Decorative Arts

The Historic Houses of Richard H. Jenrette: A Chronology

Author: Grant Quertermous, CAHPT Curator & Director of Collections

“There’s no place like home,” Richard H. Jenrette wrote in his Adventures With Old Houses, “the older the better.” During his lifetime, Jenrette owned and restored fourteen homes including the four properties that are now part of the CAHPT portfolio. A self-proclaimed “house-aholic,” he list included a succession of New York City houses which he used as his primary city residence while working as a founding partner of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette (DLJ) and later as Chairman and C.E.O. of the Equitable Life Assurance Company until his 1996 retirement. Jenrette also served as lead investor on a project in the late 1960s to rebuild the Mills House, a historic Charleston Hotel, and served as Chairman of the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

 

East 57th Street, New York, NY:

Jenrette’s first New York city residence was a one-bedroom co-op apartment located at 455 East 57th Street.  After seeing the space, a colleague at DLJ encouraged Jenrette to hire North Carolina designer Otto Zenke (1904-1984) to decorate the apartment.

Hallmarks of Zenke interiors included late Georgian and English Regency antique furniture, ample upholstered chairs and sofas, and lamps spread throughout a room to provided warm and comfortable spaces. Zenke felt that the focal point of a room should be a large fireplace flanked by tall bookcases filled with antiquarian leather-bound books.

Jenrette later noted the designer’s long-lasting influence on the way he approached the furnishing and décor of his later houses.

For a period of two years in the mid-1960s, Jenrette lived abroad where he worked to establish a European presence for DLJ.  He rented an 18th century farmhouse near the Waterloo battlefield outside of Brussels, Belgium and once again hired designer Otto Zenke to decorate it.

Roper House, Charleston, SC, 1968:

In 1968, Jenrette purchased Roper House, located on High Battery in Charleston, South Carolina, a house he would retain for the next fifty years until his 2018 death.

He initially resided on the third floor for a period of twelve years while the second floor was occupied by the previous owner’s widowed mother, an agreement that was part of the purchase.

In 1981, the first and second floor spaces were the subject of a two-year restoration after which these rooms became spaces for Jenrette to live among his collection of classical New York furniture.

East 11th Street, New York, NY, 1969:

The next house he would purchase in 1969 was a ca. 1840 Greek Revival townhouse at 27 East 11th street in Greenwich Village.  The house had fourteen-foot ceilings, large windows, and original wrought-iron grillwork railings on the exterior.

Jenrette occupied the first floor while the upper floors of the house contained two additional rent-controlled apartments.  The tenants included a Broadway dancer who tapped loudly into the early morning hours.  Not able to evict the tenants through an appeal to the New York City Rent Control Board, he sold the property a year later and moved further uptown.

One legacy of Jenrette’s year in the East 11th Street house was its décor, the first of many design projects undertaken for Jenrette by San Francisco designer Anthony Hail (1925-2006).  Jenrette first met Hail through a Harvard Business School classmate who lived in San Francisco.

 

Anthony Hail was born in Texas but grew up in Denmark where his American step-father was in business. He later returned to the United States and attended Harvard Graduate School of Design, then moved to San Francisco in the 1950s where he opened his own design firm.  Hail credited his time in San Francisco for influencing his approach of mixing Chinese decorative arts with British and European antiques and contemporary fabrics.

Under Hail’s influence, Jenrette began acquiring French mantels, 18th and 19th century Scandinavian furniture, antique Russian chandeliers, and Chinese porcelain.  Hail would later be commissioned for décor at Roper House, Edgewater, and another of Jenrette’s Manhattan townhouses.

Edgewater, Barrytown, Dutchess County, New York, built c 1820, improved and enlarged 1850s with addition by A.J. Davis

Edgewater, Barrytown, NY, 1969:

Also desirous of a weekend home in closer proximity to New York City than Roper House, Jenrette commissioned New York architect Edward F. Knowles (1929-2018) to design a modernist weekend home intended for a New Jersey hillside above the Delaware River. He later described the house as “a series of three high-ceilinged cubes: mostly glass with connecting terraces with a ‘drop-dead view’ down the river to the distant Delaware Water Gap.”  Before construction could begin, Jenrette discovered and purchased Edgewater which he said, made him “suddenly forget the glass house I proposed to build in New Jersey.”

It was during a Saturday drive in late September 1969 that Jenrette and his partner William L. Thompson found Edgewater, seeking out the property after seeing an image of the house in their copy of Historic Houses of the Hudson Valley.  Located about 100 miles north of the city, its location was ideal for use as a weekend home and a place to escape the traffic and noise of Manhattan.  At the time Edgewater was owned by author Gore Vidal, who was living abroad in Italy.

Coincidentally, the next day, Jenrette learned from designer Anthony Hail, who had just returned from Italy, that the author was planning to sell Edgewater.

“It’s to die for — you ought to buy it!” Three days later, Jenrette concluded a Trans-Atlantic negotiation with Vidal and he purchased the property.  As he later described, the closing took place over a drink at Vidal’s New York apartment. Actress Shirley MacLaine, who Jenrette had recently seen perform in the Broadway musical Sweet Charity, answered the door, handed him a cocktail and the telephone so he could speak to Vidal who was in Rome.

 

East 38th Street, New York, NY, 1970:

In 1970, Jenrette purchased a ca. 1840 townhouse located at 150 E. 38th Street that was former residence of publisher Cass Canfield, the longtime president and chairman of Harper & Brothers. The house was unique as it was placed at the rear of the lot more than sixty feet back from the sidewalk allowing a small garden courtyard to be placed in front. A loggia supported by small columns and wrought-iron grillwork led from the street to the inner courtyard garden space complete with fountain.

The three-story house had double parlors on the first floor—the back parlor used as a Dining Room, bedchambers were located on the second and third floors, and a room across the full width of the house on the second floor was used by Jenrette as a library and office.

For this house, Anthony Hail created what Jenrette described as a “Louis XVI-style salon” in the public rooms of the house.  Jenrette described this house as “the perfect pied-a-terre” noting its location on East 38th street as convenient to both uptown and downtown Manhattan.

1 Sutton Place, New York, NY, 1972:

After owning the E. 38th Street house for two years, he sold it to purchase 1 Sutton Place in 1972, the house that he later described as the one that “got away.”

Jenrette was familiar with the house from his days living on East 57th street, just half a block away from Sutton Place.  The neo-Georgian townhouse designed by architect Mott Schmidt was located at the northeast corner of Sutton Place and 57th Street.

Completed in 1921, the house was built for Anne Harriman Vanderbilt, widow of William K. Vanderbilt, and it was later owned by Charles Merrill, the co-founder of Merrill Lynch.

The adjoining townhouse, now home to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, was built for Anne Tracey Morgan, daughter of financier J.P. Morgan.  The house and other adjacent townhouses enclosed a common garden built out over East River Drive and Sutton Park with scenic views of the East River and the Queensboro Bridge.

Jenrette hired designers Harrison Cultra (1941-1983) and Georgina Fairholme (1927-2019) to decorate the Sutton Place townhouse.

Cultra had studied in Paris at the Sorbonne and previously worked for New York designer Rose Stuart Cumming. He also restored Teviotdale, an 18th century Livingston family house in the Hudson River Valley.

Fairholme, originally from England, was a protégé of decorator John Fowler, who with Sibyl Colefax had formed the esteemed London firm of Colefax & Fowler in 1938.  Fairholme was instrumental in bringing English Country House style to the United States in the second half of the 20th century.

The partnership of Cultra-Fairholme lasted from 1971 until 1974 and in addition to Jenrette, counted among their clients former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

The result of the Cultra-Fairholme collaboration at 1 Sutton Place was “a house straight out of the British National Trust.” Jenrette recalled, exactly the look he wanted for the interior of neo-Georgian style building.

The drawing room was decorated in blue with fabric covered walls and white silk window treatments framing the tripartite window overlooking the garden and the East River.  The first-floor dining room retained the original checkerboard black and white marble floor from the Vanderbilt-era with a pair of French doors opening into the garden.  Cultra and Fairholme painted the room pumpkin orange with white trim and selected gold window treatments.  Jenrette’s third floor bedroom featured English antiques, French artwork, and architectural drawings by Harold Sterner.

In the midst of the 1974 financial crisis, Jenrette, who by this time owned Roper House, Edgewater and 1 Sutton Place, made the difficult decision to sell the townhouse, which he called “the finest town house in Manhattan.”

West 54th Street, New York, NY, 1974:

After selling 1 Sutton Place to Mrs. H.J. Heinz II, Jenrette purchased a two-bedroom penthouse apartment located on the twentieth floor of an art-deco building at 17 W. 54th Street.  The balcony patio offered a birds-eye view into the adjacent Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).

While he enjoyed the building’s location in close proximity to many of midtown Manhattan’s best restaurants, Jenrette wrote that he disliked apartment living because it forced him to spend so much time waiting for elevators.

Charlton Street, New York, NY, 1978:

After living in the apartment for four years, he purchased a Federal townhouse located at 37 Charlton Street in 1978.

The ca. 1826 townhouse in Lower Manhattan had a storied history.  Developed by fur-trader John Jacob Astor, the block was originally the location of the Richmond Hill mansion, a house used by General George Washington during the American Revolution and later by Vice President John Adams as his official residence.  The federal townhouse was completed in 1826 after the block was sub-divided into lots for sale.

In the late 19th century, the house had served as the headquarters of the Third Assembly District Tammany Club.  It was given a third story in 1917 as part of a renovation but it retained all of the original black marble mantels, molding, doors and window architraves on the lower floors.

For the renovation of the Charlton Street house, Jenrette utilized architect Edward Vason Jones (1909-1980) as designer.

Jones oversaw the restoration of the public rooms of the White House during the Nixon administration and through several subsequent administrations, filling the spaces with Federal-era furnishings and décor to reflect their original appearance.  Jones also worked with Clement Conger on the creation of the State Department’s Diplomatic Reception Rooms.

Window treatments for the Charlton Street house were done by David Richmond Byers, an Atlanta decorator with Browne & Company who had worked with Jones on both of the aforementioned projects.

By this time, Jenrette had narrowed his collecting focus to Classical New York furniture made between 1800 and 1840, and the rooms of the Charlton Street house were an ideal venue to highlight his growing collection of furniture by cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe and his New York contemporaries.  Jenrette sold the Charlton street townhouse in 1987 in order to move further uptown.  From 2004 until 2015, it served as a rectory for Manhattan’s Trinity Church, but is once again a private home

Ayr Mount, Hillsborough, NC, 1985:

In 1985, Jenrette purchased Ayr Mount in Hillsborough, North Carolina. The ca. 1815 house was the earliest brick dwelling in Orange County, North Carolina and had been continuously owned by members of the Kirkland family since its construction.

At the time Jenrette purchased Ayr Mount, he was mulling a retirement that included teaching at a university and Ayr Mount’s location in Hillsborough was almost equidistant between Duke and the University of North Carolina. Any thoughts of retirement were postponed when Jenrette was asked to become Chairman of the Board of Equitable.  David Byers decorated the house and a local contractor, Todd Dickinson, oversaw much of the restoration work.

Cane Garden, St. Croix, USVI, 1985:

Later that year, he also purchased Cane Garden, an 18th century Danish sugar plantation on the island of St. Croix to use as a winter retreat.  He had rented the plantation for a week the previous winter and following the death of its owner, Jenrette was approached by the estate’s executors about purchasing the property.

The plantation retained its 18th century great house that was located on a high hill overlooking the Caribbean. Renovated in the neoclassical style around 1820, a portion of the house had been reconstructed in the early 20th century following a fire.  The plantation also retained many of its original 18th and 19th century dependencies and a mile-long stretch of private beach.  Jenrette retained Cane Garden for the rest of his life and in accordance with his wishes, Classical American Homes Preservation Trust sold the property in the summer of 2020.

Baker House, New York, NY, 1987:

In 1987, Jenrette moved further uptown and purchased Baker House, a 1931 Delano & Aldrich designed townhouse located at 67 E. 93rd Street. The location of the East 93rd Street townhouse was more convenient to Jenrette’s office at The Equitable, located on 7th Avenue.

The townhouse was originally part of a larger complex of multiple buildings, all designed by Delano & Aldrich, including a large mansion at the corner of Park Avenue and East 93rd for financier George F. Baker Jr.  Baker had constructed the townhouse at #67 intending for it to be the home of his aged father, but the elder Baker died before he could occupy the house.

Jenrette described George F. Baker Sr. as one of his “larger-than-life heroes in business history” due to the financier’s role in endowing the Harvard University Graduate School of Business.

Jenrette owned the townhouse for only two years before selling it to an art dealer for a large profit and purchasing its next-door neighbor, 69 E. 93rd.

Also designed by Delano & Aldrich and built in 1929, the adjoining carriage house originally served as a garage and servant quarters for the younger Baker’s Park Avenue mansion located across an open courtyard.  In the 1940s, Baker Jr’s widow had renovated the building transforming the upper floors into a pied-a-terre to use while she was in the city, as her primary residence was a Long Island estate.  The carriage house was still owned by the Baker Family in 1989 when they sold it to Mr. Jenrette.

 

Jenrette lived in #69 for seven years and when an opportunity arose, he re-purchased #67 in 1996, at a substantially lower price that what he had sold it for in 1989.

Jenrette retained both properties, later giving #69 to CAHPT to use as its administrative headquarters, a role it served until early 2021 when the foundation’s headquarters officially moved to Ayr Mount in Hillsborough, North Carolina.

Millford, Pinewood, SC, 1992:

Jenrette’s final historic property, Millford, located in Sumter County, South Carolina, was purchased in 1992.  [image 14] He later wrote that buying Millford, considered to be the greatest Greek Revival residence in the United States, was his “reward” for rescuing The Equitable and making it into a profitable company. His purchase of Millford included several pieces of Duncan Phyfe furniture originally commissioned for the house by its first owners, John Laurence Manning and his wife Susan Hampton Manning between 1839 and 1842. The furniture had remained with the house through its subsequent owners. Jenrette and Thompson sought out and acquired additional pieces of Millford furniture, Manning family portaits, and other objects associated with the house. [Image 15] Jenrette also restored original outbuildings, updated the landscaping around the mansion, and added a swimming pool.

William L. Thompson (left) and Richard H. Jenrette (right) standing on the portico of Edgewater, 1970.

After his retirement from the Equitable, Jenrette devoted much of his time to nurturing Classical American Homes Preservation Trust, the organization he founded in 1993.  He and his partner William L. Thompson frequently traveled and spent a portion of each year at each of the properties. They typically spent late summer and fall at Edgewater in the Hudson River Valley,  winters in the Caribbean at Cane Garden, and spring and early summer in South Carolina at both Roper House and Millford.  Ayr Mount was the first property given to CAHPT and the first that opened for daily public visitation.

9614198 MET HISTORIC Conrad,Fred R. Photo Caption: Date: 11/25/96 Headline: Richard jenrette-historic houses Assignment Caption:PHOTOS OF ROPER HOUSE IN CHARLESTON,S.C., OWNED BY RICHARD JENNRETTE. PHOTOS OF MILLFORD, A PLANTATION OWNED BY MR. JENNRETTE, ALSO IN SOUTH CAROLINA PORTRAITS OF JENNRETTE. Photographer: Conrad,Fred R. Sack Number: 9614198 Reporter: Slug: HISTORIC Desk: MET Start: Until: Change Time: False City: State: Country: usa Location: Charlestown Contact: Contact Phone: Reporter There?: False Editor: Photo Editor Date Wanted: 11/25/96 Time Wanted: ASAP Summary: Photographer Type: 1 Shot?: True Number of Rolls: 13 Scanned?: 0 Handouts: False Notes: Clean?: False Assignment: 961125026A Record No: 76934

Jenrette later wrote, “my love affair with Roper House was just the beginning of what has turned out to be a fascinating lifetime career of restoring classical American homes.”

He also credited Roper House with enhancing his “appreciation of the value and importance of historic preservation” which led him to create Classical American Homes Preservation Trust in 1993.