From the Big City to the Gold Coast

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Lower Manhattan as seen from Jersey City. Photo: JH.

Friday, November 11, 2022. Warmed up a bit yesterday after a couple of days of much cooler weather in New York. In the mid- to high 60s in the Sun. I tend to think the “Climate” has already changed. And so it is. Although the foliage remains autumnal.

My days are mainly reading and writing. Although there is more reading than the latter. Daily I read the news and commentary. I rarely read books in long lengths of time. An hour, maybe … just maybe two, is it. Occasionally there’s something that I can’t put down, like Tina Brown’s book on the Royal Family. Many if not all of us grow/grew up in a royal family in terms of our behavior and choices.

The baby Mary Rodgers at the keyboard with her father, taken in Los Angeles where he was writing for the movies. In this picture she later related having no recollection of the gentleness in the man she knew as her father. (Courtesy of Rodgers & Hammerstein: An Imagem Company)

Right now I’m slowly — a couple chapters at a time — reading two books. One is SHY, which is a memoir disguised as an “As Told To…” of Mary Rodgers, the eldest daughter of Dorothy and Richard Rodgers, the great American composer of 20th century Broadway musicals.

I met her briefly but never got to know her. She went by her married name, Mary Guettel. I knew when I saw the book that I’d like it because she was a very engaging character, which she was also well aware of like a show business pro. A composer supreme perhaps.

Two or three chapters (not long) at a time is a perfect way to finish your day. You can go to sleep with a smile on your face … not because Mary is funny, although she is, but because she’s a natural entertainer and so was her look on life.

Click to order SHY.

The second of my two-books-read is The Fifties; an Underground History by James R. Gaines. I’d met Mr. Gaines who is a former managing editor at Time magazine, when he was dining at Sette Mezzo with old friends, Gigi and Harry Benson. Harry did a lot of work for Time-Life. It was Gigi who gave me the book because she knew I would be interested in a book about The Fifties. I was a kid then so I only knew the kids’ version which had more to with kids stuff.

Click to order The Fifties.

I opened to read it thinking I’d read about Elvis and Ike and Marilyn and Joe Dimaggio. No, no, not that Fifties. This is the state of our Union as people and citizens-Fifties. The Contents are: The Introduction:  Seeing in the Dark – ; Gay Rights “To Be Nobody But Yourself”; Feminism – Meet Jane Crow; Civil Rights  “The War After the Wars”; Ecology – Before We Knew; Epilogue: The Best of Us.     

It’s highly serious but informative and gives a context to that era and how we, the people (you and me) are the result of our thoughts and actions accompanied by Mother Nature’s activity. And moving along.

While all of this was going on with this “reader” the latest is a big, beautiful coffee table-sized volume from Monacelli Press: Montecito Style; Paradise on California’s Gold Coast by Firooz Zahedi. It’s a stunning cover that arouses curiosity, but what grabbed me immediately was: Montecito.

You don’t hear much about it in the East but in Los Angeles it’s gilded in terms of aura great, serene and natural beauty. I was living in LA when I learned of it when a friend of mine, a longtime resident of LA, invited me for the weekend in Montecito. My hostess, Joan Perry, was the widow of Harry Cohn who started Columbia Pictures.

Click to order Montecito Style: Paradise on California’s Gold Coast.

Harry Cohn and second wife Joan Perry Cohn.

Joan had started out an actress under contract to Columbia. One day, the story goes, Mr. Cohn who was smart but rough in his manner of speaking (and otherwise at times) called his starlet into his office and told her that he was going to make her contemporary Rita Hayworth a star, BUT he was going to make Joan a wife, and she was going to be Mrs. Harry Cohn.

Which he did, and so it was. After he died and she was finally free as a (rich) bird, she fell for another distinguished man of the community, actor Laurence Harvey. He didn’t die on her but he did everything else “but,” and so she divorced him.

I soon learned that many members of the Hollywood community had property in Montecito. Driving through much of it feels like driving along country roads in a rich and fertile environment. Many houses are not visible from the road. Oprah has a grand estate there, as does Prince Harry and his Duchess.

But famous names and prominent social people are incidental to the natural beauty of the environment. And the climate. Living there gives you a sense of harmony and peacefulness. That sounds like a fertile imagination, EXCEPT it is the authentic climate, overlooking the Pacific. In Technicolor.

Firooz Zahedi I learned, from reading his introduction, had exactly the same experience being introduced to Montecito. He’d been invited there for the weekend and was in awe. But he returned and returned — as he describes in the book — until he became a resident many years later.

It was also an inspiration for this book, and we are led into the experience visiting/photographing private residences and property with Firooz providing the details of the houses. He also focuses on the artfulness of the properties and how harmonious they are with physical environment.

Lily Philips’s Beach house.
John Saladino’s living room from Montecito Style; Paradise on California’s Gold Coast.

The choices of architecture and location vary along with the décor that varies. Except the physical location and climate are not only agreeable but the décor is harmonious with the personal environment. It’s all about feeling. It’s almost as if the furniture in his photographs, no matter the style, naturally fits in and becomes part of the nature. And just outside are the gardens, the beaches, the mountains and the sky. It feels all together.

If that sounds like a travel promo, so be it. In its way, Montecito Style is a kind of West Coast version of Southampton, but Southampton of old when it was a small almost country community. Montecito is naturally preserved, stars, cars, and all by the mountains and the beaches.

Richard Hallberg’s pool.
Beth DeWoody/Firooz Zahedi’s living room.
Dan Cuevas’s living room.
Lee Kirch’s north garden.

It should be noted that aside from Firooz’s photograph, the details that a potential homeowner/buyer would ask are also provided. It’s a contemporary architectural and social study amidst the beauty of the environments in the photographs.

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