What took four years to build, was inspired by the Petit Trianon at Versailles, and includes a staggering 500,000 cubic feet of marble AND and a lavishly-decorated Chinese Tea House? Newport’s palatial Marble House.
Gifted by William K. Vanderbilt -- grandson of railroad and steamship magnate Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt -- to his socialite wife, Alva, on her 39th birthday, Marble House was designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt and envisioned as a “temple to the arts” in America. It reportedly cost $11 million to build, more than half of which was spent on marble.
Today, Marble House is credited with leading Newport’s transformation from quaint summer colony to dazzling destination for the rich and famous. In fact, just a year after Marble House’s construction was complete, William’s older brother, Cornelius II, began construction on The Breakers.
The extravagant gift of Marble House wasn’t enough to save the Vanderbilts' marriage, however. They divorced just a few years later, with Alva marrying Oliver H.P. Belmont and moving down the road to Belcourt.
Following her second husband’s death, Alva not only reopened Marble House, but added to its one-of-a-kind glory in 1913 by having an ornate Chinese Tea House built into into its seaside cliffs overlooking the ocean. There, she hosted rallies for the "Votes for Women" campaign -- a cause for which she passionately championed. (Restored in 1982 by craftsmen in 15 specialties with then-Chinese Ambassador Chai Zemin attending to the ribbon cutting, the Chinese Tea House has been described by the New York Times as “as bright and fanciful as a cut jewel.”)
Alva Vanderbilt Belmont closed Marble House (and the Tea House) during World War I, and shortly after sold the mansion to Frederick H. Prince. The Preservation Society of Newport acquired it in 1963, and Marble House was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2006.
While William and Alva’s marriage may have crumbled, Marble House stands strong as a remarkable remembrance of Newport’s opulent past. Along with its fellow Newport Mansions, The Elms and The Breakers, Marble House is open daily. Visitors can take a guide-led tour or multilingual audio tour, upon request. As the schedule is subject to change, check in with the Preservation Society of Newport County for more information on Marble House’s operating hours and events.