Floating dreamily above the Sentier Littoral which joins Cap-Martin on the French Riviera with the fabled Principality of Monaco is the wonderful Belle Epoque Villa Torre Clementina which this year celebrates its 106th Birthday. Cap-Martin, within the commune of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, is a beautiful wooded peninsula on the Mediterranean, just below the perched Roquebrune village. The train station is down here, along with the beach, some campsites and shops. The peninsula itself is largely covered with very expensive walled estates, some dating back to the 19th century and the Belle Époque.
To inhale the atmosphere of that era head along the Avenue l’Imperatrice Eugenie or on the costal footpath to Monaco down below. The Sentier Littoral offers an invigorating two hour walk around the length of Cap Martin all the way to Menton. En route you will catch just the barest glimpse of the superb villas whose estates cover the main area of the Cap. Somewhere above is the ravishing Villa Torre Clementina restored by Frederick R. Koch, an American collector and philanthropist.
Designed in 1904 by the architect Lucien Hesse for Ernesta Stern, 1854-1926 (who is buried in Menton churchyard) this neo-Romanesque confection and superb gardens with pavilions and a pergola are on the French register of historic monuments. Born in Trieste (then Austrian) in 1854 she married the wealthy Parisian banker Louis Antoine Stern (1840-1900) in 1874.The Villa Torre Clementina was named after the setting of a villa the Hierschel family built in the Veneto, Villa Hierschel dei Minerbi, which had in its grounds an ancient 15th Century refuge tower for sailors and villagers from marauding Ottoman corsairs, the Torre Clementina. The family were Jewish traders who had originally settled in Trieste.
The villa was designed by the Parisian society architect Lucien Hesse shortly after 1904 (date of allotment of the private estate of Cap-Martin) for Ernesta Stern who as a writer published stories under the name Venetian Maria Star. The interior of the villa, inspired by the Orient and the gardens are the work of Raffaele Mainella, a painter of landscape and genre, born in Benevento (Italy) in 1858 and who worked mainly in Venice. The garden is characterised by a long path through which the three parts of a geometric garden listed in the pine forest and featuring a dozen display areas. The entire villa with its interiors, doorways, and gardens with paths, fountains and ornamental lakes, plants, sculptures, ornaments and other lapidary is inscribed on the French register of Historic Properties and is protected by law since 1974. It was used as a backdrop and set by film director René Clément for the movie Les Félins.
Ernesta Stern husband’s wealth paid for extravagant homes in Paris, Côte-d’Azure and a rebuilt Palazzo in Venice. The life of Ernesta de Hierschel, whose married name was Stern, and that of Palazzetto Stern, on the Grand Canal beside the Calle del Traghetto di San Barnaba were closely connected for a number of years: between 1909 and 1912, Ernesta Stern, who attended the most fashionable literary salons in Paris and who herself presided over a salon that drew such names as Proust, Reynaldo Hahn, Fauré, Paul Bourget, D’Annunzio, Madeleine Lemaire, Lina Cavalieri, Marchesa Casati Stampa and Princess de Polignac, decided to build, on the ruins of another building, the neo-gothic palazzo that still bears the name of her husband. She entrusted the architect Giuseppe Berti and the painter-architect-decorator Raffaele Mainella with its construction and decoration, down to the tiniest details. The friendship between Ernesta Stern and Raffaele Mainella was dominated by the genius of the latter, but it was also strongly influenced by the new cultural movements that Ernesta saw burgeoning in Paris and which she wanted to introduce into Italy.
This cultural exchange between Venice and France reached its height when Ernesta Stern decided to «bring Venice to France», entrusting Mainella, who continued to work in a «Byzantine-Veneto» style, with the decoration of her homes and parks both in Paris and on the Côte-d’Azure. The vitality of this exchange did not last long, however, since the First World War stifled many initiatives, but the traces it left are rich and important for this history of Venice and its cultural exchanges with Europe at the time. The Palazzetto Stern is now an expensive Venice hotel. Their Paris house was Hôtel Stern, a hôtel particulier at 68, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré which was demolished around 1920 but some of its contents are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Frederick Robinson Koch (born 1933) is an American collector and philanthropist, the eldest of the four sons born to American industrialist Fred C. Koch, founder of what is now Koch Industries, and Mary Robinson Koch. Unlike his father and brothers, all three of whom studied chemical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and pursued business careers, Frederick studied humanities at Harvard College (B.A. 1955), following which he enlisted in the U.S. Navy serving in Millingham, near Memphis and then on the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga. Upon return to civilian life Koch enrolled at the Yale School of Drama where his focus was playwriting and from which he received an M.F.A. degree in 1961.
Through personal and foundation acquisitions Koch assembled large and important collections of rare books and literary and musical manuscripts, fine and decorative arts and photographs, with works of the nineteenth and twentieth century’s predominating. His Frederick R. Koch Foundation is a major donor in New York to the Pierpont Morgan Library, and the Frick Collection and, in Pittsburgh, to The Carnegie Museum of Art. Of particular note are The Frederick R. Koch Collections at the Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library at Harvard University, and at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library that Yale president Richard C. Levin describes in the Beinecke’s collection catalogue as “one of the greatest collections to come to Yale since the year of its founding.” In 1986 Koch funded the full reconstruction of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre in England, from its 1879 remains. In 1990, according to the New York Times, the Frederick Koch Foundation auctioned at Christie’s the original manuscript of Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, along with 150 other books and manuscripts by Oscar Wilde, Somerset Maugham, A.A. Milne, and others. The Waugh manuscript was said to be the last manuscript by the writer still in private hands. Koch also owns among his private collections the archival estate of George Platt Lynes and a vast archive of society photographer Jerome Zerbe.
Since the 1980s, Mr. Koch has bought, restored and maintained a number of historic properties in the United States of America and abroad, including a Woolworth mansion in Manhattan; the Habsburg hunting lodge, Schloss Blühnbach (near Salzburg), the Romanesque Villa Torre Clementina in Cap Martin, France and Elm Court, a Tudor Gothic manse in Butler, Pennsylvania. In 2005 Koch sold Sutton Place near Guildford (Surrey, England), the former residence of J. Paul Getty and the legendary meeting place of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn (purchased from another art collector, Stanley Seeger) which Koch restored and operated as the Sutton Place Foundation, open to the public, for more than 25 years.
Public records confirm Koch’s extensive property ownership: in Manhattan at 825 Fifth Avenue and 6 East 80th Street, a grand townhouse commissioned by Frank W. Woolworth as a wedding gift to his daughter, Jessie Woolworth Donohue, and designed by C.P.H. Gilbert; a sprawling mansion in Butler, Pennsylvania north of Pittsburgh, called “Elm Court”; the stunning “Villa Torre Clementina” facing the French riviera just outside Monaco; and, “Schloss Bluhnbach”, a 70,000 square foot castle near Salzburg which was the summer residence of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand until his death at Sarajevo which triggered the start of WWI.
Unlike his three brothers, who are fairly well known for their business, philanthropic, political and sports endeavours, little is known about the apparently more reticent older Koch brother, Frederick R. Koch, Jr., who was named after his father, Fred C. Koch. In addition to his various collections of houses, art, photography, books and manuscripts, Koch is known as an avid theatre and opera lover who is spotted regularly in front rows of New York and London theaters.
Koch served for many years on the boards of directors of the Spoleto Festival and The Royal Shakespeare Company, and remains an active, long-serving board member of the Metropolitan Opera and the Film Society at Lincoln Centre.
In 1925 the Koch brothers father and progenitor of their great wealth, Fred C. Koch, joined an MIT classmate Lewis E. Winkler at an engineering firm in Wichita, Kansas, which was renamed the Winkler-Koch Engineering Company. In 1927 they developed a more efficient thermal cracking process for turning crude oil into gasoline. This process threatened the competitive advantage of established oil companies, which sued for patent infringement. Temporarily forced out of business in the United States, they turned to other markets, including the Soviet Union, where Winkler-Koch built 15 cracking units between 1929 and 1932. During this time, Koch came to despise communism and Josef Stalin’s regime. In his 1960 book, A Business Man Looks at Communism, Koch wrote that he found the Soviet Union to be “a land of hunger, misery, and terror.” According to Charles Koch, “Virtually every engineer he worked with was purged.” According to Jane Mayer’s article in The New Yorker, Koch “wrote admiringly of Benito Mussolini’s suppression of Communists in Italy, and disparagingly of the American civil-rights movement. He and his wife Mary were associated with and founder members of the stridently right wing John Birch Society.
Frederick R. Koch’s brothers, Charles G. Koch, chairman of the board and chief executive officer, and David H. Koch, executive vice president, are principal owners of the company. Charles and David Koch each own 42% of Koch Industries, and Charles has stated that the company will publicly offer shares “literally over my dead body”. From 2005 to 2008, Koch industries donated $5.7 million on political campaigns and $37 million on direct lobbying to support fossil fuel industries. Greenpeace says that Koch Industries donated nearly $48m to climate opposition groups between 1997-2008. According to Greenpeace, Koch Industries is the major source of funds of what Greenpeace calls “climate denial”. Koch Industries and its subsidiaries spent more than $20 million on lobbying in 2008 and $12.3 million in 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group.
The four Koch brothers have a history of conflict and dissension resulting in spectacular court battles. The dispute over the value of Koch Industries at the time of buyout was settled in 2001 with Bill and Frederick Koch receiving a joint payout of $1.5 Billion in addition to the initial payout of $430 million dollars Fred Koch was estimated to have received in 1982. At the time of the payout Frederick Koch was resident in Monaco which doesn’t have Capital Gains or indeed any personal taxes. Taxes, in the immortal words of Leona Helmsley, are obviously for the little people?
Roquebrune Cap Martin is situated 2 kilometres from Menton and Monte Carlo, this seaside resort rises to 300m. altitude starting at the water’s edge and going all the way up to its perched village. The luxury of the villas, some of which resemble palaces remind us that here, in Roquebrune, statesmen, royalty, writers, and artists all came looking for inspiration and rest: Winston Churchill, Coco Chanel, Sacha Guitry, Jacques Brel, Silvana Mangano et al. Today the atmosphere is more Euro trash with Russian Oligarski and good time girls from Kiev and grimy Wolverhampton on the make or as Somerset Maugham tellingly remarked about neighbouring Monte Carlo “A sunny place for shady people” !
However the fabled part of the Riviera between Monaco and the Italian border is still a place of some allure with its clement micro climate, alluring coastline and vistas and the historic towns of Menton, Eze, Roquebrune and Cap-Martin with their dramatic backdrop of the Alpes-Maritimes contrasted by the azure sea which gives the coast its name. No doubt like Ernesta Stern and her Villa Torre Clementina the Riviera will continue to attract the rich and famous (and their hired help) and be a place apart into the 21st Century.
E-1027 Roquebrune Cap Martin
William Butler Yeats and the Cold Eye