New Canaan Now & Then: The Mardon House


785 Smith Ridge

‘New Canaan Now & Then’ is sponsored by Brown Harris Stevens Realtors Joanne Santulli, Karen Ceraso, Bettina Hegel and Schuyler Morris.

785 Smith Ridge Road, known as the Mardon House, was named for Marjorie and Donald F. Crane who built the home in 1937. 

Donald Crane was a long standing summer resident from New York who fondly remembered as a ten year old boy boarding at the Keeler Farm and riding to Stamford with Farmer Keeler when he drove the big truck to deliver his vegetables. Crane graduated from Cornell in 1910 and served as a first lieutenant in the field artillery in World War I. He married Marjorie Oppenheim who had served as an ambulance driver in France during World War I.

The Cranes had two children, Anthony Barnum Crane and Donald Frazer Crane, Jr. Anthony Crane attended St. Lukes School, the Kent School, and Cornell University. Sadly, Anthony Crane died in a fatal car accident in South Bend, Indiana at the age of 31 in 1960. He was employed as a salesperson for Firestone in Indiana at the time of his death.

Donald Crane Jr. married Ruth Dickinson Shedden of Oenoke Ridge in December 1953. Donald graduated from the South Kent School and served in the U.S. Army 43rd Division in Germany. Ruth Shedden Crane attended the Emma Willard School and graduated from Wheelock College. In 2009, Donald Jr. wrote to the New Canaan Historical Society and reported that family lore was that his mother had been given twenty four acres on Smith Ridge road by her father. In an Advertiser article dated April 1950 the subdivision of the Murphy property on North Wilton Road suggests that 22 acres of the 76 acre parcel was owned by Dr. LeFetra. LeFetra’s name appears as early as 1912 when the local contracting firm of Dawless & Davenport made alterations to his home on Smith Ridge Road. It is unclear how the LeFetras were related to Ms. Oppenheim whose family was from Ridgefield. The Cranes sold ten acres and built the house at 785 Smith Ridge on the remaining fourteen acres.

Mardon was designed by Mr. William McKnight Bowman. The builder was Marcello Mezzullo of Port Chester, New York, who also built the firehouse in town and supervised the building of the Victory Arch in Washington Square Park in New York City. Building began on May 10, 1937.

The house is described as “a center section with a modified hip roof and two wings placed symmetrically on either side forming a splendid one hundred thirty foot facade.” The cost for the landscaping alone was $100,000 in 1937 and required five full time gardeners to manage the grounds. The landscape company was Young’s Nursery on Grumman Hill in South Wilton. The home also featured a forty six foot long swimming pool, an attached garage, and a separate courtyard for three cars, a greenhouse, and a separate apartment. The Williamsburg Colonial design was red brick with 11 and 12 foot ceilings, white marble fireplaces, and custom made bronze hardware. There was also a heated glassed-in porch with a fireplace. The master suite occupied the entire southern wing, with a large bedroom, a study, two dressing rooms, two bathrooms, four additional bedrooms, and two private baths. The north wing had two servant bedrooms and a bath. The game room was located on the third floor. The Cranes moved into the residence in the early part of 1939. A fun find in the file was a copy of the “Roof Party” that took place on September 10, 1937. The invitation which included a branch of the “roof tree” described “an offering to the Goddess Vesta (Roman Goddess Hestia) who was the Keeper of the Hearth and Home.”

John Dale purchased the house from the Cranes in 1946. John Dale was the president of Durisol, Inc. In February 1949, while the Dales were in New York, the north wing was destroyed by fire. It was the worst fire the New Canaan Fire Department had seen in two years. Dale’s wife, the former Louise Lichtenstein, was the owner of the most well known and valuable stamp collection which was not in the house at the time of the fire. Ironically, his company made a fireproof wood plastic material which he had exclusive rights to manufacture in the United States. The first building of this material was a tool shop and garage that was located on the north of his property. John Dale reported that the damage to his personal property was over $200,000. The service complex of the home was almost entirely rebuilt in 1946 and the kitchen was modernized in 1966.

In 1968 Robert R. Pauley lived at 785 Smith Ridge Road. Mr. Pauley’s grandparents were George and Catherine Teed Pauley, members of two of New Canaan’s oldest families. His father, Edward, was born in New Canaan in 1888 and lived at his family home on North Wilton Road his entire life. Pauley was elected to the Board of Directors of the Save the Children Federation and its cooperating agency the Community Development Foundation. Mr. Pauley’s company, New Canaan Broadcasting Company, filed an application with the FCC to have a radio station in New Canaan and he went on to become the president of the Mutual Broadcasting System.  In 1968 his daughter, Lucinda Teed Pauley married David Livingston at their home which was referred to as “Bagatelle.” Richard Pauley’s brother, James, lived nearby on Briscoe Road and died in 1985.

In the early 1970s, the property passed to Eugene DeMatteo. DeMatteo was the owner of a large contracting company in Hamden, which he founded at the age of twenty. The company, Contractors Realty Company, grew to be one of the largest contracting companies in the nation. The Dematteos had seven children. An interesting lawsuit involving Gene DeMatteo made headlines in 1979 when he was awarded the landmark decision of the full insurance claim because his 68 foot yacht ‘Centerpoint’ was a lemon. It was purchased for $374,270 and was the first boat of its kind made by Chris Craft. It was estimated at the time of the settlement in 1979 that the replacement value would have been $800,000. DeMatteo was awarded $300,000 for the cost of the boat and an additional $60,000 for legal fees.

DeMatteo was again in the news when he held four state leases and refused to tell the State General Assembly’s leasing committee how much it cost to construct a building located in Hamden. The building in Hamden and another in New Haven were leased to the state for $106,000 and $49,000 respectively in 1970. The house on Smith Ridge Road was owned by the DeMatteo family until 1994. Eugene DeMatteo died in Palm Beach Florida in 1993, and the property was sold to Steven J. Gilbert the following year.

2 thoughts on “New Canaan Now & Then: The Mardon House

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *