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Now and Then: FH's Homes and Actors

A look at what luxury housing in Fair Haven was 100 years ago, who built it and how is it different today. Do you know which house on Battin Road is featured in this story? Is there anything left of it today?

A century ago a grand house was being built. It was to be the grandest in all of Fair Haven. They called it The Four Masons Bungalow. Yes, bungalow — not mansion or McMansion. Bungalow.

The house was built on Battin Road for the theatrical quartet, The Four Masons, “who perform(ed) vaudeville sketches,” a top, “above the fold” story in the June 12, 1912 edition of the Red Bank Register said.

“The bungalow will have six 
rooms and will be provided with hot
 and cold water, electricity and gas. 
It will cost about $2,000 and will be 
one of the finest dwellings of its kind
 at Fair Haven.”

Six rooms with hot and cold water and gas for $2000 — period. Total cost. In today’s housing market, not to mention Fair Haven in at least the past couple of decades, finding a house with a $2,000 a month mortgage or, dare I say, rent is just about as rare as making only one grocery shopping trip a month to the Acme for incidentals.

The showfolk living in Fair Haven in those days were much admired, my mother’s friend Loretta Mylot used to tell me. When she was still alive, Loretta would share stories with this showfolk of modern (ahem …) day about how everyone knew where these rich and famous entertaining characters of Fair Haven lived. It was almost a ritual to wait for them to come to town in mostly the summer months and take a purposeful walk by the houses. That was a major form of entertainment for old Fair Havenites.

They would await the actors’ return to town as they disembarked the steam ships, like the Albertina, and gather at their vaudevillian actor social club where the Shrewsbury Yacht Club now stands on the river.

Then the troupes of merry players would make their way to their high-end abodes — bungalows.

This Four Masons Bungalow was one of those dwellings that people passed by and stared at in awe. All this reminiscing has this actor thinking she missed out on a Fair Haven era true to her own heart.

“The work on this bungalow is being done by Bennett and Doughty of Fair Haven under the supervision of William A. Mason,” the Register story said. All of these names are longtime Fair Haven family names.

But where, exactly was, or is, this house? Recognize this description at all? “The plot on which the bungalow will be built has a frontage of 100 feet on Battin Road. On the south side of the property is a private driveway fourteen feet wide. The incubator houses will be raised on brick foundations and completely overhauled.”

OK. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that the incubator houses weren’t teeny tiny Barbie houses kept in incubators to thrive. So, I have an active imagination. They're probably where the chickens were housed. The Register story said that there were three on the property: “One of them will be used for a garage and the other two will be converted into a T-shaped bungalow.”

The inside … Most people only wondered about it from the outside. But the story told gave a glimpse: “In his theatrical travels, Mr. Mason has picked up the skins of many wild animals and other curiosities. He is somewhat of an artist, and he will also use his curio room for drawing. Mrs. Mason is looking forward to a great time raising chickens and vegetables and growing fruit for preserves when she moves in her new home ..."

And for taking a stroll by the house and others of curiosity 100 years ago, women could purchase a parasol for 98 cents. To look your best for that stroll, suits were $10.98, corsets were 77 cents, Tub Dresses, whatever the heck they are, were $1.48 and $1.98. And for those ladies who wanted a quick trim-down, the best of corsets were $2.79 “a pair.”

That’s life in Fair Haven … 100 years ago.

Victor Olefson June 13, 2012 at 02:41 PM
Delightful piece, and I don't mean to cast a shadow on our upcoming celebrations, but when I moved to fair haven back in the '80's, I heard that there was a bit more than vaudvillians amusing townsfolk with their highjinks, going on back in the 'olden days'. In fact, i heard on good authority that the large house directly across from mine on Kemp Ave, with a small kitchen, and about 12 bedrooms, had been, I believe the proper euphemism is a "House of Ill Repute" Any proof one way or the other?
Elaine Van Develde June 13, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Ha! That's definitely interesting Victor. I had heard the same thing, but don't really know the facts. I had heard it was a rooming house for actors. Though, some do think of us showfolk as ill-reputed. In my search of stories for this series, I'll look for more info on it in the Register archives.
Victor Olefson June 13, 2012 at 05:25 PM
i didn't want to actually put the address down, but it is pretty obvious which house I am referring to. Showfolk may be considered 'ill-reputed', but i believe the gals who worked the rooms here 100 years ago weren't thinking of their careers in terms of metaphor and simile....

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