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Mary Lundie Bruen House
Mary Lundie Bruen (1828–1886) was the daughter of Mary Ann Davenport Bruen and Reverend Matthias Bruen, the first minister of New York’s Bleecker Street Presbyterian Church. At one point, her grandfather, Obadiah Bruen, was the wealthiest man in New York, so when her father died a year after her birth, the infant Mary was well provided for.
In 1850, her mother purchased a large plot of land in Newport and hired local architect Seth Bradford to design a house to be built towards the center of the property, well away from the street. At the time, this part of Newport was still largely undeveloped, remote from the city’s colonial center to the northwest. Though a few houses were already standing, the major estate of this era, Château-sur-Mer, would not be built for two more years.
Because Mary Ann’s house was so setback on the lot, the property’s frontage along Bellevue Avenue was available for her daughter. And as Bellevue Avenue had become a fashionable street in the decades since the first house was built, this frontage was newly valuable. In 1882, Mary Lundie, then 52 years old, built a second house on the property, between the street and her mother’s estate. Though Richard Morris Hunt had remodeled her mother’s house in 1872, a decade later Mary Lundie selected Boston-based architect William Ralph Emerson to design her own residence.
Emerson’s Shingle Style design was characteristic of the time, following the model of McKim, Mead, and White’s 1879–1881 Casino. The building is asymmetrical, juxtaposing rectilinear forms with rounded shapes. The first floor is dominated by the deep, ovoid porch that shields the front door. With Bellevue Avenue now the site for nightly promenades, the porch served as an ideal viewing stand, well sheltered from the late afternoon summer heat. Above, the un-roofed second-floor porch has the same ovoid plan and is entered through a projecting gabled pavilion with rounded corners emphasized by the shingle cladding. The third-floor porch is recessed into the pavilion and behind an arched opening. Some details, such as the jet returns on the gable, recall historic motifs, but in Emerson’s hands, this building is about the exploration of plastic form. In Newport, where so many buildings evinced a predilection for fancy architectural motif, Emerson’s emphasis on volume and surface over decoration must have seemed like a distinctly modern statement.
With the mother and daughter houses occupying a single lot, their histories have become intertwined and there is considerable confusion between the two Marys. While both women also maintained residences in Boston, they occupied in their Newport houses frequently throughout the 1880s. Both women also saw the economic value of their houses and used them philanthropically as collateral for mortgages granted to the Perkins Institute and Massachusetts School for the Blind.
Mary Lundie died in 1886; her mother, Mary Ann, died in 1896; both houses passed to Frances Perkins and they remained with her heirs until 1911. The new owner, George Haskell, subdivided the property, giving each house its own lot for the first time. Mary Lundie Bruen’s house changed hands multiple times during the twentieth century and today it contains four apartments.
Onorato, Ronald J. AIA Guide to Newport. Providence, RI: AIA RI Architectural Forum, 2007.
Yarnall, James L. Newport through its Architecture: A History of Styles from Postmedieval to Postmodernism. Newport, RI: Salve Regina University Press, 2005.
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