Jenrette was respected preservationist

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Editor's note: This column originally ran in the April 24 edition of The Post & Courier. Richard Jenrette bought Millford Plantation and 400 acres around the plantation in Sumter in 1992. He restored the site and in 2008 donated it to be used as a museum by the Classical American Home Preservation Trust.

Richard Jenrette, a visionary Wall Street investment banker and giant in historic preservation, knew instinctively when to challenge the status quo and when to embrace what didn't need changing.

A co-founder of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, he was behind the firm going public in 1970, when the New York Stock Exchange prohibited such a thing. A year later, Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith followed suit. Ultimately, Goldman Sachs Group went public in 1999. He had defied the norm and initiated a sea change.

But in Charleston, Mr. Jenrette is recognized as one of the country's most highly respected preservationists. He loved Charleston, and his work continues to exemplify excellence in that field.

Mr. Jenrette, 89, died Sunday in Charleston of complications associated with cancer.

His close friend and fellow preservationist Charles H.P. Duell said Mr. Jenrette loved beautiful things - houses, architecture, furniture and landscapes. He restored the historic Blacklock House on Bull Street simply because it was beautiful and needed restoring. When it was finished, he decided it was best suited to be part of the College of Charleston, so he donated it, setting the record for the largest gift the college had received to date.

He bought the Roper House on East Battery, one of the city's finest homes. He was meticulous in seeing that the house was accurately restored, and he furnished it with period antiques. Indeed, he had the largest private collection of Duncan Phyfe furniture.

He bought and restored the imposing Millford Plantation in Sumter County with the same dedication to detail and respect for its original design. And he supported local preservation efforts including the Historic Charleston Foundation and Middleton Place Foundation.

Mr. Jenrette, along with the late Charles D. (Pug) Ravenel and Mr. Duell, then president of Middleton Place Foundation, bought the old St. John's Hotel at the corner of Meeting and Queen streets about the same time he bought the Roper House. Their ambitious goal was to restore the run-down hotel, then charging $3 a night for a room, but engineers said it could not be modernized to have air conditioning or even modern plumbing. So the team agreed to take down the hotel and reconstruct it using many of the architectural details, like ironwork, and mimicking others like the eyebrows over windows. The Mills House, as it was named, played a key role in establishing Charleston as a major tourist destination.

Richard Jenrette's legacy of historic preservation extends far beyond Charleston to, among other places, St. Croix, North Carolina and New York. In 1993, he founded the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust in New York.

Prince Charles wrote the foreword to Mr. Jenrette's book, "Adventures With Old Houses." The prince remarked that it was "No wonder some of his admirers have described Dick as a one-person National Trust for Historic Preservation."

All the while, Mr. Jenrette was a Wall Street risk-taker, a huge financial success and always a gentleman and a man of character. Mr. Duell said he had "a heart of gold." He was a mentor to people in the world of finance and in the world of historic preservation.

Richard Jenrette's energy in taking on difficult projects, his vision, and his passion for preservation set the standard for generations to come.