|S. Gregory Taylor
Benefactor to Shelter Island
By Patricia and Edward Shillingburg © 2006
On April 21, 1937, S. Gregory Taylor purchased Cedar Island and a small adjacent lot at Shelter Island, New York from Shelter Island Developments, Inc. The deed was never recorded in Suffolk County, which was unusual.
Taylor was know as a totally engaging and charming man during the years that he summered on Shelter Island. According to Yuella VanRynback who did not know him, but learned of his legendary reputation a decade later, on the 15th of August every year, the day of Mary’s Ascension, he had a very big party at which he entertained everyone he knew, and “he knew everyone.” He brought his chefs out from the St. Moritz to feed the crowd.
According to Barbara “Buzz” Clark, whose husband Bucky knew Taylor, he was a lady’s man who always arrived on the Island with beautiful young women. He was always known as a thoroughly charming bachelor.
Speculating on how he discovered Cedar Island and made it his own, Buzz suggested that he knew the Foultes, fellow Greeks, who owned a house on Ram Island and were involved in the Ram’s Head Inn. They had a seafood restaurant in New York City.
In 1939, Taylor served on Mayor LaGuardia’s Committee for Fleet Week, which included many gala affairs including a grand dinner at the World’s Fair.
Also, in 1939, the St. Moritz is mentioned at least three times in Theodore Strauss’s News of Night Clubs in the New York Times. The Café de la Paix was enlarged and brightened and featured the “competent and presentable young songstress” Peggy Adams and the accordionist Angela Velez. Horatio Zito’s orchestra played for dancing and Collette and Barry offered dance lessons. The Sky Garden, with magnificent views of Central Park and all of uptown New York featured Yvonne Bouvier, singer, Basil Fomeen and his orchestra, and Collette and Barry demonstrating and teaching the latest dance steps. In the Fall, the Café de la Paix was featuring Inez Harvot, formerly of the St. Louis Municipal Opera Company, who was “not only good to listen to but good to look at.”
In 1940, Taylor led a movement to turn Sixth Avenue into New York’s Champs-Elysees. In early March they planted six trees beginning at 59th Street with a plan to plant a total of 292 trees down the avenue to 8th Street. Taylor even imagined an arch at the Sixth Avenue entrance to Central Park, similar to the Arc de Triomphe.
In November, Spyros Skouras and Taylor led an effort to raise aid for Greece in the war in the form of munitions, medical supplies and food. The 200 Greek and Italian employees of the St. Moritz also joined in the effort, raising $3,000.
According to the Orthodox Observer, Taylor founded the Greek War Relief in 1940 and placed his hotel at the disposal of refuges who left Greece and came to the United States. It further notes that at one time there were 500 Greeks in his employ.
On April 3, 1941 the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, inspected a model Athenian air-raid shelter and trench at the Greek War Relief headquarters at 730 Fifth Avenue. A large part of the $10,000,000 now being raised would be used to purchase such shelters. Both Skouras and Taylor, along with starlet Judy Garland, had their pictures taken with Mrs. Roosevelt.
Later in April, Mayor LaGuardia presided over the presentation of the first of five mobile surgical operating units to the Greek War Relief Association. The Most Rev. Archbishop Athenagoras, Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Church, blessed the vehicles. Taylor attended the ceremony.
On July 1, 1942, King George II of Greece attended a special service at Holy Trinity Cathedral, conducted by Archbishop Athenagoras. Following the service, Taylor hosted a luncheon at the St. Moritz. He was at the time the president of the Hellenic Cathedral and Federation of Hellenic Churches of the City of New York.
On November 7, 1943, the New York Times reported that a score of Greek merchant seamen were being detained at Ellis Island “despite indications of willingness to ship out aboard Greek or other United Nations’ vessels or as members of the Greek Navy.” Christopher S. Stephano, Taylor’s brother-in-law and chairman of the Greek Maritime Welfare Committee, was attempting to “have the matter straightened out.” The men had been detained in Federal hands for several months. In the meantime, it was suggested that “the new Greek Mariner Club, a joint enterprise of the Greek Government and the War Shipping Administration under the directorship of S. Gregory Taylor, would provide an ideal agency for handling custody cases such as these.”
A week later the Greek Mariners Club, located at 208 West 59th Street was dedicated. The chairman of the Board of Directors, Taylor, had invited Simon Diamantopoulos, the Greek Ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Athenagoras, and Mayor LaGuardia.
On January 29, 1944 Taylor signed his last will and testament in which he laid out his wishes for the disposal of Taylor’s Island. His nephew, Stephen Stephano, and Stephen’s son if he had one before Taylor died (Stephen did not; he was no more than 15 when Taylor died.) would have the use of the Island for the remainder of their lives, and thereafter, if accepted, it was to be given to the Town of Shelter Island. He also set up a Trust of $10,000 to maintain the Island. He also directed that his remains be buried on the Eastern slope of the Island.
In August, the Pequot Club of Southport, Connecticut ran the junior girls’ sailing championship, with the S. Gregory Taylor Trophy the award. The award was also given in 1946.
Also, in 1946, Taylor was chairman of the 26th Annual National Boys and Girls Week in late April and early May. That year two Bronx children were named “Typical American Girl” and “Typical American Boy,” Joan De Paite and Frank Golden.
On May 12, 1947, Noel Straus of the New York Times, reported on a concert given by the contralto from Greece Sophia Vembo (1912-1978), a symbol of the Greek resistance during the war, at Carnegie Hall on behalf of the Greek War Relief Association. Taylor, as chairman of the relief committee, was the host.
On Sunday, February 22, 1948, while visiting the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, Taylor died of a heart attack. He was 59 years old. He was survived by his brother Charles, his wife Ioane (Zographidis), and his sister Martha Taylor Stephano. (The Suffolk Times reported at the time that his motor boat was at Hanff’s Shipyard in Greenport.) The funeral service was held on Saturday, February 28 at the Hellenic Cathedral, Holy Trinity Church, at 319 East 74th Street. One of the organizations announcing his death was the National Democratic Club.
He was buried at Shelter Island on Taylor’s Island. Apparently, the weather was, as one would expect in February, miserable. The South Ferry Company brought his coffin to Taylor’s Island from North Haven, but the family was not so fortunate. Along with the Archbishop, they trudged from Miss Annie Nicoll’s house on a rustic path to the causeway to the Island.
His estate was estimated at $1,514,361. His brother Charles who was president and managing director of the Hotel Buckingham became the president of St. Moritz-on-the-Park, Inc. on April 14, 1948. Spyros Skouras, president of 20th Century Fox Film Corporation was elected as a director.
In recent years, the St. Moritz was gutted and nothing remains of the original 1930 hotel except its façade.
The transfer of Taylor’s Island to Shelter Island took place in 1997.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America continues to award S. Gregory Taylor Scholarships to individuals doing post-graduate work in religious, theological, and pastoral programs at universities and seminaries in America and Greece. In 2001, it awarded over $250,000 to 30 recipients. The endowment is now valued at over $7,000,000.
To learn more about Taylor's Island and about local memory of Mr. Taylor, please visit the Taylor's Island website at taylorsisland.org.