Gilded Asheville<br />Biltmore and its Architecture<br />By Hayden Abene<br />
“Asheville, in the Decade From 1880 to 1890”<br />This drawing was done from the west side of the French Broad River and was published by Ruger and Stoner of Madison, Wisconsin. It shows what the city of Asheville was like prior to the establishment of Biltmore.<br />
Background<br /><ul><li>George Washington Vanderbilt was the Grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt and youngest son of William Henry Vanderbilt.
George visited Asheville for the first time in 1888 on a trip with his mother who was receiving medical treatment for malaria.
He is said to have immediately fallen in love with land and decided to use his $10 million inheritance to buy a huge portion of the land—150,000 acres at one point—and build a massive estate on it.
George requested Frederick Law Olmsted to inspect the property later that year.
Olmsted was the nation’s leading landscape architect.1 He had also done previous work for the Vanderbilt family such as George’s summer home in Maine and the family’s mausoleum on Staten Island.
George Vanderbilt commissioned Richard Morris Hunt to be the architect of Biltmore. Hunt was very popular with wealthy industrialist and financial tycoon who wanted magnificent houses to confirm their position in American society. He was also a close family friend of the Vanderbilts.
Construction began in 1889 and would not be completed until 1895.
The house originally opened to the public in 1930—at which time the family moved into the Bachelor’s Wing—but was closed in 1943 due to gasoline rationing. It reopened in the Spring of ‘46. The last person to live in the Biltmore house moved out in the late 1950s.</li></li></ul><li>Inspiration for Biltmore<br />Much of the inspiration for Biltmore came from Richard Hunt and George Vanderbilt’s trip through Europe in early 1889. On this trip, the two toured numerous historic structures and collected countless pieces of art.<br />They decided to model Biltmore after three of the sixteenth century French chateaux: Blois, Chenonceaux, and Chambord. Blois was Hunt’s favorite because he saw it as a representation of “not only the body, but the soul, of the French Renaissance.”2<br />After returning from Europe, Hunt decided that a French Renaissance chateau of the Francois I period would best fit into the topography of the mountainous region.3<br />“Hunt designed a mansion for his client that bespoke the royal lifestyle that would be found within.”4<br />
Royal Château de Blois. The freestanding staircase at Biltmore is a copy of this staircase in reverse order.<br />The Château de Chenonceau<br />The royal Château de Chambord<br />
Overview of the Estate<br />House boasts four acres of floor space<br />Over 250 rooms: 33 family/guest bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, and 3 kitchens.<br />The surrounding grounds encompassed 125,000 acres of forests, farms and a dairy (now a winery), a 250 acre park, five large gardens, and 30 miles of roadways.<br />THE STABLE AND CARRIAGE HOUSE<br />Mr. Vanderbilt used the stable to house his thirty some prized driving horses.<br />The Carriage House is opposite the Stable and was used to store Vanderbilt’s twenty carriages in addition to any guest’s carriage.<br />THE CONSERVATORY<br />Designed by Hunt, the glass-roofed conservatory house Vanderbilt’s most prized exotic plant species.<br />It includes a Palm House where a large collection of foliage plants thrive, a cool house, a hot house, and an orchid house.<br />BILTMORE DAIRY FARMS<br />Established in 1897.<br />The Farm prided itself on having some of the best Jersey cows in the nation, winning grand champion titles multiple times at the National Jersey Show.<br />At its climax, the farm supplied milk to five states and was an iconic symbol for quality.<br />The dairy business was sold to Pet, Inc. in 1985. That same year, the dairy barns were converted into what is today Biltmore Winery<br />
Front (East) Façade<br />Similar to the front of the Chambord chateau (previous slide)<br />There are considerably fewer chimneys and dormers at Biltmore than at Chambord, but both chateaux evoke a picturesque nature from their own rooftop ornaments.5<br />The façade is asymmetrically balanced, with two lateral projecting wings connect to the entrance by an open loggia on the south (left) side and a windowed arcade to the north (right).<br />The entrance pavilion is richly carved in French Gothic architecture, including trefoils, flowing tracery, gargoyles, and rosettes, but Hunt did not allow the vast amount of sculptures to overpower the façade.<br />The entrance pavilion contains a series of windows with decorated jambs that extends from the front door to the fourth floor dormer.<br />The underside of the arch is decorated with foliage patterns and acorns—part of the Vanderbilt coat of arms. This work, along with most of the other corridors and entryways into the house, was done by Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino. <br />At the top of the entrance way is the most decorated dormer at Biltmore.<br />The staircase is arguably the most striking feature of the east façade, with a three level, highly decorated, winding balustrade. Keeping with the French theme, Karl Bitter, the architectural sculptor, sculpted statues of St. Louis and Joan of Arc, which were place in the middle and the left of the staircase, respectively. <br />
Staircase and Entrance <br />Pavilion on East Façade<br />South Façade<br />
Other Exterior Architecture<br />SOUTH FAÇADE<br />The south façade has three large dormers on the east side and a polygonal turrent on the west side.<br />The stable and its courtyard are on the north side of the house.<br />WEST FAÇADE <br />It is less elaborate than the front façade.<br />Two matching polygonal turrets in the center are connected to the polygonal south tower by an open loggia. Its rusticated base drastically contrast the smooth Indiana limestone used on the remainder of the house. Vanderbilt probably saw no reason to spend extra money on a side of the house that was only intended to be seen by guests from a great distance.<br />Some of the windows on this side do not have any decoration at all.<br />This façade reveals the more casual side of the residences.<br />
Entering the Biltmore House<br />The entrance hall through the vestibule of the primary tower was designed by Hunt with a beamed ceiling, marble floor, and wall and arches made of Indiana limestone. Its focal point is a massive oak table designed by Hunt’s son<br />The grand circular staircase is located to the left of the entrance and rises all four stories without the aid of a central support. In the center of the staircase hangs a triple-tier wrought-iron chandelier (one of the world’s largest).<br />A glass-roofed garden, the Winter Garden, is to the right of the Entrance Hall and is characteristic of the Victorian Era.<br />The central element of the garden is Karl Bitter’s marble and bronze fountain sculpture: Boy Stealing Geese.<br />Rafael Guastavino tiled the ceiling of the adjoining corridor.<br />Staircase and Chandelier<br />Winter Garden<br />
The Banquet Hall<br />Biltmore’s largest room<br />70 feet high ceiling<br />72x42 feet floor<br />The room was specifically designed by hunt to appropriately display the five Flemish tapestries which date from the mid sixteenth century. They portray the Roman myth of Venus, Mars, and Venus’s jealous husband, Vulcan.<br />The triple fireplace depicts a panel of the opera The Return from the Chase. It was carved by Bitter.<br />The room houses an organ gallery but never housed an organ while the Vanderbilts resided in the home.<br />Because the room was so unique and enormous, Hunt and his son designed special furniture for it, including two built-in throne chairs.<br />
The Library<br />The library is the most decorated room.<br />It is done in a Baroque style.<br />Covering the ceiling is The Chariot of Aurora, by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini.<br />The fireplace is carved of black marble with a walnut overmantel.<br />Above the mantle is a 17th-century French tapestry, which is flanked by to carvings Bitter.<br />The library holds over 10,000 volumes.<br />The library was George’s favorite room since being a worldly, educated man was extremely important to him.<br />
Two Beautiful Bedrooms<br />MR. VANDERBILT’S BEDROOM<br />George’s bedroom was strategically placed in the southwest corner of the house so that he could enjoy a commanding view of his property.<br />The main decorative element is a richly carved walnut fireplace.<br />MRS. VANDERBILT’S BEDROOM<br />Her room is located in the north tower of the west façade. The walls of her room were covered in yellow silk and accented by intricately carved white paneling.<br />One of the most interesting aspects of the room is that it is oval-shaped. This, of course, is a French style.<br />Complementing the room is a collection of French and German prints from the 18th century.<br />OAK SITTING ROOM<br />Connecting Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt’s private rooms is the Jacobean style Oak Sitting Room.<br />Its plaster ceiling is webbed and the walls are clad with carved oak paneling.<br />
Landscaping<br />APPROACH ROAD<br />Olmsted designed the Approach Road in a way that would heighten anticipation of seeing the House. He said his idea was to evoke a sense of mystery while passing through natural a natural forest.6<br />Olmsted planted a variety of flowers, shrubs, and trees along the road so that it would provide beauty and provoke interest year round.<br />THE WALLED GARDEN<br />The four acre Walled Garden was designed as one of ornament rather than utility.<br />In it are two arbors with grapevines, thousands of daffodils and tulips, and some 40 varieties of annuals, such as dahlias and zinnias.<br />Olmsted had wires run along the walls in order to have small trees and other woody plants grow flat against the wall.<br />ITALIAN GARDEN<br />Contains three symmetrical pools<br />It is enclosed by hedges and stone walls so that it might act as a separate outdoor room.<br />Its large grass court also allowed for tennis and croquet to be played.<br />BASS POND AND LAGOON<br />They act as examples of how Olmsted wanted the family and guests to explore the land and find relaxation in it.<br />Both were used for recreation.<br />FOREST<br />Gifford Pinchot developed a comprehensive land management program in order to rehabilitate the over-farmed, overcut land.<br />Pinchot left Biltmore in 1895 to establish the U.S. Forest Service and Dr. Carl Schenck was brought in to replace him. Schenck found the Biltmore Forest School which taught conservation techniques. Vanderbilt stopped founding the school in 1913 which brought about its closing.<br />
Endnotes<br />1Bishir, C.W. A guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999. 287. Print.<br />2Volk, V.L. The Biltmore Estate and its Creators, Richard Morris Hunt, Frederick Law Olmsted and George Washington Vanderbilt. Atlanta: Emory University, 1984. 101. Print<br />3King, R.B. The Vanderbilt Homes. New York: Rizzoli, 1989. 114. Print<br />4Volk 101.<br />5Volk 109.<br />6Carley, Rachel. A Pictorial Guide to Biltmore. Asheville: The Biltmore Company, 2008. 93. Print.<br />7Carley 44.<br />Thank you to Mrs. Murphy and Dr. Fenn for making this research possible and enjoyable. <br />Special thanks to Dr. Fenn whose photograph of the scenic mountains of Asheville is used as the background throughout the presentation.<br />