Driving up to the Joseph Bettendorf mansion off 18th Street in Bettendorf, one might be reminded of the television show "Downton Abbey" and the Highclere Castle that was its setting.
With a front façade that stretches 100 feet across the bluff and the English manor style of architecture, the brick-and-limestone edifice built in 1915 evokes a British countryside.
Inside, the finishings continue the opulent manor theme.
The foyer floor is made of black-and-white Italian marble. The domed ceiling in the solarium is painted with cherubs that seem to be dancing. Elaborate plaster molding decorates the ceiling in what was the dining room. A richly carved wood staircase ascends three floors to the former ballroom.
For the past 44 years, the mansion has been home to a school, first known as St. Katherine's-St. Mark's and now Rivermont Collegiate. The private college prep school currently enrolls 208 students from pre-school through senior high, said Drew Boster, director of development. Commercial carpeting covers most of the floors, and the wall coverings date to a different time.
But the bones of what make this place special and the original embellishments remain front-and-center, and you can see them for yourself on Saturday, Dec. 9, when the first floor of the mansion will be open for free tours given by student ambassadors.
While a holiday open house has been a long-standing tradition, this year will be different in that guests will be able to tour Becherer Hall, a separate, 27,000-square-foot building to the east of the mansion that houses classrooms and an auditorium and stage. The name comes from Hans Becherer, a former chairman of Deere & Co.
And, by special request, guests can glimpse the renovated carriage house now holding classrooms, a kiln and dormitory space for boarding students, which is new this year. At present, five students from Asia are boarding, Boster said.
There's so much to see in the mansion that it's difficult to take it all in. Here are six features you won't want to miss:
• The solarium. In addition to the domed ceiling with painted angels, there is another ceiling area of curved stained glass.
• The private breakfast room. Now an office, this room features a decorative ceiling and a wall of leaded glass.
• The former billiards room. Housing a grand piano, the walls are decorated near the ceiling with patterns of inlaid wood.
• The kitchen. Used by the art department, the floors and ceilings are made entirely of white tile. This is similar to the "Hummer" Kahl mansion in west Davenport built around the same time, and designed by the same architect.
• The hand-carved, three-story wood staircase. Clusters of grapes are the overall motif.
• The front of the mansion. Although the only approach to the building is from the back, or north side, and the floor plan is obviously set up to receive guests on the north side, the front actually faces south. From this vantage point on the bluff, one sees downtown Bettendorf and the Mississippi River. And when Joseph Bettendorf lived here, he also could see his factories, said to be a mile long, Boster said.
In addition to the view, you'll want to note the six large ginkgo trees that line the bluff, the marble statues of larger-than-life-size Great Dane dogs that flank the concrete staircase and the carved initial "B" over one of the doors.