This is perspectives I'm Laura Curan in on tonight's archive edition of perspectives.
The Wentworth by the sea hotel in New Castle this once grand Victorian retreat shut down in 1982 in June the National Trust for Historic Places put the hotel on its list of endangered places. Still the hotel has had to stave off the wrecking ball. Another deadline for demolition passed this week a group called Friends of the Wentworth has raised $50000 and hired a preservation consultant to find a buyer for the hotel. The sale price is a million dollars and a spokesman for the group said this week the progress has been made toward a sale.
We'll talk with that consultant about the rescue effort and we'll hear about the good old days of Wentworth from a woman who worked there for 15 years first and whose.
This is New Hampshire Public Radio. I'm Laura Karan in with perspectives the Wentworth by the sea hotel a huge Victorian building in Newcastle has been a for Lorne example of another era since the hotel has shut its doors in 1900 to diplomats celebrities and vacationers once filled the place each season. And it was the site of the negotiations that ended the war between Japan and Russia in the early 1900s.
Last June the National Trust for Historic Places put the Wentworth which was built more than 100 years ago on its list of America's most endangered historic places.
The current owners a Massachusetts based development company threatened to tear the place down if it isn't sold. The asking price is a million dollars but all has not been lost.
A group called Friends of the Wentworth hired a preservation consultant Albert Rex to find a buyer. This week another deadline for demolition passed and a spokesman for the group said negotiations with the buyer are going well.
I talked with Albert Rex last summer about the history of the hotel.
A longtime employee there Helen Sweeney also joined us.
She worked for the hotel's owner and president Jim Smith for 15 years.
I asked Helen Sweeney to tell us about the guests at the hotel. People used to come there from New York from even Boston by train and they would bring us trunks. And stay the whole summer up there when in fact we had one lady who was still living who came from Exeter and stayed the whole summer at the hotel and then of course there were many chauffeur driven cab swear that chauffeurs would be there.
They would have a room someplace and I don't know where the hotel someplace and their cabins were there all summer to you know they'd be right along with it was a beautiful place.
What do you think it was Helen that was so attractive about the Wentworth to these people. Well first of all the location was wonderful. The host was the best.
Nobody could ever be like him before in he was just outstanding The food was good the entertainment was there.
They had everything they had shows twice a week.
Saturday and they had a symphony orchestra that came and played afternoons and sip tea and cookies.
And everything in it was just wonderful. Did people dress up there Helen. Yes they did.
They did up until almost the end.
There was one lady whom I knew very well she always had wanted me to go and have dinner with her in the dining room and I didn't like to go because she took too much of my time.
But I did go occasionally and she said when they when the men started going in for lunch and their golf close she said to me you know Mrs. Sweeney if my father my husband ever knew that I sat in the dining room with men without their jackets they would turn over in their graves. Did you get to mingle with the guests.
I mean she was so she was inside it. I was invited to practically every cocktail party my husband in that way.
And just because I didn't I didn't reciprocate but I would send flowers to the ladies on a bottle of liquor to them to the gents You know when they had it.
We had one Eddie guild guy and I don't know if you ever heard of him he was mayor of Wolverine Massachusetts for many years. He's a bachelor and he always had a big big Patty up there. And. Yeah then they hit everything.
There were always cocktail parties going because they had they had dress shows you know people.
Some of these designers would come and hire a room for a week get something in and show them their dresses and whatever they had to show.
Did celebrities come there really.
Yeah. Milton Eisenhower would you consider him when I was sure I would be the brother of the president I would use that right the right of the president I think.
And I've read that Annie Oakley not that you were there then when she became President Truman was there before my time. Richard Nixon Yes Richard Nixon before he was Jim Jim was a great Republican. And he had a couple of friends who were Democrats.
Kendis for he was a great tennis player by the way.
Yeah he was great.
And these two friends came from Massachusetts to play for play tennis with them.
And Jim had a picture of a Nixon on the wall. And every time they'd come into my office they'd take that picture and try to kill the wall. What did Jim say.
Oh he laughed you know he had he had the best sense if you will of anybody that loved it.
Nothing for acting really do you ma'am. Yeah. Well why did they win with shutdown. It's it's hard to say why I mean obviously there was a change in what people were doing for vacations the way the world was going people are taking trips further away that transportation change the family vacation changed and I guess that's kind of the breakdown a nuclear family in some ways it just wasn't the same kind of vacation people just didn't take all their kids. Also it's the work schedule. I mean it's Helen said have people come in you know in July 4th weekend stay through Labor Day and I just you know people who take two weeks on vacation and then want to go somewhere where they could take their kids and it just became more expensive I think it in the end it just was it was phased out just because of the way society was going at that point. If the right group would have taken over they could kept it running but there was just a series of mishaps with the owners and development and then the real estate problem in New England hit and sure it just went through everything.
Tell us a little bit about the history of the Wentworth. It's about one hundred twenty one years old.
It was built in 1974. It was built by Charles Campbell and his partner David Daniel chase and Daniel Chase was from Somerville Mass. And Campbell actually owned the land at the hotel is on he own there's a small island behind the hotel still called Campbell's Island his house is still there you can still see it. And they build it is 85 room guesthouse three stories very plain very you know simple. And it was camel was fortunate that he owned the the best piece of property on the island. It was that's the highest point on the island it's an incredible views. And they owned it for about five years until they sold out to Frank Jones Frank Jones is he was called King of the elm acres he really built Portsmouth. He was a U.S. senator he was he was a kind of man if if a company was not out there to do what he wanted to do he'd create the company buy it. So he bought the Wentworth 1079 and immediately started changing it. He added a fourth floor in the in the three stair towers the mansard roof their towers that are really the identity of the Wentworth today. When you see it from the ocean or it's the it's the real figure that you see. Jones owned it. Until Well he actually owned it even after he died it was in his with his trustees with the 907. But during his 20 some odd years of ownership he actually tripled the size of the hotel when he died in 1983 hotels up to 300 rooms. He had added five clay court tennis courts he had added a nine hole golf course. He was even though he didn't play golf or tennis he thought all these things that were up and coming sports and that the people would want that a luxury hotel. So he also had a doc build He had a steam ship built that would take people back and forth to Portsmouth. So he was a real entertainer in his own right much like Jim Smith would be in later dates. He would be a you know there's some stories about him. He served with Chester Arthur in the Senate. And when Chester Arthur went on to become president there was some discussion about closing the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. The story goes that he called Chester Arthur up and brought him up to the Wentworth and had him stay over there and then took him over the shipyard and showed him around and said you know this is a very important part of our industry here in Portsmouth. You make sure it doesn't close. So he was one of the first to save the Naval Shipyard.
That's great and also the hotel was also the site of the negotiated settlement to the Russian Japanese.
Yes and I said you know nine thousand five. Unfortunately that would have been Frank Jones crowning moment but he died prior to this not in 1983 or 1982 and in 105 Teddy Roosevelt was chosen to pick a spot for the peace treaties it was going to be held in the U.S. Roosevelt had been participating in negotiations with Japan and Russia to end their research Apennines war. They asked about the pick a spot and obviously the first spot they looked at was the sea. They want to do it in Washington you had all the amenities there the security but it would be in August and Washington was much too hot at that point to have these things for us to go shooting. And so they start looking up the coast for another spot they look to Newport Rhode Island it's the Naval War College is there. It's also has first class amenities. But that point that Newport was really in its heyday and there was just too much going on they thought there'd be too many distractions there for the for the peace negotiators. So they looked at the they started looking further up the coast and it turned out that someone in the cabinet was from New Hampshire and said well why when I went north by the sea you know it's it's in Portsmouth they have a Naval Shipyard. You can get the shipyard by boat or by car. It just made a lot of sense it's out of the way of the distractions in Newport. So they chose to have the negotiations up it. Up at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and in the delicate state at the Wentworth.
Now is it true that some say that those negotiations helped Teddy Roosevelt win the Nobel.
It will he said when the Nobel Prize for the for the the efforts of bringing peace to Japan and Russia and it's also the first time that the negotiators actually talked face to face negotiated face to face are always used to be a liaison a go between that would negotiate for them. So even though they were over at the there over the shipyard three days a week negotiating the rest of time there at the Wentworth was the first time as they were walking around the gardens they could actually negotiate because they didn't have a go between early on. So it's seen as being a turning point in modern diplomacy. So it has a lot of interesting tie ins.
You're listening to Perspectives a New Hampshire Public Radio. My guests are Albert Rex He's the executive director of Friends of the Wentworth and Helen Sweeney who worked for the hotel's president milliner for many years. Helen why did you sell the hotel.
You know we're getting old. He was in his 70s I think yeah. And my two and they would carry it. You see there. Not only did they were during the social season but they had a season of conventions before the 4th of July. And after until the end of October and they had all kinds of doctors lawyers all kinds of conventions and that would be in the spring and in the fall. So they were going at you know except for a cup two or three winter months and then that time we read we made reservations for the following social season you know. So they were going out all the time. And then Margaret Smith is the one that had charge of all the decorating and she'd go around looking to see it. This room we had to have this done and you know all the furnishings had to be changed and and he took care of the social you know getting things done.
So this was about 1981 when he sold to the Swiss. So yeah that must have been said.
Well it certainly was. It was sad for everybody. But it was time he was getting old he was sick. He wasn't too well and I. Oh I know it just killed them to do it but they had to.
Albert since then the hotel has been part of it's been torn down and it's been gutted. Is that right. Yes. Can you describe what it looks like today.
After the Swiss took the route of the hotel they sold to another company which then sold to another company kept on going from Development Company Development Company different developers tried different things finally in the late 80s. The head of the group bought the property and had planned to put up another 300 room hotel. But they obviously want to keep the Wentworth name and really work on that. So when they looked at renovating the hotel they decided that modern heating ventilation systems couldn't fit in the new wings that had been built the new ones being a hundred years old and I thought the newer wings because they just weren't they also weren't of the same architectural character is that the main section. So they started to take down the two wings and then do an interior demolition on the main section because they had to do all the wiring and heating the hotel was never heated never had a heating system because it was only run as a seasonal hotel. So there's a lot of improvements that need to be done in to do so they actually did bring a team of architectural historians in from Portsmouth who went through the building and documented a lot of the pieces and saved a lot of pieces so we have a lot of material about the building. So when when a developer comes forward to look at restoring it they can. But why didn't it go forward help it would have at that point the real estate market just just bottomed out and the group had a lot of different properties up and they they had some problem with those properties that led to them actually selling off most of it. Most of the properties they had and disbanding and so had the group just disappeared. The bank was going to take it over and then a group out of California the coal company took it over. At that point coal company brought in the big green company that actually currently owns the building coal up in the building until last November November of 1995 when the green company bought it and the green companies Massachusetts based real suggested it was their real estate developer their housing development. And they've been dividing the property up and building houses. It's about 230 acres at its fullest with the 18 hole golf course and the salt water swimming pool and in the ship that Helen mentioned Henley built a marina before they went under. And then when the green company bought in November the Marina was sold off as was the golf course.
Now there are some homes on the edges sort of on the apron of the property you know been by there many times. These are luxury homes yes that.
What sort of encroaching from the green company has he has plans to build one hundred fifty homes there were approvals for one hundred fifty homes on their already 21 existing homes that had been built by a previous developer that was the first thing the green company did when they came in was fix these homes up and sell them and then they started their own three phases of development and they began with homes on the water's edge. There are luxury homes there townhouses and single family homes that range in price from 500000 to 1.8 million. So there was a certain kind of clientele they're looking for here and they just didn't see the hotel as being a part of this development. At that point they only saw the hotel as possibly being a nice development site site itself they said it's the highest point on the island deafly has the best views and sort of possibly being a place for a single family homes. But they did try to sell the hotel. Tyco corporation was interested in the building and did go through the whole planning process but backed out at the last moment I think due to cost constraints.
No friends of the will or US has pulled together and is trying to market the hotel itself is that right.
Tell us about your author and one of the friends that Wentworth first started was started by a group of people from Newcastle who obviously had a concern for the hotel. Even though some of them weren't there when the hotel was open actually had moved into Newcastle after 1981 but the building definitely has its strikes a feeling in people so based on these emotions they thought the hotel would be an important part of Newcastle to save. So 1991 92 they start their efforts to try to save that when wars in France and Wentworth was formed when they first formed it. They thought about the hotel had been besides the demolition the windows were all knocked out of it the paint was peeling off of it. It's just it doesn't look good from when you drive by. You said yourself that didn't buy it.
People sorted out just went up and that big There's a lizard and there's a fence next to it so people look at it and just think it's.
You know this building is just falling in on itself. So the friends thought about raising money to actually do some next year renovations to paint it and to put new windows in it to keep it secure from the weather. Then the Tyco situation came about and Tyco went on for about a year looking at the property. And when that fell through the green coming out that they were going to demolish the building. And at that point the friends had raised over $50000 towards doing something for the building it was decided that instead of trying to fix this up you know secure it. The thing we really need to do is find someone to take it over and do something with it. So it's on the market for a million dollars just on the market for a million dollars for the hotel and four point six five acres. The hotel is actually incredible condition considering that it's it's. People see and they think oh must be falling in on itself but we've had studies die in it. It's fortunate Newcastle is one big rock so the hotel is sitting on a ledge and it's very solid for one hundred twenty four years of age.
Now do you have some takers.
Our marketing plan started in October we get a lot of support from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. They gave us a small grant to start a marking program and also provided us with a list of the historic hotels of America.
We've also put you on their endangered yes your laser places list what I was getting to that OK. It takes so the.
And we started by marketing sending out marking packages to these historic hotels American Fortunately I have a very professional board a very savvy board they don't just want to see the hotel say but they see it as being a viable building and it can still be used it can be used as a hotel or other possibilities. So they put together a great marketing package of information that we then mailed out to these hundred thirty five hotels.
Now you are under deadline here. Yes. October 1 October 1 what happens then.
October 1 is that was the deadline that we had some help from the state. They stepped in last year and helped us negotiate with the green company give us 14 months which would've been last August to find a buyer. And on October 1 the Korean company has if they are interested can demolish the hotel at that point. We've recently had a lot of interest in the building. It was listed as one of America's 11 most endangered store places. And since that listing we've actually had a lot of calls come in additional calls from our own marketing we've probably had about 50 groups come through the building now 50 firms that have been interested in doing something with it and now those 50. We have five groups that have actually put together proposals about taking the next steps and going forward possibly developing the hotel.
My guests are Albert Ricks and Helen Sweeney we're talking about the Wentworth by the sea hotel in Newcastle. Helen can you imagine a wrecking ball.
Oh I can't I can't. That dining room was absolutely wonderful it was so big and so many lights and nobody nobody ever saw one light out of those big Jandal Iason things in the air and he was a dear man was this is a funny little story. You know the door would be open the front door and sometimes flies would get in and be flawed lunch and before dinner he'd take the flak. When I got to him yeah I need to go in and kill him. Oh yeah it was great. And he sang he dented in the dining room. Oh no in the in the bar room when they'd have they always had an opera sister sadly night. And besides a symphony orchestra in the daytime he'd get up and sing he had a good voice and he used to quote Shakespeare he was an authority on Shakespeare.
Alan tell you some more about the decor of the place where the room's fancy were there are no solid leads or what were they like.
No they wouldn't fancy it. There are a field there maybe three of four maybe just three. Where the women brought their own furniture and left it. Oh yes they had to be out. But one one of these ladies who is dead now she came from Connecticut. She was the first woman to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. FIRST WOMAN Yeah. And she was a very very wealthy woman and she was sticking with her own furniture. She yeah she had her own furniture. Yes. What do they bring in the moving vans when I they left it there. Oh they that room was their season. They they left advantage there.
Well were they a most of the rooms supposed to be like in you know country rooms or they were just.
No well they were just not even odd Mary Rose that you find in another hotel. They were old and they were comfortable enough you know but nothing fancy.
And I thinking in these other grand hotels like the balsams or elsewhere they still have the Kremlin curtains up in the bedrooms.
No no they did we were having a very very plain hotel in the Castro the one who had there was that every room did have a water view. It has these incredible rooms has these incredible windows that are about sort about 10 inches off the ground about six feet high. So that was your that was the the window there was a room dressing was you know the fact that you can look out every morning and see the ocean you could look in the Isle of Shoals Or you could look back in the Portsmouth or something like that never had a lot of high style features in the up stairs the downstairs was what was wonderful had a very. Yeah that's where the the formal areas because most people spent their time there in the formulary and Jim Smith was really as Helena's said a real entertainer I mean it's incredible. They've dismissed Les as an archive of over 35 hundred photographs that we have that we've been. It's now in the collection the Portsmouth at the NAM and we've been going through and looking at and when you look at these photographs and you look at the old brochures and you go into the hotel you can tell that the upper of the upper rooms are a little smaller they weren't real high style but when you go in the lower rooms you can just sense the gaff. Even if it wasn't as grand as the balsams that people felt it was as grand as boss and the it was that it was the whole feeling the hotel gave and I think that's you still get that feeling when you're at the hotel there's so many people that go through the building it just it's the building itself is very tangible but the feelings we get from are very on tangible you can't really touch him or understand why you're feeling that way.
Helen was the last one here in the hotel last week and two weeks ago tell me what that was like.
Well it's a funny feeling you know it's just it's sad it's very sad to me to have seen it as it is now.
Did you walk through. No no you can't.
We just went into the bar room and the bathroom wasn't too bad you know I mean I thought it would be in a worse condition than it was when they prepared to do the renovations in 1900 they did an interior demolition and as Helen said the upstairs rooms were never real high and as decor. So there was a lot of plaster So basically they took everything down to the studs in the lower floors where there was more detail they kept a lot of the woodwork but still removed all the plaster So when you go into the lower floors it's kind of a void and that my feeling in there I think your office is boarded up Ellen.
Yeah. In is all of them back they had the dining room couldn't get in there.
Well the dining room doesn't and also the dining room one of the dining rooms was demolished.
What a shame. Well what's your vision of what the Wentworth could be if you were able to sell it.
We see it as being again a resort like it was. I mean obviously it's different demographics these days and people take different types of vacations but our proposal that we've put together we want to show that it was viable. We have plans for a hundred six room corporate conference center. The feeling was on keeping it smaller might attract more buyers. Also the corporate conferencing were seeing it as a year round hotel which it never was before.
Well Helen what he think's going to happen can you live at the Wentworth as a corporate conference center. Would that be alright yeah.
Anything to keep it alive. Anything to keep it as maybe not as beautiful as it used to be air is big but there it is.
Helen Sweeney worked at the Wentworth by the sea hotel in Newcastle for 15 years.
Albert Rex is a preservation consultant. With.
The OS. Perspectives is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio. Our show is produced by Laura James. I'm Laura Karen and thanks for listening. I am. I am.
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- This episode explores the Wentworth by the Sea Hotel in New Castle, New Hampshire. The hotel was placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservations endangered buildings list in 2012 and a preservation group called Friends of the Wentworth has raised $50,000 in order to save the property by hiring a preservation consultant to find a buyer for the hotel. The Victorian building shut in 1982 and has a rich history, namely it was the site of negotiations that ended the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5. Helen Sweeney, who previously worked at the Wentworth, is interviewed. She discusses what drew vacationers to the hotel and how the hotel drew patrons with fine dining, theater shows, and symphony orchestras throughout the week. The history of the hotel is further discussed with the preservation consultant, Albert Rex, and how the luxury hotel became out of vogue with vacationers by the 1980s. Rex discusses how the property fell into the hands of various developers who were not interested in renovating the hotel because of the cost of modern improvements.
- Perspectives is a talk show featuring in-depth conversations with experts and important figures.
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- APA: Perspectives; Wentworth. Boston, MA: New Hampshire Public Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_187-60cvdtv2