‘Waveny House Committee’ Appointed To Help Determine Future Use of Cherished Public Building

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Faced with numerous and expensive baseline repairs that are needed to get Waveny House running as an ADA-compliant public building, town officials on Tuesday appointed a committee that will help determine just how the cherished New Canaan structure should be used.

The “Waveny House Committee” is expected to recommend whether the 1912-built home continues to house the Recreation Department, operate more extensively as a paid special events venue, serve as a storage space or perform other functions—a wide range of possibilities that could shape the scope of New Canaan’s capital investment in the facility (more on that below).

The committee will consist of Bill Holmes, Suzanne Jonker, Steve Parrett and Penny Young, members of the Board of Selectmen said during their regular meeting, with Recreation Director Steve Benko, Parks & Recreation Commission Chairman Sally Campbell and DPW Buildings Superintendent Bill Oestmann to join at some point.

First Selectman Rob Mallozzi said: “There is an attempt to identify some dollars that we can go to the public with over the next two or three years to do an improvement on Waveny House, and we all thought it was important that we just don’t take what is there and redo it, but we should have input as to what the usage should be of that house, how it functions, what the parameters are for the usage of that house.”

The committee is not a “building committee” (which is formed to study, recommend and oversee a specific capital project) and is different from the nonprofit Waveny Park Conservancy, a private group that’s focused on Waveny’s grounds, specifically in the southwest quadrant of the park.

Selectman Beth Jones said it was “great to have” Holmes on the committee—he’s a member of the Conservancy, too, as a representative from the New Canaan Preservation Alliance. Jonker and Parrett are longtime members of the Family Fourth Committee, which organizes the annual fireworks at Waveny, and Young is a Town Council member who was instrumental in advocating for the creation of a conservancy at the time the legislative body decided (by a narrow vote) to apply to list Waveny on the National Register of Historic Places.

In September, the selectmen approved a $37,500 contract with a White Plains, N.Y.-based architectural firm to prepare for the first phase of capital work at Waveny. The architectural services from KSQ Architects will be based on a 2010 capital facilities plan that encompassed 16 structures in New Canaan (see page 35 of the Executive Summary and page 503 for detailed line items).

That plan calls for roof replacement as well as ADA ramps and toilets at Waveny House, a kitchen rebuild and new boiler and piping, among other projects.

Because 100-year-old electrical, plumbing and heating systems buried in concrete must be opened up to assess upgrades and repairs, the true scope of what’s needed at Waveny House is largely unknown, officials have said. With an elevator and other projects at the building, which may include air conditioning, an estimate based on the recently completed Town Hall renovation as a percentage of those costs based on square footage comes to about $5 million, officials have said.


Here’s a history of present-day Waveny Park property, which includes Waveny House, from Mimi Findlay of the New Canaan Preservation Alliance:

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 Co[1], in 1895 purchased the 90-acre farm of the 18thcentury 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. [2][3]

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 Greenwich, 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.

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.

It is possible that 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 probably 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. 

[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 Canaan CT: The 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.

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_H._Lapham

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