History Hidden in Plain Sight

Donald Stites Fairchild, man of mystery


It is a steep climb up the ancient oak steps to the third floor of the Pagan-Fletcher Restoration, but rewards abound once visitors reach the top. Canvas-like vignettes cover the walls, showing mythical creatures breathing fire, villas perched on ocean cliffs and tropical flowers spilling over stone walls. The illustrations wrap themselves around corners, visually propelling the visitor into an image-filled hallway. Open the door to the charming Victorian bathroom and discover a psychedelic profusion of color and content.

Donald Stites Fairchild, a member of the third and final family that lived at 143 Hendrickson Avenue, created some of these murals. It is not known exactly when the crayon and chalk murals were executed, but an educated guess places the date in the mid-1940s. The murals differ widely in terms of subject matter and style. Finely drawn scenes are juxtaposed alongside wild, bold strokes of color. The complex composition of a farmer tending his fields is in stark contrast to the child-like skyscrapers.

In the late 1990s, Marshall C. Anderson, a Valley Stream resident since 1940 and a member of the Valley Stream Historical Society, restored the murals. Anderson, a graduate of Cooper Union and a commercial artist, added his own illustrations to the bathroom. The Staten Island Ferry, the Statue of Liberty, seagulls, and a rainbow with a pot of gold are Anderson’s handiwork.

Before the Fairchilds bought the house through their publishing company in 1929, Pagans and Fletchers occupied the property. In 1838, Robert Pagan and his family moved into a smaller version of the present-day house. The property was later given to the Pagan’s daughter, Catherine, and her husband, William Fletcher.

Brothers Edmund and Louis Fairchild, married two sisters, Catherine and Jessie Boyd, who were granddaughters of the Pagans.

Edmund and Louis were born in Flushing and had four brothers. In 1890, Edmund founded Fairchild Publications. In 1910, Women’s Wear Daily, which was to become the company’s flagship publication, hit the newsstands. All the brothers eventually joined the business. John Fairchild, Edmund’s grandson, took over WWD in 1960. He transformed the garment industry trade paper into the “bible of fashion.” Louis and his family summered at the cottage on Hendrickson Avenue. In 1943, Louis’ family moved out, and his youngest brother, Emil, moved in.

Emil (1879–1947) and his wife Martha had three children — Donald, Gordon and Martha. Donald, the oldest, attended Columbia University, where he acted in theater and wrote poetry. He dropped out and moved to Paris during the free-spirited interlude between the two world wars known as “les années folles” — the crazy years. While there, Donald met another expatriate, Mary Inloes, also a writer, who was to become his wife.

In March 1927, Fairchild, then only 22, published “Intimate Acrobatics” under the pen name of Lord Stites, which he took from his paternal grandmother Chloe’s maiden name. “It is a story of Paris and New York, of Long Island and a country estate on the Seine,” the New York Times reported in an April 10, 1927 review. The novel recounted a life of “… Dinner parties, casual erotic passages, hints of impropriety and even inversion,” according to the Times. Inversion was a term used at the time for homosexuality. The main characters, Llewellyn Smith and Anastazia Pomeroy, were privileged young adults without a care in the world — much like Donald and Mary, who married in Paris five months after the novel’s publication. Mary’s family attended; Donald’s did not. Their sons, Michael and Anthony, were born in 1928 and 1930, respectively. By 1935, Donald and Mary were living apart and divorced soon afterward.

Despite its shallow and frivolous plot, “Intimate Acrobatics” lingers in one’s mind long after the novel is finished:.

Llewellyn secured passage aboard the Rotterdam and sailed from Boulogne-sur-Mer to New York. The ship is anchored and Llewellyn recognizes his father, who was there to meet him. There was almost nothing to say after the greetings were over; each had grown into a strange shell, almost unrecognizable. He followed the chauffeur down the long pier and down the stairs and got into the staid, gray-upholstered limousine and shut the door. Masked in small talk, they rode home.

The book was mentioned in the bibliography of Edgar Leoni’s 1959 study of “The Homosexual in Literature.” Leoni, who wrote under the alias Noel I. Garde, listed 14 gay novels, along with the authors’ legal names and pseudonyms. Thus, Donald was posthumously outed.

Emil’s second son, Gordon (1908–94), visited the Restoration with his daughter Nancy in May 1992 and taped an oral history for the Historical Society. Gordon explained that three generations of his family lived in the house from 1943 to 1948. Nancy knew little about her uncle Donald, whom she erroneously identified as her father’s younger brother. Gordon, 83 at the time of the recording, acknowledged his brother’s murals and mentioned that his presence at the house was transitory. Donald’s 1944 New York National Guard service card did give the Hendrickson Avenue address as his home, although by then, he was divorced and living in New York City.

Donald died at the age of 48 in 1953. His death certificate listed chronic alcoholism and cirrhosis of the liver as the causes. Emil passed away in 1947, and the house was sold to the Lynwood Housing Corporation the following year. In 1977, the Village of Valley Stream purchased the Pagan homestead.

Only one Fairchald descendant — Donald’s granddaughter Elizabeth Fairchild-Ammons — answered requests for more information about Donald and the murals. Unfortunately, she had almost nothing to share, because her late father Anthony did not pass on any photos or stories, she said. “Thank you for introducing me to him, even if just on paper,” she wrote. “It has filled a void that has existed for a long time.”

The Pagan-Fletcher Restoration is located at 143 Hendrickson Avenue, between Lynwood Drive and North Corona Avenue and is open from Monday to Friday, from 8 a.m. top 4 p.m. Closed holidays. For more information, call (516) 825-4200.