By Megan McKinney
George and Harriet Pullman’s younger and prettier daughter, Harriet, was the first of the two girls to wed. The man she chose was 29 year-old Francis J. “Frank” Carolan, son of a wealthy San Francisco hardware merchant. The bridegroom was known chiefly as a polo player with an affinity for joining clubs, but the Pullmans were delighted with him and eager for Harriet to settle down after having nervously watched her flit from one beau to another for several years.
Young Harriet Pullman.
Because George’s mother, Emily, had died a few weeks earlier, the 1892 wedding reception was scaled down from 2,000 guests to a mere 300. However, the Prairie Avenue house had already been enlarged–once again–for the occasion, with a “palm room” added for the wedding party to gather for a wedding supper following the ceremony; other guests dined in the large formal dining room.
The Solon S. Beman-designed palm room was added to the northeast corner of the immense house, and while they were at it, workers also constructed a new library and billiard room, outdoor terraces set with marble mosaics, and an enlarged and remodeled coach house. In addition, the entire interior of the mansion was redecorated and–across 18th Street–a huge conservatory was set into a private “park” with unobstructed views of Lake Michigan. The addition and remodeling cost in excess of $100,000 in the economy of the early 1890’s.
Solon S. Beman’s addition to the Pullman’s Prairie Avenue house for young Harriet’s wedding to Frank Carolan produced far more than a “palm room”.
The ceremony itself was performed in the Pullman’s vast drawing room, and George and Hattie’s gifts to the bride included a diamond necklace, earrings, bracelets, pendant and rings. All in the all, it was not a great scale-back in deference to the loss of the bride’s grandmother.
After a wedding trip to New York aboard her parents’ private palace car, the newlyweds settled in the San Francisco area. The union was not idyllic, and the trappings of the Carolan ménage were so lacking in esthetic charm that when Hattie visited the young couple she expressed intense displeasure with both their house and its furnishings. George wrote a check that rectified that situation, but there were greater problems. Harriet soon became so unpopular in San Francisco that the Carolans were prompted to move out of the city.
Le Petite Trianon, California-style.
The estate they chose, Le Petite Trianon in Cupertino, California, was not a tribute to the Trianon of the same name at Versailles but because of its architectural similarities to Le Grand Trianon, however in a smaller version. Its setting, in beautiful French-style gardens, was the venue for magnificent parties including an al fresco gala in 1909 in which water, lighting, music and fireworks were used to create a Bourbon-scale spectacle. The childless couple later moved to a second country estate, Carolands, in the ultra-fashionable San Francisco suburb of Hillsborough. At 65,000 square feet, the 95 room house was the largest west of the Mississippi. It boasted its own racetrack and required a staff of 60 servants.
Carolands from the air.
Harriet was developing a reputation for litigiousness. A news story of the period reported that, while staying at the St. Regis Hotel in New York, she was robbed of $30,000 in jewels, for which she sued the hotel.
The library of the St. Regis Hotel, 55th St. and Fifth Ave. in the early 20th Century. Many of the books were from founder John Jacob Astor’s personal collection.
She left Frank in 1919 and, after his 1923 death, sued his estate for more than $1 million dollars, alleging the money was hers—and won a portion of it. She had moved to New York, returning to California only to visit, and the extravagant Carolands lay empty for decades; at one point the federal government considered acquiring it as a western White House. Within two years of Frank’s death Harriet married a widower and former suitor, Colonel Arthur Frederic Schermerhorn, who descended from a fine old New York Dutch family.
Following the death of Col. Schermerhorn, Harriet moved to a Park Avenue duplex, where she lived until her death. She also maintained an estate in Lenox, Massachusetts, where a grand nephew, Philip Miller, visited her as a boy. “The faucets in the bathroom were gold-plated,” he remembered. “She married into some money.” This however is doubtful, because she convinced the courts that almost the entire of Frank Carolan’s estate was actually hers, and Schermerhorn died penniless, owing her well over $100,000.
The next segment covering George’s other three heirs concludes Megan McKinney’s Classic Chicago Dynasties series on the family of George Mortimer Pullman.
Robert F. Carl