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US heritage alarm: they are lining up to knock down the house that Charles Ives built

The cellist and performance artist Zoe Martlew got a culture shock when she went to visit the house where Charles Ives composed his music in Redding, Connecticut. The place is up for sale and developers, Zoe was told, are clamouring to knock it down.

If Leonard Bernstein were still alive, he would write a check and the place would be saved for the nation. Who will save it now?

Zoe has written this account of the Ives house exclusively for Slipped Disc.

Charles  Ives’  country  house  is  hidden  away  amidst  verdant rolling  hills  of unspoilt  New  England  countryside.  Chipmunks  and  gophers  scuttle  in  the surrounding forest and the fragrant air is filled with dragonflies, humming birds and the sound of leaves fanned by the wind.

It  would  seem  that  time  has  stood  still  since  Ives bought this land in  Redding, Connecticut. He had a house and barn built in 1912 and moved in with his wife Harmony  a  year  later.  It  was  to  become  their  country  home  until  his  death  in 1954 and has been lived in by the Ives family ever since.

Until now.

Last week I had the opportunity to visit the place with composer Oliver Knussen who  had  been  invited  by  James  Sinclair,  editor‐in‐chief  of  the  wonderful  Ives critical editions, most  recently  that  of  the amazing  Fourth Symphony. Sinclair’s wife was also there, who, as it turns out, is a cousin by marriage of Ives. The house is a splendid example of its kind and in pretty good nick from what I could  see.  Most  of  Ives’  library was  boxed  up  ready  for  moving,  although  his personal possessions, including period furniture, appear to remain in place.

[Here’s Ives’ famous hat next to his father’s cornet. Note the picture of Brahms above, one of several.]
But  the  extraordinary  thing  about  the  house  is  Ives’  surprisingly  small composing  room, which appears  to  have  been  left  untouched  since  he  died. Cobwebs grace the mementos lying on the table and writing desk which include a  Christmas  painting  from  Carl  Ruggles.  A  profusion  of  faded images, programmes and newspaper cuttings adorns the walls, family letters and photos sit gathering dust. Two metronomes set at different speeds sit side‐by‐side next to  assorted  empty  hooch  bottles.  There’s  a  rusty‐springed  couch  behind  the piano for when he got too musically worked up and had to lie down.


The  real‐estate  agent,  an  expert  on  historical  buildings  in  the  area  and sympathetic  to  the  cause,  explained ruefully  that  property  investors  are snapping  at  his  heels  to  get  their  hands  on  this  prime  bit  of  real  estate.  The likelihood  is  that  they  will  knock  the  house  down,  having  no  interest  in  its history. The value of the land is unaffected by its presence. The asking price is $1.5 million US.

SURELY someone out there can help?

It’s  heartbreaking  to  think  that  this  beautiful  and  important  musical  landmark could be demolished in a matter of weeks. Please contact James Sinclair at the Ives Society http://www.charlesives.org/ or me, www.zoemartlew.com, if you can help. Time is running out.NB: This house is not to be confused with the Charles  Ives Birthplace Museum in Danbury, CT.

See more pictures here.

 

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Comments

  1. harold braun says:

    Call MTT, L.B.`s only true sucessor. I could fancy that he might be up to help! Anyway,it`s a shame! Ives was not only one of Americas greatest composers.he was one of the 20th century giants!

  2. Eric Benjamin says:

    Heartbreaking indeed! Why wasn’t preservation of the site and its contents taken care of decades ago? National historic site status…something,

    If I win the lottery any time soon, it’s on my list of worthy causes, but shame on us that we haven’t attended to this site and shame on us if we don’t.

  3. I agree something has to be done. If all musician can come together and pitch in. And I mean everyone perhaps we can raise the money to do so. Ive been chatting on facebook and twitter about the issue and people wondering what they can do to help. Starting a kapipal or kickstarter could save this house and property and make it into something amazing again.

  4. Selim Erohs says:

    On the bright side, lil Wayne quit music

  5. How is this not on National Register of Historic Places?!?

  6. Stephen Carpenter says:

    This is heinous. First- our pathway to “American Classical Music” is a short one with only a handful of people with addresses on that path. Second- Charles Ives, from what I’ve heard and read, was am unrepentant composer who continued to write in a fiercely original style in the face of withering criticism and produced break through concepts that formed what we have as composition today.
    I want to see the place where “the Unanswered Question” was written.
    I will help with the paperwork for the National Register but it would be remotely, since I live in another state. And there are always petitions. How big is the parcel? Is the developer planning a sub-division? If so, there are all sorts of creative ways to work with historical properties and satisfy historical interests. The Village and Town can weigh in also since they really have a fiduciary responsibility to the commonwealth which is much larger than money and property. Again there are always petitions.
    Thanks for posting.

  7. Nikola’s idea of somehow crowdsourcing to raise the funds to buy the house and turn it into an officially recognized historic place crossed my mind too. Is this even doable, though? I imagine it would take quite a bit of money to buy the Ives Place.

    I bet this would never happen to Bob Dylan’s or Bruce Springsteen’s house. We are so short sighted!

    • Thanks armando, Im working hard at getting a kapipal account setup. Its a long shot. but we all have to pull all of our contacts and getting some serious crowd-sourcing done.

  8. Where are the universities that could invest in the real estate and maintain the building for artist residencies, master programs, postgraduate courses, etc.? I think that is where the future for this building and grounds lies.

  9. From the Reddit classical thread:

    Historic Houses: Historic Preservation in Redding homepage – http://www.townofreddingct.org/Public_Documents/ReddingCT_Houses/index

    Step by step guide to process of setting up an historic easement: http://www.townofreddingct.org/Public_Documents/ReddingCT_Houses/StepbyStep.pdf (Notice the first line, “Initiation of the process through the First Selectman’s Office.” Contacts below)

    Historic Preservation Contact List: http://www.townofreddingct.org/Public_Documents/ReddingCT_Houses/contact
    The National Trust for Historic Preservation: http://www.preservationnation.org/

    Those interested in helping should contact each of these agencies. This isn’t a Kickstarter issue – this is a very basic Connecticut historical places issue.

  10. And the Charles Ives Society itself should be involved.

    http://www.charlesives.org/index.htm

  11. Well, how’s this for a start?
    http://www.change.org/petitions/the-president-of-the-united-states-save-charles-ives-house-in-redding-ct

    It saves everyone the trouble of writing their own letter and if we get enough support, we might be able to start a Kickstarter as suggested. If anyone has suggestions for the text of the petition or wants to write a better one, please let me know!

    • Ive started a Kapipal but am just finishing the video. it should be up tonight. Ive contacted kickstarter but they said it would not be possible.

  12. How important, really, is it to keep the house that a composer lived in, even a great or historically significant one?

    I once went to the Beethoven house and while it was quite interesting, it wasn’t a patch on his music. I once touched Wagner’s piano at Neuschwanstein but it wasn’t as electrifying as the Ring. I’ve been to the Bronte parsonage and the landscape and museum (especially the manuscripts) told me much more than the house did.

    It is admittedly quite interesting to see the surroundings in which a great artist worked but it’s nowhere near as important as what the artist produced, and any idea that it leads to a greater understanding of the music is a comforting illusion for the lazy. It’s just a form of fetish really – like a fragment of the True Cross or a lock of Elvis Presley’s hair, as if owning or touching these objects somehow brings us closer to their original owner.

    I’d be much keener on $1.5m being spent on recording some of Ives’s works and giving the recordings away free, or perhaps using it to set up an endowment to maintain a rich media website promoting his work. Take the developers’ money, put it to good use, then put up whatever the US equivalent of a blue plaque is on the new building!

    • The idea going around is to buy the estate and convert it into a museum and live music venue for festivals and the surrounding community. I think this is what could be of value. It should not in my eyes be something like beethovens house where it is a museum of sorts. 1.5million is nothing compared to what can be done at the house now for future generations. A house built from the mind of a musician, should be used by musicians. Developing the property to be something that the community and the world can use and share.
      You must look at this home and think creatively much like the man that was once in it. Re-using the space can be a positive thing.

  13. Ives was the founder of the New York Life Insurance company. I’ve just written their foundation via this email address: nylfoundation@newyorklife.com

    Dear New York Life Foundation,

    It has come to the attention of many classical music lovers on the Internet that the West Redding home of the great American composer and founder of New York Life, Charles Ives, is currently for sale and may be torn down. This is the home that he designed, and that he and his wife lived in for 42 years until his death. It’s also the place where his great masterwork, his 4th Symphony, was composed.

    http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2012/08/us-heritage-alarm-they-are-lining-up-to-knock-down-the-house-that-charles-ives-built.html

    It would be a great loss for this landmark of American musical history to be lost to developers.

    Here’s some information about Ives’ home:

    http://www.historyofredding.com/HRives.htm

    Thanks for your interest,

    ———————-

    I’ve also written a similar letter to the Connecticut Trust using these addresses:

    circutrider@cttrust.org
    hhiggins@cttrust.org
    contact@cttrust.org

    They’re the Connecticut historical activists who can get the process moving.

    • Scott Unrein says:

      Charles Ives was not the founder of New York Life.

      He was born three decades after its founding. After giving up a job as a church organist, he first worked at Raymond & Co. Insurance and later founded Ives & Co..

      But yes, it would be great if the property could be saved.

  14. Dana Banks says:

    The Charles Ives Collection at Yale should be made aware. They might have more contacts there. Yale could build it.
    http://www.library.yale.edu/musiclib/archival.htm#ives
    http://www.library.yale.edu/musiclib/contact.htm

  15. Dana Banks says:

    Also Google “house for sale Umpawaug Road in West Redding”. Several addresses appear. It is probably there. Sorry , I have a meeting to attend.

  16. Andrew Simpson says:

    My wife and I were upset when we recently visited the house where Ives was born in Danbury, CT. It is boarded up, in shambles, surrounded by weeds. Many significant Ives landmarks in Danbury have been replaced by parking lots. It seems to us that this will soon be the fate of his birthplace too. It is all terribly sad.

  17. Lois Buchanan says:

    I know someone who is interested in buying the Ives House and restoring it but we can’t find a listing agent. Does anyone know which real estate company is doing the selling?

    • According to the Charles Ives Society’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/charlesives):

      “The Charles Ives Society is thrilled to see the outpouring of concern for the future of the composer’s property in West Redding, CT. The handsome home and its 18 acres are for sale through Coldwell Banker Realty in Ridgefield, CT.”

      “The property has not listed officially, however you can contact the realty agent Paul Lutz directly for information.”

    • Lois,
      Is it possible to know who the buyers name is?
      They should make a offer right away. Really.

      There are alot of us since the beginning of this amazing outpouring that would love to help rebuild and help.
      Let us know what we can do.

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