I doubt she would have wanted any hubbub of a party and certainly not a surprise party (oh dear, that would have been rattling), I do imagine she would have been surrounded by The Madam, Aileen, Twig (pre-betrayal), a Jones sister or three, Petey, Ned, Dick, Ouida, Thad, George, Keith. Who am I kidding – there would have definitely been a party and in Palm Beach by the pool. Drinks in hand, clusters of chaise lounges alongside the palms, lunch al fresco, Limoges plates filling tables, accompanying silverware gleaming, a lot of gossip and someone with a Rolleiflex capturing the expressions, antics and the unwrapping of the gifts. Just what would one buy Alice? She treasured books, glass paperweights, paintings and flowers. She loved ashtrays from ships, hotels and restaurants too but she usually pocketed those herself.
This picture taken on property at South Ocean Boulevard, allows us a very rare view of Alice….her expression of freedom and happiness, almost a smile. I’d like to think there were more moments such as these for dear Alice over her 88 years.
In an April 23rd 1946 diary entry she wrote:
“Tues 23 – Birthday (51!) swam at Ocean House…Fished all afternoon in boat Katia chartered, caught 2 nice dolphins”
The challenging and short-lived father-daughter relationship between Alice and Joseph is certainly a worthy angle in writing Alice’s life story but even I had to question my motive in poking around Glen Cove one recent winter morning. Did I believe that by some miracle the missing manuscript would surface? A clue would emerge? A ghost would offer guidance or, more likely, further discouragement from revealing anything too detailed? I drove to the end of Red Spring Lane and immediately noticed this section of remaining gate…
I was breathless. And not just because of the brisk air and piercing blue skies punctuating the vastness of the former DeLamar property and what must have been here all those decades ago. It was stunning – simply a magnificent piece of property fit for “The Silver King”. But then my eye caught an even better view of a DeLamar legacy to the land…
The “D” in the gate was still intact. Rough to the touch but still paying homage to who originally owned the 68 room mansion on 47 acres that in 1916 Joseph confidently predicted “Would stand 400 years!” The $4M French Classical Revival built by Charles P.H. Gilbert sadly went to auction in 1924 and “Sold!” for $682,126 to Mr Arthur Loew, Sr., son of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer founder Marcus Loew, only to be torn down in 1964.
I took one more look before driving over to the library which housed all historical documents for the Gold Coast mansions. The librarian I spoke with in advance of my visit indicated there were “some files” on Pembroke that I was free to browse. But upon walking in, introducing myself and trying to manage my expectations of what
would be in the files, what did I hear from said librarian? “You won’t believe what we found yesterday!” My heart stopped. The ma….manu….manuscript perhaps? Close! A box containing over 100 8×10 black and white photos of Pembroke, Joseph, Alice and a few ivory embroidered dinner napkins (weird but still very cool), menu cardstock (Joseph apparently liked ivory and gold). And it was “found” in the archive drawers of the library. Just like that….found, discovered, uncovered, revealed, after what? 90+ years since Joseph left the mansion? A-ha! So there IS hope for the Alice manuscript…it’s just a matter of looking.
I’m all about the DeLamar name this week; likely because of a recent stay at the so aptly named, although unrelated, “DeLamar Hotel” in Connecticut. I picked through my Joseph file and decided I’d best glean some new and fresh information from all of this research – what did I discover about Joseph that would lead me to a clearer understanding of dear Alice? She states in typewritten letter written July 1975 on Weston CT stationary to a Palm Beach notable figure with annoyance that he was “helping perpetuate a rather outrageous myth…picked up from some journalist” advising him strongly to “steer clear of this sort of rubbish written about my father. What was Joe’s story? He was indeed born in Amsterdam in 1943 with an ancestry of
Ambassadorship to England from Spain, and in 1775 as Ambassador to Holland where the family eventually settled. Joe was 1 of 7 children, his grandfather and father were bankers, and Joe’s love of adventure and his self reliance started early in life, running away from home as a small boy hiding in a Dutch vessel outward bound in the East India Trade. Once he left for America in 1859 Joe became a sea captain at the age of 23. As America’s Successful Men of Affairs: The City of New York states in the year Alice was born, Joseph “had a singularly romantic and striking career…which should be given some account.” The Who’s Who in America Vol. 1 labelled him a capitalist, mine owner and operator, director and politician. Investment gurus pegged Joe as one of a “speculative temperament and frequently active in the market” and all eyes were on his hitting of the literal mother lode in silver and gold mining in the late 1880’s.
Taciturn, secretive, stern and private he did manage to hook a Manhattan beauty as his wife in May 1893 at the Church of Heavenly Rest on the Upper East Side. Off to Paris they ventured but Nellie Sands’ matrimonial aspirations and practices were less than credible. Rushed to betrothal, wildly flirtatious and privileged, Nellie divorced Joe despite his highly cultured and pedigreed lifestyle – he was a member of the Lotus Club, New York Yacht Club (owning two beauties; “May” and “Sagitta”), art connoisseur and vast collector. What was not to love?
The bottom line is that Joe was accomplished and notable – a true “American Monte Cristo” as the newspapers called him (in addition to the Mystery Man of Wall Street). The trouble was he never had a close relationship with Alice, he was already 52 when Alice was born and she was thrust into a broken home at age 5. Surrounded by Joe’s wealth, extravagance and aloofness did nothing to shape Alice into anything soft, feminine or emotional but rather endorsed her growth into a self-reliant, brave, curious, adventurous and yet somewhat androgynous young woman. Mom had long disappeared, headmistress Clara Spence had helped out on the maternal side of the upbringing but Alice was essentially an orphan shortly after birth. So who became her father figure? Who would have taught her about boys, romance, money management, politics and the ways of the world?
Just what did I expect to find at Woodlawn, the most famous of New York cemeteries? I had a few hours tucked into a Saturday afternoon and it was on my way to JFK, so I asked myself, “Why not stop?” I had visited Alice’s grave in Palm Beach looking for answers; maybe Joseph could tell me something I didn’t already know.
I approached the security guard at the gate off of the busy Bronx intersection, realized my nerves were on high rev, and off I went in search of Joseph. My instructions were to follow the white dotted pavement line circling the massive 400 acre property and watch for Park Avenue where the DeLamar plot was located (was it a coincidence that Alice had once owned 3 apartments on Park Avenue?). I couldn’t help but gape at the mausoleums lining the pathways, rubber necking at each passing name – Guggenheim, Julliard, La Guardia, Noguchi, Alice’s godfather William Sullivan Cromwell; large erect boxes and small buildings of varying shades of gray stone and cement closed up tight by gated doors and windows showing slivers of sunlight to illuminating the busts, tombs, epitaphs.
After a frustrating goose chase around the windy paths of Alpine, Maple, Pine…where on earth was Park Avenue?…I was eventually escorted by a security guard to the corner of Park and Spruce. And there it was. I peeked through the iron gated door and held my breath. I audited a hello – god knows why. Out of respect I suppose. But as if Joseph was going to send me some signal as to where the manuscript was, or as if magically, sitting nonchalantly on top of Joe’s while marble coffin, would be the manuscript…just waiting for me. Miracles happen but I was clearly asking and hoping for too much.
I think for me this was the first true acknowledgement that Joe was indeed someone of import and prominence in New York City. His peers, the bankers and mover shakers of NYC seemed to have all gained some press and notoriety but Joe had remained under the radar. Yes there were scholarships created in his name, DeLamar towns and old mining sites, and that History Channel special “The Missing Heirs” that spoke of him. But no other mention of DeLamar and so that was why, I now understood, Alice was encouraged to write his story. Because it WAS a story and it had not yet been told. That sounded familiar…
Dear Alice died 31 years ago today and I often wonder what she would think of me delving, prodding and slowly uncovering the story of Alice Antoinette DeLamar. Thirty one years ago today she was in Norwalk Hospital,largely alone except for a few visitors (chauffeur Charles being one of them) and then the waiting, dehydration and dizziness that prevailed. Did she wonder what would happen to her large collection of photo albums, clippings, journals and the manuscript? Did she wonder who would look after her beloved cats, roses, pools and Lucia? Did she wonder if anyone would have the nerve and sleuth-instinct to be able to piece together her story enough to publish a book and uncover the source who singlehandedly funded and supported famous painters, writers, choreographers, ballerinas, sculptors and fashion designers of the Midcentury? How directly would she approve or disapprove? It goes without saying what I would trade for a chance to have a sit-down alongside the Weston kitchen table, Diane preparing aspic and sardines in the background, pouring glasses of chilled Pinot Grigio, the Connecticut summer sun setting earlier than usual given the Labor Day weekend, and Alice looking me in the eye ever so briefly, then turning away as she nonchalantly declared, “Let’s move out to the terrace where we’ll have some privacy and I can tell you the real story…”
Why I keep getting lured back to old mining towns who knows – must either be Alice’s spirit coaxing me towards something or dear old Joseph with some unfinished business. The recent connections between me, Phelps Dodge, William A. Clark, Joseph R. DeLamar and mining keep a’comin’ round…
It’s doubtful Alice knew William’s daughter, the reclusive and mysterious Huguette Clark, despite their parallel uber wealthy upbringing and challenges with social interaction; but surely as I was traipsing around Clarkdale and Jerome this past weekend the questions arose once again. Onto some fresh research leads…
James Hunt Barker, a southern horseman and gentleman from Kentucky, owned three thriving art galleries in New York City (didn’t everyone who was anyone own a gallery there?), Nantucket, and at 155 Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, just down the street from Alice DeLamar’s Worth Avenue Gallery. Someone said it best when they described Jimmy’s Galleries…”he had a cocktail party every week where his friends in the room met his friends on the walls.”
I had lunch with Jimmy today – 86 years old, dapper donning a kelly-green jacket, emerald green button down, loafers, khakis and ensemble of rings and cologne. No teeth mind you, but that’s okay. He was charming as ever as he talked about his mantra of “wrapping people in God’s love” which he believes can turn anyone’s situation around, no matter how dire, in a span of 5 weeks. He was steadfast in his conviction that he’d live to 101 if not 103.. and that he was just going to go with the flow and live in the moment. And he swears by apple cider vinegar as a part of his skincare regime – must be something to that….he has less wrinkles than I do!
It’s unconfirmed whether he’s still residing in the same 5,600 square foot house as he was 6 years ago with partner (Ken); but we do know he still wants to drive (himself!) up north to the infamous Wedding Cake house in Maine before Palm Beach heats up too much to bear. Formidable, yet gentle, Jimmy Barker was the perfect lunch guest at The Brazilian Court today. Gracious, impeccably mannered, cultured and charming. And did I tell you we met one of his exhibited artists today as well? 97 year old Carl Brown. Splendid man, prolific artist….. completed yet another solo local show at the Norton. These people are simply amazing. Is there something in the water or in the paint?
Jimmy remembered Alice readily which was wonderful – he wondered if she was still alive (oh dear…) but said she was always “very nice” and was stylish and the host of many South Ocean Boulevard parties. He declared they were never competitors but rather peers trying to bring art to Worth Avenue and Palm Beach. He remembered Keith Ingermann more clearly, fondly recalled traveling to India with Keith to ride elephants in Jaidapur. Ouida George, 97 years old and a “gallery consultant” was also visiting with Jimmy just recently….imagine. A 97 year old painter still chatting it up with her 86 year old gallerist……” Whoa. Alice was instrumental in their lives – albeit in different ways and like many people I’ve met over this quest the description of dear Alice is consistent…a nice person, generous, shy, largely under the radar and private but undoubtedly wealthy. Am I any closer to finding the missing manuscript? Ah….I have yet more octogenarians to see on this trip!