Swan flying in

Swan flying in

This little bitty goes back to 1990 when I with my daughter Linda, and four year-old grandson David, were among the first guests to stay at THE SWAN. Visiting Disney was always a treat, but staying at The Swan, was over the top. Expensive even then, like $200 a night, remember, that’s in 1990. This adventure was a homework assignment to write a critique for my criticism class at Parsons. What better way to experience an assignment? Live it! The fire alarm went off around 3:00 a.m. It was loud and clear . . . everyone out, use the stairs only. Take nothing. This was serious, everyone, OUT! Breathless, and in our PJs, we scampered down those stairs, Linda carrying David. Of all the warm nights we could have encountered in Florida, this one wasn’t. Chilled, we all stood with hands folded across chests for warmth, looking for fire and smoke. No, no one was naked, darn. Bathrobes were the garbs of the night. I wondered if folks kept bathrobes at the foot of the bed in case of fire? Read on, well, you’ll have to get to the end for the rest of the story.



The Swan hotel, in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, was meant to characterize Disney’s belief that any architecture outside the boundaries of Disney’s theme parks should embody the same fantasy and sense of place as within the park. The clients, Disney and the Westin Hotels and Resorts, owners/operators of the hotel in 1990, plotted the development strategies of the program. Michael Graves with Alan Lapidus (son of Morris Lapidus, architect of the Fontainebleau in Florida) were committed to organizing and implementing those strategies.

The hotel is a colorful example of architectural frontality, a term used when referring to the façade. Graves had established his brand, where architecture is a three-dimensional mass, upon which all elements are hung and interwoven, like the hand-painted murals of Florida’s tropical landscapes, the frond columns, tented ceiling and the decorative art in the furnishings throughout the hotel. In the design community, Graves was known as the architect’s decorator for the iconography that identifies his buildings.  s3375573527_0465dc4dcb_z swan boat2631759-Walt-Disney-World-Swan-Hotel-Exterior-2-DEF

In keeping with the whimsical world of Disney Architecture, the structures themselves are designed to amuse, delight, and stimulate the imagination. Cascading fountains in giant clamshells sit atop seven-story wings of 56,000 pound, combined weight, 47 foot high classical swans, the symbols of water.



In the end, the fire alarms turned out to be nothing but a faulty switch, except we met new people and talked about this strange and funny incident. I managed to get an interview with the Swan’s managing director at the time, Bill McCreary. His thoughts were positive about this successful entertainment architecture. Because of the fake fire alarm, we were not charged for our stay at this not-Disney, but on Disney, property. Wow, what a wonderful surprise. But the Swan, a convention center, with changes not necessarily consistent to its original design, is now twenty-six years old. Things change and time isn’t always kind. Remember to check out reviews for any hotel before you choose.

Swan Hotel

Swan Hotel swimming hole









Click the link below for a 2006 story to see what happened with this important entertainment architecture.



Do you have a favorite hotel at Disney?



Helen Churchill Candee (at center) with 5 other women on horseback led the historic 1913 “Votes for Women” suffrage parade in Washington, D.C.


Titanic survivor, Helen Churchill Candee and her extraordinary life will be celebrated at the Titanic Centennial Commemoration at the Spring opening of the Lockwood Mathews Mansion Museum, 295 West Avenue,  Norwalk, Connecticut, on the evening of April 21, 2012.  In her life, she made important contributions to society and to our country.  Please see the invitation to the commemoration below.

Much to my surprise, in addition to known first decorator Elsie de Wolf,  Helen Churchill Candee fancied herself a decorator during the same era in the early 20thcentury.

Helen Churchill Candee 1905

The decorators of those years were self-taught and had important, influential connections.  Helen had impressive clients that led to her being commissioned by  President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907 to advise on the purchase of a set of Louis XVI chairs for the First Lady’s dressing room.

She was admired and well-respected as a decorator and historian. Helen’s specialty was antiques and period decoration.  She was critical of manufacturers and department stores that sold cheap imitation furniture. She did not approve of upscale decorators like de Wolfe endorsing good quality reproductions of period pieces for modern interiors. Looking back into history, de Wolf was very well connected and worked for the Vanderbilt’s and others of the same ilk. Society was moving away from the cluttered overstuffed rooms of the mid to late 19th century.  De Wolf’s interiors were fresh and uncluttered.  This room by Helen is cluttered with antiques in the Victoriana style.

Decorated interior by Helen with antiques

Despite her impressive clientele, Helen Candee’s work as a decorator was intermittent. It was through her writing in books and articles on the history of furniture, textiles and art, that she made an impact on early 20th century interiors.

Candee was a strong feminist, as evidenced by her best-selling first book, How Women May Earn a Living (1900).  Candee’s first book on home decor was the profusely illustrated Decorative Styles and Periods , published by Frederick A. Stokes, Co. in November 1906. It was well received and quickly became a standard reference on period furnishings and their modern use.

Readers of Decorative Styles and Periods , a deep green cloth-bound volume with an inset portrait of an Empire room on the cover, were treated to the warmly delicate prose that already distinguished Helen Candee as a novelist and journalist. The book was long and thorough, addressing all major trends and designs, but was also full of human interest and historical sidelights that made it as entertaining as it was instructional.

More than any other book she wrote, Helen’s philosophy of design (and living) can be gleaned from Decorative Styles and Periods .

Authenticity was the prime principle of her credo. Candee was a purist in the extreme, insisting on genuine antiques and unswervingly faithful period atmosphere in the arrangement of rooms. The “perfection of the old,” she said, was all-important, adding that the “best is of the past.”

She along with Edith Wharton wrote books on decoration.  Helen wrote about period furnishings and tapestries for various magazines.

Based on my recent research, Helen, in her time, was a strong image as a decorator, antiques consultant and writer.  I am delighted to make her acquaintance, thanks to Wikipedia.  In the twenty years and more that I taught interior design and architectural history and criticism, I had not heard about this woman, Helen Churchill Candee until now, while working on the Titanic’s epic journey.

Helen, who broke her ankle when jumping into the lifeboat, was together with the unsinkable Molly Brown. They rowed and rowed and rowed.  Where were they going?

More to come…

Here’s the invitation for April 21, black tie.  Buy a table, buy a ticket,  bring guests.


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