Wednesday, March 8, 2017

March 8

Athletic pursuits:

Lads in plaid:

Sultry kisses:


Strange relations: Nancy Reagan & Billy Haines

Real estate gossip – this is what my life has come to. My mother is at the age when she needs to be escorted to her doctors’ appointments, so I spend an increasing amount of time in waiting rooms flipping through magazines (Arthritis Today, anyone?). Yesterday afternoon I picked up the April 2017 issue of Town & Country magazine to bring myself up-to-date on the foibles of the 1%. What a corker.

Here we go. I learned that three months ago fashion designer and film maker Tom Ford (gay) purchased the celebrated home (front and rear, above) of Alfred (not gay) and Betsy Bloomingdale in the exclusive Holmby Hills section of Los Angeles. The $38.75 million real estate transaction closed just in time for Christmas. The 10,000 sq. ft. home has nine bedrooms and seven baths with a wood-paneled library, a billiards room and a caterer's kitchen with staff dining room. Don’t know about you, but I recently converted my staff dining room into a potting shed, and the daisies have never looked better. Forgot to mention the tennis courts. And the rose gardens.

But I digress. Ford and husband Richard Buckley (gay) had been shopping for new digs since losing out on a $53 million deal for an estate in Beverly Hills. Although down market by some $14 million, the 3.5 acre Bloomingdale estate was considered, and Ford and Buckley ended up snagging the former home of Betsy and her late husband, the department-store heir and financier Alfred. Betsy, who died last summer at age 93, was a philanthropist, A-list hostess and socialite who was known as one of the grandes dames of the LA social scene. She was also the “first friend” of Nancy Reagan.

The main house is a late 1920s-era structure that was renovated in 1958 by Billy Haines* (1900-1973 and way gay, photo below), a silent film actor who switched careers in the mid-1930s to become Hollywood’s most celebrated interior designer. His clientele consisted of Hollywood royalty and the merely obscenely rich. In its heyday, William Haines Designs was the most expensive design firm in the country. 

His best friend was Joan Crawford (rabidly ambisexual – guard your larger houseplants), and it was she who introduced the Bloomingdales to Haines in the early 1950s. He altered the home’s architecture and filled it with antiques and many of his own home furnishing designs to create one of the finest mid-century modern residences in existence. He squared off all those Mediterranean style arches, installed floor to ceiling walls of glass, added an outdoor living area, linked the swimming pool to a pool house of his own design and placed a central fountain opposite the entry. For starters. 

Well, Tom Ford must have a special appreciation for this house, because he has a degree in architecture. Not fashion. Not film making. Shocking, I know. I also know that this home's style of architecture, landscaping and interior design is called Hollywood Regency, which began in the 1920s and pretty much ended with the death of Billy Haines.

Motorcourt/entry and pool house, below.

But wait – there’s more. The same issue of T&C featured NY Jets owner Woody Johnson (not gay, and no diplomatic experience), who is Trump’s nominee for Ambassador to the United Kingdom – to the Court of St. James’s, as it is officially called. If confirmed, he’d be leaving his 269-acre NJ estate, located across the street from Trump National Golf Club, for Winfield House, a paltry 12.5-acre spread in central London, at Regent’s Park (photo below). The magnificent red brick Georgian residence was built by Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton in 1936, but she lived there just shy of three years before returning to the U.S. in 1939, when WW II was about to erupt. After the war she gave the house to the U.S. government to be used as our ambassador’s residence – and here’s how these two items are related.  

Mr. and Mrs. Walter H. Annenberg, great friends of the Bloomingdales and Reagans, moved into Winfield House when Mr. Annenberg (billionaire publisher, not gay) became Ambassador to the U.K. in 1969. They restored and furnished the residence lavishly – on their own dime. Their decorator? None other than Billy Haines and his protégé and business partner Ted Graber (gay), who later redecorated the Reagan White House. The Haines commission from the Annenbergs was a million dollars, a tremendous budget in 1969. Nancy Reagan was beyond envious of the Annenbergs and Bloomingdales, because Ronald Reagan would not consent to hiring Haines for their own home. Nancy begged, Ronnie stood firm, Way too expensive. By the time the Reagans were in the White House, Haines had died, so they did the next best thing. They hired Billy's business partner, Ted Graber.

For the Winfield House project Haines designed the so-called “Garden Room” (above). an enduring decorative transformation that stands unchanged today, with its 18th-century hand painted Chinese wallpaper intact. This room was considered Haines’s masterpiece, and he retired from his decorating business shortly thereafter.


William "Billy" Haines: late 1930s

Note: I promised the receptionist I’d return the magazine tomorrow.

*I’m not old enough to remember Billy Haines as either silent MGM film star or decorator, but he was a big deal. The 1930 Quigley Poll, a survey of film exhibitors, listed Haines as the top box office attraction in the country. And he became the top decorator in Los Angeles, making him king of two fields for which he had no training. You may visit my other blog, Gay Influence, for elaboration. Click the link below.

No comments:

Post a Comment