Actress Jennifer Lawrence and Cooke Maroney hosted their wedding reception at the Rhode Island mansion Belcourt of Newport on Saturday Oct. 19, according to people.com. The lavish, Bellevue Avenue property has a storied history and recently underwent a major renovation.
Owner Carolyn Rafaelian, founder and CEO of Rhode Island-based jewelry brand Alex and Ani, reopened the mansion for regularly scheduled public tours earlier this year after spending approximately $15 million on renovations. The Richard Morris Hunt-designed property, inspired by Louis XIII’s hunting lodge at Versailles, had been closed to the public since 2012, when Rafaelian bought it from previous owner Harle Tinney.
“I was immediately drawn to the property – there was a magnetic pull,” Rafaelian said in an e-mail. “I felt it needed me, needed someone to preserve its treasures, history, and secrets.”
Back in 2012, Belcourt, “was in very bad shape,” said the project’s architect, Shahin Barzin.
The slate roof was leaking and needed to be replaced. The sweeping wooden staircase wasn’t structurally sound. The front courtyard, where Belmont once kept a menagerie of animals, which he later donated to the Roger Williams Park Zoo, needed to be entirely re-landscaped. And the 40,000-square-foot space was so packed with stuff – everything from valuable antiques to trash – that Rafaelian’s team filled dozens of dumpsters and transported the rest to a storage unit near Alex & Ani’s Cranston, R.I., headquarters.
Today, with the renovation about 80 percent complete, Belcourt is arguably as awe-inspiring as the other mansion museums that line Newport’s Bellevue Avenue. It’s also unique. For instance, it was originally conceived as a bachelor pad – and there’s no kitchen.
In 1891, after receiving an inheritance from his late father, Belmont Stakes financier August Belmont, Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont commissioned Morris Hunt to build Belcourt as a summer estate. A single socialite at the time, Belmont decided to dedicate the entire first floor to stables for his prized horses. The now-demolished kitchen was in a separate building to protect the horses against a potential fire. He requested a grand Gothic ballroom and a single bedroom right off of it upstairs.
Morris Hunt, who brought French Beaux-Arts influence to American architecture, and designed part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the nearby Newport mansions The Breakers and Marble House, had no problem fulfilling Belmont’s wishes.
“He was a respected, beloved architect who loved to do whatever his client wanted, and in this case his client was a little out of control,” said David Bettencourt, Belcourt of Newport’s museum curator and videographer.
In 1896, less than two years after the home was complete, Belmont married Alva Vanderbilt after she divorced her unfaithful first husband, William Kissam Vanderbilt. She moved from her previous “summer cottage,” Marble House, to Belcourt, and immediately called for renovations, including moving the staircase to a location more welcoming for visitors and adding a study and second bedroom for herself.
After Belmont’s sudden death in 1908, Alva Belmont continued to own the house as she became leader in the women’s suffrage movement. Belcourt stayed in the family until the 1940s. Then, it had several short-term owners, including Louis and Elaine Lorillard, who used it to host early Newport Jazz Festival concerts. In 1956, the Tinney family bought the mansion, then run-down and possibly headed for demolition. They renamed it Belcourt Castle and hosted ghost tours there for several years.
“I wouldn’t say it’s haunted in a negative way, but is accompanied by spirits,” Rafaelian said.
Today, a hand-carved bust of Rafaelian sits alongside a portrait of Alva Vanderbilt in the former’s former bedroom. There aren’t many other signs of Rafaelian or Alex & Ani in the space – just some branded beauty products in the bathroom and her initials subtly etched into a wall covering. She doesn’t live in the home, but keeps a small, modern apartment on the third floor.
Belcourt was open for guided tours throughout summer and early fall, and hosted a filming of ABC’s “The Bachelorette” in March. But it is not currently available for the general public to rent as a wedding venue. Bettencourt and Rafaelian said they are focusing on operating the property as a museum, and plan to add a gallery space soon.
“I want people to come . . . to enjoy life and be inspired,” she said. “[It has been] a bachelor pad, lovers’ retreat, and rendezvous place of visionaries.”
Belcourt of Newport, 657 Bellevue Ave., Newport, R.I., belcourt.com