Emery: Town Builders

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There wasn’t much of importance that happened in the city during the first half of the 20th century that didn’t have an Emery—in particular John J. or his Aunt Mary (above)—attached to it. Their legacy is most visible today in some splendid architecture. John, a downtown developer during and after the Great Depression, built the Carew Tower and adjoining Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza Hotel in 1931. Mary’s most ambitious bricks-and-mortar project was Mariemont, a planned (and still vibrant) community that she funded and modeled after a small English village.

The family’s wealth, largely acquired through the vast real estate holdings of John’s grandfather, father, and uncle (Mary’s husband, Thomas J.) during the 19th century, was channeled into projects that changed Cincinnati physically, culturally, and even politically. John cofounded the Charter Committee, Mary funded an entire wing of the Cincinnati Art Museum to house her personal collection of masterpieces, and in 1916, when the Cincinnati Zoo was near financial ruin, she and her good friend Anna Taft opened their handbags and bought it, saving the institution for future generations.

Mary Emery died in 1927; John passed in 1976. Today, his granddaughter, Elizabeth Hoyt, continues the charitable work of her grandparents through the Peterloon Foundation, which also manages the Emery estate in Indian Hill, maintaining the 36-room, Georgian-style mansion for special events. Meaning that for an afternoon or evening, you can live like Cincinnati royalty.

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