Charleston Library Society honors Wall Street tycoon who helped put Charleston on the map

A large crowd that filled the Charleston Library Society applauds Richard Jenrette, a former Wall Street investment banker who restored several historic houses in Charleston, as he receives the first Founders Award from Stephen Gates, President of the Board of Trustees the Library Society on Friday.

A former financial tycoon who helped make Charleston an international tourist destination with his commitment to historic preservation said he did it to keep his sanity on Wall Street.

"There's something more to life than seeing the stock market go up and down," Richard Jenrette said Friday. "It helped me keep my sanity."

Jenrette handled billions with the former Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette investment firm and with the Equitable Life Assurance Society. He channeled much of his own money into buying and preserving historic properties. He rebuilt the Mills House Hotel in 1970 and bought and preserved the Robert William Roper House on East Battery Street.

Rebuilding the Mills House in 1970 was particularly significant because it kicked off Charleston's tourism industry, according to Anne Cleveland, executive director of the Charleston Library Society. She praised Jenrette in front of about 180 supporters before he accepted the society's first Founders Award Friday.

"Mr. Jenrette helped to revitalize downtown Charleston, to enhance the city's reputation as a significant site for historic preservation, and to expose many high-profile figures to the Lowcountry," she said before the meeting.

She pointed out that Jenrette entertained Prince Charles in Charleston after Hurricane Hugo devastated the peninsula in 1989.

"He brought national attention to the value of historic preservation and the decorative arts in Charleston," she said.

The Charleston Library Society has been around since 1748 but is celebrating the 100th birthday of its building at 164 King St.

The Founders Award honors the spirit of the 19 young men who started the society, board president Steve Gates said. Like the founders, Jenrette is a man who "appreciates the relevance of the past in shaping the future," he said.

Gates presented Jenrette with a leather-bound copy of his own book, "Adventures with Old Houses."

Stephen A. Schwarzman, a Wall Street billionaire and philanthropist who got his start under Jenrette, gave the keynote address. Schwarzman said the lessons he learned working for Jenrette were the foundation of his fortune.

Schwarzman is chairman and CEO of the Blackstone Group, a private equity and financial advisory firm. His charitable endeavors include $100 million to expand the New York Public Library and another $100 million to set up a scholarship fund in China.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.