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Tuxedo Park : Everyday Look Is In at Ex-Exclusive Community

November 09, 1986|RICK HAMPSON | Associated Press

TUXEDO PARK, N.Y. — The men who once went house-to-house to wind the clocks or feed the goldfish don't make the rounds anymore. Nannies have given way to baby sitters, and the last real butler left town a decade ago.

The talk at the club runs to high property taxes and low water pressure. The Autumn Ball, at which the tail-less dinner jacket was introduced to America, has not been held in 15 years. The oval horse track is a swampy meadow, and the stables have been converted to homes.

"Nobody lives here anymore who amounts to a row of beans," growls Pierre Lorillard Barbey, 78, the last Lorillard in Tuxedo Park.

A century ago, his ancestor, Pierre Lorillard, built this community with a stone-and-iron front gate to keep out the unwashed, unwanted and uninvited--in other words, most of the era's 56 million Americans.

The gate and its 24-hour guard are still in place. But as Tuxedo Park celebrates its 100th anniversary, they have proved scant protection against the forces that changed American society: world wars, immigration, income taxes and the Great Depression.

Split-Levels Sprouting

The exclusive enclave that lent the tuxedo its name has evolved from a late spring and early fall resort--a place to go before Newport or after Saratoga--to a suburb where split-levels sprout next to mansions and The Season runs from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31.

The story of Tuxedo's century, though, is not one of riches to rags. Thanks largely to newcomers who renovated the park's great houses and converted its carriage houses into homes, Tuxedo today is a pleasant community, a museum of American architecture and a monument to its founder.

Lorillard was head of a tobacco dynasty. In 1885, having sold his Newport mansion, he began planning a hunting preserve for himself and friends in the foothills of the Ramapo Mountains, about 50 miles northwest of New York City.

The rocky, craggy, densely wooded area was known as Tuxedo, the corruption of an Indian expression for "Home of the Bear."

Working without motorized machinery through the worst winter in years, 1,800 workers brought from Europe built the gatehouse, the club, 22 homes, a sewer and water system, a dam, a fish hatchery and 18 miles of roads.

To keep animals in and people out, 24 miles of barbed wire--enough to stretch halfway to Wall Street--was stretched around the perimeter of the 5,000-acre park.

When Tuxedo Park opened on May 30, 1886, eight months and $1.5 million after work began, it looked as if it had been there forever.

Instant Past

Tuxedo provided the rich with an instant past, but it was not the past of ancient Greece or Renaissance Italy. Price's wood-and-stone buildings seemed to have grown up from the American soil itself. Nestled in wooded enclosures off the park's winding roads, houses had a view of Lake Tuxedo, but not of their neighbors.

On Oct. 28, Lorillard's son, Griswold, arrived at the first Autumn Ball wearing a tail-less dinner jacket. With his scarlet satin waistcoat, he looked, reported one magazine, "like a royal footman."

Although the tuxedo was to become the essence of formality, at the time the garment reflected Tuxedo Park's relative informality.

As an exhibition this year at the Tuxedo Historical Society makes clear, the park was designed as a place to do things. It boasted as having one of the nation's first golf courses, tennis courts and a mile-long, lighted toboggan run. It had skating, sailing, curling, fishing and hunting.

By the time the founder died in 1901, Tuxedo had become one of America's most prestigious resorts, with Astors, Juilliards and Pells as residents. "If you live in Tuxedo one year," said Mrs. Lorillard, "you will meet everybody you've ever heard of."

Tuxedo's games became primarily social--and very formal. The rich increasingly preferred more elaborate European styles of clothing, manners and architecture, and the original rustic cottages, with their arched stone doorways, massive chimneys and overhanging eaves, were joined and sometimes replaced by chateaux, manor houses and villas.

"Tuxedo was the most formal place in the world," recalled the late Emily Post, who once lived there. "Nobody ever waved or hello-ed or hi-ed. You bowed when you shook hands." Only five men ever called her by her first name in Tuxedo, she said, and never in public.

But the new century provided Tuxedo with a series of shocks, the worst of which was the Depression.

Many great houses were closed or sold for practically nothing. Some burned, some slid into disrepair and some were demolished. The result, in so insular a community, was a palpable sense of isolation and decay.

In 1940, a 108-acre estate with a mansion, two cottages and a boathouse sold for $15,000. A year later, the founder's grandson urged the admission of non-residents to the club, asking: "What is blueblood, anyway?" Post defected to Martha's Vineyard.

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