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Originally owned by James J. Van Alen. Wakehurst was acquired by Salve Regina University in 1972 at a price of $200,000. It was restored in 1999-2001 by Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker Architects and adapted for re-use in 1999-2001 by The Newport Collaborative Architects, Inc. Wakefield has received the Save America's Treasures Designation. Along with the Munroe Center and Wakehurst Gardens, it is now the site of the Rodgers Recreation Center.
James Van Alen was an international sportsman, political figure, and Anglophile. His mansion, conceptualized in 1882, was built between 1884-1887. It was designed to replicate Wakehurst Place, an Elizabethan manor house built in Sussex, England in 1570 and still stands today.
Charles Eamer Kempe, an English architect and stained glass artist, drew the original plans for the mansion. Newport architect Dudley Newton supervised the construction on Ochre Point Avenue, including the assembly of certain rooms that were created and built in England. The building of these rooms, the English Jacobean Long Hall, Dutch Renaissance den, and Bruges dining room, introduced the concept of the "museum room." The dining room was also the first actual neoclassical room by Robert Adam to be imported to America.
Like most Prodigy Houses designed for the countryside, Wakehurst is characteristic of rural England during the late 16th century. The mansion's roof alone provides a prime example of the distinguished place it holds in America's architectural history. The rooflines and pitch, copper and lead detailing, and exceptionally large slate tiles are all representative of the 16th century technology utilized in the construction of Wakehurst Place. Even though Wakehurst is a Gilded Age home, it replicates a much earlier source that in its own day was unique. In doing so, Wakehurst's significance as an example of exceptional achievement in architecture and craftsmanship is heightened.
It was intended that Wakehurst be a dramatic landmark with clusters of diamond-paned bay windows acting as beacons in the night. Because of Van Alen's romantic traditionalism, it was lit entirely by gaslight and candlelight for many years.
The grounds of Wakehurst, created by landscape designer Ernest Bowditch, recall the green serenity of an English country estate where a serpentine drive and footpaths wind under magnificent specimen trees and end at formal gardens. Massive trunks, three-lobed pointed leaves, and cherry-size seed clusters distinguish London Plane Trees (Plantus acerifolia) on the southeast lawn. Huge Weeping Beeches (Fagus sylvatica pendula) gracefully droop over the southwest lawn. Stately Atlas Cedars also adorn the landscape. Although English Renaissance in design, the gardens were created by Portuguese master gardener Frank D. Mendes. His son-in-law, Frank Rosa, Salve's former chief gardener, used his father-in-law's photographs to reconstruct the original plans. A beautiful stone wall surrounding the grounds unites the manor house with the other buildings.
Harrington, Richard B. Ochre Point-Cliffs Historic District [including Salve Regina University]. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/ National Park Service, 1975.
Moe, Richard. A Walking Tour of Salve Regina University. Pamphlet. [Newport, RI: Salve Regina University, n.d.].