|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.
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. Startsandfits.com 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).