Site navigation

American Tycoon to English Lord

William Waldorf Astor was one of those rare beings who passed into legend during his own lifetime. The richest man in the world by the early 20th century, he was a great grandson of Johann Jakob Astor, the illiterate German butcher’s son who immigrated to New York in 1783, founded the famous Astor dynasty, and became the first American multi-millionaire.

William Waldorf Astor was not the rough-and-tumble scrapper that his great grandfather had been. He was a sensitive and cultured man who immersed himself in art, architecture, and literature. In the process, he created some of the finest houses, gardens, and collections in the world (and founded the legendary Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York). This richly illustrated lecture features Astor’s most magnificent houses, from his English country estates – Hever Castle in Kent, the ancestral home of Anne Boleyn, and Cliveden House, the magnificent Thames-side palace of dukes and princes – to his stunning London home, Astor House.

But, possibly the house that meant the most to this American expat was his sublime villa on the Amalfi Coast. Dominating the Bay of Naples in the charming town of Sorrento, with spectacular views of Mount Vesuvius, Villa Astor is an Italian landmark with a rich history dating back to the time of the Roman Empire. Astor fell in love with Italy during his tenure as American ambassador in Rome and it remained the abiding passion for the remainder of his life. He purchased the villa that now bears his name and turned it into a paradise of art, beauty, architecture, and exquisite gardens. Even in his English houses, Italy was never far away: his gardens were redolent of Rome, while his collections were filled with ancient Roman art.

This lecture traces the extraordinary life of one of the world’s most enigmatic tycoons and the splendid houses, art collections, and gardens he created, all featured in Curt DiCamillo’s 2017 book, "Villa Astor: Paradise Restored on the Amalfi Coast."