Great Architects of New York: Henry J. Hardenbergh
2 Main Street
Peapack, N.J. 07977
At the end of a 1.25-mile driveway within a 491-acre estate that occupies portions of three municipalities. (The main buildings and 327 acres are in the Borough of Peapack and Gladstone; 124 acres are in the Borough of Far Hills; 40 acres are in the Township of Bedminster.) The core buildings photographed here are south of Highland Avenue, east of Main Street/Peapack Road, north of the North Branch of the Raritan River and west of Lake Road. The main entrance, once at the Far Hills train station, is now just over the town line, nearly at the spot where Main Street (Peapack Road) crosses the North Branch of the Raritan River and New Jersey Transit's Gladstone Branch.
Vacant and publicly inaccessible pending renovations. This was originally an estate for Kate Macy Ladd (1863-1945), heiress to a Massachusetts whaling, shipping and oil fortune, and her husband, Walter Graeme Ladd (1857-1933). After Mrs. Ladd's death, a convalescent home for women that she had started at Natirar in 1908 assumed control of the property. Under the terms of her husband's will, that home, run by an entity he had started called the Kate Macy Ladd Fund, was to be sold 50 years after his death. True to form, in 1983 the facility was disbanded, its assets distributed in equal parts to five educational institutions. The property was sold for $7.5 million to Hassan II, the King of Morocco, who visited the property infrequently. After the king's death, ownership passed to his son, King Mohammed VI, who sold the property in 2003 to Somerset County, N.J. (the county government is known as the Board of Chosen Freeholders) for $22 million. The county leased 80 acres of the property, including all of the core buildings pictured here, to Sir Richard Branson, the British billionaire who owns Virgin Atlantic airways. He plans to renovate the buildings and add a new one to create a resort called the Virgin Spa at Natirar.
Online Resources
  • [Offical Homepage]
  • Public Gets Tour of Old Natirar Mansion [Courier-News]
  • Destiny's Place: Natirar [Mary Jasch at New Jersey's Great Northwest Skylands]

    The architect Guy Lowell, of Boston, was the lead designer on this project with Hardenbergh assisting. The pair designed the main building and five ancillary buildings: Two guest cottages, a greenhouse, a stable and a garage. The buildings and the land around them are not publicly accessible. is grateful to the Somerset County staff for granting a tour of the property on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2005. Unfortunately the sky was overcast and the ground covered by a recent snowfall, but the faded grandeur of the buildings should come through nonetheless. The approach to the main building along the drive is particularly impressive. I've tried to recreate that feeling in the photos at right.

    The developers of the spa are renovating Lowell and Hardenberg's buildings and constructing a large new building in the lawn west of the mansion. The new building's design is contextual. It updates the mansion's styles but thankfully does not obscure any of its facades. As part of the renovations to the mansion, Lowell and Hardenbergh's original design will be restored in one spot where subsequent additions have altered it. The land around the core group of buildings will be turned into a public park for passive recreation. If all goes according to schedule, a county official told me, the buildings and the land around them will open in the second half of 2007.

    Special thanks to W. Barry Thomson, co-author of New Jersey Country Houses: The Somerset Hills: Volumes I and II, for contributing to the accuracy of this information.

  • A satelite image of the estate's main campus. 1. The main building; 2. The stable (Pine Cottage); 3. The garage; 4. Walnut Cottage; 5. Cedar Cottage; 6. The greenhouse; 7. An open garage, added years later (not pictured).

    The gatehouse guards the property.

    Behind the gatehouse, a winding, 1.25-mile road leads to the mansion.

    The main building's north facade, with main entrance, facing the driveway. Just to the left of the flag there was once a dormer window identical to the two to its right. It was altered to make way for an elevator mechanical area.

    Natirar's south facade faces an enormous sloping lawn.

    The view from the south facade. On a clear day you can see all the way to Princeton.

    Walnut Cottage, south facade faces the driveway at front. This is the first of two adjacent guest houses.

    Walnut Cottage, east facade. Note at center the three ascending windows, similar to the ones in the east wing of the F.P. Olcott Building nearby in Bernardsville.

    Walnut Cottage, north facade faces the rear yard.

    Walnut Cottage, southwest corner.

    Cedar Cottage, adjacent to Walnut Cottage. This is taken from the southeast.

    Cedar Cottage, west facade.

    Cedar Cottage, from the northeast.

    The entrance to the greenhouse, with sturdy Flemish Bond brickwork.

    The stable, also known as Pine Cottage. This is the south (front) facade.

    The stable's east facade.

    The stable's north facade faces the rear yard.

    The four-car garage, built at the dawn of the motor age.