By Mary Thurwachter
For quite a few years, mostly in the 1920s and ’30s, Philadelphian photographer Ellen Glendinning Frazer Ordway chronicled the lives of prominent, wealthy people. Many of them wintered in Gulf Stream, Manalapan and Palm Beach.
Some of her subjects, members of the American privileged class, had names not widely known. But then there were the Vanderbilts, Mellons, Morgans, Whitneys and Wanamakers.
She brought her camera to luncheons and parties she was invited to, and her pictures would show up in social columns.
She had her own darkroom, rolled her own film and was a serious amateur photographer, passionate about her work and not looking for fame.
Her lens zoomed in on the young, modern, well-traveled and well-heeled, often as they lounged around smoking, drinking, chatting and chortling. Ellen Glendinning Frazer Ordway, born in 1900 and known most of her life as Ellen Frazer (her first husband’s name), kept track of her “peeps” in her very own “face book.”
As a matter of fact, she had many “face books” filled with photographs, party invitations, newspaper clippings and other mementos marking the good times she spent with her friends. Ellen Frazer, who died in 1976, called them scrapbooks.
Her grandson, Lucius “Lou” Ordway Frazer, calls them historical treasures that chronicle not only society, but fashion and travel, as well. Fifty volumes of his grandmother’s archival legacy are lovingly stored on shelves in his Delray Beach home.
After his grandmother (he called her Danny) died in 1976, the books were stored in a basement of a family home in Blowing Rock, N.C., for 20 years before he and one of his brothers, Randy, brought them to Florida.
Last year, after Lou Frazer’s friend Liz Forman, who has a website called The Classic Preppy (www.theclassicpreppy.com), mentioned the scrapbooks to local preservationist and writer Augustus Clemmer Mayhew, Ellen Frazer’s pictures were set on a path for a second act.
Mayhew, who grew up in Delray Beach and was a friend of Lou’s older brother, David, met with Lou Frazer, reviewed and scanned many of the photographs, and began featuring them in a popular series in the New York Social Diary (http://newyorksocialdiary.com/).
There are so many excellent images to choose from, Mayhew said, that his series continues into this year. (If you go to the Social Diary’s site, look under “social history”).
Frazer — whose father was the late Ocean Ridge resident and Mark Fore & Strike co-founder Persifor “Perky” Frazer IV — is planning with Mayhew to set up an exhibition of the photographs later this year (a date has not been set) to help raise money to preserve the collection.
Some of the older volumes are deteriorating and Frazer estimates restoration costs to be about $20,000.
“Hopefully, some day these scrapbooks will get the preservation they truly deserve,” Frazer said.
It’s been 35 years since Ellen Frazer died, leaving family and friends with fond and fun memories.
“She was hysterically funny,” Frazer, director of sales for the Holiday Inn in Highland Beach, said. “She must have died laughing.”
He remembers visiting her Palm Beach home, Villa Bel Tramonto, a Maurice Fatio designed villa on Banyan Road.
“She had a monkey named Jocko and a Jack Russell named Jimbo,” he said.
She taught him how to needlepoint when he was 9.
He remembers his grandmother as a very generous person, buying presents for everyone she knew at Christmas.
“All the vendors on Worth Avenue must have loved her,” he said.
Jane Marvel Scott and Wallace Lanahan visit on the Gulf Stream Golf Club’s west terrace in January 1948. Jane Scott’s sister Ann Marvel du Pont and her husband, Felix du Pont Sr., leased the Whitney-Speer house in Gulf Stream and later bought Villa Tranquilla in Palm Beach. Photos courtesy of Lou Frazer
Bob Cassatt was photographed during a Sunday lunch in 1934 at the Gulf Stream Golf Club. His company merged in 1940 with Merrill Lynch and Pierce, and became known as Merrill Lynch, E. A. Pierce, and Cassatt & Company.
Ellen Frazer took her camera with her in 1940 to Casa Alva, where she photographed Mary Marlborough (left), Capt. Robert Wilson, Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, her son ‘Bertie’ Blandford, the 10th Duke of Marlborough, and Ruth Wardell.