Thursday, November 22, 2007

Washington Social Diary

Trinity Episcopal Church, built in the 1950s, and offered its first service on September 28, 1960.
By Carol Joynt

THE CHURCH THAT MELLON BUILT

Living in Washington has its advantages. For one, the buildings – apart from the Washingtaon Monument and Capitol dome – have to meet a height limit that averages out to about 130 feet. It is an 1899 law that stems from Thomas Jefferson’s vision of the city and was kept on the books to prevent what The Washington Post called “the Manhattanization” of the capital city. What it means to those of us who live here is we can see the sky.

Another advantage is that it’s easy to get out of town. Hop on any one of three or four bridges and in 45 minutes it’s possible to be in rural Virginia or near the Chesapeake Bay. The last weekend of daylight savings time offered some of the most splendid autumn weather and a good excuse to cross Cabin John Bridge and head west to nearby Middleburg.

The Coach Shop.
The plan was lunch and leaves but became something more as I got caught up in the “hunt country” environs which was my home for a decade in the 80s. My traveling companion was Georgetown friend and neighbor, Christopher de Paola, who I joke is an “embed” at the White House. He does work there, as a civil servant rather than political appointee, which is an important distinction. When the Bush Administration goes, Chris gets to stay.

We started with lunch at the venerable Coach Stop restaurant in the very center of downtown Middleburg. Its been operating in that location since 1932, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The locals have the kind of love/hate relationship with the Coach Stop that comes with anything familiar, but it’s mostly love.

They go for the famous onion rings, the barbecue or egg salad sandwiches, the milk shakes and the camaraderie.

Their motto is “Where you always meet someone you know,” and that’s been true for me again and again, though my favorite memories are spotting Jackie Onassis as she would pop in for a grilled cheese while in town to visit friends Nina Fout and Rachel “Bunny” Mellon. She kept a little cottage on Fout’s estate and rode with the Piedmont Hunt.

All kinds of famous people pop into the Coach Stop, but it’s the locals that give it character. There’s always somebody fresh off a horse in muddy boots, jodhpurs and weathered tweeds.

The owners are Mike and Mark Tate, who first worked there as bus boys while in high school. The circular booths along the wall are cozy and comfortable, but the soda fountain-style counter is a great place to grab a bite, read the paper, and catch up on local gossip.
The Coach Stop Restaurant, whose motto is: "Where you always meet someone you know."
After lunch we walked up and down the main street, stopped into The Christmas Sleigh and caught a glimpse of owner Linda Tripp (yes, the same), reading the paper behind the counter. Due to lots of face work she looks similar but also quite different from her days in the middle of the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky Scandal.  Middleburg’s like that. You can walk from a restaurant where Jackie O, Liz Taylor and Nancy Reagan had lunch to a shop where Linda Tripp is the proprietor.

Across the street is the Red Fox Inn, where President John Kennedy met the press when the First Family spent weekends at Glen Ora. It’s owned by F. Turner Reuter, Jr., a former master of the Piedmont Fox Hounds and owner also of Red Fox Fine Art. His family has been in the region for decades. The last big celebrity rumor to blow through town was that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes bought the old Whitney estate for $22 million, but it turned out not to be true. Lots of new money has come into Middleburg, but there’s still plenty of old money around, and the old money feel prevails – even with a Safeway smack in the middle of town.

And that old money feel is the point of this story, because after our Middleburg walk about Chris and I headed west to Upperville. I wanted to show him a special place, what I’ve long called “Paul Mellon’s church.” It’s the Trinity Episcopal Church, a gift to Upperville from the Mellons, whose farm, stables and home and many hundreds of acres of land, Oak Spring and Rokeby, including a Gulfstream-ready landing strip, are a five minute drive from Upperville center.
A view of the family markers.
Paul Mellon's final resting place, with a julep cup of carnations and a tiny wooden sailboat.
Andrew Mellon's final resting place.
Mary Conover Mellon was Paul Mellon's first wife, who died in 1946 from an asthma attack.
Each year when the famed Hunt Country Stable Tour occurs, Trinity is the headquarters, and they often have food. Back in the day, Paul Mellon sent over his butler to make omelettes.

My husband I lived a short drive from t he church and I made a point of waiting in line to get an omelette, which turned out to be one of the best omelettes I ever tasted. Simple and elegant, much like Paul Mellon himself. The butler was quite a dapper fellow, too.

Trinity’s parish, Meade Parish, began in the 1840s. The church that Mellon built is the third to stand on that site and was put up in the 1950s. It’s a little bit of France settled comfortably into its Virginia landscape.

The architect was the late H. Page Cross of New York who adapted the style of 12th and 13th century French country churches, using native sandstone that was quarried in nearby Warrenton, Va.

What’s especially interesting is not only was the church commissioned by the Mellons, but it was a largely local effort. “”With the exception of artists who have contributed particular details,” says a flyer, “men of the local countryside, who have been trained in the arts of stonecutting, masonry, and carpentry, are responsible for the entire construction.” They even went so far as to make their own tools at a forge on the property, honoring medieval tradition.

The construction “boss” was Robert Hanback, himself a master builder, who made the beautiful great cross that graces the east wall. As for the imports, the spectacular stained glass windows are from the late Joep Nicholas of Holland; the ironwork is from P.A. Fiebiger, father and son, of New York City.

The Organ was designed by Joseph Whiteford of the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company in Boston; there are candelabra from 16th century Austria and 18th century France, and other candlesticks from Poland, England, Spain and Colonial Virginia. The pew end carvings are the work of late and legendary Heinz Warneke and depict plants native to the countryside.
Clockwise from top left: Exterior views of Trinity Episcopal Church. In Upperville, Va., but like a trip to the French countryside (2); On the other side of this wall are the graves of Paul Mellon, his first wife, his sister, father and mother.
It’s easy to feel, though, that as much as Trinity Church was a gift from Paul Mellon to his community, it was also for himself and his family. In a remarkably simple and serene walled boxwood garden in the rear are the graves of Mellon, who died in 1999, his first wife, Mary, who died in 1946, his sister, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, his father, Andrew, who served as Secretary of the Treasury under Harding, Coolidge and Hoover; and his wife, Paul Mellon’s mother, Nora McMullen Mellon.

On the day we visited, at the base of Mellon’s gravestone was a tarnished silver julep cup holding a small bouquet of red carnations and beside it a tiny carved wooden sailboat, resting in the grass. The poignancy was moving. The words on the marker are Robert Louis Stevenson’s: “Home is the sailor, home from the sea; the hunter home from the hill.” It all comes to this, even for a man who was the richest man in America of an earlier era.  Will the Paul Mellons of today leave a similar legacy of philanthropy and beauty?
Clockwise from top left: The church was built of sandstone by local craftsmen but various details came from Austria, France, Poland and Spain (2); The pew carvings were the handiwork of Heinz Warneke and portray plants native to the countryside; The organ was made in Boston by Joseph S. Whitehead of the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company; A special dedication in the North Transept. Foxcroft is an active part of the Trinity parish.
Another notable grave at Trinity Church is for a person who in life was quite the contrast to Paul Mellon. Jack Kent Cooke was flamboyant and controversial, a Canadian-American entrepreneur who made a fortune, owned the Washington Redskins football team, Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, and the L.A. Kings hockey team, had more than a few wives, his widow being the colorful Bolivian, Marlene Ramallo Chalmers.

The many windows were made by Joep Nicholas of Holland. This one says: "This church is given to the glory of God by Rachel and Paul Mellon, and of Thine own have we given Thee."
In contrast to Mellon’s vast inherited wealth, Cooke was self-made, but he did leave the bulk of his fortune to a foundation that is mandated to help others who, like him, are struggling to the top from humble beginnings.

Cooke and Mellon were neighbors but not known to be friends. Perhaps Cooke, in choosing Trinity as his resting place, had a plan for the afterlife.

We were lucky to find the church door unlocked and once inside, we had the place to ourselves. It is a testament to the beauty of restraint.

There is not one detail more, or one detail less, than is needed, and it was a pleasure to adore the excellence of the craftsmanship, whether my eyes landed on the stained glass, the hand-carved pews, the organ, the ironwork, the ceiling work, the flags, and the chandeliers. Chris found the light switch, and voila.

We took a moment to be quiet and adore this lasting legacy to a man whose taste and style were considered perfect.

Photographs by Carol Joynt
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