Monday, December 28, 2009

Spectacularly Straus

Straus Estate, "Tower Hill Farm."
by Edmund F. “Ned” Brown, IV

1929 was a year of contrasts. There was the Great Crash in October, yet the world’s largest department store, R. H. Macy & Company posted a record year of $100 million in sales. Macy’s was then owned and run by the three Straus brothers; Jesse Isador, Percy S. and Herbert N.

Since 1911, the brothers had been in charge of the management of the store succeeding their father Isador and Uncle Nathan. After their parents, Ida and Isador, perished on the Titanic in 1912, full ownership transferred to the brothers.
Courtyard and turret.
Clock Tower. Clock Tower wreath.
Stable-Master's house.
In 1929, the brothers acquired Bamberger and Company in Newark. Herbert N. Straus, the youngest of the brothers, was Treasurer of Macy’s, and the next year also became President of Bamberger’s. Straus, although wealthy in his own right, married the equally rich, Therese Kuhn, a member of the German-Jewish banking family. While the Straus’ were primarily based in New York City, the Kuhns had established country estates near the New Jersey coast along with other prominent German-Jewish families (Gimbel, Schiff and Lehman).

Herbert Straus was also the promoter for the event synonymous with Macy’s, the parade. What is not widely known is that the parade was originally planned for Christmas. In 1924, a group of employees approached Herbert with the idea of creating a Macy’s-sponsored Christmas parade. Herbert loved the idea and said, “It will be a surprise New York will never forget.” He even took out full page ads in New York’s newspapers saying the same, and invited everyone. In 1927, the parade was switched to Thanksgiving Day.
Converted stables and tackroom.
Butler's House. My Lab, Spice, romping in the snow.
Clock Tower/Butler's House at right.
It was also during 1929 that Herbert and Therese Straus began construction on their country estate in Middletown, New Jersey (near Red Bank) and overlooking the Navesink River. The plan was to build a fully-sustaining French-style country estate complete with a stone chateau and nearby dependency buildings. Unfortunately, the chateau was never completed.

Herbert Straus died in 1933, but his widow, Therese, continued to live in a large wood frame house (that still stands today) on the proposed chateau site. Herbert Straus did complete construction of the buildings that would support the estate: the stone cow barn and farm implement buildings at the southern end of the property, and at the northern end on a hill, the stone horse stables, the stable-master’s house, the butler’s and caretaker’s houses. And in the middle of these structures sits a clocktower forty feet high with nine garage stalls at its base.
Wreath at Butler's House entrance. Butler's house fireplace.
Snow-covered tennis court.
Urns at front gate.
Today, the stables have been converted to a private residence. The butler’s, stable-master’s, stables and caretaker’s houses comprise an intimate community on twenty-seven acres.

I have the good fortune of occupying the butler’s house. While it is relatively small (three bedrooms), it has all the furnishings a proper English butler would expect in a 1929 residence: a living room with a large fireplace, a small formal dining room with a china closet and a private study. While Washington, DC is my primary residence, I wanted to be in New Jersey for the holidays. And for the first time in years, it was a very white Christmas.
Cow barn complex.
Neighbor's dog, Mia, by front gate urn. Stone ram's head at cow barn.
Cow-Master's house.
 

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