Shapely Ship Graces Ocean House

CENTERBROOK, Conn. -- This vision of Aphrodite is characteristically sleek and winsome, appearing to have “sprung from the sea.” Only in this case, the foam-born beauty is a precise scale model of the classic ocean-going vessel, The Aphrodite, which once ferried President Franklin D. Roosevelt about during World War II. The six-foot-long scale replica of the historic ship is authentic right down to its ornate brass fittings and individually cut wooden planks on its deck.

The painstakingly hand-crafted model is a gift to the newly replicated Ocean House hotel in Watch Hill, R.I. from Centerbrook Architects and was installed in the hotel’s lobby on December 8. It is the creation of Centerbrook’s master model-maker, Patrick McCauley, and sits atop a mahogany table with turned “bubble” legs and bas-relief “waves” designed and built by Jeff Riley, a founding partner of Centerbrook who designed and oversaw the hotel’s historic replication and expansion. The real-life, 74-foot-long Aphrodite was restored by Charles Royce of Bluff Avenue L.L.C., Centerbrook’s client for Ocean House. The iconic Victorian Era hotel reopened in May of this year.

The Aphrodite was built in 1937 by financier John Hay “Jock” Whitney to commute from Long Island to Wall Street. Built for speed, she sports a torpedo stern that allows her to maintain a horizontal posture in the water when traveling in excess of 40 knots. She draws a dainty four feet.

Each business day, Whitney would board Aphrodite in his pajamas and 45 minutes later debark in lower Manhattan showered, shaved, and dressed to the nines. Whitney’s shipboard guests included the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Shirley Temple, and Tallulah Bankhead, who, we assume, was nautical but nice. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he lent the boat to the Coast Guard, and it was used to transport President Roosevelt up the Hudson River to Hyde Park.

Royce acquired the boat in 2000 and restored it to its former grandeur. “The care and love that Chuck Royce devoted to the restoration of Aphrodite is emblematic of his visionary efforts to save the Ocean House, which dates to 1868,” Riley said. “The model is our gift to the hotel and to all the people who helped to save this splendid historic landmark for future generations to enjoy.”

Closed in 2003 and torn down in 2005, the hotel was slated to be replaced by a number of large private residences before Royce and others purchased the property from developers and set about restoring the old Ocean House to its former heyday. Centerbrook was involved in the project from 2005 until its completion in 2010.

Patrick McCauley has been Centerbrook’s architectural model-maker and fabricator of custom designed lighting, furniture, and specialties since 2006. He described the complexity of making the Aphrodite model this way: “The hardest part was actually moving forward with the project, because each step you take now is going to affect the step you take 272 steps down the road – when you don’t know what half of those steps are going to be yet.”