Heartbreak Houses

Star-crossed lovers found sorrow in these romantic homes

The story is as old as architecture. Lovers decide to build a dream home. Only the best will do! Money flows as the foundations rise. But the house, with all its architectural wonders, can't guarantee domestic bliss. Tragically, Cupid's arrow goes astray...

Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway

Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway in Palm Springs, California
Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway in Palm Springs, California. Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway photo © Jackie Craven

The futuristic house at 1350 Ladera Circle in Palm Springs, California became famous when rock star Elvis Presley chose it for a honeymoon retreat. But the real love story belongs to the home's original owners, Robert and Helene Alexander.

A celebrated real estate developer, Robert Alexander designed the flying saucer-shaped home as an ideal for modern living. In September 1962, Look magazine featured the Alexanders and their "House Of Tomorrow." Photographs showed a chic, attractive couple enjoying the high life in beautiful circular rooms.

There weren't many tomorrows for the Alexanders, however. A few years after the magazine feature, both husband and wife died in a small plane crash.

The Farnsworth House

The glass-walled Farnsworth house might have been a love nest, if Edith Farnsworth had her way. Legend has it that Dr. Farnsworth fancied her famous architect, Mies van der Rohe. From 1946 through 1950, she worked with Mies van der Rohe on the innovative, modernist design. But the passion the architect felt for the project did not extend toward his demanding client.

When he presented his expensive bill, Dr. Farnsworth responded with outrage. A nasty and prolonged lawsuit ensued.

Did Edith Farnsworth suffer from a broken heart? Or, was this just another case of miscommunication between architect and client?


Historic 1937 black and white photo of Frank Lloyd Wright's house in Wisconsin - Taliesin
Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin East, a three-story, wood and stone building in Spring Green, Wisconsin, December 1937. Photo by Hedrich Blessing/Chicago History Museum Archive Collection/Getty Images (crop)

You might think that architect Frank Lloyd Wright was too ego-centric to fall deeply and hopelessly in love. But in the early 1900s, Wright's passion for Mamah Borthwick lead him to sacrifice family, reputation, and career.

Fleeing gossip that surrounded their illicit romance, the already-married Frank Lloyd Wright built Taliesin, a Wisconsin retreat where he could work in peace and begin a new life with Mamah. Soon after they settled into the Prairie Style house, a disgruntled worker wielding an ax murdered seven people and set Taliesin on fire. Wright returned from a business trip to find his lover dead and their home in ruins.

The grieved Frank Lloyd Wright rebuilt Taliesin from the debris. He continued to spend summers there until he died, 45 years later.

Author Nancy Horan fictionalized the love affair in her novel, Loving Frank.

Boldt Castle

Historic Heart Island and Boldt Castle in upstate New York
Historic Heart Island and Boldt Castle in upstate New York. Photo by Danita Delimont/Gallo Images Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

Perched on "Heart Island" in New York's picturesque Thousand Islands, Boldt Castle was poised for romance. Gilded Age mogul George Boldt commissioned W.D. Hewitt and G.W. Hewitt to build a fairy tale home for his wife, Louise. With stone turrets and other fanciful details, Boldt Castle was supposed to be a Valentine's gift.

In 1904, as construction neared completion, the frail Louise died. She was only 41. The couple never lived in the castle.

The Vanderbilt Marble House

The Vanderbilt Marble House
The Vanderbilt Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island. Vanderbilt Marble House photo CC 2.0 by Flickr member Daderot

In 1891, William K. Vanderbilt hired renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt to design a grand Rhode Island "summer retreat" as a birthday present for his wife, Alva. Constructed with 500,000 cubic feet of marble, the $11 million neoclassical mansion might have been a temple of love. But the gift was not enough to save the marriage.

In 1895, the couple divorced. Alva went on to marry a different millionaire, Oliver Hazard Perry, and took up residence at Châteauesque Belcourt Castle, just down the street from the Vanderbilt Marble House.

Some rumors have it that the flighty William K. Vanderbilt was relieved to be free of his nagging wife.