Washington Life Magazine
Washington Life Magazine
Around Town

with Donna Shor

Hillwood Museum and Gardens, one of Washington's most treasured sites, hasjust reopened its doors after a three-year hiatus, while it underwent repairs and restoration. Theestate, one of the nation's most important house museums, was created by, and mirrors the image of, thatmost joyously eccentric of women, Marjorie Merriweather Post.

The daughter of C.W. Post, who amassed one of the largest fortunes of the 20th century thanks tohis creation of Grape Nuts TM, Post Toasties TM, and Postum TM, Marjoriewas educated here and abroad in art and its appreciation. She was also raised from her earliest years totake her place in the Post empire, which she did most successfully. She also established the hugeconglomerate, General Foods Corporation, aided by her second husband, savvy Wall Streeter E. F.Hutton (clearly, when E. F. spoke, Marjorie "listened.")

With Joseph Davies, her third husband (there were eventually four), she spent two years in theSoviet Union where he served as U.S. Ambassador. There she developed an interest that would change thecourse of her life. When she realized that the Soviet government wanted to unload some of the artwork theformer Imperial Court had acquired, she seized the opportunity to buy many choice pieces at bargainprices.

Marjorie soon transferred her keen interest in 18th century French gold boxes to the fabulous creationsof the Fabergé workrooms. Czar Alexander III began the tradition of the Fabergé Easter Eggs whenhe presented his wife with two magnificent pieces you can see at Hillwood today, along with a host ofother items. Marjorie enlisted the advice of famed art dealer Sir Joseph Duveen in her quest, andtook classes at New York's Metropolitan Museum to broaden her knowledge. She single-handedly revivedFabergé collecting, and amassed one of the finest collections outside the Kremlin of these and otherRussian Imperial 17th-19th century objects.

To house the Fabergé pieces, Russian paintings and icons, and her French 18th century objetsd'art, she bought the Georgian-style home she named Hillwood, after her previous Long Island home.Hillwood was built in the "English Country House" tradition on 25 acres bordering Rock Creek Park. Thiswas a recognized style of a "country" retreat near an urban setting, a home planned to bedisproportionately large for the acreage, but surrounded with formal and informal gardens, andrecreational features (such as a putting green) for the relaxation and entertainment of guests. Andguests she had; Hillwood was famous for its parties!

It was not as if Marjorie Post lacked sites for entertaining. In addition to the dinner parties shehosted at her New York apartment, summer guests came to Topridge, a luxurious Adirondack "camp" where shedonned a coonskin cap to match the rustic setting. In winter, guests visited her fabulous 110-roomMar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, now owned by Donald Trump. (He told us that because there are fewprivate citizens who could afford Mar-a-Lago's upkeep, he was able to negotiate the price down using his"art of the deal approach" to the point that the sumptuous contents of the house alone almost equalledthe below-market price he paid for the building alone.)

Hillwood's $9-million restoration included the complete rewiring of the electricity in the house,including the light fixtures and the enormous Russian chandeliers; the matching of designs onwall-coverings and furnishings that showed wear, and the brightening and polishing of the entire houseand contents. All this had to be accomplished while protecting and properly storing the priceless objectsit contains.

Moscow Nights: On the subject of things Russian, Prince Alexis Obolensky and Princess Selene have announced both the date of the 2001 Russian New Year's Ball (January 12th)and that they will be hosting two very special tours of St. Petersburg and Moscow next July andSeptember. The July trip goes between the two cities by water, and in September by land transport, but onboth trips a special twist will be visiting some of the historic spots connected to Alexis Obolensky'srenowned family. He is a direct descendant of the Rurik Dynasty which preceded the Romanoffs. His father, Prince Nicholas, a commander in the Imperial Guard of Czar Nicholas II, who had to flee thecountry when his plan to free the Czar from the Bolsheviks was discovered. The tour will visit themonastery where Prince Nicholas was to bring the royal family (including Anastasia), according to ascheme worked out with Lord Buchanan, the British Ambassador. A British ship was to reach the White Seaand deliver the family to safety in England. Unfortunately, the Romanoff family was executed inhorrendous carnage before the rescuers could get there.

A Singular Honor: The United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, in recognition of herparticipation as a founding member of the Academy's Research and Development Institute, has justdedicated a bronze bust of Ambassador Holland H. Coors, the only woman so honored at any U.S.armed forces academy. Active in philanthropy and public policy, Holly also established the Women of OurHemisphere Foundation, which supports women in cottage industries. (An example of this was when she roseto the challenge of a crisis in Central America; she got a fully-staffed medical unit in place within 48hours.) The Foundation has also dedicated a statue to her in Colorado's Coors Park. The work they choseis Frederick Hart's The Daughters of Odessa, which he created in homage to the four young Romanoffgrand duchesses murdered by the Bolsheviks.

Frederick Hart: A memorial service will be held at the National Cathedral on October 6th honoringFrederick Hart, who was one of America's foremost sculptors of representational art until his untimelydeath last year.

Hart, who began his career as a young stone-cutter at the cathedral, won a plum commission that resultedin the monumental work depicting creation, Ex Nihilo, above the Cathedral's West Door. Author Tom Wolfe, long a champion of Hart and of representational art, will be one of the speakers at thememorial service.

Short Takes: Garnett Stackelberg, is back after open heart surgery at Boston's Lahey Clinic, andresuming her long-running weekly column for the Palm Beach Daily News, popularly known as the "shinysheet." Mary Ourisman flew up to Boston to bring her home on her private plane. She was inundated withcards and flowers during her long stay there, and was grateful to everyone. Quick request, now that wordis out that she is back, getting her work done is an ordeal, because she can't get off the phone!! Shehas been advised to buy an egg timer, and understanding friends will limit their calls to three minutes-awell-timed call is like a well-timed egg-but a note is even more considerate!… Friends of JaneWeinberger who have known her since her Washington days with husband Casper (he was Secretary ofH.E.W., then Secretary of Defense) have been delighting in her beautifully-written book Purple Plumsand Other Vicissitudes of Life. She has been known as a writer of children's books, but this one isdefinitely not for the kiddies. It is from Maine's Windswept House Publishers, and is a collection offrankly-told stories from the lives of many women all of whom she has promised never to reveal. Janesays, "Even those who have long since departed this particular life can rest assured-my lips are sealed."…Queen Latifah just swept through town. She was here to receive an award from Jamie FosterBrown's Sister 2 Sister Magazine. Jamie's magazine has given her a leadership role to thepoint that Newsweek has just rated Jamie as "right up there with Oprah and RosieO'Donnell in generating a buzz."… Speaking of "buzz", the irrepressible Diana McLellan hasreally done it this time with her just-published book The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood from St.Martin's Press. She focuses on the intertwined lives and loves of Greta Garbo, Mercedes De Acosta, and Marlene Dietrich among other famous closet lesbians and bisexuals from the 1920s through the1940s. McLellan analyzes the relationship between sexuality, feminine power, and the film industry'spower plays. Even that Hollywood veteran Domenick Dunne was amazed: "I used to think I knew athing or two about Hollywood's backstage secrets," he said, "but Diana McLellan's The Girls hasblown my mind with some of her revelations about my favorite stars."


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