- The Washington Times - Monday, July 7, 2003

LARCHMONT, N.Y. (AP) — The front entrance has two doorbells — one for right-handed visitors and one for lefties, each in the mouth of a brass griffin.

This residence — informally known as the “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” house — has three mirrors on an outside wall, each 5 by 8 feet, to redirect sunlight into the courtyard.

The turreted, ivy-covered, 102-year-old mansion on Long Island Sound, once dubbed an “architectural error” in Time magazine, is on the market for $4.4 million, being sold by the estate of Walter and Jean Kerr, who moved there in 1955.

Mrs. Kerr, the humorist and playwright, died in January at age 80. Her husband, the Pulitzer Prize-winning theater critic, died in 1996 at age 83.

Before the Kerrs, the house was owned by Charles King, an automobile pioneer who was mostly responsible for the building’s size and uniqueness.

Mr. King took what had been a stable and carriage house and added on and on, collecting ideas and building materials from churches, mansions and even ships. He fashioned one room, known as the captain’s quarters and resembling the bridge of a ship, from the remains of a Hudson River steamboat.

In “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies,” a 1957 collection of writings that became a best seller, Mrs. Kerr said the couple had been house-hunting for more than a year when the agent asked if they would like to see “a crazy house down on the water … just for the laughs.”

After taking in the “Persian idols and towering stone cats and Chinese bells and gargoyles … the Venetian paneling and the iron gates and the portholes and the stained-glass windows,” the Kerrs told the agent, “It’s the nuttiest house we ever saw, we’ll buy it.”

However, the Kerrs — who did not become wealthy until Mrs. Kerr’s “Daisies” was published and her 1961 play “Mary, Mary” made it to Broadway — could not afford the place. Only when fire destroyed a wing made of glass and damaged two of the remaining three sides of the house did the price come down to their level — $38,000.

“Mary, Mary,” about a divorced couple who ultimately reconcile, became one of the longest-running productions of the 1960s. It was performed on Broadway more than 1,500 times.

Family photos show the Kerrs walking among the burned timbers of their new house, with Mr. Kerr filming the rubble.

The damage was repaired — except for the glass wing, which is still missing. The 16-room house belonged to the Kerrs and their eventual brood of six children for the next 48 years.

The house has a 27-bell carillon that plays music from “Carmen,” and the secret mailbox near the front door has to be pointed out carefully to every new mail carrier. There is also the elaborate banister made from a Spanish signal cannon, the theater where Walter Kerr would show silent movies and the big tile that honors the designer of the master bathroom: “Cesar de La Torre de Trassierra, Madrid.”

John Kerr, one of the Kerrs’ children, said the carillon was used to call the children home for dinner, but many people thought it always rang at 6 p.m. and would adjust their watches when they heard it.

“For 20 years, nobody in Larchmont had the right time,” he said.

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