642 Commercial Street

Suddenly, everywhere you turn, it’s Dutch Colonial. One gambrel roof after another envelops the old shingled cottages in this part of the East End, making for a very handsome compound. And it is no coincidence at all. Nos. 642, 645, 646, 647 and 648 — each one with the distinctive compound eaves — were all constructed by Horace Albertus Spear Jr. (1864-1934) for members of his family. The three on the north side of Commercial were constructed for three of his daughters, Spear’s great-granddaughter, Carol Fraser Plesser, told me in 2012. This one may have belonged to Adelaide Spear (b 1902).

Among the house’s occupants over the years was Burris Jenkins Jr. (1896-1966), who purchased 642 Commercial in 1950. He was an unusual figure in American journalism: a combination cartoonist and reporter who had come to the attention of The New York World through an article he wrote in the early 1920s on the Jewish situation in Palestine, which he had illustrated with his own drawings. He continued this double duty for feature stories written when he was a police reporter covering the West Side of Manhattan. He started producing sports cartoons — for which he was best known — in 1922.

“He developed his own distinctive style,” said a 1939 profile in Editor & Publisher, quoted in the blog Stripper’s Guide, “in which he mixes sentiment with an interpretation of the sports subject covered, and his rise became rapid as sports readers welcomed his deviation from the unemotional cartoons of the old school of artists.”

Jenkins was hired by The Evening Journal, a Hearst paper, in 1937 and remained there through its merger into The Journal-American and for many years thereafter. His 1962 cartoon, “No Answer,” referred to Marilyn Monroe, who was found dead with a telephone in her hand. The Jenkins family almost had a tragedy of their own a decade earlier during a fire at their house at 642 Commercial. According to an account in The Advocate, Georgia Jenkins, Burris’s wife, escaped safely from the house only to go “back to the smoke- and flame-filled rooms to look for a pair of parakeets which had already been removed by the daughter.” She had to helped out of the house the second time by firefighters. The Jenkinses sold the property in 1954 to Aaron H. and Catherine Schlanger.

[Updated 2012-08-08]

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