Marienruh, a historic fieldstone colonial revival country estate built for heiress Alice Astor, the daughter of John Jacob Astor IV and sister of Vincent Astor, and her Russian aristocrat husband Prince Serge Obolensky in 1926 is being restored to its former glory by its new owners. The gracious mansion, situated on 100 scenic acres given to Alice by her brother overlooking the Hudson River in Rhinebeck, New York, was constructed for the glamorous couple by renowned architect Mott B. Schmidt. It had been on the market for $8.5 million up until last summer when unnamed buyers purchased the property, which had been in institutional use for some time, and set about renovating it – a pleasing reversal in an age where many fine old mansions are being put to less dignified uses, often destroying their souls in the process.
After Alice Astor's death the mansion was used over the years as a Christian youth camp, a home for unwed mothers, a drug rehab center and an events space. Over the decades the house was stripped of nearly all its original details, including fireplace mantels, lighting fixtures, hardware and even the copper gutters. The restoration work is being done extremely carefully, overseen by New York architect-designer Robert Couturier. A few upgrades are of course necessary, and new greenhouses are being installed. One of the wings will now house an elegant two-story tall library. As architectural historian Mark Alan Hewitt notes in The Architecture of Mott B. Schmidt (Rizzoli, 1991), Marienruh's block-with-dependencies design was inspired by two influential 18th century American mansions: Montpelier (1751) in Laurel, Maryland, and the the Hammond-Harwood House (1773-4) in Annapolis, MD.
Marienruh is next to photographer Annie Leibovitz's 220-acre spread which had been listed for sale at $11 million as part of her debt restructuring imbroglio. David Bowie and his wife Iman have reportedly considered buying it; other celebrities with property in the area include Liam Neeson, Gwyneth Paltrow, financier George Soros, hotelier Andre Balazs, and Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner. Leibovitz's property including some stone barns was once part of Alice's father John Jacob Astor IV's 3,500-acre estate Ferncliff; another remnant of that once glorious demesne is the beautiful Astor Courts, designed by Stanford White as a playhouse for Ferncliff with an indoor pool and tennis court, which was was an Estate of the Day last fall with an asking price of $12 million.