[Editor’s Note: The following “Statement of significance” has been prepared in advance of the April 26 Forum on Public Buildings, to be held 6:30 to 9 p.m. at Town Hall—more information is available here and questions for panelists can be submitted here. Most of the information in the bullet points below is drawn from the Town Building Evaluation & Use Committee report.]
Built: ca. 1912
- Square footage: 36,000
- Current uses: Private and community events; town Recreation, Information Technology Departments
- Committee recommendations: More profitable “hospitality” function of first floor; extensive renovation of second floor to provide more space for municipal use; use third floor/attic for required document and other storage.
- Relevant news articles: Birdcage Elevator Could be Best Option to Bring Waveny House Up to ADA Compliance (April 2018), Seeking More Info, Town Council Hits Pause on $1 Million Request for Waveny House (March 2018), ‘You Literally Just Salivate’: Officials Evaluating Town Buildings See Potential in Waveny House (April 2017)
Submitted by Lea Cromwell:
Waveny Park encompasses the planned landscape of the first resident, Thomas Hall, and later of the second resident, Lewis Lapham and his children, as an “American Country Place.”
The Hall Era: Thomas B. Hall, President of the American Hide and Leather Co1, in 1895 purchased the 90-acre farm of the 18th century Elisha Leeds, creating the winding driveways and stone gateposts that remain today. He built a three-story Dutch Colonial residence with views over Long Island Sound. Over the years Hall added acreage, planted orchards and gardens and farmed. He erected numerous outbuildings including a carriage barn, an ice house to store blocks cut from the pond, a stone water tower, a superintendent’s cottage on the foundation of the Leeds’ farmhouse, and a power plant that ran on coal shipped by rail to the Talmadge Hill siding and then hauled to the farm in wagonloads. 23
The Lapham Era: In 1904 Lewis H. Lapham purchased the property from Hall. He was the son of Henry G. Lapham, a colleague of Hall’s in the leather business, preparing to establish the United States Leather Company when he died in 1888. Lewis Lapham immediately hired the Olmsted Brothers, successor firm to Frederick Law Olmsted, to assist in the siting of a new residence to be designed by Brooklyn’s renowned architect, William B.Tubby, now living in Greenwhich, and to create a grand landscape with gardens, terraces, small decorative garden structures, and an area of farm buildings.
Correspondence, In the National Park Service’s Olmsted Archives in Brookline, MA, there are over 100 letters between the firm and the Laphams, documenting the interaction between Lewis and Antoinette Lapham and the Olmsted Brothers firm, starting with John Charles Olmsted, who had attended the Sheffield Scientific School Yale University, who tried in vain to convince the Laphams to adopt scientific farming methods, breed special animals and plants, and practice “Aesthetic forestry.”
As the new house progressed from 1911 to 1917, the Olmsted firm sent several landscape architects of great talent and national reputation, Percival Gallagher, trained as an artist, and A. Chandler Manning, a horticulturalist, to work with Antoinette (Dearborn) Lapham, on the Waveny plantings and landscape. She was a founding member of the New Canaan Garden Club and also the national treasurer of the YWCA during World War I.
Interiors are by Herter Looms, established by Albert Herter, son of the Herter Brothers’ owner, Christian Herter, the most important interior designer/cabinet maker in the country during the late 19th century. Herter looms created the painted wall canvases, original tapestry fitted into the dining room chimney breast, original furnishings, metal standing lamps and sconces. These interiors were documented in period photographs. The interiors at Waveny House are a rare and possibly the only known surviving interior by this company, owned by the artists Albert and Adele Herter. In the house’s archives is a handwritten note stating that the interiors were furnished by Herter Looms. An article in the Fine Arts Journal No.5 (Nov 1914) describes a showroom of the business.
At the urging of son Jack, a polo field was installed by 1915 and at least 50 acres of lawn became an informal putting green and driving range for his father.
Waveny’s landscape and gardens were photographed by Frances Benjamin Johnson, pioneer in photographing gardens during the American Country Place Era (1909-1927).
When the Merritt Parkway was designed, the Olmsted firm returned to mitigate the effects on the Lapham property, which was to be transversed. A tennis court, a polo field, and a tennis court were incorporated into the landscape design over the years.4
Ruth Lapham Lloyd, married Samuel R. Lloyd in 1924, had seven children and moved into Waveny mansion in 1940, when her mother moved into the Bungalow, Lewis H. Lapham having died in 1934. One of her children was Emmy-Award winner Christopher Lloyd, the actor. After Mrs. Lapham had moved to California and then died in 1956, Mrs. Lloyd was the inheritor of the property. By 1967 she had given two parcels of land to the Town of New Canaan for a new High School and then made Waveny, including the mansion, available to the town for purchase. Subsequently, she became a benefactor of the Metropolitan Museum, establishing an endowment to keep it open to the public on Thursday nights.
Ruth Lloyd’s brother, Roger Lapham, was Mayor of San Francisco. His grandson is Lewis A. Lapham, writer, author of numerous books on politics and current affairs, was editor of Harper’s magazine until 2006 and founder of Lapham’s Quarterly, a new journal about history.5
Significance: The buildings and landscape are of state and national significance, designed by prominent architects and landscape architects to create an “American Country Place”. In addition, the individuals involved in the history of the property also have state and national significance as entrepreneurs, as participants in the early 20th century women’s movement, as politicians, actors and writers.
Lea Cromwell is an architect and member of the New Canaan Preservation Alliance board. Mimi Findlay is a founder and President Emeritus of NCPA with years of preservation advocacy.
1 Chicago Securities, Vol. 18
2 Carol Valentine http://www.newcanaandarienmag.com/n/July-2008/The-Magic-of- Waveny/
3 Lois Bayles, Mary Louise King, and F. David Lapham, The Story of Waveny, New e New Canaan Historical Society, 1969
4 Lois Baylis, Mary Louise King and F. David Lapham, The Story of Waveny, New Canaan Historical Society 1969 p.15.