On a Street Called Easy, in a Cottage Called Joye

( 1 )


When Gregory White Smith and Seven Naifeh stumbled on Joye Cottage, it was love at first sight. They'd just finished their Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Jackson Pollack, and were fed up with apartment life in New York City. What better means of escape could there be than the Xanadu-like pleasure palace built by robber baron William C. Whitney a century before? The asking price was a bit steep, of course, and the leaks, the falling plaster, the non-existent heating and air conditioning, and the ...

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When Gregory White Smith and Seven Naifeh stumbled on Joye Cottage, it was love at first sight. They'd just finished their Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Jackson Pollack, and were fed up with apartment life in New York City. What better means of escape could there be than the Xanadu-like pleasure palace built by robber baron William C. Whitney a century before? The asking price was a bit steep, of course, and the leaks, the falling plaster, the non-existent heating and air conditioning, and the nineteenth-century plumbing were a bit daunting. But Smith and Naifeh were hooked - and nothing would stop them.

In writing of their three-year struggle to transform their "handyman special from hell" into a home while at the same time adjusting to the small-town rhythms of Aiken, South Carolina, they bring to life an unforgettable cast of characters - the neighbors, craftsmen, merchants, and friends who helped turn a town into a hometown. . . and a dream into a reality.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Two Manhattanites, authors of a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Jackson Pollack, take on a South Carolina fixer-upper and get more than they bargained for. (June)
Library Journal
It's a long way from apartment living in New York City to buying, rehabilitating, and inhabiting a 60-room house on Easy Street in Aiken, South Carolina. But what can you do when you're in love? When the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographers of Jackson Pollock (Jackson Pollock: An American Saga, LJ 9/1/89) first saw Joye Cottage, built by robber baron William C. Whitney in the late 19th century, they knew they had to buy it. This is a warm and lighthearted account of the trials and tribulations of purchasing and renovating a 100-year-old house with 20,000 square feet of living space (including 18 bedrooms, 12 baths, formal gardens, and a swimming pool), not to mention a leaky roof, literally tons of falling plaster, faulty plumbing, and more. Interesting bits on the history of the Gilded Age and the Whitney family scandals are interwoven with the problems of getting good help and finding decent restaurants. Ultimately, this cannot be compared with Peter Mayle's Provence books or John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (LJ 1/94); the narrative drags at the end, and the book as a whole could have used a little judicious editing to eliminate repetition. Still, this is an appropriate purchase for large libraries.-Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle
Kirkus Reviews
For sale: century-old Joye Cottage, 60 rooms, including 12 baths, billiard room, ballroom, 100-foot veranda; needs work. Smith and Naifeh offer a lighthearted look at what it took to recreate this mansion and build a life in Aiken, N.C.

The authors (A Stranger in the Family, 1995, etc.) won the Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for their biography of Jackson Pollock. The day in 1988 that they delivered the manuscript, they also visited the real estate section of Sotheby's in New York and fell in love with this palace of a cottage, created in 1897 for his second wife by William C. Whitney, a multimillionaire robber baron who became secretary of the navy in President Grover Cleveland's cabinet. The asking price was $1,700,000—crashing plaster ceilings, leaking roof, and all. Raising the threat of nuclear destruction from the nearby Savannah River nuclear-bomb plant, the authors offered $200,000, and the harried owner took the offer. A long procession of laborers, vividly described, began showing up at Joye Cottage. There was the stylish Mordia Grant, who headed the clean-up crew and supplied constuction workers; Lucky Dale, the chimney sweep and "king of pack rats," who happily recycled the mountains of basement trash (including a five-ton boiler and a telephone pole). Bubba Barnes was the chief contractor, charged with repairing and replacing the pipes, wiring, marble, fixtures, plaster, floors, and windows, work that "created a cloud of plaster dust sure to affect weather patterns over the Southeast for years to come." Chapters on the inevitability of Murphy's Law are interspersed with the history of the house and of the Whitney family. The nearly finished renovation, carried out in a spirit of "discovery, accomplishment and community," was celebrated with a local hunt ball.

A deft, amusing look at history, life, and people in a small southern town, as well as at a large-scale adventure in renovation.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780913391211
  • Publisher: Woodward/White, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/1/2000
  • Pages: 321
  • Sales rank: 953,841
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Gregory White Smith and Steven Naifeh's other books include A Stranger in the Family, Jackson Pollock, The Mormon Murders, and How to Make Love to a Woman. They live in Aiken, South Carolina.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2002

    For Historic Home Owners

    If you've ever thought about renovating or restoring an historic house, READ THIS BOOK. As funny as it is, it can all come true for you, if you are two gentlemen or not. Just move to a small southern town, buy a big historic house, and begin to bring it back to its former glory. Yes even you can meet these loveable and/or loathing characters. I read the book shortly after buying my 1854 Greek Revival in Covington, Ga. And one after the other, each event we had with our contractors, was played out practically chapter, by chapter. Just when you thing the book has gone too far - nobody would do such a thing - this has got to be fiction, don¿t count on it. It can happen! I loved reading this book, to find kindred sprits with similar wishes and dream, fates and destinies, to find comfort that we were not a lone in our struggle to bring value back to old sticks and bricks.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2001

    To laugh and to cry

    Can you begin to imagine two authors of brutal true crime stories, undertaking a project such as remodeling an old 60 room mansion? And can you believe their moving from their home in Manhatten to Aiken, SC? They write of their trials and tribulations, in such a manner, you wipe tears of joy and tears of frustration and sorrow for them. And all the time the reconstruction and renovations are taking place, they are constantly meeting friends and neighbors; while they are trying to hire someone for this project or that project. You celebrate with them over each accomplishment. By the time they finish the renovations, you can 'hear' the music filtering through the wing of the home where all of the parties will be held. Such excitement in the air. I am fortunate enough to live close to this location and took a trip over and found Joye Cottage! Absolutely breathtaking.... wish I could tour the inside.

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