For those unfamiliar, heraldry is the study of family crests and coats of arms, and like anything else deeply studied, it can be a bit complicated. From understanding the rule of tinctures to scrolling through rolls of arms, we at Salisbury House have been doing a deep dive into the crests and coats of arms found throughout the house.
When you walk through the door of Salisbury House, you are immediately transported back in time; this is all thanks to the Kings House in Salisbury, England.
If you think that the title of this post is in reference to biblical punishments or the drug culture of the 1970s, you’d be wrong. I am talking about a little known area of Salisbury House called “Friendship Hall.”
Between 1923 and 1928 when Carl Weeks was building Salisbury House, he was also engaged in one of his favorite hobbies: rock collecting. Whenever Carl was traveling, he would bring home a rock from the area he had visited.
During this time he got an idea. Why not start a Rock Club? Since he had over 45,000 retailers selling his Armand Cosmetics products, he could ask them to join his Rock Club. Thus, Carl suggested that they each send him a rock from their part of the world. This was the start of the “American Rock Club.”
Carl also had a monthly newsletter for his cosmetics business called “The Armand Broadside.” This paper went out to all of his retailers, promoting his business. He decided to utilize this existing network for his rock collection as well. It was a perfect plan.
Was Carl successful? Like most things in his life, he knew that the only way to find out was to try it. Within a year, his collection had grown to over 250 rocks. Some of the rocks sent were accompanied by a letter explaining where it had come from.
Now, Carl had a problem. How should he display such a large collection? Being in possession of a creative mind, he got another idea. Why not incorporate the collection into the walls of the house he was building?
In a little known area of Salisbury House, there was a hallway being planned. It would connect the main house to the garage. This was the ideal place for the rocks. Carl had his workmen inlay the collection into the walls of this hall. He called it “Friendship Hall,” after those who had answered his call for rocks.
Years later, after the family left the house in the 1950s, no one could identify any of the rocks. A plot map was never made. This is where I come in.
My name is David Ross and I hold a degree as a “Certified Gemologist -AGS.” I have always been fascinated by rocks and gemstones. As a tour guide at Salisbury House, I saw the rocks and learned that the stories of the stones had all but disappeared. I thought, I can help with that. Little did I know that the adventure I was about to take would lead me to discover wonderful things.
I received permission from the director of the museum to examine the rocks, identify them, and match them with their corresponding letters. This task, though I didn’t know at the time, would take over four months.
I felt like Sherlock Holmes. I let the rocks tell me their stories. By using the process of elimination, I was able to identify most of the rocks and match some of written correspondence in the Salisbury House archives to the stones. I took pictures of each section of the walls. Then I numbered the rocks, identified them, wrote a report and cross referenced the stones with the letters.
I found a piece of the Rock of Gibraltar, marble from the Temple of Jupiter in Athens, two stones from the Temple of the Sun in Mexico, a piece of copper ore, basalt or lava from Idaho, pipestone from Minnesota, an Iowa geode, water stones, and to my surprise, marble from the Parthenon in Greece.
The privilege of getting to examine the collection, for me, was the thrill of a lifetime. I hope when you visit Salisbury House you will experience the thrill of discovery too. I hope you get to see this wonderful collection for yourself. Get stoned at Salisbury House.
There were three distinct aristocracies in Washington. One of these, (nick-named the Antiques,) consisted of cultivated, high-bred old families who looked back with pride upon an ancestry that had been always great in the nation’s councils and its wars from the birth of the republic downward. Into this select circle it was difficult to gain admission. No. 2 was the aristocracy of the middle ground . . . No. 3 lay beyond; of it we will say a word here. We will call it the Aristocracy of the Parvenus—as, indeed, the general public did. Official position, no matter how obtained, entitled a man to a place in it, and carried his family with him, no matter whence they sprang. Great wealth gave a man a still higher and nobler place in it than did official position. If this wealth had been acquired by conspicuous ingenuity, with just a pleasant little spice of illegality about it, all the better. This aristocracy was “fast,” and not averse to ostentation.
The aristocracy of the Antiques ignored the aristocracy of the Parvenus; the Parvenus laughed at the Antiques, (and secretly envied them.)
-From Mark Twain’s The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today
Carl and Edith Weeks, c. 1930
Before Armand – before Salisbury House – few would have assumed Carl Weeks to be any more extraordinary than any other Midwestern businessman of his era. In fact, when roaming the halls of Salisbury House, one tends to forget his humble and, at times, impoverished origins. Born the fourth child of a hog farmer and his wife on a farm near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1876, Carl’s prospects were quite modest. When his father’s swine herd was wiped out by cholera around 1880, the Weekses were forced into selling their farm. They set off for Kansas in search of a new start. His father, however, still had trouble finding work and was often away from home. Carl helped out by picking up bison chips for use as fuel in their little sod house and once recalled how his mother had had to trade one of their bedsteads for a bag of flour. Eventually, his mother’s brothers, Lowell and Davis Chamberlain, brought them back to Iowa and settled them in Des Moines. Carl left public schooling at the age of 13 and it was only with his uncles’ financial assistance that he was able to attend Highland Park College of Pharmacy to obtain his pharmacist certification in 1892.
Little of Carl’s early life foreshadows the great success he would eventually achieve when he established what would become an international cosmetics empire in 1915. But he was born into an unusual era. One where American society had one foot planted deep in the agrarian soils of its hard-working, ancestral pioneers just as it was stepping into a quickly industrializing, burgeoning urban culture obsessed with leisure, pleasure and wealth. It was an era as rampant with corruption and materialism as it was entrepreneurial optimism where every man had the potential to become the next Carnegie or Rockefeller. This time period, known as the Gilded Age and sometimes referred to as the American Renaissance, spanned the years following the Civil War to the early 1900s with some historians extending it as far as the stock market crash of 1929. The term was lifted from Mark Twain’s 1873 satirical novel, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, that depicts the greed and corruption endemic in American politics and society in the late 1860s and early 1870s. This era, however, also laid the foundations of our modern, secular culture and shaped the minds of many Americans, including Carl Weeks.
Cover of Mark Twain’s The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, 1873.
After the Civil War, industrialization and mechanization increased at a rapid rate in the United States. It centralized the economy in urban centers and concentrated wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer men. Immigrants and formerly-rural Americans descended upon the cities in search of new opportunities. Mass-produced goods, department stores and mail order catalogues brought the modern idea of shopping to the masses. The extension of the railroads connected the East and West coasts of the United States and new refrigerated boxcars allowed for fresh produce out of season, exotic fruits, Midwestern-raised beef, and beer to be transported to retailers all across the nation. Telephones and transatlantic cables knitted the world closer together through faster methods of communication. Amusement parks, dance halls, theaters, libraries and opera houses flourished, providing entertainment, education, and, at times, opportunities for vice to the burgeoning urban population.
Entrepreneurs were the driving force behind this explosion of modernity. A lucky few, however, through hard work, shrewd business decisions, and more than a little back-room subterfuge, succeeded in building business empires that reached far beyond their own little corners of the world. Many of these men, such as Andrew Carnegie, Jay Gould, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and John D. Rockefeller, arose from humble means to become industrial tycoons with massive fortunes. They were household names and served as role models for the businessmen of Carl’s generation. Several biographies of these infamous American entrepreneurs grace the shelves of the Library at Salisbury House and probably had a great impact on Carl as he made his way in the business world.
The Rouge Room at the Armand Factory in Des Moines, Iowa, c. 1920.
Though these nouveau riche Americans of the Gilded Age had the world at their fingertips and, at times, groveling on its knees before them, there was one thing money could not buy: pedigree. For much of recorded human history, wealth was concentrated in land and passed down through strict and often complicated inheritance laws and customs formulated to keep everything within one family line. But the world had been turned upside down by the Industrial Revolution. With advances in manufacturing technology in the late 18th century, hand production methods of textiles and other goods fell by the wayside as factories sprung up in urban centers and produced goods more cheaply and efficiently than ever before. People, once tied to the land and rarely traveling more than 50 miles from their places of birth, descended upon the cities in search of work. The European aristocracy and the “old money” families of the United States, whose income traditionally depended upon the productivity of the people who lived on their lands, saw their economic power shrink as an ever greater share of the world’s wealth flowed into the hands of the savvy factory owners and businessmen of the middle class.
Two things the European aristocracy and American “old money” retained, however, was their social position and status as the arbiters of good taste. An air of self-consciousness pervaded the newly wealthy and powerful as they sought to emulate the nobility in a subconscious effort to prove both to themselves and their “social betters” that they were worthy of their newfound elite status. Instead of seeking new forms of architecture, they copied styles long used by the European aristocracy. At first, Classical styles were mimicked as wealthy Americans embraced the notion of the United States as heir to the cultural traditions of ancient Greece and Rome and the European Renaissance. Later, especially during the time of the Weekses’ rise in wealth, many embraced the picturesque nature of the rambling, built-through-the-centuries styling of the houses of the medieval and Tudor nobility of England. Salisbury House, however, is unique in that it incorporates both stylistic influences in its interior furnishings.
Classical and Renaissance style detailing: grille above Welte-Mignon Organ in the Common Room
Classical and Renaissance style detailing: chandelier detail in the Dining Room. Both the Common Room and Dining Room are overall Elizabethan or late Tudor style in the architectural details and most furnishings but also include Neoclassical touches such as these.
Tudor style detailing of 16th century fireplace surround in the Great Hall featuring a Tudor rose flanked by quatrefoils.
Tudor style, 16th century carved door detail in the hallway outside the master suites featuring linenfold, which was a common type of carving to decorate plain panels in Europe between the 14th and 16th centuries.
In a time where what you owned was an unspoken announcement of who you were as an individual, collecting art and antiques from around the world became an obsession for the nouveau riche who wanted nothing more than to appear sophisticated, worldly, educated and powerful. The Weekses were no different. Much like J.P. Morgan, who had spent a whopping $60 million on art and rare books in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the Rockefeller family who splurged on artwork from around the world, Carl and Edith sought after all of the trappings of the leisured class. Carl was an avid bibliophile and Edith’s bachelor’s degree in Art History provided her with a discerning eye for both fine art and period-specific furnishings.
Late 18th century alabaster urns with Classical style detailing in the Great Hall.
Elizabethan style carving on Carl’s c. 1600 bed.
The economic devastation in Europe after World War I led to easy pickings for the Weekses and other wealthy Americans who snatched up whatever Europeans wanted to sell, including antiques, art, and architectural detailing. Though they did not spend anywhere close to what Morgan had, Carl and Edith did spend nearly $3 million to build and furnish their house. In today’s money, that would equal about $40 million.
Patronage of artists skyrocketed in the United States during the Gilded Age as well, continuing a centuries-old European tradition where artists relied on wealthy patrons for work and financial support. Artists were sought after as companions as well as for their ability to beautify the homes of the wealthy and public spaces. Rather than pushing the social envelope as many artists do today, the artists of this era reinforced the new status quo and soothed the egos of wealthy Americans through their attention and commissioned works. Architectural historian Richard Guy Wilson once said of Gilded Age artists that their social function was to “provide a setting of leisured elegance bearing the patina of class and taste for people who were frequently one generation removed from overalls and shovel.”
Like their Gilded Age predecessors, the Weekses too befriended artists and even commissioned Joseph Stella to create one work specifically for Salisbury House. This commissioned piece, Apotheosis of the Rose, still hangs in the Breakfast Room today.
Apotheosis of the Rose by Joseph Stella, 1926. Oil on canvas.
The Birth of Venus by Joseph Stella, 1925. Oil on canvas. Hangs in the Great Hall at Salisbury House.
Finally assembled at home in Iowa, the Weekses’ collections lent an air of aristocratic pedigree to their new home meant to look centuries old the day it was built. Like the entrepreneurs of the Gilded Age and the European nobility, Carl’s house and collections were a signal to the world that he had arrived and was a force to be reckoned with. A man born to a hog breeder and who had picked up bison chips on the Kansas prairie was now a social and business leader who was well-traveled, well-connected, and a man of noble bearing.
Salisbury House in early spring.
The Gilded Age gave birth to Salisbury House. The ideals of the era – wealth, consumption, pleasure and leisure – reside throughout its history, collections and architecture. Carl Weeks was born into this era and persevered until he could finally emulate those whose names were on the tongues of every American entrepreneur – Carnegie, Morgan, Rockefeller. The result was Salisbury House: a grand mansion distinctly English in flavor and filled with treasures that reveal how Carl and others of his ilk wished to be seen – worldly, aristocratic, powerful. It represents one final expression of a bygone era in which America itself came of age.
By 1927, Salisbury House neared completion. The Weeks family had moved in the previous year, although the house would not be fully finished until 1928. During this year’s interim, a photographer captured images of the new home’s interior. These photographs, particularly when paired with exterior construction images, make a fascinating early study of the property.
The Weeks family, as we do on our tours today, welcomed visitors to Salisbury House in the Great Hall.
The iconic painting, The Brothers LaBouchere, still dominates the center of the hall, though much of the additional furnishings have been removed today to accommodate our various public events and rentals.
From the Great Hall, visitors typically made their way down the east hallway to the Common Room.
Here in the east hallway hung a painting of special importance. The large-scale piece hanging on the right is Joseph Stella’s Tree of My Life, painted by the artist in 1919-1920. The Weeks family originally acquired three Stella works on a scale similar to Tree of My Life: The Birth of Venus (1922) and The Apotheosis of the Rose (1926), which both can still be seen at Salisbury House today. Tree of My Life, however, was sold at auction at Christie’s in 1986 for $2.2 million.
Lush furnishings, including ornate drapery, also appeared in the Common Room in 1927. However, the custom-made Steinway grand piano, which was later a centerpiece of the room, had yet to arrive from New York.
Lucky guests were also able to visit the library, which remains an extraordinary experience today.
Note the empty shelves behind the hanging tapestry in the middle background above. By the time the Weeks family left Salisbury House in 1954, the library collection had expanded even beyond the library shelves. Eventually, locked cabinet doors were added to the bookshelves adjacent to the fireplace below.
Guests invited to stay for the evening would have likely spent time in the Dining Room as well…
…followed by their morning coffee in the Breakfast Room. A portion of Stella’s Apotheosis of the Rose is visible on the right, where it still hangs.
To view the second floor of Salisbury House, guests in 1927 would have used the main staircase located just off of the Great Hall.
Not long after this photograph was taken, the Weekses added an elaborate runner to the stairs that included their family crest. A sixteenth-century suit of armor eventually replaced the chair pictured here as well.
Upon arriving at the top of the staircase, Carl and Edith would have retired to their bedrooms in the east wing of the house. Edith’s sumptuous bedroom suite, including a dressing room with adjacent bath, reflected her preference for French decor.
Edith’s bedroom was equally lovely.
Carl’s bathroom and bedroom – adjacent to, though not connected, to Edith’s rooms – displayed a much more masculine aesthetic.
The balcony, down the hallway from Carl’s and Edith’s suites, offered a fantastic view of the Great Hall.
A small guest bedroom was accessed from the balcony hall.
Continuing westward down the hallway, the Queen Anne bedroom appeared on the left.
The four bedrooms for the Weeks boys – Charles, William, Hud, and Lafe – were on the west end of the second floor. Hud’s room, for reasons that are lost to us now, included two beds.
Lafe’s room was the smallest of the boys’ bedrooms.
Before our tour of Salisbury House c. 1927 draws to a close: a stop in the Indian Room. This space, located in the basement level of the house, was decorated with Carl’s extensive Native American collection. It was also, or so we are given to believe, used by the boys for some seriously raging parties.
Despite the fact that we are separated from these photographs by nearly a century, we are extraordinarily fortunate that much of the fine artworks and furnishings collected by the Weeks family remains intact today. Be sure to stop by and enjoy a tour c. 2015!
First, a quick assessment of your Salisbury House knowledge:
(1) Who occupied Salisbury House for the longest period of time?
- (a) Carl and Edith Weeks
- (b) The Iowa teachers’ union
- (c) Drake University College of Fine Arts
- (d) Salisbury House Foundation
It may come as a surprise to learn that the teachers’ union – the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) – occupied Salisbury House from 1954 until 1998. If you guessed (b), pat yourself on the back!
The ISEA was headquartered at the House for forty-four years. Carl and Edith lived here for twenty-eight years,during which time Drake University planned for two decades to turn the property into a fine arts college. The Salisbury House Foundation was formed in the 1990s, purchased the house, grounds, and collections in 1998, and continues to run the property today.
Our historic interpretation of Salisbury House now focuses primarily on the Weeks family. However, Drake’s and ISEA’s control of the property represent significant chapters in this narrative as well. Documents in our archives trace the curious route of Salisbury House’s ownership, and also illustrate the unique challenges inhered in owning this singular property.
One factor plays an outsized role in this story: taxes. Even before Carl Weeks’ Salisbury House was completed in 1928, this knotty issue preoccupied its owner. Because Salisbury House potentially posed a whopping tax liability for Carl, he applied his considerable inventiveness to circumventing the issue. A proposal dated November 1927 illustrated one plan he developed.
The gist of the document lies in Carl’s framing of Salisbury House as a “high grade investment for the Armand Company.” In this scenario, house was to be financed by Armand corporate funds instead of Weeks family money. Carl continued: “My verbal proposal to the Armand Company was that we would move in, attend to the upkeep of the house so far as servants, light, heat and power were concerned, and begin paying rent when the house was finally pronounced complete.” Rent, as suggested below, would run $25,000 per year.
Why would Carl pursue this plan in 1927? One explanation might lie in the reorganization of federal tax statutes in 1926. Maybe the “rental agreement” in 1927 stemmed from an unfavorable tax situation that resulted from the revised tax laws. Perhaps Carl wanted to use payment of rent to offset his personal income tax as part of his own business. In other words, he would take his business income minus business expenses, including rent, to arrive at his taxable income. Alternatively, it seems possible that Carl wished to offset the tax on Armand corporate income – if the company could claim the the expenses involved in building Salisbury House, this could considerably reduce Armand’s taxable corporate income. Or, instead of an income tax issue, onerous property taxes might have prompted Carl to consider alternative tax arrangements.
We’re not sure if Carl was able to put this, or a similar plan, into action. Still, it’s clear that issues surrounding ownership of and tax liability for Salisbury House represented significant concerns. During the early 1930s, though, he executed a master stroke that eliminated his property’s heavy tax burden.
In November 1934, the news was announced: Carl deeded Salisbury House to Drake University in Des Moines. The university planned to eventually use the property as a fine arts college. The Weeks family would continue to live in the house for a minimum of five years and pay $100 monthly in rent to Drake. Ultimately, the terms of the lease remained in place for the next twenty years.
By deeding Salisbury House to Drake University, the property (theoretically) became exempt from taxes. Taxes on the property went from $8,500 in 1933 to $0. The above article from November 21, 1934, pointedly noted the fact that Carl would continue to reside in Salisbury House without paying any tax on the property.
Newspaper reports in subsequent years also remarked upon the sweetheart deal. A 1942 article reported that Salisbury House claimed the title of highest appraised valuation in Des Moines. Terrace Hill, then home to the Hubbell family and now to the governor of Iowa, represented the highest assessed valuation in the city. Despite Salisbury House’s towering appraisal, the article observed, “Because Weeks deeded the property to Drake university [sic] in 1934 as the future site for the fine arts college, Salisbury House is tax exempt. The manufacturer and his family still occupy the home….paying rent to Drake.”
Still, questions surrounding Salisbury House’s tax liability – and Drake University’s subsequent responsibility for it after 1934 – did not go away. A pair of articles published in the Des Moines Tribune in 1937 indicates that Polk County nearly took the deed to Salisbury House due to delinquent taxes.
Our archives do not contain further articles about this particular incident, and additional research thus far has yielded little. Still, because Drake University’s arrangement with the Weeks family remained in place for twenty years, the delinquent tax issue must have been ultimately laid to rest.
Reports in 1950 suggested that the American Bar Association considered moving its headquarters from Chicago to Salisbury House in Des Moines. While Drake “agreed to discuss it with them,” nothing substantive resulted.
Then, in late 1953, word was announced that a buyer had been found. The Iowa State Education Associate purchased Salisbury House, the collection, and the 11-acre property, for $200,000. According to published reports, $100,000 of the proceeds went to Drake, while the remainder of the purchase price went to the Weeks family.
Almost immediately, ISEA also had to deal with the thorny issue of Salisbury House taxes. The central question in determining the tax status for the new occupants of Salisbury House hinged on “whether the ISEA is held to be an educational and charitable organization or a professional organization.”
Ultimately, as later reported by the Des Moines Register, the ISEA successfully sued to obtain tax-exempt status of the portions of Salisbury House kept open to the public for educational tours (the Library, Great Hall, and Common Room.
The tax question, as far as ISEA was concerned, appeared settled. Still, as Salisbury House transitioned from the family home of Carl and Edith Weeks to the headquarters of the Iowa State Education Association, some ambiguity remained in terms of the ownership of furnishings, pieces from the Weekses’ considerable collections, and other objects. Soon after the ISEA purchase was completed, efforts began to sell off objects deemed extraneous to the organization’s operations.
A little more than a month after the announced sale of Salisbury House, Charles Martin – then the executive secretary of ISEA – circulated a letter “concerning the disposal of “for sale” items in Salisbury House. Cedar closets, ceramic tile, bathroom fixtures, kitchen and laundry facilities, “and any odd furniture not bound by the purchase contract” was available for purchase.
A number of bids were placed for Salisbury House items. The VA hospital in Des Moines offered $30 for a stainless steel sink and $15 for the Reliable gas stove. Another individual offered $2 for “the small round mahogany tables and for the small drop leaf tables,” in addition to a $5 bid for a pair of metal twin beds. A Des Moines man placed a $5 bid for a cedar closet. Bathroom fixtures were sold for $25.
All bids (for which records remain) appeared to have been quickly accepted – with one exception. For reasons that remain unclear, Carl was in the position of having to purchase some items he wished to retain from Salisbury House after the sale to ISEA. We don’t know why these pieces weren’t exempted from the purchase contract in the first place. Essentially, Carl had to buy back objects from the ISEA that he had himself previously purchased. Most of the offers made by Carl were found agreeable by the ISEA administration, but his bid in August 1955 for a rug, table, and sofa was rebuffed.
Additional items were offered for purchase over the years. A public sale, for example, was held in the 1950s and anecdotal evidence suggests that similar events took place over the years. ISEA also actively sought buyers for a number of antiques, and contacted both Tiffany’s in New York and Marshall Field in Chicago to inquire whether or not they might be interested in purchasing some Salisbury House objects.
The most well-known ISEA sale came in the 1980s. Joseph Stella’s Tree of My Life brought $2.2 million at a Christie’s auction in December 1986. Later publications from the ISEA indicate the funds were invested in order to secure monies for restoration and related projects at Salisbury House.
Today, the Salisbury House Foundation, a private, nonprofit, 501(c)(3), owns and operates the property as an historic house museum. This status as a not-for-profit museum clarifies our role in terms of the custody and care of the house and grounds. Ultimately, though, the complicated history of Salisbury House ownership, taxes, and stewardship suggests the broader difficulties that are part and parcel of this extraordinary structure.Special thanks to attorney Martha Sibbel for identifying possible tax-related issues regarding the ownership of Salisbury House.
“It was built on women’s vanity,” Carl Weeks frequently remarked when he discussed the fortune he made in business. More specifically, Weeks amassed his riches in the early twentieth century by selling cosmetics. His million-dollar idea originated in a combination of cold cream, face power, and perfume. Voila! Foundation makeup. By 1915, Weeks began selling his products under the Armand Company label.
Sales quickly took off. Armand skyrocketed in value from a few thousand dollars in the mid-nineteen-teens to over two million dollars in the late 1920s. Marketing and advertising – nascent in the early twentieth century – played a key role in Armand’s success. Alongside other cosmetics manufacturers, such as Max Factor, Elizabeth Arden, and Helena Rubinstein, Weeks’ business, according to historian Kathy Peiss in her indispensable Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture, “highlight[s] the decisive turn of the cosmetics industry toward national advertising and media-based marketing in the 1920s.”
Weeks advertised Armand widely, from full-page, color ads in Vogue and Ladies Home Journal, to more specialized publications, as Peiss points out, such as the Jewish Daily Forward. Another key component in Armand’s advertising arsenal was Better Homes & Gardens, a magazine – like Armand – founded in Des Moines, Iowa. This periodical was established by Edwin Thomas Meredith in 1922. Meredith had embarked upon his career in publishing two decades before by founding Successful Farming in 1902; the company he built continues to figure prominently in today’s publishing landscape.
Better Homes & Gardens was originally called Fruit, Garden & Home: an ingot of publishing arcane that we on the Salisbury House staff discovered on a recent research trip to Meredith’s headquarters in downtown Des Moines.
The excursion to Meredith’s offices will go down in this historian’s memory as a wondrous moment when the gods smiled as the gates to archival heaven parted. My colleague, Erica, and I planned to comb through old magazine issues to determine whether or not Weeks had, in fact, advertised in the Meredith publication. “Surely he did – he must have!” we agreed, but then again, one never knows. We sat down at a table and pulled out an early issue from 1924.
I nearly had a heart attack.
There it was! Inside the front cover! A full-page, color Armand advertisement. It was a momentous occasion. The remainder of the research trip was spent discovering additional ads, tucked away like Easter eggs, among the tissue-paper folds of ninety-year old magazines.
This first Armand advertisement we found came from the May 1924 issue of Fruit, Garden & Home (the name was changed to Better Homes & Gardens in late 1924). We now knew that Car Weeks’ Armand Co. had advertised in the magazine from its earliest years – but what about its first year? Indeed, what about the very first issue?
And there it was: July, 1922, page 51.
Both ads included the type of marketing that typified Armand advertising for most of the 1920s. The ads assured customers that, “Armand Cold Cream Powder is the only dry face powder with a base of exquisite cold cream!” Furthermore, the product “was created to bring increasing loveliness to every woman who wants her complexion to express her best self.” The allure of “The Little Pink & White Boxes,” Weeks and his New York advertising team at N.W. Ayer hoped, would entice women away from the increasing variety of cosmetics on the market. And, for a time, it did.
By the late 1920s, a shift in the style of Armand advertisements became apparent. The New Woman required a different message, and Weeks’ company changed tack. An ad that appeared in May 1928 suggested this transition towards a more modern sensibility.
“This one distinctive face powder meets the changed conditions of your active modern life,” the advertisement declared. The ad’s graphics also portrayed a woman of decidedly modern tastes, though her shadow, of course, maintained the traditional Armand silhouette. At this point, the company’s cosmetics remained generally unchanged. Soon, however, significant alterations extended beyond Armand’s advertising and into its product line.
Here too, Carl Week’s Armand Co. reflected the broader historical moment. Historian Kathy Peiss notes that during the 1920s and 1930s, “Manufacturers and consumers alike increasingly perceived the face as a style, subject to fashion trends and fads.” With its introduction of the Symphonie face powder in 1929, Armand was situated squarely within the changing cosmetics industry.
Advertisements for Symphonie from 1930 illustrated this effort to twin fashion and cosmetics. Armand and other companies seemingly, in the parlance of our times, trended towards planned obsolescence. The ads urged women to think about their cosmetics in the same way in which they thought about their clothing fashions: changeable with both the seasons and the latest styles.
A June 1930 ad made connection explicit: “A ‘love-affair’ chiffon by Bergdorf & Goodman. A cinderella [sic] sandal by I. Miller, Inc. A charming complexion by Armand!”
From August of the same year: “Clothes are more alluring now…complexions must be too!”
By October, ad copy read, “A fair skin with your new furs – it’s the first note in the autumn Symphonie!”
Despite the massive overhaul of Armand product and advertising, the Symphonie brand proved unpopular. Historian Peiss indicates that consumers’ attention typically focused more on the clothing styles and the women in the advertisements and less on Armand Cosmetics. Moreover, lagging sales signaled that women who did purchase the new Symphonie powder generally did not find it to their liking. Ultimately, Peiss suggests, the lackluster response to Symphonie revealed, “to Weeks’ despair, that modern marketing methods could not overcome the product’s limitations.”
Other factors also led to a decline in Armand sales. Though Weeks embraced new advertising, his insistence on selling product only through pharmacies and drugstores and not department stores – to which cosmetic brands like Max Factor and Maybelline increasingly shifted – negatively affected the company as well. By the second half of the twentieth century, Armand Cosmetics had all but disappeared. What remains, however, offers arresting images that illustrate the rise and fall of an early twentieth-century cosmetics empire.
Better Homes & Gardens magazine covers reused with permission.
Workmen broke ground on Salisbury House almost a century ago. Beginning in 1923, truckloads of brick, mortar, barrels, and beams navigated the steep rise of the hill atop Tonawanda Drive. Over the next five years, the Weekses’ grand new home took shape. Local photographers captured in-progress images of Salisbury House at different stages of the project. These shots were primarily taken at a distance, and typically showcased the building’s stately dimensions. However, closer inspection of these photographs reveals the ordinary, work-a-day experiences of life at a 1920s construction site.
The photograph below from December 1923 shows a view of the garage taken from the west. At first glance, the photograph suggests little more than mud, building detritus, and desolation.
A closer look reveals action and purpose. Men stride across the half-finished garage. On the left, a man in a hat and overcoat, closely followed by an associate, looks north. Behind them, two more men continue their labors.
The far left side of the photograph also includes details of men at work. Look closely at the corner of the structure in the foreground:
Two years later, thanks to the efforts of these men, a substantial amount of progress had been made. By March 1925, the main footprint of Salisbury House was apparent. The garage – featured prominently in the images above – is barely visible on the far left side of this photograph.
Though the exterior walls have taken shape, a closer look at this image shows a house far from complete.
The east wing of the house extends only to the first floor. Carl’s and Edith’s bedrooms remain but a twinkle in the architects’ eyes. There is no trace of the sixteenth-century, half-beam ceiling in the Great Hall. Daylight and oak trees crown the room instead.
A view of the north entrance tells a similar story.
The application of the famed flint-work on the Tudor wing of the house appears in progress on the left side of the frame.
The two men in this photograph illustrate the human realities of building Salisbury House. The man on the right was possibly an architect from Boyd & Moore, the local firm responsible for the design and build of the house (perhaps even Byron Bennett Boyd or Herbert J. Moore). As for the man on the left – perhaps a crew foreman? Their markedly different attire certainly suggests differences in occupation and/or class.
Progress marked the entire property in this spring of 1925. Below, the northeast approach to Salisbury House neared completion.
Our homburg (or fedora?) -wearing gentleman from above appeared again:
The three men in the foreground dwarf the workmen (at right in the full-sized photograph) who continued to toil away while the bosses posed for the camera.
Another wonderful detail appears in this photograph. The driveway slope dominates the image’s middle distance, with the majestic silhouette of Salisbury House beyond. Near the crest of the rise, a sign appeared at the base of a tree.
WILD FLOWERS IN IOWA ARE GETTING SCARCE ONLY THE UNINFORMED GATHER THEM
This sounds like Edith’s doing, as she was an enthusiastic gardener. To modern-day sensibilities, the sign suggests a vague similarity to the current mania for pet-shaming signs. If this sign were hanging around the neck of one of the Weekses’ canine companions – perhaps after a dig through the Salisbury gardens – they would have had an instant meme on their hands.
Four months after these photos were taken, the progress of construction was documented again. A view from the southeast corner of the property indicated that the workers had been busy during the summer of 1925.
Still, as yet there were no windows in much of the house, including the Common Room and Edith’s Suite.
At this point, the Weekses were two years into a five-year, three-million-dollar project. The pane-less windows, a cluster of barrels, and pile of dirt at photo’s right edge were visible reminders of the work still underway.
The view from the north in August 1925 also showed both the great distance already traveled by the Salisbury House builders, and the sizable amount of work left to finish. Here, the cottage appeared mostly finished – with windows, even! – and a tar-papered roof was in evidence.
Still, the main section of the house remained windowless.
Makeshift scaffolding and ladders also appeared. Although no workmen were featured in this particular photograph, evidence of their labor remained in the objects they left behind.
A comparison of photos separated by almost a century offers an amazing study in contrast.
Five years after the first truckloads of bricks and mortar rumbled up Tonawanda Drive, Salisbury House was complete. The total cost of building and furnishing the home – three million dollars in the 1920s – would be about forty million dollars today.
A local pastor read a blessing during the laying of the house’s cornerstone in 1925. Nelson Owen, the rector of St. Paul’s Church, urged the Almighty to “bring this home to a happy completion.” For Salisbury House – still standing, still magnificent – the preacher’s benediction rang true.