Friday, May 11, 2012

Women's Writing Room, Gasparella Inn

Women's Writing Room, Gasparella Inn (1920s)
Women's Writing Room, Gasparella Inn

Location: 500 Palm Avenue, Boca Grande, Florida, USA

Opened: 1913

Closed: Still open, though women's writing room is presumably long gone and adapted to some other purpose

The Gasparella Inn, located on a small barrier reef island, is one of the last of the classic Gulf Coast resorts, the kind of place where moneyed Northerners--especially the Boston bluebloods--used to winter over in style. A general history of the place can be found at the Gasparella Inn website.

In a development that is pretty unusual for Florida, planned growth and historic preservation efforts have been quite successful here, so the area still retains much of its turn-of-the-century charm. In addition, the Inn still carries on many of its old world traditions, like afternoon tea during Social Season.

Gasparella Inn
It appears that the initial hotel was fairly modest in size, so within two years the space was doubled. Hettie Rhoda Meade (1881-1973), a New York interior designer, was hired to decorate the interior. I suspect the women's writing room probably dates from this period. Meade certainly succeeded in creating a very warm, cozy, and attractive womyn's writing space, even if its use was limited to the WASP aristocracy.

Common Room and Housemother's Suite, Plant House (1919)

It turns out that this was not the only womyn's space that Meade designed. She is also credited with decorating and furnishing Plant House, a residential hall at the Connecticut College for Women, also in 1915. (The Connecticut College for Women, founded in 1911, began admitting men in 1969. It is now known as Connecticut College.) Here's how that project was described:

The living room on the ground floor will be furnished in early English style. Silver gray and blue will be the prevailing tones of the sleeping rooms on the first floor, soft grays and browns on the second and varying shades of gray on the third. The effect will be subdued and harmonious.

Some of Meade's other commissions include the west lounge (including the writing room) at the Belleview Hotel in Belair, Florida ; the new music and card rooms at the Griswold Hotel at Eastern Point, Groton, Connecticut; the Shinnecosset Country Club, also in Groton; and the Buckwood Inn (now the Shawnee Inn), in Shawnee on Delaware, Pennsylvania. Meade was also a recognized collector, dealer, and expert in Japanese prints, and a published author (Furnishing the Small Home). Here are some interesting, if random, quotes from that work:

...the decorative value of books en masse can not be overestimated.

Even one flower or growing bit of green in a room is of inestimable value, decoratively and spiritually....

An interesting painting or a colorful hanging has its use, for beauty has its utilitarian as well as its ethical value.

I heartily agree with all the above.

There is not a lot about Hettie Rhoda Meade's life, other than basic genealogy data. She was born in Oswego, New York on November 5, 1881, the daughter of John Oliphant Meade (1850-1917) and Alice Mary Littlefield (1860-1926). Hettie was the second born, just one year after her sister Helen. By 1900, the family was living in Brooklyn with the maternal grandparents, which suggests a reversal in fortune. Yet by 1906, Hettie had established a business for herself as a dealer in Japanese prints and "various Japanese art works" with a gallery at 40 Morningside Drive.

Then there seems to have been some sort of crisis, as by 1910, she is living back in Oswego as a boarder in the home of Albert and Alice Radcliffe. But by 1915, she's back in New York with her career going like blazes. In fact, she is doing well enough to have at least one assistant in her employ, Miss Ruth M. Cutler. By 1920, Hettie is advertising  her business in "interior furnishings and antiques" at 12 West 40th Street.

It appears that Hettie never married and lived by herself, as the 1920 Census reports that she was living alone in Manhattan. That same year, she travelled to Antwerp, Belgium aboard the Finland which suggests that she was doing well financially. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, her residence is reported as 4 West 40th Street. But by the war years, she had moved to 114 East 81st Street, with her business at 225 East 57th Street. By 1960, she had moved to 27 West 85th Street. Then she sort of drops off the radar.

She died in February 1973 at the age of 91.

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