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Celebrity and pop culture meet historic preservation—Johnny Cash, Jed Clampett, Taylor Swift, Angeli

Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party (top left); Miller House (bottom left); the “Exorcist steps” (center); Rose Hall (top right); Kirkeby Mansion (bottom right)

Renoir and the Restaurant Fornaise, Chatou, France

In 1880-81, Impressionist painter Pierre-August Renoir created what is often referred to as his masterpiece—the Luncheon of the Boating Party—which features many of his friends as they lunched on the balcony of Restaurant Fornaise on the Seine River in Chatou outside of Paris. Although Restaurant Fornaise was popular locally, it was hardly known world-wide. That all changed with the subsequent popularity of Renoir’s seminal painting. Purchased by Washington, DC-based collector Duncan Phillips and his wife Marjorie in 1923 (for a then record-setting price of $125,000), Luncheon of the Boating Party became the centerpiece of the Phillips Collection—the first museum of modern art in the United States (founded in 1921 as the Phillips Memorial Gallery). The Phillips Collection is opening a special exhibit “Renoir and His Friends” October 7, 2017 with the Boating Party and Renoir's friends pictured in the painting as the focus of the exhibit.

In a case of life imitating art, the popularity of the painting has led to increased tourism to the place that inspired it. Still in existence today, the Restaurant Fornaise has a replica of the painting hanging inside, and tour groups regularly visit to see the place that inspired Renoir’s artistic creation. It is but one of many connections between celebrity, pop culture, and heritage sites.

Rose Hall, Jamaica and the Man in Black

On the north shore of Jamaica, the Rose Hall Great House is a popular tourist attraction that preserves the island’s legacy of sugar, slavery, and the horrors contained within that legacy. One of the resident owners of the plantation in the 19th century—Annie Palmer—became known locally as the “White Witch of Rose Hall” for her brutal treatment of slaves and her purported dalliances in “black magic.” In 1973, the popular singer-songwriter Johnny Cash, who owned a house on Jamaica, penned a song “The Ballad of Annie Palmer,” which was released in 1973. Today, Johnny Cash’s association with Rose Hall and its infamous inhabitant are readily promoted in tours of the historic site.

The “Exorcist steps” in Washington, DC

As the capital of the United States, Washington, DC regularly serves as a location for filming movies and documentaries that deal with the federal government, real or imagined. Movies filmed in DC reflect various facets of the public’s view of government, ranging from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) to All the President’s Men about the Watergate scandal (1973) to Independence Day (1996) and the ongoing Netflix series House of Cards.

One of the seminal film locations in Washington, DC known to movie buffs is the long set of stairs in the Georgetown neighborhood that lead from Prospect Street down to M Street, NW. Those stairs became famous for their role in the 1973 horror film The Exorcist (spoiler alert: a priest was found dead at the base of the stairs). The “Exorcist steps” are a regular stop during nights out in the neighborhood, particularly by students of nearby Georgetown University during Halloween week.

The author and screenwriter of The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty, recently put his home in a DC suburb up for sale. While not yet historic (the house was built in 1988), the association with the author/screenwriter of the iconic horror film will likely be noted years from now.

The Beverly Hillbillies Mansion

In 1962, the fictional Jed Clampett discovered oil—black Gold, Texas tea—on his rural property in the American south and, after becoming a millionaire overnight, moves his entire family into a mansion in the fashionable luxury Los Angeles neighborhood of Beverly Hills. Much of the TV series “The Beverly Hillbillies” was filmed on location at the Kirkeby Mansion (exterior shots), the fictional home of the Clampetts, complete with a cement pond (swimming pool). The estate was designed and built in 1933 by architect Summer Spaulding and was purchased shortly after by hotelier Arnold Kirkeby. The house is actually located in Bel Air, not Beverly Hills.

Donna Douglas, who played the daughter Ellie May Clampett, became a luxury real estate agent after the hit show was cancelled in 1971 after a 9 year run. Recently, the Kirkeby/Beverly Hillbillies Mansion was put up for sale, for a cool $350 million—making it for now the most expensive piece of residential real estate in the United States.

Mid-century modern architecture stars in new film “Columbus”

In contrast to movie locations becoming heritage tourism sites, a new film flips the script and takes historic mid-century modern architecture in Columbus, Indiana and gives it a starring role. In 1919, the Cummins Engine Company was founded in Columbus (Indiana) and eventually grew to become a Fortune 500 company. In 1954, J. Irwin Williams, a co-founder of the Cummins Engine Company, started the Cummins Foundation. Three years later, Williams offered the resources of the foundation to the city of Columbus to initiate a civic architecture program wherein the foundation would pay the architect’s fees for all new public buildings in the city. Thus, the city was able to enlist the service of numerous famous mid-century modern architects, including Eero Saarinen, I.M.Pei, César Pelli, and others to design public buildings. This architectural legacy forms the centerpiece of a new motion picture entitled "Columbus."

Celebrities restore historic homes of Hollywood icons

What do Samuel Goldwyn and Cecille B. DeMille—two icons of historic Hollywood—have in common with Taylor Swift and Angelina Jolie—two icons of contemporary pop culture? The homes of Goldwyn and DeMille are undergoing historic restoration by Swift and Jolie, part of a growing trend of contemporary celebrities purchasing historic homes of early Hollywood’s elite and working to restore and preserve them. The rocketing real estate market in Hollywood and environs has put many of these historic homes out of reach of all but the wealthiest celebrities and tech moguls. In part these efforts are intended to thwart rampant modern development and in part it is designed to preserve historic Hollywood’s architectural legacy.


Why Angelina Jolie, Taylor Swift and More Are Renovating L.A.'s Historic Mansions

By Peter Kiefer

September 29, 2017

Hollywood Reporter

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Washington DC’s Most Iconic Buildings, As Seen on Film

By Michelle Goldchain

Curbed Washington DC

September 28, 2015

The Price of 'The Exorcist' Author's Maryland Mansion Will Make Your Head Spin

By Lisa Gordon

September 12, 2017


For Sale: The Clampett Mansion from ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’

By Chris Morris


August 8, 2017

‘Columbus’ explores a city’s personal relationship with its architecture

By Michael O’Sulivan

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August 19, 2017

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Discovering 'Columbus': New movie puts Midcentury architecture in the spotlight

By Bonnie McCarthy

Los Angeles Times

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