Wolcott and Ellen
Villa Blair.at 1960 S. Ocean Blvd. in Palm Beach.
By Megan McKinney
The glamour Blairs, Wolcott and Ellen, appear to have done little during their lives but remain consistently stylish on a global level. However, they did that very well, so well, in fact, that we will spend two segments studying the couple being stylish.
Wolcott Blair, born in 1884, was son of grain commission merchant Watson Franklin Blair and the former Alice Keep. Wolcott’s father—one of several of the family’s Watson Blairs—was the third son of Merchant National Bank founder Chauncey Buckley Blair.
As detailed in an earlier segment of this series, Chauncey Buckley Blair was a towering Chicago hero, astute, diligent and remarkably philanthropic —repeatedly saving the city from financial disaster—however, his most striking characteristic was an unfailing Midas touch. All other Blairs benefited from Chauncey’s existence, as did much of the population of the Chicago of his time.
When the Wolcott Blairs married in 1926, she was divorcee Ellen Daniel Yuille Sturgis, daughter of a former vice president of the American Tobacco Company, later president of the Universal Leaf Tobacco Company. She and Wolcott would have one son, Watson Keep Blair, who lived until November 2013, when he died at 87 in his Hobe Sound (read Jupiter Island) winter home.
Ellen and Wolcott at Villa Blair, their extraordinary Palm Beach estate, with interior design by Ruby Ross Wood and Billy Baldwin.
Ellen had married her previous husband, William J. Sturgis, in November 1915, with Angier Biddle Duke as best man and ushers who included A.J. Drexel Biddle Jr. and James A. Blair Jr. We mention this because Ellen was one of a quartet of well-known Yuille sisters, who were recognized for their marriages.
Ellen was the eldest of the four. Following her was Burks Yuille, who, in 1924, married prominent American art dealer Carroll Chevalier Carstairs, son of the chairman of the board of M. Knoedler.
Burks Yuille Carstairs.
The next to marry in a celebrated union was Nancy Yuille, who in 1934 married Richard Wyndham-Quin, Viscount Adare; he would become the sixth Earl of Dunraven.
Lord and Lady Adare on a shipboard stroll.
Nancy Lady Adare at a Palm Beach party with the Bing Crosby we never knew—still smoking a pipe and playing golf, but no longer wearing a hairpiece or making “Road” pictures with Bob Hope.
Then, in 1937, Melissa Yuille became the bride of Harry Payne Bingham, nephew of the very rich William C. Whitney.
Melissa Yuille Bingham at another Palm Beach party.
Back to the glamorous Ellen, the Yuille sister who concerns us in this series, and her husband Wolcott.
Ellen Yuille Blair—note the pearls. She was also celebrated for her collection of fine jewelry, the focal point of a subsequent segment on the Wolcott Blairs.
The couple was described in the October 1927 Harper’s Bazaar as “extremely popular in the younger fashionable set.” Their excellent sense of style, greatly admired from the 1920s through the 1960s, resulted in many appearances in magazines and newspapers featuring fine living and society’s best dressed.
After leaving Chicago in the late 1920s, Wolcott and Ellen divided their time between New York City, Long Island, Palm Beach, and Islesboro, Maine, with the emphasis on Palm Beach, in an estate to which they owed much of their fame.
Villa Blair, designed by architect Maurice Fatio, of the Palm Beach architectural firm Treanor & Fatio, was frequently photographed for such publications as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and the Palm Beach Daily News, bringing impressive publicity to Mr. Fatio as well as the Blairs. In addition to its architecture, the house at 1960 S. Ocean Blvd. was acclaimed for superb interior design. Wolcott and Ellen had commissioned the esteemed Ruby Ross Wood to create the interiors at about the time Billy Baldwin joined her firm, giving the villa two of 20th century America’s most eminent design talents.
The great Ruby Ross Wood…
…And her fabulous protégé Billy Baldwin.
Architect Fatio had laid the house out in an “H” plan, with focus on the living room in the center of the H, as shown above. All of the room’s immense 10 windows, five on each long side, could be lowered to below floor level, allowing direct access to a garden terrace on both sides. The beach was reached across the east lawn and via a tunnel under South Ocean Boulevard. The west windows opened out to the pool and a lawn leading to Lake Worth.
Sun streaming in through the famous 10 mammoth windows.
Villa Blair was the exquisite pairing of inventive architecture and superb interior design.
Emphasizing the architect’s relationship of the room to the grounds surrounding it, Wood and Baldwin installed white lacquered tubs holding large white lilies between the windows. In his book, Billy Baldwin Remembers, Baldwin described the walls as “buff, pale, almost not there at all. The trim was purest white, and the floors ancient Cuban marble the color of parchment.”
More of the living room, anchor of both the house and its grounds.
Wolcott donated the two islands behind him as preserves.
The immediate grounds of Villa Blair—above and below—were also by Treanor & Fatio.
Boosting the couple further in the Palm Beach milieu was their Windsor proximity. After the 1937 marriage of the former Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson to the once King Edward VIII of England, the quasi-royal couple became the greatest social celebrities in the world, and nowhere more than in Palm Beach. World War II interfered with access to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor for a time, possibly making them more desirable as guests, even as the paid guests they reportedly often were.
However, when “Wallis and David” made their initial social sortie to Palm Beach in 1941, the Wolcott Blairs were among the first to entertain them. Each had separately known one of the pair for many years. Ellen Yuille and Wallis Warfield had been classmates at Oldfields School in the environs of Baltimore long before acquiring added surnames.
Bessie Wallis Warfield.
Ellen’s husband, however, was not far behind. As detailed in an earlier segment of this series, Wolcott had given a celebrated Chicago party for the Duke in 1924, when he was Prince of Wales.
The mischievous Prince of Wales was ready for fun at Chicago’s Saddle & Cycle Club in 1924.
There are many ways to be stylish and the Wolcott Blairs would continue to do so for several more decades. Classic Chicago will follow the pair in the next and final segment of this series.
Classic Chicago’s report on The Glamour Blairs by Megan McKinney will continue with next week’s issue.
Previous articles on The Blairs and other Classic Chicago Dynasties may be found at https://www.classicchicagomagazine.com/category/vintage/classic-chicago-dynasties/.
Robert F. Carl