New York Yacht Club – Newport, RI (Photo by Ross Cann A4 Architecture)
Following the death of John Nicholas Brown I (1860-1906), his young widow Natalie (Dresser) Brown (1869-1950) commissioned Ralph Adams Cram of the Boston firm Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson to design a house for her and her infant son John Nicholas Brown II (1900-1979) on an 8-acre parcel overlooking the Newport Harbor. Ralph Adams Cram was particularly noted for designing churches in the English Gothic Style, including Emanuel Church in Newport and the St. George’s Chapel in Middletown, but did an admirable job of the stately French style mansion, which was named “Harbour Court.” The building was modeled on Chateau d’Osmay in France, which was owned by Natalie Brown’s sister, and this home would become the summer house of the Brown Family, which was one of the oldest and wealthiest families in the country and who were the founding patrons of Brown University.
Natalie Brown enjoyed using the house throughout her life and expanding it to include an artist’s studio. She shared it with her son and his wife Anne (Kinsolving) Brown (1906-1985) and their three children John Carter Brown III, Angela and Nicholas. The Browns were a sailing family and John Nicholas Brown II built and raced the magnificent yacht Bolero, which won the Newport Bermuda race with a time that was not to be surpassed for many years. He also served the country as Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1946-1949. During his life he apparently mused that Harbour Court could have made a wonderful yacht club under different circumstances because of its grand place above the Newport Harbor. Among his many other honors and roles, John Brown II served as the commodore of the New York Yacht Club (NYYC) from 1952-1954, and his children followed in his footsteps as active sailors and members of the NYYC.
The NYYC was founded on Friday, August 2, 1844 and the members of the new club immediately set sail in a fleet of the founders’ eight yachts, arriving in Newport three days later and so the association between the club and Newport (and the tradition of a summer join cruise) is a long one. Over the years the club built ten “stations” in various locations for the use of the club members including a relatively modest facility in Newport called “NYYC Station Six” (now the moorings restaurant). Beginning in 1930 the NYYC conducted the America’s Cup in Newport, first in J-Class yachts and then 12 Metre boats until it was famously won by Australia II in 1983.
After the loss of the America’s Cup in 1983, the NYYC was in a quandary about how to retrieve the Cup and what to do to unite the membership during its absence from their trophy case in New York. After Anne Brown’s death in 1985, her children put Harbour Court on the market. Some members of the NYYC thought that the club could benefit from owning a waterfront property in Newport and the property was purchased in 1987. On Friday, June 10, 1988, fifteen hundred New York Yacht Club members and guests celebrated the first commissioning of Harbour Court.
The acquisition of Harbour Court in Newport created a new energy and focus at the NYYC and the facility quickly became a national and international center for many of yachting’s premier events. In 1994, the NYYC hosted its Sesquicentennial Celebration for two thousand members and friends. In 1998, the NYYC hosted the first Race Week at Newport, presented by Rolex, and the NYYC has hosted many national and world championship regattas in the waters off Newport, which are known for their dependable winds and ideal racing conditions.
As the years went on, the America’s Cup has become less of an event competed among millionaire Corinthian (amateur) sailors and much more of a showcase of technologic prowess by billionaires using hired professional crews. In the face of the possibility that the America’s Cup might not be won back as quickly as originally hoped for, in 2009 the NYYC launched called the Invitational Cup. This biennial event was first raced in a new class of boat, the NYYC Swan 42, designed specifically for the club. This racer-cruiser was intended to be a new “one design” that would allow crews representing yacht clubs from around the world to race against one another on an equal footing thereby measuring, highlighting and honoring sail racing talent. However, moving boats to the race and maintaining the boats on a perfectly equal level proved challenging and so in 2019 the NYYC took the idea of “one design” a step further building 20 boats in a new design called the Invitational Cup 37 (IC37). By owning the boats and sails, the club was able to assure they were all as identical to one another as possible and crews from around the world invited to enter the regatta could arrive with nothing by their sailing kit and step onto these boats ready to race.
The 2023 edition of the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup will take place September 9 to 16 here in Newport. This week the 19 crews selected from clubs around the world are now in Newport competing on the boats and IC37s from September 12th to 16th. Over the years since it was begun, more than 1,000 sailors from more than forty-three yacht clubs (from 21 countries and all six inhabited continents), have competed in at least one edition of the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup, making it one of the greatest Corinthian sailing events in the world today. Although the course will be strictly protected for the safety of the racers and spectators during the five days available for racing, the NYYC is broadcasting the sailing daily online at bit.ly/2023RolexNyycICTracking. One of the interesting things about the racing is that each team of 9 must all be amateurs and have at least two women sailors, although many of the boats have more than that. This will be some of the best monohull one-design big-boat racing in the world and they will be hosted and headquartered at Harbour Court, which has become one of the best and most prestigious yacht club facilities in the world!
Ross Cann, RA, AIA, LEED AP, is an author, historian, and practicing architect living and working in Newport, RI. He holds degrees with honor in Architecture from Yale, Cambridge, and Columbia Universities. He is an avid sailor and race committee member.