Friday, February 24, 2017

Fathers of the Five Towns: Harold and Sanford Jacobi

In the early Twentieth Century, the first wave of real estate development in Hewlett saw Carleton Macy's Hewlett Bay Park Corporation erect large homes in varied styles on five-acre plots in what is today the incorporated village of Hewlett Bay Park.  These served as seasonal homes, sometimes rented to other summer vacationers, if their owners planned on yachting at Newport rather than on the Long Island shore.  Most did not have heating plants and so were inhospitable during the colder months.

The area attracted a wealthy population to the area and, to accommodate their lifestyle, facilities like the Seawane Club, the Woodmere Club and the Inwood Club joined the Rockaway Hunting Club in providing recreational services to their clientele.  Mobster Arnold Rothstein opened a beachfront casino at Hewlett Harbor in 1916 and the area was well-known for rum-running in the 1920's.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, many of the formerly wealthy landowners were forced to sell their property in the "country" and when money again became available, builders and speculators subdivided the large estates and sold them to the new middle class as well as the affluent who had retained their fortunes. 

Sanford Jacobi

Brothers Sanford (1879-1938) and Harold Jacobi (1884-1938), the founders of the Schenley Distillers Corporation, built homes in Hewlett Harbor during the 1930's, on property from several of the original Hewlett Bay Company properties.  With origins in Germany, their grandfather, Simon, (listed as a mohel in census records) emigrated to New Orleans before 1850.   After resettling in New York, the family returned to New Orleans, where Sanford was born.  Emile Jacobi, their father moved the family to Alabama, where the boys grew up.  By they had established themselves in the distilling industry. Their careers brought them to Chicago  and, eventually, New York.  After the  repeal of Prohibition, they became affiliated with the Schenley Products  Company, rising through the ranks to eventually found their own division.

Harold Jacobi house (photo courtesy of Cornell University,
Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections)
Both brothers commissioned houses in Woodmere from designs by Olive Tjaden of Garden City one of only a handful of women who were licensed architects at that time. Harold Jacobi’s house, a Tudor mansion built in 1931, was the subject of a 1935 article in Good Housekeeping.  Attached to her copy of the article, Tjaden was quick to note that she was responsible for the design of the interior woodwork and several interior color schemes attributed to Mrs. Jacobi, in addition to the external features:

 “…[I] also designed the landscaping, which won the Herald Tribune prize.  The site was just a flat, bare several acres of land.  I brought up car loads of Rhodendron [sic] from source also special stone for waterfalls and picturesque pool.  Designed and built greenhouse and cutting gardens, along with new garage, potting rm. and living quarters above.”

Tjaden considered these houses among her major works.  Sanford’s house, built before 1935, was a white Georgian Colonial with extensive gardens.  In her notes, Tjaden describes 10,000 tulips which awaited the installation of statuary.  There was a separate building for the water pumping station which was used for the sprinkler and air conditioning systems.   Tjaden also designed more modest houses on Willow Road in Woodmere for Harold's two daughters.

In Although their principal residences were in Manhattan, both brothers were active in the Five Towns communities.  They were members of Temple Israel in Lawrence and the Woodmere and Inwood Country Clubs.   Since both he and son-in-law Arthur Marks were members of the Inwood Country Club, Harold was probably influential in commissioning Olive Tjaden as the architect  for the 1938 Inwood Beach Club.  Sanford was a Vice President and a Trustee of the Hospital for Joint Diseases in Manhattan.  And both families were active in many Jewish philanthropies.

Harold Jacobi and family
(photo courtesy of American Jewish Historical Society.
Center for Jewish History)

Tragically, Sanford Jacobi died at age 59 in November of 1938 and Harold died of a stroke at the age of 54 a little more than a month later on December 31.  Over 350 attended a memorial service at his home on Short Cut  Road.  Harold's wife, Freda also succumbed to a stroke in January 1939 at the age of 52.   Within a few years, their daughters relocated and the properties were sold. 

In 1941, the firm of Jaeger Brothers purchased both sites, which totaled about 20 acres, from the Jacobi estates.  Bordered on the North and South by East Rockaway Road and Everit Avenue and by Auerbach Avenue and Schenks Lane on the East and West, their development of forty homes was called The Birches at Hewlett Harbor The homes were built on plots which were a minimum of 1/3 acre and sold for between $16,500 and $25,000.

Further information:
  • Guide to the Papers of the Jacobi-Schlossberg Family (American Jewish Historical Society. Center for Jewish History)
  • Olive Tjaden Papers, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University.
  • "350 Attend Rites for Harold Jacobi," The New York Times, January 3, 1939, p. 17.
  • "Sanford Jacobi, 59, Schenley Official," The New York Times, November 29, 1938, p. 23.
  • "Rites for Mrs. Jacobi," The New York Times, January 21, 1939, p. 15.
  • "Schlossbergs Off for Southland," Newsday, September 11, 1941, p. 19.
  • “Plan Fine Home Community on Hewlett Harbor Estate,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 27, 1941, p. 30.

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