Château de l’Horizon in Cannes

Archives municipales de Cannes (France) - 10Fi1810_03

In praise of Barry Dierks, the forgotten American architect who brought glamour to the South of France.

Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill and Noël Coward are but a few of the storied guests who stayed at the various villas designed by Barry Dierks during the halcyon days of the French Riviera, yet few have ever heard of the Pittsburgh-born architect from the 1920s and ’30s. Unlike his contemporaries Eileen Gray and Robert Mallet-Stevens, who built the famous villa at Hyères, Dierks, a graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, did not adhere to the classic Bauhaus style of the time. Instead, he developed a hybrid of American practicality wedded to European romanticism.

One such masterpiece was Château de l’Horizon, which Dierks designed for American actress Maxine Elliott after she retired near Cannes. The grand structure was built on an impossible slip of land wedged between the railroad tracks and rocky shoreline. After two years of work, which included blasting the rocks to make a flat surface for a pool with a chute going down to the sea, the villa was completed in 1932. Elliott entertained in her new three-story home often, indulging her guests with every comfort. Aly Khan purchased the villa a few years after Elliott’s death, and in 1949 he and Rita Hayworth had their wedding reception on the grounds. The golden days of the château would soon draw to a close (the property now sits empty), but some of the white beauties designed by Dierks, like the Villa Aujourd’hui, once owned by film executive Jack Warner, on Cap d’Antibes, still stand gleaming in all their glory.