Even with the shutdown of the economy in recent weeks, the market for historic homes in the Piedmont has been ticking along. Activity has been a bit slower than you would expect in the spring, but houses are still coming onto the market, offers are being made and accepted (sometimes very quickly) and sales are closing.
In Winston-Salem, one of the most remarkable houses sold in the past two months is 125 N. Westview Drive, the home of one of the city’s most significant families of artists — John Ehle, Rosemary Harris Ehle and Jennifer Ehle. The Buena Vista mansion was sold without being listed. The sale closed April 15 for $910,000, a modest $108 per square foot. A listing belatedly posted this week includes only the photo above (Google Street View isn’t any help).
Novelist John Ehle and actress Rosemary Harris Ehle bought the Spanish Revival home in 1969. They were apparently only the second owners of the 8,400 square-foot mansion (the deeds aren’t available online to prove it). It was designed by Charles Barton Keen and built in 1925. An intriguing house, it has a pink stucco exterior and red Ludowici-Celedon tile roof. It sits on two prime acres of Buena Vista.
John Ehle was a novelist, known as “the father of Appalachian literature,” and government official. He published 11 novels, including a seven-book series set in the Appalachians that started with The Land Breakers. He also wrote six non-fiction books. He was named to the N.C. Literary Hall of Fame in 1997. “Filled with a respectful awareness of the drama of everyday lives, his books were written in a style that critics said ‘portrays without frills or frippery … not the glories of the day but the hardships,’” the hall of fame’s website says. “His respect for the dignity of his subjects, fictional and non-fictional, was a common thread running through all of his work.”
Ehle served as an assistant to Gov. Terry Sanford and was a major figure in establishing the N.C. School of the Arts, the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics, the N.C. Governors School and the North Carolina Fund, a major anti-poverty initiative. He also worked in the administration of President Lyndon Johnson, serving as an advisor to the White House Group for Domestic Affairs, a member of the U.S. National Committee for UNESCO and the National Council for Humanities. Ehle was born in Asheville. He died in Winston-Salem in 2018 at age 92.
English actress Rosemary Harris married Ehle in 1967. She has been a major figure in British and U.S. theatre and films since the 1950s. She has won two Tony awards, Best Actress in a Play for The Lion in Winter in 1966 and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019. She received an Emmy Award in 1976 as best leading actress in a mini-series for Notorious Woman and an Oscar nomination as best supporting actress in 1994 for Tom and Viv. She also played Aunt May in the first three Spider-Man movies. She returned to Broadway in 2018 to play Mrs. Higgins in My Fair Lady, taking over the role from Diana Rigg. Harris is a member of the American Theatre Hall of Fame, where her peers include contemporaries such as Vanessa Redgrave and Maggie Smith. She has split her time between Winston-Salem and New York since her marriage; she now plans to live in New York.
Their daughter, actress Jennifer Ehle, also has won the Tony Award twice, both for roles in plays by Tom Stoppard — Best Actress in a Play for The Real Thing in 2000 and Best Featured Actress in a Play for The Coast of Utopia in 2007. She received a BAFTA TV award for Best Actress as Elizabeth Bennet in the BBC’s miniseries Pride and Prejudice in 1995. Among the films she has appeared in are The King’s Speech, Contagion and Zero Dark Thirty. She attended the N.C. School of the Arts and the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. She now lives in upstate New York.