Poitier Chose Westchester and Pleasantville Welcomed Him

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WPCNR THE SUNDAY BAILEY. By John F. Bailey January 9, 2022:

John Bailey,
White PlainsCitizeNetReporter

Did you know that Sidney Poitier, the first Black Man to win an Oscar for Best Actor, chose Westchester as his first home for his family? Leaving the “hip” of Mount Vernon for the country charm of Pleasantville, New York.

I did.

Because he was a neighbor of mine on Bear Ridge Road in my hometown Pleasantiville New York (America’s Other Hometown thanks to Reader’s Digest having its headquarters there).

Mr. Poitier bought the mansion formerly owned by A. H. Smith the President of the New York Central Railroad in July of 1961.

Patent Trader Interview

Poitier was the “de Caprio” of his day in terms of celebrity and in-demand for roles. He and his wife Juanita a successful fashion designer moved to the mansion for more room for their family.

The mansion had 12 rooms with spacious grounds and views and was only barely visible from where I lived on Woodbrook Road., which then was a dirt road. I thought it was a large mansion up on the knoll in the distance, but a little internet research was the address was just a little ways in on a private drive from Bear Ridge.

The home today, now surrounded by other houses developed over the last 60 years.

He was so much the talk of New York from 1958 through the early sixties that the New York Times on page 11 of the first section announced Mr. Portier’s purchase of the home from H. J. Mann, an advertising executive at the time.

The Patent Trader, the local newspaper of Westchester at the time interviewed Mr. Poitier who said he was pleased at the letters he’d received from residents of Pleasantville welcoming him to the community. He said his 4 daughters would be attending Pleasantville schools which he said were the best in the county.

Mr. Poitier lived on the former estate of the New York Central Railroad President, described by The Patent Trader as a Tudor with a quarter mile driveway leading up to it with 12 rooms, six bedrooms, “overlooking green rolling hills.”

Mr. Poitier’s personna to the Pleasantville public at the time had the unique charisma of the most famous actors, with an easygoing nature that the public loved, based on his roles in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “Raisin in the Sun,” and his being a New York actor.

Mr. Poitier also was very controlled in how he acted with the public. He appreciated them, and they loved him. But he never acted as if he was better than them. He was himself but never full of himself.

The actor’s arrival in Pleasantville pleased the town, delighted that the toast of Broadway, and Hollywood had chosen their town to live in.

Mr. Poitier said all the right things, and while supporting the growing civil rights movement at the time, he was not militant in any way, when asked about racial tensions, saying “I get a little sick of it all. I firmly believe in agitation by any minority group in order to get the basic guarantees of citizenship. I will never get sick of that.”

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The hill up Bear Ridge Road at that time had a high grassy field on Mr. Poitier’s side of the street which overlooked Munson Pond. When I lived there I was a big baseball fan and I convinced several kids to work with me to cut the grass down to height where we could play ball on it. We did that, without adults helping. And we played many a game on that vacant lot. But it was not a lot then. It was a field. Our original “Field of Dreams,”

I’d play two boy games or 2 against 2, and the joy of those free form games with ground rules depending on how many players we had, were made up before the game.

My Little League career: I was stuck in Right Field because I could not judge a flyball. And I struck out 3 times. Career batting average .000. In the future I had a daughter who wanted to play. I resolved that I would teach her to catch fly balls, well hit. I did it somehow hitting powerful drives over her head to her left and the right and straight back over her head. It worked. She played the outfield on a varsity team in high school.

But reading about the classy way Mr. Poitier carried himself throughout his life, was inspirational to read about.

I also remember that field of dreams me and Kevin, and two other kids made ourselves and the many hours we spent there in the summer dusk and afternoon heat playing ball as a time of freedom and creativity I will never forget.

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