Villa Casa Casuarina, 1116 Ocean Dr, Miami Beach, FL 33139
Franceschi House, 1510 Mission Ridge Road in Santa Barbara, California
Rosedale Cemetery Orange, Essex County, New Jersey, USA
Alden Freeman (May 25, 1862 - December 29, 1937) was a socialist, radical philanthropist, and architect. Freeman was a prominent as an independent worker in reform movements in New Jersey; organizer, in 1902, and secretary, from 1902 to 1908, of the Citizen's Union of East Orange, a forerunner of later reform movements in New Jersey; proprietor, from 1903 to 1904, of the Newark Truth, a weekly organ of reform politics. Member Society Mayflower Descendants, Society Colonial Wars, Huguenot Society, S.R., Order of the Cincinnati, Military Order of War of 1812, N.E. Society, St. Nicholas Society, Phi Beta Kappa, Psi Upsilon; member Veterans of Foreign Wars, Red Cross Society of Japan (medal of merit).
Alden Freeman was born in Cleveland, the son of Joel Francis Freeman (1836-1910) e Frances Maria Abbey (1840-1925). With his mother and sisters he erected in Enfield a memorial to the Abbey family, with particular reference to Captain Thomas Abbey, his great-grandfather.
Freeman moved to Miami in 1923, when he was in his early sixties, and immediately became a “prominent figure in . . . civic and social circles.” This was, in large part, a result of the massive fortune he inherited from his father, Joel Francis Freeman, who served as the first treasurer of the Standard Oil Company. He epitomized high society in Miami. Freeman traced his lineage to the Mayflower and belonged to some of the most exclusive social clubs and orders in the nation. The evidence suggests that the elite social circles Freeman belonged to in Miami were keenly aware of his homosexuality and seem to have tacitly accepted his gender- and sexually transgressive behavior in the tropical fairyland. As Will Durant, a contemporary “free love” lecturer and later historian, recalled, Freeman was “a homosexual, ill at ease in the heterosexual society that gathered about him as the son of a Standard Oil millionaire.” His obituary in a Miami newspaper similarly made reference to his “colorful” personality and the fact that “he never married.” As this nudge-nudge-wink-wink language suggests, Freeman’s homosexuality was an open secret city residents understood and at least tacitly accepted.
Even before moving to Miami, Freeman constantly found himself in elite social circles that acknowledged and coded him as deviant. Local and national press often used euphemisms to describe him, including adjectives such as “eccentric” and “peculiar.” One newspaper all but called him an effeminate, overly sensitive queer by poking fun of the fact that he fell physically ill after New York police prohibited his friend, anarchist-orator Emma Goldman, from speaking in 1909. About a week later, Freeman surprised members of the Mayflower Descendants, an exclusive group he belonged to in East Orange, New Jersey, when he brought Goldman to one of the group’s luncheons. Club members were not amused. Police alerted the two radicals that Goldman’s lecture would not take place in East Orange. Rather than accept defeat, the idealist Freeman alerted all who had shown up to hear the talk that they were welcome to his New Jersey mansion. Goldman’s lecture was held on the lawn of his property.
Villa Casa Casuarina, Miami, FL
In 1930, Freeman, who already owned real estate in Miami, built a new property in the center of Miami Beach’s Ocean Drive: Casa Casuarina. Today, the house is best remembered as the mansion of fashion designer Gianni Versace. Because the openly gay Versace was killed just outside the property in 1997, it has maintained its queer nexus for many decades. In addition to paying for its construction, Freeman was listed as one of the architects of the ornate three-story apartment complex. This was a particularly welcome addition to the city, as several boosters panicked that there were not enough accommodations to cater to the growing tourist economy. Casa Casuarina was built in the Mediterranean revival style. It featured “murals representing kings, queens and other notables of nearly every country in the world.” It similarly housed antiques from throughout the world, further demonstrating contemporary and elite efforts to transplant the high culture of the old world into their fairyland. Indeed, Freeman seems to have playfully flaunted the queerness made available in this fairyland to Miami’s elite, at times through hidden messages or innuendo.
Freeman commissioned impressionist artist Henry Salem Hubbell to capture the construction of Casa Casuarina on canvas. Hubbell, like so many others, moved to Miami in the early 1920s during its real estate boom. In Hubbell’s painting, five young white men hoist a heavy beam in front of Casa Casuarina’s arcade. This painting served as a metaphor for the City of Miami at large: development, progress, hope, and idealism. There appears to have been a more tacit message of masculine virility. Four of the men in the painting go about their work bare-chested, and all the men have bulging and well-defined muscles. In reality, the four shirtless Adonises were models recruited from the football team at the University of Miami, which was founded in 1925 and held its first classes in 1926. This is not to suggest that this was a gay painting. Rather, men like Freeman, who commissioned the painting and planned to hang it by the interior stairway of Casa Casuarina, associated Miami’s urban development with a strapping, virile masculinity that made it possible. That the embodiment of that hypermasculinity was often a working-class laborer—or here, a modeled performance of a construction worker—who was often made available to elite men like Freeman is manifest in Hubbell’s painting.
In an era of much greater formality and conservatism in dress, Freeman shocked many throughout the country with his flashy and bright apparel. He had become “a familiar character about Greater Miami clad in shorts, sandals and pith helmet.” He fashioned a sort of tropical and casual aesthetic—a tropical dandyism—that became associated with Miami. By dressing smartly, in bright hues, and appropriately for the tropical climate, Freeman helped define the fairyland’s permissiveness. Others throughout the country seemed bewildered by his expressive style, which seemed utterly queer outside of Miami. In summer 1931, for instance, he boarded a plane in Dallas wearing “the latest in blue shorts, a blue shirt and striped necktie.” When Freeman deplaned in Los Angeles, photographers snapped pictures of him wearing “a light flannel robe and black and white pajamas” for the slightly “cooler” weather. Observers seemed fascinated by Freeman’s wardrobe change, especially since he told them he still had his flamboyant tropical attire on underneath. Freeman’s tropical dandyism helped link his “sensible hot weather outfit” with the permissive fairyland. In so doing, Freeman and others with comparable power and influence challenged social conventions.
Freeman found himself in trouble with the law while visiting Washington, DC, a few years later, exposing the complexities of his “open secret” to public speculation in Miami and elsewhere. The front page of the Miami Daily News’s January 18, 1936, issue reported that Freeman, then seventy-four, had been taken into custody in a Washington “psychopathic ward.” The police had not charged the “Miamian” with a crime, and the article did not elaborate on the nature of his arrest. In fact, other than reveal he was taken into custody, the report only detailed Freeman’s charitable works, prestige, and accolades. In reality, however, he had been sent to the ward “for observation at the request of police” after they had “picked [Freeman] up at a downtown Turkish bath.” While it is unclear what exactly police caught Freeman doing at the bathhouse, it is possible he may have been caught seeking to be sexually intimate with other men at a common site for homosexual cruising. He was taken to the psychopathic ward at Gallinger Municipal Hospital, where patients suspected of mental instability were held. If they did not improve, they were then sent to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, where many “sexual psychopaths,” which included those attracted to the same sex who were believed to have a psychological maladjustment, were regularly treated. It also appears that Freeman may have been suffering from dementia. According to reports, sometime in the 1930s Dade County Judge W. Frank Blanton declared Freeman “mentally incompetent” and named his “relative” Charles D. Boulton as his guardian. While it appears Freeman may have been mentally ill, it is also possible psychiatrists and judges read his “eccentric” behavior as representative of a sickness. It seems likely that any understanding of his “sickness” may have also been informed by his queer behaviors. All the while, it is hard to ignore the Miami newspaper’s failure to mention that DC police took him into custody after he was found in a bathhouse. It seems possible Freeman’s “open secret” was safer, so to speak, in Miami.
Freeman’s fascination with colonial history—and Hispaniola, more specifically—was evident in his design for Casa Casuarina. He boasted that the property was a “modern adaptation” of the Alcázar de Colón, the sixteenth-century palace built by Christopher Columbus’s family in Santo Domingo. Although it is unclear who designated him such, several reports referred to Freeman as Miami’s “Honorary Consul General for Haiti” (the city did not yet have a Haitian consulate). In his last will and testament, he “bequeath[ed]” his “heart to the People and Government of the Republic of Haiti.” He requested that his heart be placed in a silver casket and “deposited in the . . . tombs of Dessalines and Petion [sic],” two of Haiti’s founding fathers. Although his will claimed that two Pan American Airways officials had “been fully instructed” on how to carry out his final wishes, it seems his body was ultimately sent to New Jersey.
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