By Nancy Bateman, Registrar
In 1985, Olga Hirshhorn, widow of the famous art collector and benefactor Joseph Hirshhorn, saved a Miami Herald article about the grand opening of a new museum dedicated to architecture: the National Building Museum. Olga, an accomplished art collector and supporter of museums herself, decided to donate the original architectural drawings and plans for the estate she shared with Hirshhorn in Round Hill, Connecticut, to the Museum in 1986.
The Round Hill Collection consists of over 200 drawings and documents related to the planning and construction of the three-story Norman chateau and 22-acre estate from 1937-1939. The house was designed by architect Greville Rickard for real estate developer Dr. Charles Paterno and his wife. The 17,500 square foot residence boasts 23 rooms, including two master suites, a walk-in vault and wine cellar, as well as a third floor billiard room with views of New York City. Joseph Hirshhorn purchased the property in 1961 and filled the estate with his art collection until he sold the house in 1976.
The Round Hill assemblage is an excellent example of the type of collections the Museum wishes to acquire. It shows the planning and construction of the entire house down the smallest detail, from early concept sketches, to window and stair rail designs, to the final plans and drawings of the completed estate.
It also includes photographs of structures that inspired the design, information on the 1930s heating and electrical systems, and even a letter from Rickard to one of his contractors suggesting practical changes to the house after the family had moved in. Olga also documented the process herself, creating a bird’s eye view watercolor drawing of the estate. Altogether, the drawings, photographs and documents present the complete story of one of the grandest homes in Connecticut; from the architect that designed it, to the craftsmen that built it, to the families that lived in it.
The story of the Round Hill estate continues to this day. After the Hirshhorns sold the house it underwent a number of renovations and additions, but eventually fell into disrepair. Fortunately, it was recently purchased by clothing designer Tommy Hilfiger, who worked with architect Andre Tchelistcheff to restore the chateau to its former glory.
The Museum is currently surveying our architectural drawing collections to flag items that need preservation work; the Round Hill collection is on that list. The drawings had been folded for over 70 years and many are too brittle to be unfolded without professional guidance. Others have large creases and tears in them that need to be mended. We are working to stabilize and rehouse the drawings in new oversize folders and hope to meet with a paper conservator to assess the collection later this year.