Saturday, July 07, 2007

The ‘Great Love’ of a Collector of Old Mansions


SOMETIMES, your dream house finds you. That’s how Richard Hampton Jenrette, a co-founder of the investment banking firm Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, wound up owning Edgewater, Gore Vidal’s former home in Barrytown, N.Y. “It just seemed like fate,” Mr. Jenrette said.

As he told the story on an overcast May afternoon, Mr. Jenrette, a native North Carolinian who is now 78 and retired from his business career, surveyed Edgewater — a colonnaded classical revival house built in 1820 — from the bank of the Hudson River. The house sits on a small peninsula, lined with weeping willows, just 50 yards from the river. He first saw it, he said, on a late September afternoon in 1969. “I took a drive in the country, touring old houses, using ‘Historic Houses of the Hudson Valley’ as a guide,” he said referring to a classic photographic history by Harold Donaldson Eberlein and Cortlandt Van Dyke Hubbard. “My last stop was Edgewater. I didn’t know Gore Vidal then, so I kind of snuck down his driveway. The sun was setting. The river was rippling. Everything was lushly green. Suddenly, six majestic Doric columns loomed into view, and I saw Tara from ‘Gone With the Wind’ — this Southerner’s vision of a dream house. I was smitten.”

He returned to New York coveting this slice of paradise but not expecting that he would ever own it. Then came the fateful coincidence. Two days later, Mr. Jenrette’s friend Anthony Hail, a San Francisco decorator, called him out of the blue to report that Mr. Vidal was planning to sell Edgewater. “It’s to die for — you ought to buy it!” Mr. Jenrette recalled Mr. Hail’s saying.

Mr. Jenrette bought Edgewater for $125,000. He said that at the closing, which took place over a drink at Mr. Vidal’s apartment in Manhattan, he was greeted at the door by Shirley MacLaine, who told him, “Gore’s on the phone, but have a drink!” and poured him a vodka on the rocks. It was a thrilling end note for Mr. Jenrette, who had just seen Ms. MacLaine in the film “Sweet Charity.”

When the deal was sealed, everyone was happy. “Gore bought Edgewater in 1946 for $35,000, so he felt that he’d made a good sale,” said Mr. Jenrette, breaking into a Cheshire Cat grin. Today, on the local tax books, it is worth an estimated $4 million.

Read the entire story in the New York Times

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