John J. Emery

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John Josiah Emery, Jr. (28 January 1898 — 1976), developer of the Carew Tower (1931) in Cincinnati, Ohio, at the time the tallest building west of the Alleghenies, and the Netherland Plaza Hotel, opened at the same time, was a major figure in the city's cultural life for more than four decades.


He was a patrician of Cincinnati, the grandson of Thomas Emery, who settled in Cincinnati in 1832, and whose lard oil and candle business John J. Emery developed into the Emery Chemical Company, later Emery Industries.[1] Thomas Emery had assembled sizable real estate holdings in the center of Cincinnati, which were enlarged by his son and grandson, who consolidated the family's holdings into several blocks on downtown Cincinnati. The real estate company, Thomas Emery's Sons[2] built the first substantial apartment houses in Cincinnati as well as numerous other buildings downtown (Mercantile Library Building, The Cincinnatian Hotel and others) and in the immediately adjacent hills.[3] After World War II, Thomas Emery's Sons built the Terrace Plaza Hotel, designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, placing the hotel lobby on the eighth floor, reached by elevators that by-passed the commercial floors. For the hotel he commissioned three works of art that passed to the Cincinnati Art Museum when he sold the Terrace Plaza: a mural by Joan Miró and a cartoon mural by Saul Steinberg and a giant mobile by Alexander Calder.

Born in New York, the son of John J. (d. 1908) and Lela Alexander Emery (d. 1953), he was raised on the East Coast and in Europe, after his mother married, as her second husband, the Hon. Alfred Anson, a brother of the 2nd Earl of Lichfield. As a child and young man, his family moved each year between their houses in New York City (5 East 68th Street), Bar Harbor, Maine (The Turrets, now owned by The College of the Atlantic), Palm Beach (where his mother owned several houses) and Paris and Biarritz, France (where his mother owned a large house, later converted into a school). He prepared at Groton for Harvard, where his education was interrupted by the First World War, after which he received his BA degree, cum laude, in 1920. He spent one year at Harvard Law School and then went to Trinity College, Oxford, where received a diploma in Economics in 1922.


He returned to Cincinnati on a visit in 1924 and stayed to manage what he perceived to be the faltering family business. In 1926, he married Irene Langhorne Gibson, daughter of the celebrated illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, who had been married to George B. Post III, grandson of the architect George B. Post. They had children, all born in Cincinnati: Ethan Emery of San Miguel, Mexico, Irene Emery Goodale of Atlanta, Lela (Mrs. John Steele) and Melissa (Mrs. Addison Lanier of Cincinnati).[4] After her death in 1973 he married Mrs. Adele H. Olyphant, on December 3, 1975.

He was a founder of the Cincinnati Country Day School, a leading trustee and important benefactor of the Cincinnati Art Museum. He served as vice-president of the Boy Scouts of America in the Cincinnati area,[5] and was an original member of the Cincinnati Public Recreation Commission. He was for many years the chief executive officer of both Emery Industries, Inc. and Thomas Emery's Sons, Inc. He and his family spent summers in Dark Harbor, Maine on Seven Hundred Acre Island, where his father-in-law, Charles Dana Gibson had built a house beginning in 1904. During those summers, the children were tutored in preparation for school, including daughter Lela who prior to leaving home for the Foxcroft School in 1944 was tutored by Constance Fraser at their homes at Peterloon and on Seven Hundred Acre Island.[6]

In 1929, he began constructing his 1,200-acre (4.9 km2) estate, Peterloon immediately north of Indian Hill, then a rural outer suburb of Cincinnati to which some affluent citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio were moving in search of a country life-style. Indian Hill of the 1930s revolved around the Camargo Club and the Camargo Hunt. Since his death, much of Peterloon has been divided into housing lots, leaving the neo-Georgian brick house on 72 acres (290,000 m2) as an event destination owned by The Peterloon Foundation. The house was designed by Delano and Aldrich of New York, who also designed a five-bedroom stucco cottage nearby, in which the Emery family could live while the Peterloon house was being built.

He died in 1976 and is buried at the Indian Hill Church near Cincinnati.


  1. ^ His sister Audrey Emery married the impecunious Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia.
  2. ^ Biographical Dictionary of Cincinnati Architects, 1788-1940: Emery family
  3. ^ The Cincinnati Post obituary editorial, quoted in University of Cincinnati): John Josiah Emery
  4. ^ Cincinnati Post, obituary, Nancy Post Magro, April 15, 2003; University of Cincinnati): John Josiah Emery
  5. ^ The Scouting jamborees in the area, long hosted at Peterloon, are still called "Peterloons".
  6. ^ Interview with Constance Fraser, Sept 4, 2011, Berkeley, CA


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