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
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 $1,700,000crashing 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.