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"Please Don't Eat the Daisies" House on the Market: An Intimate Tour

      photo slideshow

by Judy Silberstein and Paula Eisenberg

Kerr house

(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.

Jean Kerr's typewriter
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.

Front view
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 arbor

The 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.

Ceiling, living roomOnce 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 ever received.

Living room from balcony
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 slideshow.)
Front entrance
Burbank Whittemore realtors James Whittemore, Dot McCarthy, Emmy Lou Sleeper at front entrance to Kerr house

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