James J. Van Alen

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
James J. Van Alen
James John Van Alen

(1848-03-20)March 20, 1848
DiedJuly 13, 1923(1923-07-13) (aged 75)
Alma materOxford University
Emily Astor
(m. 1876; her death 1881)
Parent(s)James Henry Van Alen
Mary Young Steward
RelativesSee Astor family
AwardsKnight of Grace of St. John of Jerusalem

James John Van Alen (March 20, 1848 – July 13, 1923) was a sportsman and politician. He was appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Italy on October 20, 1893, but declined the appointment.[1] He was well known as a New York Society leader and was referred to as the "American Prince of Wales."[2]

Early life[edit]

He was the son of James Henry Van Alen (1819–1886),[3] who served as a brigadier general in the Union Army during the Civil War, and Mary Young Steward (1818–1852). He attended and graduated from Oxford University.[2]


Van Alen donated $50,000 to Grover Cleveland's successful campaign for President.[2] He was rewarded with an appointment as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Italy on October 20, 1893,[4] but declined the appointment,[1] owing to public disapproval.[5] He was also rumored to have been appointed the United States Ambassador to Great Britain under President Cleveland.[6]

His father became wealthy from real estate, which he inherited upon his death in 1886.[7][8]

In 1919, he sold his house at 15 East 65th Street in Manhattan, to Rufus L. Patterson, due to his opposition to Prohibition.[9] He then lived abroad, spending most of his time at a villa in Cannes, France,[10] from February 1920 until his death.[2] In 1919, Van Alen stated:[9]

I know of lots of people that will leave the United States and make their home in countries where the laws are not so strict."[9]

In 1921, Van Alen sold eight three-story Harlem Houses in the 130th Street block, 28 to 42 West 130th Street, each on a lot 25 by 100 feet, between Fifth and Lenox Avenues to James H. Cruikshank.[7][11][12]

Personal life[edit]

Emily Astor by Hiram Powers

In 1876, he married Emily Astor (1854–1881), the eldest daughter of William Backhouse Astor, Jr. (1829–1892) and Caroline Webster Schermerhorn (1830–1908). Together, James and Emily had three children:[13]

His wife died in 1881, only 5 years after they were wed.[22]

Van Alen died in 1923 while in London.[23] His entire estate was estimated at $20,000,000 (equivalent to $294,102,000 in 2018).[24] After his property and stock was given to his son, and taxes were paid,[25] the residual estate was valued at $2,061,617 (equivalent to $30,316,000 in 2018).[26] His will provided trust funds of $500,000 (equivalent to $7,353,000 in 2018) each for his daughters, Mary and Sarah, the principal to go to their descendants. His son, James, received all real estate, property, and life estate in the residue and his grandson, James H. Van Alen, a surviving life estate. An additional trust of $12,000 (equivalent to $176,000 in 2018) was set aside for a friend, Mary M. Griffith.[23] Upon her death, the residual went to his grandchildren.[26]

Van Alen's Newport residence


Van Alen was one of several very rich men who leased, but did not buy, Rushton Hall in Northamptonshire, England, from the Clarke-Thornhill family.[27] Rushton was the ancestral home of the Tresham family. The estate is about 227 acres (92 ha) of which 30 acres (12 ha) are formal gardens. The River Ise flows from west to east south of the Hall.[28]

Van Alen's father had a home in Newport, Rhode Island called " The Grange " and lived there year-round.[29] In 1887, seven years after his wife's death in 1881, Van Alen's father gave him the land and he commissioned American architect Dudley Newton to build a replica of Wakehurst Place in Newport from plans designed by Charles Eamer Kempe.[30] When completed the home had cost Van Alen some $750,000 (equivalent to $20,914,000 in 2018).[30] Salve Regina University purchased the mansion from the Van Alen family in 1972.[31]


His two daughters did not have children, however his son, James Laurens Van Alen, had three children. James' eldest child was James Henry "Jimmy" Van Alen II (1902–1991), the founder of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, who married Eleanor Langley.[32] His second born was William Laurens Van Alen (1907–2003), founding president of the United States Court Tennis Association, who married Elizabeth Brinton Kent, daughter of Arthur Atwater Kent, in 1931.[6] His youngest, and only daughter was Louise Astor Van Alen (1910–1998).[33] Louise was married three times, first in 1931 to Prince Alexei Mdivani (1905–1936). They divorced in 1932 when Mdivani left her to marry Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton. In 1936, after Alexei's death, she married Prince Sergei Mdivani (1903–1936), her first husband's older brother.[34] Sergei tragically died later that year in a polo accident.[35] In 1947, she married for the third and final time, to Alexander Saunderson (1917–2004),[36] grandson of Edward J. Saunderson (1837–1906), an MP and Lord Lieutenant of Cavan.[37]


  1. ^ a b "James J. Van Alen (1846-1923)". United States Department of State. Retrieved 2009-08-17.
  2. ^ a b c d Times-, Special Cable To The Xew Tohk (14 July 1923). "JAMES J. VAN ALEN DEAD IN LONDON; | New York Society Leader Was Sometimes Called "American Prince of Wales." | A LAVISH NEWPORT HOST | He Had Lived Abroad Since Prohibition, Which He Disapproved as "Our Lack of Liberty."". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  4. ^ "A NEW SUPREME COURT JUDGE; WILLIAM B. HORNBLOWER, PROMOTED TO THE BENCH. The Successor to the Late Justice Blatchford Appointed -- No Surprise Created as The New York Times Had Foreshadowed the Nomination -- Senator David B. Hill the Only One Who Has Thus Far Criticised the Appointment -- Other Nominations". The New York Times. 20 September 1893. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  5. ^ "JAMES J. VAN ALEN". The New York Times. December 12, 1893. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  6. ^ a b Times, Special To The New York (9 August 1931). "MISS ELIZABETH KENT WED TO W.L. VAN ALEN; Married to Great-Grandson of William Astor at St. Saviour's Church, Bar Harbor, Me". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  7. ^ a b "LATEST DEALINGS IN THE REALTY FIELD; James J. Van Alen Sells Eight Old Harlem Houses in 130th Street. WAVERLEY PLACE PURCHASE Dwelling Sale Near Sutton Place-- Deals in Chelsea and on Canal Street". The New York Times. 15 February 1921. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  8. ^ "GEN. VAN ALEN'S WILL". The New York Times. 24 August 1886. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  9. ^ a b c "VAN ALEN SELLS HOME HERE; Advent of Prohibition Responsible It Is Said, for Giving Up Residence". The New York Times. 13 December 1919. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  10. ^ Times, Wireless To The New Yobk (15 July 1923). "VAN ALEN BURIAL HERE.; Memorial Service to Bi, Held In Savoy Chapel, London, Tomorrow". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  11. ^ "Harlem's Astor Row for Colored Tenants; Radical Changes in 130th Street, for Years the Block Beautiful in That Section". New York Times. November 21, 1920. p. 106. Retrieved 2009-08-22.
  12. ^ Hartocollis, Anemona (January 5, 2003). "The Long Journey of the Lord of the House". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-08-22.
  13. ^ "James J. Van Alen". University of Virginia. Retrieved 2009-08-04. James J. Van Alen (1846-1923) was a sportsman, politician, and member of an old-monied New York railroad family. Van Alen solidified his status as a member of upper-class society by marrying Emily Astor, daughter of society matron Caroline Schermerhorn Astor and William Backhouse Astor Jr.
  14. ^ Times, Special To The New York (10 May 1959). "MRS. G.A. THOMPSON DIES; Granddaughter of William Astors Was Broker's Widow". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  15. ^ Appeals, United States Court of Customs (1915). Court of Customs Appeals Reports: Cases Adjudged in the United States Court of Customs Appeals. The Court. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  16. ^ Times, Special To The New York (19 June 1927). "James L. Van Alen Buried". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  17. ^ "A VANDERBILT-ASTOR ALLIANCE; Wedding of J. Lawrence Van Alen and Miss Daisy Post. A Quiet Ceremony, Only Sixty-two Guests Being Present -- Some of if the Guests and Gowns". The New York Times. 11 December 1900. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  18. ^ "WHAT IS DOING IN SOCIETY". The New York Times. 8 December 1900. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  19. ^ "Wealthy Newport Dowager, Mrs Brugiere, Dies at 92". Nashua Telegraph. 22 January 1969. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  20. ^ Times, Special To The New York (6 September 1900). "J.J. VAN ALEN'S DINNER DANCE.; Wakehurst Beautifully Decorated -- Miss Sarah Van Alen Introduced to Newport Society". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  21. ^ "R. J. Collier Dies At Dinner Table. Editor, Just Returned from the Front, Is a Victim of Heart Attack. Recall Had Been Reported. Washington Admits His Credentials Had Been Canceled, but Denies Knowledge of the Reason. Stricken at Dinner Table. Had Many Libel Suits" (PDF). New York Times. November 9, 1918. Retrieved 2009-08-04. Robert J. Collier, editor of Collier's Weekly and President of the publishing house of P.F. Collier Son, died of heart attack at his home at 1,067 Fifth Avenue at 7:45 last night, a few hours after he had landed from an army transport upon which he had returned ...
  22. ^ "Obituary 2 -- DIED". The New York Times. 23 November 1881. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  23. ^ a b Times, Special To The New York (9 October 1923). "CONTEST EXPECTED ON VAN ALEN'S WILL | One Executor Refuses to Serve, and His Son Has Not Accepted. | ESTATE GOES TO FAMILY | Codicil Increases Trusts for Daughters from $250,000 Each to $500,000". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  24. ^ "VAN ALEN LEFT $20,000,000.; Will to Be Offered In Newport on Monday". The New York Times. 10 August 1923. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  25. ^ Times, Special To The New York (2 August 1923). "THREE LANDS CLAIM VAN ALEN RESIDENCE; | America, England and France Reported to Be Eying Expatriate's $25,000,000 Estate for Taxes". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  26. ^ a b "VAN ALEN LEFT $2,061,617. | Estate of the Late William Astor's Son-in-Law is Appraised". The New York Times. 28 January 1925. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  27. ^ "James J. Van Alen Selling Flowers. His Gardens at Rushton Hall Producing Blooms for the London Market. Making Money On Estate. Likely to Get Back Part of the Big Sum He Was Compelled by Tradesmen to Expend" (PDF). New York Times. March 29, 1909. Retrieved 2009-08-17. James J. Van Alen is getting back some of the money he has spent in England. It will be remembered that several years ago he purchased Rushton Hall, a handsome country seat, on which he expended great sums, paying, if report be correct, extraordinary and unnecessarily high prices for certain pieces of furniture and bits of decoration which he required to complete the artistic ensemble he had planned out.
  28. ^ Parks and Gardens UK website, accessed 25 March 2012
  29. ^ "REAL ESTATE IN NEWPORT.; A FARM BOUGHT FOR $12,000 NOW WORTH A MILLION AND A HALF". The New York Times. 28 December 1881. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  30. ^ a b Hughes, Tyler (4 July 2012). "The Gilded Age Era: "Wakehurst" The Van Alen Mansion, Newport". The Gilded Age Era. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  31. ^ Salve Regina University. "Campus Buildings: Wakehurst". Retrieved 6 July 2016.
  32. ^ "MISS LANGLEY TO WED JAMES H. VAN ALEN; Engagement to Great-Grandson of Late Mrs. William Astor Is Announced". The New York Times. 17 July 1929. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  33. ^ "Paid Notice: Deaths SAUNDERSON, LOUISE ASTOR VAN ALEN". The New York Times. 4 January 1998. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  34. ^ "MISS VAN ALEN TO REWED.; She Will Marry Serge Mdivani, Whose Brother She Divorced". The New York Times. 4 December 1935. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  35. ^ Serge Mdivani is Killed Playing Polo in Florida, The New York Times, March 16, 1936
  36. ^ "Paid Notice: Deaths SAUNDERSON, ALEXANDER". The New York Times. 12 September 2004. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  37. ^ Moore, Steven. Archives: Ulsterman to marry Georgian Princess The Belfast News Letter, 25 August 1999