How Ann Getty Built the Look of American Money

It was the dawn of a new decade and a new era – one day in early 1960 – as J. Paul Getty paraded through the Tudor maze of Sutton Place. Twenty-three miles southwest of London, it had been built 440 years earlier by a courtier of Henry VIII. Earlier, after Getty acquired it from the Duke of Sutherland, it had been rebooted as the hub of Getty’s global oil empire and 72-bedroom home. The telexes slammed reports of Wall Street stock market fluctuations and the flow of oil from the deserts of Arabia. Members of Getty’s executive and domestic staff were busy, the latter headed by Francis Bullimore, its impeccable butler.

Although it took many months to install acres of new curtains, linens and upholstery, Sutton Place was largely furnished, including Bullimore. A native of Norfolk, England, he had served as butler to Joseph Kennedy when he was US Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, and to Henry Ford II, before the Duke of Sutherland hired him at Sutton Place. Getty described him as a “benevolent despotic”.

J. Paul Getty outside Sutton Place, his British mansion, in 1959.

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Another indispensable employee was the footman, Frank Parkes, Bullimore’s longtime companion. While the guests were probably unaware of their relationship, it was obvious to everyone that Parkes’ flower arrangements were second to none. Some visitors have even compared them favorably to legendary florist Constance Spry’s.

After Getty’s five short-lived marriages, the five sons from those unions were raised by their respective mothers, mostly in California. Although their absentee father is reputed to be the richest man in America, if not the world, neither boy was brought up in luxury. Getty paid reasonable child support and child support.

One evening in 1964, at La Rocca’s Corner, a popular San Francisco tavern, Getty’s fourth son, Gordon, met Ann Gilbert, a striking six-foot-tall redhead. Originally from California’s Central Valley, she had picked peaches, packed nuts and driven tractors alongside her two brothers on their father’s ranch. A few months later, on Christmas Day, the couple fled to Las Vegas.

Ann Getty and Sons
Ann Getty, with her sons Andrew and Billy, photographed by Slim Aarons for City & Country

Thin Aarons

Although she eventually became one of the most extravagant women of her time, Ann kept her feet on the ground. Despite the couture wardrobe, private jets and other accessories of wealth she acquired, she liked to say she was still a farmer at heart.

After J. Paul Getty’s death in 1976, Gordon’s income from the Getty Trust increased significantly. Unlike most other Gettys, Ann didn’t mind spending it. The couple purchased a magnificent five-story neoclassical mansion, designed by architect Willis Polk shortly after the 1906 earthquake. Perched atop Pacific Heights, with sweeping views of San Francisco Bay, it sits on a two-and-a-half-block stretch of Outer Broadway, the stronghold of San Francisco’s gold rush and old fortune families.

To help decorate it, Ann has hired the top notch Parish-Hadley Company, a partnership between the indomitable WASP grande dame Mrs. Henry “Sister” Parish II and Tennessee-born Albert Hadley, the good-natured. Their client list, a who’s who of the American aristocracy, included Jackie and John F. Kennedy, Babe and Bill Paley, and Betsey and Jock Whitney.

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Ann Getty was photographed in 1983 by Norman Parkinson in a Bavarian castle once owned by King Ludwig for Town & Country.

Norman Parkinson

After many months and shopping trips to England – Ann became one of the main clients of London’s auction houses and antique dealers – the Broadway mansion was transformed into one of the finest style homes American English. The sister was in charge, but Ann deployed the expertise and taste she had honed from all her stays at Sutton Place. She also benefited from the guidance of Gillian Wilson, curator of decorative arts at the J. Paul Getty Museum, which opened in 1974 (where Gordon was on the acquisitions committee). At the same time, Ann made sure that Wilson was properly equipped for his job. During a meeting, Ann timed Wilson’s cloth coat; she went up to her closet and came back with a fur. “If you go to those stockists in London and Paris, you need a good coat,” she said, handing the garment to Wilson, who wore it proudly for years and called it “the conservative vision”. (Until his retirement in 2003, Wilson remained one of the museum’s last living links to its founder.)

Ann and Gordon’s mansion was fully operational in December 1979, when a news story, “Christmas with the Gettys”, appeared in City & Country, with photographs by Slim Aarons. Nine-year-old William Paul, ‘Billy’, the baby of the family, was photographed valiantly hoisting a pole twice as high as he was to light the candles in the 18th-century Russian crystal and gilt-bronze chandelier in the dining room not electrified. , which was lined with 18th-century Chinese wallpaper. Meanwhile, his brothers – John Gilbert, 11, Andrew Rork, 12, and Gordon Peter Jr., 14 (who goes by the name Peter) – were doing tree-trimming chores. According to the author of the article, the men of the house knew who was the boss: “She has absolute control. Nothing discourages her and nine times out of 10 her way is the only way.

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Ann Getty leaving her San Francisco mansion in 1977, helped by footman Frank Parkes, left, and butler Francis Bullimore, photographed by Horst.

Horst P. Horst ©CondeNast

But she didn’t do it alone. His team of seven included a Franco-Basque chef, Alphonse, as well as a few familiar faces: Bullimore and Parkes had come from Sutton Place. With them came a sense of continuity and family history – plus they could handle four rambunctious young boys.

In San Francisco, Bullimore ruled the house with his usual dry wit, exacting standards, and marshal manners. It was “imposing and waterproof”, observed a visitor. Wearing a vest, he assessed all visitors before they entered. He himself became a local notable, a figure quoted by Herb Caen, dean of the columnists of San Francisco (who popularized the word hippie, during the Summer of Love of 1967). Bullimore was disappointed with the San Francisco company, Caen reported. “Not much going on, huh? the butler told him a few times. In 1970s America, however, there was no place more tolerant of a gay man than San Francisco, which must have been a welcome change from England, where homosexuality had no place. was decriminalized only in 1967. According to Christopher Getty, one of J. Paul Getty’s grandchildren, Bullimore had been arrested by police in London’s Hyde Park while engaging in amorous activity with another man . “Grandfather took care of it, as we do,” he said.

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Ivy Getty, Ann’s granddaughter and a GTC cover girl, wears her late grandmother’s shawl in an April 2022 article in the magazine.

Richard Phibbs

After years of absorbing lessons from her father-in-law, Sister Parish, and various curators, Ann launched herself as a design professional in the mid-1990s, when she quietly opened Ann Getty & Associates, an interior decorating company. The work gained more attention in 2003, when she unveiled the renovation of one of America’s most extravagant homes, her own.

She and Gordon had purchased the neighboring mansion. Through considerable engineering, it was eventually seamlessly connected to the original home of the Gettys. Using all her know-how, Ann completely redesigned her 30-year-old home. Even when it was “finished”, the work continued: the Gettys bought the house next door. By the time the three properties were brought together, giving the couple around 30,000 square feet, she had created one of America’s most lavish private residences. “We’re building up to Oakland, at this rate,” a friend of Gordon’s joked. “We joked that now that the kids are gone, we need a bigger house,” Ann joked.

“We joked that now that the kids are gone, we need a bigger house.”

With chinoiserie as her theme, she transformed her expanded residence into a spectacular, exotic, multi-layered Aladdin treasure cave. “I like things on things,” she explained.

“There are things in there that any museum would kill for,” a prominent antiquarian told me. “Ann has always chosen the rarest, most important things,” commented an auction house expert.

In the fall of 2003, I visited the house to interview Ann about her burgeoning design career. We chatted in the dining room, lined with chinoiserie panels made in 1720 for the Elector of Saxony, while a butler served a lunch of chicken salad. Alas, Francis Bullimore was no longer on duty. The revered butler died of heart disease in 1996 at the age of 82 at the Getty residence. The Gettys had cared for him at home long after he had reached retirement age, as they had with other staff members, including the boys’ nanny. According to his obituary in the San Francisco Examiner, Bullimore is survived by a sister in Norfolk, England, “and her dear schnauzer, Nietzsche”.

Growing up Getty: The story of America’s most unconventional dynasty

Starting in October, the contents of the Getty’s mansion will be sold in a series of flagship sales at Christie’s in New York. (Ann died in 2020, aged 79). Proceeds from the Ann & Gordon Getty Collection – 1,500 works of decorative and fine art – will benefit the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation for the Arts.

Estimated at some $180 million, the auction series is expected to generate excitement perhaps not seen since Sothebys’ Bunny Mellon sales in 2014. Highlights include: Entrance to the Grand Canal looking east, with Santa Maria della Salute at nightoil on canvas, by Canaletto (est. $6 million); Chrysanthemums in a vase from China, oil on board, by Matisse (est. $4 million); and a pair of George II Black-Japanned and parcel-gilt armchairs, by William and John Linnell (est. $120,000).

Extract of GROW GETTY by James Reginato. Copyright © 2022. Reprinted with permission from Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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