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The house that Ives built – this is what we’re about to lose

The house in Redding, Ct., is up for sale and developers want to knock it down – unless a music-lover comes up with $1.5 million to save this prime piece of American cultural heritage. Anyone want to publish an open letter to President Obama?

 

This is what the developers want to demolish.

And this is the British composer Oliver Knussen playing Charles Ives’s piano, drawing tears from an Ives family member.

Pictures (c) Zoe Martlew/Lebrecht Music & Arts

 

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Comments

  1. Greg Hlatky says:

    No point in wasting time publishing an open letter to President Obama. Write intead to the US representative for the district (CT-4), James Himes (http://himes.house.gov). By all means write an e-mail first, but I was informed by my representative some years ago that a physical, mailed letter gets more attention in a congressional office. Probably many letters would get even more attention.

    Is there an actual address for the Ives property? With that the state senator and representative can be determined – as the Connecticut General Assembly website is useless – and written to as well.

    • It’s on Umpawaug Road in West Redding, but I don’t know the exact street number.

      • Myron Myers says:

        Congressman Jim Himes
        119 Cannon House Office Building
        Washington, D.C. 20515 7 August 2012

        Dear Mr Himes,

        Recently I learned, on Facebook, that the Charles Ives house on Umpawaug Road in West Redding, CT, is scheduled for demolition. The historical and cultural significance of Charles Ives to musicians everywhere is very great. As both a teacher and a performer, I have found that the musical language of Ives transcends generations to be one of the few touchstones that connects us all. Even though most of his music was composed early in the 20th century, it has never lost the ability to seem modern in the very best sense. He is an example of the true American original.

        I urge you to do as much as possible to save the home of this great American composer, one of our very greatest, from the wrecking ball. Too many historic buildings in the United States are destroyed every year. Americans seem unable to sustain an interest in preserving our architectural and cultural heritage. This, it seems to me, is a by-product of our fascination with the new. Let this wonderful old house be among those spared from oblivion, and thus serve as the physical reminder of one of the most fascinating musical minds our country has produced.

        Sincerely,

        Myron Myers
        Coordinator, Voice Studies
        School of Music
        Northern Illinois University
        DeKalb, IL 60115

  2. Could someone start a Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or similar campaign to raise the money? Is there an Ives Foundation or family member that could do it, so it’s not just a random person (and people will be more likely to give money to a known entity)?

  3. Candace Allen says:

    Though I live in London, I vote in Connecticut. Jim Himes is my titular Representative. Don’t know how interested he is in the arts but he’s active and responsive to constituents. I’ve been gone long time but have been in FB contact with former high school classmates. will write him a letter and encourage others to do so. The link to Himes’ contact info is https://himes.house.gov/contact-me.

  4. mark winn says:

    Have the Americans really got SO little sense of their own history?? Just criminal……

  5. Steve Soderberg says:

    Apparently, the Ives house has been on the market since at least September of last year. Here is an article by Jan Swafford in Slate:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/music_box/2011/09/cleaning_out_ives_closet.single.html

  6. Looks like the house has been on the market for a year and was run by Ives’ descendants for a while:
    http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/music_box/2011/09/cleaning_out_ives_closet.single.html

    This is also not to be confused with the official Charles Ives House, the house he grew up in in Danbury, which is also in need of an upgrade.

    I hope this is the start of a solid campaign to save these places.

  7. This must not happen. There must be a thousand ways to prevent this, including
    having the entire property designated an historical monument, regionally or nationally. Every
    time any site of this quality and importance falls to development, the surrounding region is
    impoverished, and it is impoverished economically. Here in California, fighting to keep our
    state parks alive is a continuous struggle. I am a volunteer pianist at Jack London Historical
    State Park where I play once or twice a month. Since the recent threat of closure on that park,
    70 others, many of us have been increasing our efforts. I have played along with others in
    two benefit concerts, and there is now a resident theater group on site that is adding to the
    effort. Between JLHSP , nearby Annadel and Sugar Loaf, all under threat, we continue with
    close to 400 highly trained volunteer docents including an equestrian group that takes risks
    aplenty in patrolling mountain trails in all three parks. We are open for business, because
    we talk together and walk together. This jewel of yours, all of ours really, can be saved.
    To say that Ives is as important to American music as his contemporary London is to American
    literature, is understatement. I am related by marriage to the late Ted Morrison, past
    director of the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference. When I was stationed at Ft. Devens in 1959,
    he, his family were very kind to me. Ted Morrison took me all over the place. But he
    first took me to the home of Charles Ives.

    Jack and Charmian’s cottage on Beauty Ranch is carefully maintained, furnished, writing
    desk there for all to see, everything in place except Jack and Charmian. This home has a
    similar feel inside, but like the Ives Sonata #1 is on a train that has past if still visible.

    There is that sad dropping doppler history’s train whistle . Slow down that train.
    We need all the good history that we can get. Save this place.
    this place.

  8. Steve Soderberg says:

    Mark Winn & anyone else tempted in the direction of his comment: That snarky kind of crap just doesn’t help. It’s not just the US that’s experiencing a cultural preservation crisis (Ives is just a recent example). It’s world wide. E.g., English Heritage in the UK is scrapping its “blue plaque” program (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/9450675/Cull-of-Blue-Plaques-means-dozens-of-famous-names-are-dropped.html) and Timbuktu’s treasures continue to be ripped apart ,piece by bloody piece. It’s just not helpful at all to keep repeating that tired old saw about ugly Americans.

    The whole world has gone ugly now.

    And though I am certainly no apologist for America’s own past and current sins, I still remember that it was an American who wrote the following words, pertinent to the Ives house & a LOT more:

    “The question is whether we are to be tourists or participants in our heritage. I am interested in the question because I believe it to be an eminently practical one: I do not believe that tourists can preserve anything, including themselves, for very long. And one of the tragedies of the modern world is that it has made us tourists of our own destiny. It has taught us to turn to the past for diversion rather than instruction. It has taught us to look into our inheritance for curiosities rather than patterns.” — Wendell Berry, “The Preservation of Old Buildings” in The Co-Evolution Quarterly. Spring 1975.

    Stephen Soderberg

  9. This is a cause worth taking up, with precedent. Copland House (his last home, studio and not his Brooklyn birthplace) was in a similar situation and look how successful it has been. That worked only because a dedicated group of local people took up the cause and then worked with the leadership of Michael Boriskin. Michael might be a good source of strategic knowledge on this.

    If anyone starts a campaign, count me in.

  10. Anonymous says:

    The effort to save the house began today. Thank you, Norman. We can do this.
    http://www.facebook.com/SaveTheCharlesIvesHouse

  11. ira licht says:

    apparently rep. himes’ web address only permits messages from his district to go through.

  12. Charles Ives’s legacy is his music, not a house. I’d like to know what all of the commenters are doing to preserve Ives’s musical legacy? How many concerts have you organized? How many have you funded? In other words, why spend time, energy and money on a house that few people even know exists instead of making an investment in bringing his music to larger and larger audiences?

  13. I lived in Boston for many years. Enormous amounts of old and beautiful buildings were demolished to be replaced by soul-less steel and glass towers. They stick out like sore thumbs from the old buildings.

    Many of these older buildings were in Landmarked districts, and therefore supposedly safe from the wrecker’s ball.

    It will take many people writing to your congresspeople to stop this. Money seems to be the only thing that counts.

    Good luck. It would be such a criminal act, to disappear this heritage.

  14. Here’s a petition to save the Ives house. If it’s successful, maybe we could approach the owners or Ives Society about starting a Kickstarter:

    https://www.change.org/petitions/the-president-of-the-united-states-save-charles-ives-house-in-redding-ct

    Any suggestions for improvement in petition text would be appreciated!

  15. No country but the United States cares so little for its cultural heritage. We certainly would take care of our popular culture “idols”. We practically worship Michael Jackson or Elvis Presley, but we haven’t the time for our practitioners of “serious” music. What a shame!

  16. valentina Lisitsa says:

    It is not some heartless greedy capitalist developer who is waiting to demolish Ives’ house. It is composer’s own family members who want to sell the property . Why? Well, one reason is property tax. It is such an important reason that it is worth mentioning twice. I can’t find this particular property file but houses on the same road that sell for 600-700K are taxed at 13-14k yearly. The house that is listed at 1.5 million will have property tax twice as much. Paying 27-29K for the privilege is a burden that only very rich can afford, not a recently retired family member who put this house on sale.
    While we can fume and wave our arms in despair, and make appeals to powers above use – the house is a private property , an inheritance that Ives left to his family. Being prudent and successful capitalist ,Ives turned even his modest house into a great investment – it sits in the most desirable area, Forbes’ list of best places to live, the most expensive neighborhood in Connecticut. To demand that the family places the house on the Historic register is just as rude as if we would simply ask them to give us 750000 dollars for our hurt feelings. Placing a historical easement on a property can only be initiated by property owners ( family in this case ) . Yes, it permits owners to get a relief from INCOME taxes ( not property taxes , and also it is safe to assume they don’t have much income to worry about taxes ) but it also entails such severe restrictions on future use, maintenance and renovations that property effectively gets devalued by at least a half , by a conservative estimate.
    The only thing that could be done without consent of the family is for US government or State of Connecticut to take Ives house away by the right of eminent domain. Appeals to those in power ‘to please do something”, no matter how noble on paper – are basically a call to take the property from its legal owners and rob Ives’ family of its inheritance and of the right to dispose of it as they please. It is the worst way to honor Ives who was an embodiment of American entrepreneurial spirit and independence.
    The only semi-acceptable way to save the house from development would be for whatever entity or non-profit to buy it for the price on which the owners would agree . it is not likely to happen – because of taxes ( I said I will mention them twice ), non-profits used to be exempt of property taxes but many states including Connecticut have changed that rule ( CT currently exempts only religious institutions, hospitals and orphanages ). Even after paying taxes there is still maintenance and upkeep of the property that will have to be done for years to come. Nobody ever implied that the content of the house will be sold with the house – the family members will claim furniture, documents, keepsakes. If anything, all of those collectibles will be worth much more on an open auction than sold wholesale with a house. It is up to the family to decide if they want to donate or to sell the memorabilia. So. Whoever will buy the house for its historical value will be most likely left with empty walls, dilapidated little house and 18 acres of lawn to mow for years to come. We can only hope for a miracle.

    • I really appreciate Valentina putting this in perspective, Context is everything, and, as always, the situation is both more complex and subtle than any headline.

      We should consider the following. If there was someone interested in buying it and preserving it, there are government grants to help out with this sort of thing; there are people who know how to raise money for historical sights, and places like this do defer costs by charging admission. It is unlikely to be a money maker, but it is possible that the right group could create a non-profit dedicated to the preservation and maintenance of the property and could at least manage the costs of maintenance with a combination of admission charged and fundraising. This is difficult; it won’t happen without a substantial jumpstart of financial support from a rich Ives enthusiast. But it would be economically stimulative and would make the “job creator” who started the project a hero in the eyes of many.

      I do not know anyone personally who I think could be the instigator, and I am not holding my breath that anyone will step forward. My guess is that the Ives Society does not have the resources for this, and I would be extremely skeptical of a Kickstarter campaign because this type of fundraising is ideal for projects but not for a long term commitment to maintaining a persistent outlay of cash and resources. We should all be keeping our eyes, ears, and minds open to think of ways to make the preservation of this site possible.

    • Steve Soderberg says:

      Valentina,
      With all due respect for your musical accomplishments, you seem to be jumping to a lot of conclusions here. I don’t believe anyone is making “a call to take the property from its legal owners and rob Ives’ family of its inheritance and of the right to dispose of it as they please.” So far the only action has been what amounts to a show of support for preserving the Ives house in the form of a grass roots petition, which I hope you will sign after considering the situation a bit more. There has been some sidebar talk that the way to proceed is some version of exactly what you say would be “semi-acceptable” to you — for some as yet to be identified/defined 501(c)(3) group/foundation to purchase the property from the heirs/estate. As far as taxes which you hinge your gloomy outlook on, legislatures pass exceptions all the time — that’s how lobbying works (and that’s also where grass roots petitions come in handy). As far as mowing the grass & other upkeep, that’s in part what a sustaining foundation is for — and I don’t recall hearing that there are any weeds growing up between the stones at the Copland House patio. As far as the content, I personally don’t see any reason to keep the house as a this-is-Ives’-actual-inkpot museum for tourists who will never come. There is no reason Ives’ heirs, who would likely be permanent board members if they wish, couldn’t take or donate whatever they wish — I happen to know personally the person who got Copland’s cat & I don’t think the place has suffered for lack of the lurking little four-paws. I hope you reconsider and join the effort by signing the petition — & ask Hilary to sign as well.

      • valentina Lisitsa says:

        Steve, I dealt with historic and preservation organizations too much to hold any illusions about miracle cures they can provide. One needs only to make a quick stop in Petersburg VA to see the results.

        It is a matter of simple finance math. There was a 2-year long intensive campaign to save Gershwin’s house. The campaign was held in mid-2000s when money seemed easy to come by and philanthropy was in much better shape than now. Yet at the end we lost Gershwin house. It was simply too expensive a piece of real estate.

        Copland House Inc is a non-profit corporation that operates on a yearly budget of around 450-480K dollars. They do concerts, fundraisers, retreats, catering….
        Copland House also happens to be located in the area where a nice building lot can be had for 10K and a brand new house – for $49k. The property itself is valued at whooping $10K. The rest of a budget is dedicated to expenses, maintenance, salaries etc.

        Ives property costs $1.5million now and once dismembered to building lots the price will only go up. It has a misfortune of being a homely hut located in millionaires’ row.

        The non-profit willing to undertake transformation of Ives house , besides coming up in a hurry with 1.5 million bucks will need to have a viable plan on what to do with the property – and money to keep it running .
        Danbury house-museum of Ives is a well established and widely known attraction. Can enough money be spared to have two Ives’s museums? I don’t know.

        I would suggest looking into different solutions; 1. To get in touch with family member who put the house on sale – to find out what exactly made him do so. Slate article refers to his retirement and inability to keep up with the expenses.
        If that can be remedied ( either by reducing tax burden or by “employing” him as a official curator of the property – with adequate salary from , perhaps, Ives Foundation) perhaps the house can live few more years until it crosses the magic threshold from
        a “collectible” to an antique. If the house is jointly owned by Ives’ heirs and some members just insist on cashing in ( like with many family farms ) not much we can do but perhaps buying out a share.

        There is another solution, one that can be relatively easily fundraised and implemented. Danbury CT ( where Ives Museum is located ) is on the very bottom of housing market, flooded with foreclosures. My hunch is that a decent piece of land close to the museum can be bought for next to nothing. Ives house #2 can be dismantled and re-erected in Danbury to become a part of larger museum. The cost of a whole house moving can be anywhere from 30 to 70K. Still a far cry from $1.5million. This – and land purchase , can be easily handled by crowdsourcing. In fact, whoever ends up buying the property can contribute to moving the house – instead of paying for demolition ( not a small change by the way ).

        • Steve Soderberg says:

          Valentina,
          Now this is helpful. I wish you had begun with this much larger panoply of alternatives including both positives and negatives for a variety of possible approaches.

          You mention the demolition of the Gershwin house in Hollywood. I’m not too worried about the Gershwin legacy — he and his brother have a whole room of artifacts devoted to them at the Library of Congress & of course the annual Gershwin Prize for Popular Song (as institutionally self-serving as this may be). But still, the Gershwin house demolition was ugly & a good example of wars to come, the latest of which is the jeopardy the Ives house is in.

          There are two ways of reacting to all this. One is to throw up our hands and say, by lessons learned in past battles, we know the power of greed and the force of economic necessity will always win. The other is to say, by lessons learned in past battles, we are better prepared for the next battle. My preference has always been for the latter, but I understand the temptation of the former. Personally, I’ve had a 15-year string of backing lost causes & I’m ready for a win. But if this isn’t it, I’ll just go on to the next one. You have your own choice to make, but I really hope you decide at least to sign the petition & even lend some of your valuable experience to those who are planning strategy.

  17. valentina Lisitsa says:

    Property address – for anyone interested in buying , 240 Umpawaug St, Redding CT.
    http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/240-Umpawaug-Rd-Redding-CT-06896/57340516_zpid/

    Property tax $23800 – this is an already reduced tax rate ,according to county tax board. It is taxed at 1 million instead of assessed 1.8 million value. So it’s not going any lower.

    The owner of the house is not the same person who lives in it. The property record is showing owner’s address as:
    P O BOX 1878
    BOCA GRANDE, FL 33921

    This address belongs to Royal Palm Players Inc, a non-profit corporation in Florida http://visulate.com/rental/visulate_search.php?CORP_ID=N48459

    The same corporation owns 237 Umpawaug St , a vacant building lot – assessed at $800000 more.
    The property is NOT listed on MLS ( multiple listing service) so unless it is for sale-by-owner ( all articles however city an anonymous Realtor bemoaning the fate of the house ) it is NOT for sale.

    So, is it for sale – or is it not? The mysterious corporation is listed as owning the house since 1990, previous sales took place in 1960 and 1921.

  18. valentina Lisitsa says:

    In 2009 the owners of a Ives house appealed to town of Redding to reduce the property tax. The appeal was denied.
    http://www.townofreddingct.org/Public_Documents/ReddingCT_BOAAMin/2009/S0282F642?textPage=1
    “240 Umpawaug Road
    Total Assessment $ 1,044,360
    MOTION: Made by Mr. Stackpole and seconded by Mr. Karvelis, the Board voted unanimously that no change be made in the assessment.”

    • Steve Soderberg says:

      This is apples and oranges. Requests for reconsideration of assessment happen annually in every jurisdiction in the US. The (county) board’s denial you cite was based on the property being ++residential++ as with all the other petitioners at the hearing. But even if the property changed to a different “public” vs “private” status, that wouldn’t necessarily change the assessed value as real estate. Every not-for-profit in the country that owns real property has similar problems to deal with — they don’t just throw in the towel. But anyway, at this point I don’t get why it’s necessary to dot every “i” before proceeding.

  19. Does anyone know the name of the developer who plans to raze the building ?

    I will be sending a physical letter to Congressman Jim Himes. Thanks, Mr Myers, for the address.

    Seems like there’s a lot of options here; hopefully some of them are carried out and this building is saved. So, so sad that this is an issue at all.

    Take care everyone and keep fighting the good fight !!

  20. Steve Soderberg says:

    Does anyone know the status of the Ives Trail Greenway?

    http://www.hvceo.org/ivestrail.php
    http://www.newstimes.com/local/article/Happy-trails-to-you-1453066.php#photo-1091476
    http://www.hvceo.org/images/ivestrailmap.pdf

    It’s this kind of connection that creates coalitions and makes politicians sit up and take notice.
    And more to chew on: Ives was designated the State Composer by the CT General Assembly in 1991.

  21. David J Gill says:

    Since the last previous post in this conversation was nearly three weeks ago this may not be relevant, but at this moment a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Phoenix (David Wright House) is threatened under the same, though even more urgent, circumstances.

    The organization spearheading that effort is the FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT BUILDING CONSERVANCY (savewright.org.) I believe they have significant expertise in preservation efforts and perhaps could provide some insight to those spearheading this effort to save the Charles Ives House.

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