Perched atop the rocky coast of New London, CT, and seemingly at the base of the iconic New London Harbor Light, the “Castle House” stands as one of the most significant examples of 1960s residential design in a state known for such homes. The Castle House was completed in 1964 from plans by German-born American architect Ulrich Franzen (1921-2012), who attended Harvard’s Graduate School of Design after his service in WWII. After graduating, Franzen worked under I.M. Pei, until he formed his own firm, Ulrich Franzen & Associates, in 1955. The home’s signature element is its dramatic free-floating glass living room pavilion with cantilevered paraboloid vaults and flanking service wings, with a jaw-dropping cypress butterfly ceiling. Additionally, the oval pool sits over the harbor water and provides the best possible views of the 1801 lighthouse towering above. The house was recently updated by SchappacherWhite, a design firm who are known for their thoughtful Mid-Century Modern house preservation projects.
New London Architecture
New London Harbor Light // 1801
In 1760, the colonial legislature of Connecticut passed an act creating a committee to pursue the funding, construction, and staffing of a new lighthouse for the harbor entrance at New London. The following year, thousands of lottery tickets were sold to raise £500 for the lighthouse (a popular method of raising funds for construction projects in those days). The lighthouse, a sixty-four-foot-tall stone tower with a wooden lantern at the top, was finished that same year at the west side of the harbor entrance. By 1799, issues began to pile-up, including a crack in the structure compromised the integrity of the tower, compounded by the fact the light was so dim as to often be indistinguishable from the lights of the surrounding homes. These challenges led the charge for a new lighthouse. Congress allocated $15,700 for a replacement lighthouse on May 7, 1800, and New Londoner, Abisha Woodward began construction on the current octagonal, tapered, eighty-foot-tall tower. The present light was completed the next year and is constructed of smooth-hammered freestone which are lined with brick inside. The current gable-roofed, two-and-a-half-story keeper’s residence was built in 1863, and in 1900 it was expanded to provide quarters for the assistant keeper and their families. Today, the keeper’s house is privately owned and the light tower is owned by the New London Maritime Society, who offer tours of the light on occasion.
Walter Garde Cottage // c.1910
This summer cottage in the Neptune Park development of New London, Connecticut, was built around 1910 for Walter Garde, a resident of Hartford and New London. Walter built this home as a retreat from city-living where he could breathe the fresh sea breeze and not worry about smoke and pollution from the growing industrial cores of Hartford and New London. The home blends styles and forms elegantly with a stuccoed ground floor and shingles above. A cross-gambrel roof adds depth with windows in various shapes and sizes creating a pleasing composition at the street. Walter Garde was a businessman who notably opened the Garde Theatre (now Garde Arts Center) in Downtown New London.
Lighthouse Inn // 1902
In the 1890s, Charles Strong Guthrie and wife Frances Amelia Lampson Guthrie began vacationing at Pequot Colony, a resort community in New London, CT, with considerable social cachet and popular with wealthy New Yorkers like themselves. Charles Guthrie was an industrial mogul who served as President of the Republic Iron and Steel Corporation. In 1901, the couple acquired 12-acres of land overlooking the Long Island Sound, and hired renowned Summer home architect William Ralph Emerson to design a mansion with the Olmsted Brothers commissioned to design the site and landscaping. Upon completion in 1902-03, the estate became known as “Meadow Court”, taking its name from the six-acre wildflower meadow overlooking the Sound. The home was a landmark in the Mission/Spanish Revival style, which became popular in the early 20th century, coinciding with other architectural revivals. Charles Guthrie died prematurely in 1906 at age 46, and not long after, Frances began spending summers on Long Island. In the 1920s, she sold off some of the land to a developer, who constructed more modest summer cottages, and sold the mansion, which soon after re-opened as the Lighthouse Inn. The summer hotel flourished through the mid 20th century, boosted by great management and luxury events. A fire in 1979 destroyed some of the building, but it was restored. It closed in 2008 and sat vacant until recently, when a new owner has begun the long process of restoration, looking to restore the light back to the Lighthouse Inn.
New London Ledge Lighthouse // 1909
Set way off the coast of Connecticut at the eastern end of Long Island Sound, sits this stunning lighthouse which appears more as a Second Empire style home than a lighthouse! By the early 1900s, New London, with its protected harbor at the mouth of the Thames River, had made the transition from whaling center to industrial city. New London Ledge Light was built because New London Harbor Light wasn’t sufficient to direct vessels around the dangerous ledges at the entrance to the harbor. The New London Ledge Lighthouse was completed in 1909, built by the Hamilton R. Douglas Company of New London and is an architectural antique as its Second Empire style is about 50 years past the time the style was popular in American architecture. The lighthouse reportedly owes its distinctive French Second Empire style to the influence of the wealthy home owners on the local coast, who wanted a structure in keeping with the elegance of their own homes. Sadly, many of the large homes near the shore in the area were destroyed in the Great Hurricane of September 21, 1938. Coast Guard crews lived at the light until it was fully automated in 1987. The lighthouse today is owned and operated as a museum by the New London Maritime Society.
Governor Waller Castle // c.1905
Who doesn’t love a good castle?! This stunning stone house atop a hill in Neptune Park, a neighborhood of summer cottages at the southern tip of New London, CT, was built around 1905 for Thomas M. Waller (1839-1924), an attorney and 51st Governor of Connecticut. Some estimate that the “castle” is much older (1850s), and was built by Samuel Mackenzie Elliott, a prominent NY doctor and abolitionist, but I could not prove that, though the street name “Elliott Ave” is a good starting point. The home was occupied by former Governor Thomas Waller as a summer retreat while he ran his legal office in downtown New London. The home suffered neglect (and possibly a fire) and was partly rebuilt with a new rear wing fronting the ocean proving amazing views of the Long Island Sound.