Thursday, January 6, 2011

Charleston Social Diary

John Wilson and his standard poodle, Mose, welcome Mose and Mrs. Allison at Pierre Manigault’s hunting lodge/plantation in Rochelle.
A Southern Gentleman for All Seasons
by Ned Brown

The idea of a Charleston Social Diary section in NYSD did not come as a whim; several elements fell into place. First, the city had to be unique and interesting to NYSD readers. Charleston has a wonderful combination of interesting architecture, thriving cultural scene (traditional and hip), and a superb array of restaurant to satisfy all you “foodies.”Although I am fortunate to visit many chic locales around the world, I still find Charleston a rich destination suited to my life.

Second, new arrivals to Charleston in recent decades paved the way to making it special: financier Richard Jenrette followed by Richard Rainwater (who made the Bass family fortune) and Mike Dingman of Henley Industries; New York advertising and public relations leaders like Charlotte Beers and Lou Rena Hammond; politicos like pollster Pat Caddell. The new arrivals had to be coupled with interesting locals who bring texture. The third element was access, and until now, that was lacking. New Yorkers can fly directly to Palm Beach; they can fly their choppers to the Hamptons, drive or take the Jitney. San Franciscans can drive to Carmel, Napa Valley or fly to Palm Springs.

Washingtonians drive to Middleburg, VA or the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Except for a handful of direct flights to Charleston and extornionate airfares, most trips require a connection, which could result in a 5-hour flight, too long to make it convenient for short visits. No longer.

Mose and Charleston The Manual's John Wilson.
Southwest Airlines announced system-wide direct flights commencing in March 2011. Some wags might say that NYSD readers won’t fly Southwest. I say, “garbage” to that stance. Southwest to Charleston is just a start. American, US Airways, Delta and Jet Blue will make Charleston an affordable, direct and convenient winter locale for New Yorkers and DC-types.

An interesting Charlestonian I met a few years ago was John Wilson, the founding editor of Garden & Gun magazine, one of the finest lifestyle and best constructed magazines I know of. More creative ideas come from this guy than anyone I know. Wilson has since moved on, and started a new internet publication called Charleston The Manual, a digital magazine, city guide and series of manuals which launches this month. Wilson recently invited me to attend a Lowcountry (area referred to along the southern South Carolina coast) party at Pierre Manigault’s hunting lodge/plantation, Rochelle.

The party was a benefit for the American College of the Building Arts and the launch of The Manual. Manigault (pronounced Mana-go) is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the College (Note: check out this site). The college is educating nearly lost arts in building like iron work and stone carving.

I had never met Manigault, yet knew him as a scion of an old wealthy French Huguenot family that arrived in Charleston in the mid-1600s, owns large tracts of land downtown, owns a group of profitable regional newspapers, television stations and vast timberland properties. Pierre is the Chairman of the Board of Evening Post Publishing, the family holding company. He is also a personal owner of Garden & Gun magazine along with Rebecca Darwin, the first female Publisher at the New Yorker, and Ed Bell, a local attorney.

After driving north of Charleston for about 45 minutes and down a one mile narrow elevated drive in Rochelle with swamps on both sides. The thought of having a few bourbons and having to keep on the straight and narrow when exiting will be a real test! After navigating the one-mile drive of Rochelle we arrive at the lodge. It has a history. Rochelle, situated on over 3,000 acres, was acquired by Pierre’s grandfather, Edward Manigault. Pierre’s father, Peter Manigault, many years ago became close friends with Ted Turner when Turner would come to Charleston from Atlanta to race sailboats as a teenager. Their relationship later became so close that Turner bought the adjoining plantation to Rochelle, Kinloch, so Manigault and Turner could spend time together. Turner and Manigault, both ardent conservationists, were the first major South Carolina landowners to place protective easements on the property prohibiting development.
Ned Brown and Pierre Manigault.
Upon arriving, I encountered John Wilson in a golf-cart accompanied by his standard poodle, Mose. From there we entered the lodge. It is symmetrically-sized perfectly and appointed in exquisite hunting/country chic. Manigault’s father was an accomplished ornithologist, so there are exquisite bird prints throughout the house. There is a large stone fireplace, great fire ablaze, with a dozen guests sitting around drinking wine and booze on a chilly afternoon.

Pierre, aside from being from a 17th century, wealthy Charleston family, is a fascinating, engaging and a fun guy. Before returning to Charleston to join the family business, Pierre worked at the National Geographic Society (then headed by another scion, Gil Grosvenor) as an Assistant Film Editor from 1989-1991. From there, Pierre joined the Washington Post Editorial Department just after Ben Bradlee turned over the Editor-in-Chief reins, yet Katherine Graham remained firmly in charge as Chairman of the Washington Post Company. Manigault has had the good fortune and sense to learn his editorial and business skills from other prominent individuals who take the family stewardship of their institutions very seriously.
Rochelle Plantation hunting lodge.
Restored slave quarters.
Old rice grinding wheels.
Eerie "Live" oak skeleton against grey sky.
The party at Manigault’s plantation gravitated between the hunting lodge, a tent on the front lawn and a cast iron fire-pit that drew everyone to work-out the incoming chill. The party really heated-up when jazz great and Grammy-award nominee, Mose Allison took the stage. Allison grew up in the Mississippi Delta and learned to play piano by ear as a child.

Allison has performed with such jazz greats at Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn. Allison’s songs have been covered by Van Morrison, John Mayall, The Who, The Clash, Eric Clapton, Elvis Costello and Bonnie Raitt to name a few. Van Morrison recorded a tribute album, Tell Me Something, The Songs of Mose Allison.
Guests keeping warm by the firepit.
Sintia Sheldon and Vail Duggan.
Kiara Bennett and Vail Duggan.
In true Southern hospitality spirit, the party moved to an adjoining plantation Pine Grove, 17,000 acres owned by the Manigault’s holding company and strategically located on the Santee River Delta.

The entertainment continued with local songwriter and well-known musician, Phillip Lammonds, a founding member of the Blue Dogs, one of the best country-pop bands to come out of South Carolina in decades. Lammonds also writes songs for a slew of top Nashville artists. He also helped local Charleston television newsperson, Tracey Amick, refine her guitar skills. The entertainment and revelry continued well into the wee hours of Sunday morning.
The great Mose Allison performing.
Local Charleston newsperson, Tracey Amick, refining her guitar skills.
Pierre Manigault is a rare breed: successful, sense of purpose, deferential, at ease in a corporate suite as he is on his plantations. He has style and grace. He is comfortable with who he is, and in turn, makes you feel comfortable. Everybody should have role models.

Jimmy Van Alen.
Gertrude Sanford Legendre.
Pierre’s former wife, Elizabeth “Lee” Van Alen Manigault, is the grand-daughter of the late great Jimmy Van Alen, publisher, civic leader, sportsman, raconteur, founder of the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, and inventor of the tie-break system in tennis. Van Alen was referred to as “the first gentleman of Old Guard society in America” and Newport’s last grand homme.

When I asked Pierre if this was a fair comparison, he laughed and said “You should have known my maternal grandmother, Gertrude Sanford Legendre, who lived to 97 and coincidentally started her early years playing with Jimmy Van Alen at Bailey’s Beach in Newport as kids.”

“Gertie” was the sister of polo great Stephen “Laddie” Sanford, and she was purported to be model for the Linda Seton role played by Katherine Hepburn in the 1938 version of Holiday with Cary Grant.

Gertie Legendre truly loved and lived life and cut a wide swath. She forsook the debutante path in the 1920s (although she did make her debut to society) to become a big-game hunter, and then during World War II, worked behind enemy lines for the Office of Strategic Services, predecessor to the CIA.

Whether it is Jimmy Van Allen, Gertie Legendre or Peter Manigault, all in some way have helped to mold Pierre Manigault and define his stature in Charleston.

My pal, Dave Jodock (also at the party), and a top Boeing executive, who recently relocated from Seattle to Charleston to help set-up Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner factory, summed up his experience best: “Charlestonians have elevated hospitality to an art form. Pierre Manigault exemplifies all that is good about Charleston.”

Next installment will cover a selection of worthwhile eating establishments and other points of interest if you decide to do a visit.

Photography by Christina Baxter
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