The colonial Tudor house at 2 Manitou Court is worthy of inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The story behind the ownership of the estate called Laurel Lodge is worthy of inclusion in the pages of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.
"The Great Gatsby" comes to mind with its opulent parties and secretive affairs. New York architect, Michael Glynn, who has researched the house and property and written a comprehensive report on the estate, found it was built in 1913-1914 apparently as a gift for one man's mistress.
The construction contract for the house was signed on October 1, 1913, by Roger Williams, "President of the Manitou Beach Company," but he was acting on behalf of another man. The house, stable and boat house were paid for by a man who intended it as a summer residence for a female friend.
Designed by New York architect John Vredenburgh Van Pelt, this architecturally-significant estate came to life during Westport's Golden Age, when artists, actors, literati and industrialists enjoyed a lavish country lifestyle. Despite Van Pelt's prominence and success, Glynn said, the architect's body of work is relatively small; not surprisingly as he divided his time to teaching at Cornell University, authoring several books and devoting time to his practice.
"The rarity of Van Pelt-designed buildings makes Laurel Lodge all the more significant," Glynn said. Laurel Lodge has national architectural significance and its unaltered condition makes it "eminently eligible" for placement on the National Register of Historic Places, Glynn said.
"It would appear high up on any list of the most significant early 20th century houses in Fairfield County. We hope that a new owner will go forward with a National Register application, since this will give the structure the recognition and status that it deserves," he said in his report.
Laurel Lodge was designed in 1912, at the peak of the American Arts and Crafts movement, Glynn said, adding that, it is no surprise that the rooms have a distinct Arts and Crafts flavor. "The language is early Renaissance but the sum total of the atmosphere is Arts and Crafts," Glynn said.
The master bedroom, called the "Japanese room" or the "chrysanthemum room", is a "little masterpiece," Glynn said. The room was designed to represent a Japanese teahouse. Richly carved floral panels were installed around the fireplace.
The banquet-sized dining room has dark oak cabinets with mouth-blown glass front doors. Two of the house's four fireplaces have tiles created by Grueby, recognized as being among the finest potters of the Arts and Crafts era.
Although the house will require a renovation that would cost about $2 million -- Glynn has prepared a restoration budget, it would actually cost about $10 million to try to recreate the house as it was originally built. "The philosophy governing our decisions is to "do no harm," in other words, to treat this building as a historic artifact. We have budgeted for the work to be done in a manner that retains original materials wherever possible, and also preserves patina where appropriate and practical," Glynn said in his report."
Glynn said the 5,445-square-foot house was solidly built and is structurally sound. "Most of the building's "problems" are visible, and a result of deferred maintenance, worn out mechanical and electrical systems, and various renovation projects manqué," Glynn said in his report.
Its original beauty is still intact, as is the beauty of its natural setting, which includes many century-old plantings. "It was a natural stand of hemlock, oak and laurel," Glynn said.
"Hemlock Lodge doesn't have the same ring," said one of the current owners.
Laurel Lodge was built on a 2.3-acre property along the Saugatuck River in the Compo Beach area of town. The estate has about 300 feet of direct waterfront with an 80-foot deep water dock. Several balconies and patios provide scenic riverfront views.