"Please Don't Eat the Daisies"
House on the Market: An Intimate Tour
by Judy Silberstein and Paula Eisenberg
(March 18, 2003) House For Sale: Seven bedroom
Spanish-Tudor, six stone angels, three gargoyles, four copper
wolf heads, five portholes, three lions, and 27 carillon bells.
|The typewriter on which
Jean Kerr wrote "Please Don't Eat the Daisies"
Until his death in 1996, this was the home that Walter Kerr,
Pulitzer Prize-winning theater critic for the New York Times,
returned to after reviewing a Broadway opening. Until her
death on January 5, 2003, this was the home of humorist and
playwright Jean Kerr, memorialized in “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies.”
The book was made into a 1960 movie
starring Doris Day and David Niven.
This is the house at the foot of Larchmont’s Beach
Avenue, with views of Manor Beach and the Manor Park Gazebo
on one side and the Long Island Sound on the other. This is
the one the realtors drive you by when you’re thinking
of moving to Larchmont. It has served as the Kerr family home
for 48 years, and now, said John Kerr, one of six siblings
who grew up on Beach Avenue, “It’s time for another
family to have the house. There should be kids here.”
For $4.9 million, this could be the home for you.
View of Sound from living room
John Kerr, one of Walter and Jean Kerr's sons, told the
Gazette that his parents had come to look at a house for sale
across the street, after their friend, poet Phyllis McGinley,
had urged them to consider Larchmont. They ended up being
shown their future home only because the intended target wasn't
open for viewing after all. In an instant, they decided to
buy it. “Are you crazy?” people asked. “We
may be crazy, but we’re buying that house,” they
answered. However, it was only after a stupendous fire claimed
a whole wing of the house that the owner and the Kerrs were
able to agree on a price.
Courtyard with wisteria
now-elegant Beach Avenue home began life as the lowly carriage
house and stables for the grand mansion currently occupied
by the Larchmont Shore Club. In the 1920s, Charles B. King,
a “pioneer of the automobile industry,” bought
the house and transformed the stables into the richly idiosyncratic
architectural anomaly it is today. King is credited with
driving the first horseless carriage down the streets of
Detroit in 1896, powered by an engine of his design that
soon became the “industry standard” during the
age of the Model T. Known as an “engineer, artist,
musician, poet, architect, inventor, and a mystic,” he
applied his enormous talent and wealth to the design and
décor of his new home. (Photo courtesy of King
Motor Car Club of America)
John Kerr pointed out the Manor Park gazebos and retaining
wall, both beautifully framed by the home’s large picture
windows, and both designed by King. Today, almost every room
in the house boasts sweeping views of park or Sound. "I
now grasp that King put the gazebos where he could see them
from the house, and he put the windows where he could see
the gazebos," Kerr said.
King’s quirky inventiveness is in evidence both in
the exterior architecture, which the Kerr family left mostly
intact, and in details found inside the sprawling home. Originally
the home consisted of four wings surrounding an interior courtyard.
King collected architectural oddities from old churches, ships
and mansions and found places for his collection throughout
the house. The front door is from St. Gabriel’s, the
portholes, figured ceiling beams and distressed wood floors
are from the Hudson River steamboat the Mary Powell,
and the stair railing is from a Spanish galleon.
when Gloria Vanderbilt was visiting, she glanced at the living
room ceiling, and shrieked, “That’s my family
crest!” She was right; the coffered and gilded ceiling
had come from the Vanderbilt mansion in Manhattan.
When the Kerrs moved in, they toned down some of the more
flamboyant interior features and added spaces to accommodate
a family of six active children. In 1955, in return for a
story on the “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies”
house, the Ladies Home Journal built the Kerrs a breakfast
room and butler's pantry. The kitchen, circa 1960’s,
is most kindly described as “functional.”
But the Kerrs added whimsical touches of their own. A 1961
Time magazine article described “Walter Kerr’s
study, where 16 theater seats are screwed permanently into
the floor; there he shows old slapstick silent films to guests.
(‘Walter thinks nobody should have to be adorable right
after dinner’ says Jean.”) Jean acquired the seats
from Manhattan’s Martinique Theater and, according to
son John, they were the best Christmas present his father
Living room, seen from balcony
They also made practical use of King’s legacies. Various
hidden cabinets and bookcases store the family china or additional
first editions, signed by major authors, from Walter Kerr’s
voluminous collection. The 27-bell carillon served to call
the six Kerr children to dinner every evening promptly at
ten minutes of six. “You could hear the bell all the
way to Fountain Square,” recalled John. “God forbid
if you got out of range of the bells and arrived late for
dinner.” The carillon, which plays an aria from "Carmen,"
still works, operated by pressing a button near the kitchen.
Unwinding from a late night at the theater, Walter and Jean
were often awake to appreciate the dawn light bouncing into
the dining room from the immense mirror King had affixed to
the courtyard wall.
On a sunny March morning in 2003, the wisteria in the courtyard
is coming alive and the large willow in the driveway is starting
to green. For the past few days, following a realtors’
open-house, there has been a steady stream of potential buyers
touring the five levels and multiple wings of the Beach Avenue
home-for-sale. Sight-seers will have to sate their curiosity
by walking by the home, which is remarkably private, given
its open location. But serious home-seekers should contact
listing agent Dot McCarthy at Burbank
and Whittemore for more information. (See photo
|Burbank Whittemore realtors
James Whittemore, Dot McCarthy, Emmy Lou Sleeper at front
entrance to Kerr house