Owenoke Beauty Bites The Dust

For residents of Owenoke Park, the week starts off with a bang.

This morning, the gracious home at #17 will be bulldozed into oblivion.

For nearly 100 years it’s been a fixture on the private road that juts between the Compo Beach marina, Gray’s Creek and Longshore. It’s an important part of the Compo Owenoke Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its early 20th century resort and beachfront architecture.

Neighbors love the understated elegance of #17. Boaters on the water, and everyone enjoying Compo’s South Beach, have also appreciated its handsome Georgian Revival lines.

17 Owenoke Park. (Photo/Ian Warburg)

17 Owenoke Park. (Photo/Ian Warburg)

According to local legend, a woman knocked on the door in 2010. She said she loved the house, and had to have it. It was not for sale. But she offered $12 million — double the home’s market value — and that was that.

The woman — who reportedly worked for Enron until its demise — later joined a former colleague in setting up Centaurus Advisors. The energy-focused, Texas-based hedge fund allegedly provided a loan of $8 million, which the woman used to purchase the house.

In 2014 or ’15 Centaurus apparently foreclosed on the loan, and took possession of the property. It’s been on the market at decreasing prices.

Some buyers were interested in preserving the magnificent structure, and restore it to its past glory. Others wanted it to build their own dream house. None, however, would pay more than $5 million.

Given the declining condition of the property, and the expense of bringing it to FEMA compliance, the owners — listed as Centaurus Energy Market, which seems to be a subsidiary or related company of Centaurus Advisors, LLC — decided that the real remaining value is in the land.

Demolition begins at 8 a.m. today.

59 responses to “Owenoke Beauty Bites The Dust

  1. I looked at the listing on Zillow and was amazed at how beautiful this place is ! It looks like it would make an awesome B and B or Hotel, Conference Retreat…Too bad 😦

  2. Charles Taylor

    Sad as hell

  3. I wrote the Westport Historic District Commission staff person on February 8th to inquire whether or not it would seek the assistance of the State Historic Preservation Office in protecting this historic building by way of the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). Our state is unique in that our EPA statute also covers “the unreasonable destruction of historic resources” listed on the National Register. I never received a response.

  4. Was that the Bradley house back in the 50’s? We grew up on Roosevelt Rd and Owenoke was a great street to visit on our bikes. I remember hiding on the dumb waiter at the Silk’s home. Our school bus stop was at Owenoke and before the clocks were turned back to standard time, we’d witness the deer returning from Compo to run down Owenoke to the Island between Owenoke & Longshore where they lived as the sun started to rise. That was roughly 60 years ago.

  5. It appears that the Westport Historic District Commission, which I understand to be the governing body that could protect the town’s historic resources, rarely chooses to do that. It is sad to read that assistance from the State Historic Preservation Office was offered and ignored. Whether the Westport Historic District Commission is elected or appointed, I hope that some residents who are in favor of preservation will become involved. What’s the point of a historic commission that allows the town’s history to be demolished?

  6. Meredith Cohen

    I wonder if the property is up to date on town/state taxes- it appears in the records that it isn’t. For anyone to hold a vacant house with 77k a year in taxes alone…
    It was a beautiful home but without being FEMA compliant and on the waters edge it was bound to come down.

  7. I worked on that property. It includes the property across the street. It was the former owner of Tierra restaurant in the old town hall.

  8. So upsetting. Another great Westport house bits the dust.

  9. Why is the woman involved not named?

    What business does a hedge fund have, lending to one of its managers to buy a home — at twice its market value, no less?

    Was this foolish inside deal disclosed to the investors? And, is the fund suing to claw back their losses from the executive who did the deal?

    Ah, the hijinks of the “smartest guys [and gals] in the room continue to take their toll, 15 years after the collapse of the original Enron!

    • Actually the story behind the owner of the house is quite interesting. The Westport News, in 2014, indicated the owner as Laura Luce in an article naming her as the town’s #2 tax delinquent – owing over $96,000 in taxes on the property.

      In 2009, Business Insider identified Ms. Luce as the wife of former Enron trader, and Centaurus fund founder, John D. Arnold. Numerous other press articles describe, in glowing terms, the business acumen of this amazing couple and – as of 2013 – their awesome commitment to donate their entire claimed $4 billion fortune to charity.

      So the mystery remains: (assuming press stories are correct) how could people with such wealth require a mortgage from the hedge fund they manage to buy a mere $12 million property, and why — so soon after buying the place — would they default on the loan and, even, lack the funds to pay their property tax?

      • I beleive Ms Luce was a colleague of John Arnold from Enron days and ran a natural gas storage business/fund sponsored by Centaurus. His wife, also with the first name Laura, is Laura Munoz, at least according to Wikipedia and various other articles.

        • I assume Laura Luce and Laura Munoz are the same person, as both are reported in the press as married to John D. Arnold and both are said to be Yale Law grads.

          As it does appear these folks definitely are ultra-wealthy: their foundation as of 2014 Form 990 had over $1.6 billion in assets.

          • It’s quite possible the stuff about a defaulted mortgage from a hedge fund is simply an innocently fractured story that one commonly hears from neighbors or even real estate brokers.

            A more plausible explanation is that some ultra-rich folks from Houston bought the place on a whim, put it into an LLC, and then essentially forgot about it — leaving some of their minions to deal with it.

            I can see however that — to mere mortals — it might appear odd to pay $12 million for a $6 million house, then neglect it for years, then order the whole place to be torn down to the horror of the neighbors.

          • $50 (contribution to support Dan’s blog) says they are different people. Up for the bet?

            • Sure Jerry, I’ll take you up on that.

              • Laura Elena (Muñoz) Arnold – attorney, Cobalt Energy, and never, apparently, affiliated with Enron. From link, “During the 2000-2001 term, she clerked for the Honorable Judith W. Rogers of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.”

                http://littlesis.org/person/49746/Laura_E_Arnold

                Laura Luce – described as former colleague of John Arnold at Enron (third from last paragraph in linked Fortune article). Ran NGS Energy which was based in Westport. Notably, John’s wife, Laura Arnold, is mentioned in the same article as “…Laura — a Yale Law grad who once worked at the powerhouse law firm Wachtell Lipton and started an energy-exploration firm…” and not as an Enron colleague or tied to Laura Luce mentioned later in article. Enron e-mail database shows Laura Luce with Enron e-mail address (second link) in 2000-2001 when Laura Arnold was a law clerk.

                http://archive.fortune.com/2009/11/23/news/companies/centaurus_john_arnold.fortune/index.htm
                http://emailinspector.xyz/s.php?q=Laura+Luce

                Don’t think they are same person.

                • Sounds like solid research to me; I guess I owe Dan a $50 donation!

                  • What a breathless article in Fortune. Everything this man does is just wonderful. And pay no attention to that Enron thing; he had nothing to do with them except to help them make an honest profit…of course!

                    • I think that happens when you have billions of dollars. Particularly when Fortune is writing. I think the only time a billion dollars gets you negative press is when you are the former leader of a country and your replacement is trying to get some of it back (or is trying to distract voters from their own attempted graft).

                  • Good cause whichever way it went.

                  • Peter paid up! THANKS — a man of his word!

  10. Simply horrible. Oh, yes, non FEMA compliance need not result in demolition. Our P&Z Comm. adopted a reg. they believed was fair that allows tear downs to be rebuilt taller than otherwise permitted because of FEMA. The Commission could have made this reg. applicable only to the lifting of houses, not tear downs. The Commission decided otherwise. I believe that was a mistake and said so at the time. Don Bergmann

  11. Mary (Cookman) Schmerker Staples 1958

    You can’t begin to imagine how sad this is. My family owned a home in Owenoke for years. The home in question was originally that of Mrs. Roman Henry Heyn. I am so glad that I am in town and was able to visit on Owenoke just yesterday and see the house still standing. Mrs .Gertrude Heyn was a philanthropist. Mrs. Heyn’s mother Mrs. Hotchkiss was the daughter of the founder of Hotchkiss Staple Company. Daytona Beach has preserved their winter home and has even asked me for information and pictures. Going farther back Mrs. Heyn’s mother was a Jessup which makes the home a part of Westport’s early history. It sits on more than one lot. This really is a travesty. I will be sending 06880 a lot more information and the Heyn/Hotchkiss family very soon. I can’t help but feel that there is greed involved. I really like to only post positive comments but I just can’t on this case. Come on Westport. Become proactive. You have a wonderful history with many, many people who did their best to share and promote for the betterment of everyone. Support those who are trying to preserve what you have and enjoy every day.
    .

  12. The Hines Family owned this house in the 30’s, to the 80’s maybe even longer. My uncle Al Montano worked there as property manager for over 50 years. Mrs. Hines’ family owned the Hotchkiss Staple Company.

    It is (was) a grand house. It is so upsetting that the Westport Historic District Commission allowed the town’s history to be demolished.Also this house weathered many a storm, but it can not weather this one, the wrecking ball. So sad!

    • Mary Lou Schmerker

      Hi Cathy,
      I have wonderful memories of your uncle. But the name is spelled Heyn. I’m on a trip to Westport now and will try to share some information with you later. I knew your Uncle as a child and young woman and the high reguard that Mrs. Heyn had for him. She remembered him in her will. It is recorded in a newspaper report of her death.

  13. Yes, I’m that Bradley.

    I’m thinking about this and what I may comment, but not quite yet and perhaps not quite what you would expect. For now, though, just to keep the record authentic: my family lived across the street at what is now #16 Owenoke, for my entire growing-up. In 1959 I was married from this house, which my father had bought in 1936.

    Meanwhile, a wealthy, reserved and solitary woman lived in the house across the street. Gertrude Heyn, childless widow, without close heirs – one distant nephew, I think – had always had a fondness for my father. She had told her lawyer, Frank Lovejoy, “to make it easy for Kenneth to buy her house after she died.” And so he did: the price was significant then but bordering on very, very low. It happened in about 1960/1961.

    I never lived in that house myself. My younger brother and sister did. Meanwhile, my husband and I had built a house of our own in Owenoke shortly before, at what I believe is now #28.We bought the land from my father for $5,000 (we paid in installments),building the house for $18,000. (Not a typo.)

    As for “property across the street” — after my father died the lawyers who were in charge of his estate sold #16 (which had been rented since his move) but one small piece was retained. I think my father was sentimental about access to Gray’s Creek, and, being a lawyer, wanted to keep his options open. That piece is presently a lawn behind a wall. It is incredibly tempting as vacant land today but because it is just several hundred feet short of a building lot and the only way to increase it is to fill into the Creek –impossible. Realtors have stood on their heads to find a solution but it isn’t going to happen, unless Zoning or the DEEP surrender. Doubtful.
    So, those are the facts. As for opinion, maybe later.

  14. Well, isn’t this a fine kettle of fish! Typical of the expedient “instant gratification” world we live in whose modus operandi is to live “in the moment” which includes razing historic homes and landmarks, erasing any/all edifices that just might contain vestiges of and smack of yesteryear for whatever purpose fits/suits their immediate needs. Soon, very soon, the Westport I knew and loved will be non-existent: completely devoid of charm, history, heritage, etc., reflecting the revisionist mindset of the era. How utterly sad. How utterly myopic. And so it goes..

  15. Cathy, I remember your uncle Al Montano well. He was one of the nicest men ever. He always had time to stop and talk to a small child – me. He was more than a grounds- keeper: I remember when he accompanied Mrs. Heyn on a a trip to Europe. He drove for her too. Always kept her safe and comfortable.

  16. Hi Peach. I am delightfully happy in my lovely little 1788 house in Roxbury, away from the madding crowd. Enjoy your posts. Hope you are well and happy too. We Bradleys seem to soldier on…..

    • I’m sitting here with Mom. At age 90, she keeps up with 06880. She and your dad were not only cousins but great friends. Up until 7-mos. ago, life was manageable for her – but less manageable now. Big decisions on the horizon. She’s as sharp as ever though – just sick & tired dealing with a body that can’t keep up with her mind. Growing old is not for wimps!

  17. Such a sad state of affairs. It was such a beautiful and regal home. It boasted such an understated elegance not found in most of today’s new builds. Watching it come down was stunning. They really don’t make them like they used to.

    Reading many of the comments here, I see that it enjoyed an even richer history than I had realized. Such a shame that the economics of restoring this home from her faded glory appear to have gotten in the way. A victim of its own success.

    And to think, this house was the cornerstone of the Owenoke Historic District….

  18. Susan Wasserman

    I read this blog from Westport. To my horror they tore this BEAUTIFUL home down on my old street. I’m just sick!!

    🐾SW

    >

  19. Judyth (Honeycutt) Katz, wife of Daniel, 46 years residency in neighborhood.

    How sad! After 12 million spent, hard to imagine that something even of
    appropriate scale might be built. One can hope. We had disastrous
    giant houses go up in our immediate neighborhood nearby. It changed
    the whole feel of the area. I am very upset for our lovely neighbor most immediate to those giant houses who has lost nearly all privacy. And I can’t even think about the utter disregard for history of the area.
    So, I shudder at just how easy it is to spoil the feeling of Owenoke.

  20. Sarah Zuckerman

    Just ran past this demo this morning in the pouring rain!!

    >

  21. Terry Brannigan

    That was a magnificent house and filled with some wonderful people over the years. Put that in the category of huge bummer.

  22. I am Bonnie Bradley’s daughter, Wendy. Though this is a very sad scene for Westport residents, Owenoke residents (current and former); the Heyn House was in very, very poor condition. I visited it several times this summer and the photos on the website are extremely forgiving. To restore it would have taken huge sums of money and a true love of this property, committing oneself emotionally and financially to the restoration and preservation of the home.

    There have been many rumors about the history of the home, some of which my mother addressed in her comments, and some of which I address below.

    Personally, I did everything I could to help save this home from demolition. I met many times with the realtor who partnered with me, as she aligned in my goal to save the home, hoping to find a buyer willing to take this massive project on. I met with the seller’s attorney, spoke with neighbors and residents and talked to The Westport Historic Commission. I wrote letters to the editor at the Westport News and to the chair of the Historic Commission, begging for preservation of this home.

    As my letter to the editor in January 2016 said, “Long gone is the idea of being a steward for a home. Of understanding the legacy of a neighborhood. What about the notion of purchasing a property, updating it to include all the luxuries of today, while maintaining what made it a piece of history in the first place? It seems to me that imagination and creativity are checked at the door when the keys are handed to the new owner.” This seems to be the progression of the buyers in Westport today. Unless the community decides that our shared history is valuable, then it will continue to trend in this direction and homes like these will be memories.

    **History** Roman Heyn was originally from Germany. Reports say he came to America in the early 1900s. He met and married Gertrude (Gerttie) Hotchkiss in 1911. Gertrude’s family owned a local meat company and the Hotchkiss family was possible investor/founder of Pitney Bowes.  Roman got a job with Pitney Bowes and worked in Stamford for 20 years as a Director of the company.  Gertrude had family money.  The two traveled to Europe often. Reports say they were a very close couple. He died in the 1940s. Gertrude died in August 1960.  She is buried at Willowbrook Cemetery in Westport, or at least has a very large tombstone there.  There are conflicting reports she was cremated and her ashes were spread over the ocean.
    J. Kenneth Bradley and Ina Bradley (my maternal grandparents) lived across the street at 10 Owenoke Park until the death of Gertrude Heyn, who reportedly asked her lawyer to give the first right to purchase Linden House to them. Ken and Ina moved into 17 Owenoke Park in the fall of 1960. Ken Bradley was an attorney and judge in Fairfield County, as well as a state senator. He ran (an unsuccessful) campaign for Governor of Connecticut in the 1950’s. Ina was a writer, sometimes television and radio personality, president of the Westport Woman’s Club and chair of The Westport Country Playhouse. Ken, an only child, grew up in Westport and lived on Owenoke his entire life. Their oldest daughter, Bonnie, my mother, married and lived on Owenoke herself, until 1997, when she sold our family home.

  23. Was there a “demolition sale”? Was anything salvaged?

  24. Bonnie Bradley

    The house was named “Lindenheim” – meaning “House of The Linden”, honoring the majestic tree which stood before the front door, where the two halves of the house came together, as well as to reflect Roman Heyn’s heritage. The linden tree came down sometime fairly recently. Other large trees were removed, leaving the grand house standing alone, like a lonely camel on the desert sand. The exterior of the house had fallen into serious disrepair.

    Regarding my parents’ ownership, the house was sold by the lawyers, sometime in the 1980s I would say. The Schadts, who bought the house loved it and cared for it. Photos of the interior taken recently show a pretty complete conversion to the decor in vogue today: sterile, sleek, white, but appearing in good condition and, bizarre in the context of the house itself.

    I remember: That my three children had the wonderful opportunity to run up the street to their grandmother’s house every day for many happy hours. And the joyful family parties, all of us together.

    This I remember too: An ambulance under the linden tree and my father on a gurney being hustled into it. He was crying. He had been at home for almost a year, confined to bed, unable to walk, dying of bone cancer. Just him and my mother, no nurse or help. The doctors insisted he be taken to the hospital. He died that night in June of 1969 at 8 pm. In Yale New Haven Hospital. None of us was able to get there in time.

    In spite of the best intentions what realistically can be done? The Westport Historic District Commission? The State Historic Preservation Office? The many lifelong residents of Westport who care? Can you imagine that the current residents would permit a Bed & Breakfast or a public historic house museum? Dream on….

    Only two things prevail and they are money and power.

    So I say, mourn it, accept it, and remember it as it was in those beautiful Westport days which we were privileged to experience.

  25. A magnificent home with such character 😦 What a loss for beautiful Westport, part of my heart.

  26. Thank you Wendy for acknowledging our desire to save the house. After one year of showing this property none was willing to take on the project including its FEMA compliance. Our first choice always was to save your grandfathers home . It’s a shame that iconic homes like this have to meet such an inglorious fate.

  27. Mary (Cookman) Schmerker Staples 1958

    Thank You Wendy for your caring and sensitive words and effort to save the house. I too remember it from my earliest days and I have very fond memories of Mrs. Heyn. She was a friend of my grandmother’s from their days as young women. I will share a lot of what I know and remember shortly. All my records are at my home. Thankfully I was in Owenoke yesterday and saw the home standing on it’s last day. When I return from my short vacation I will share what I know and fill in a few blanks. Mrs. Heyn’s mother’s father invented a commercial stapler and the company was called Hotchkiss Stapler. Later it was purchased or sold to Pitney Bowes. I do believe that at some point the family did have a meat packing business in Norwalk. I’ll e-mail Dan Woog with what I do know soon. By the way, I am one day older than your Uncle James Bradley. I know of his fondness for Greens Farms Academy and his great efforts for the school. My sister Carol may have been a babysitter for you at some point.

    • Mary, so nice to hear from you. Carol (I called her Kiki) was my sitter for years. Please tell her hello and how much I miss her.

  28. Bonnie Bradley

    Mary – your sister Carol was my children’s beloved babysitter for many years. Wendy was 4 months old, Carol was 13, and with a broken leg in a cast the first time she “sat” for us… I’ll never forget that!! Haven’t heard from Carol in many years, hope she is happy and well. We all still think of her with love.

  29. Bonnie Bradley

    SALLY: Very distressed that I missed your comment about your mother and my father! Somehow it was inserted above with other comments made days earlier and I just looked back at all the posts…Yes, they were cousins who sweetly cared for each other. My father always spoke with affection and love for your mother. And I remember meeting her one time at her house when I was a little girl. So sad that what I now understand is that some stupid Bradley feud, of unknown origin but perpetrated by my grandmother Bradley, caused a rift in our family…. Think it had something to do with our great-grandmother (her mother-in-law), of whom, whenever the subject arose, my grandmother Bradley referred to derisively as “the French woman.” I only learned her name a few years ago: Caroline duChemin in France, later changed to Caroline Peters when they came to Barbados, and later, America. Please tell your mother that my father loved and honored her for all of his days…

    • Mary (Cookman) Schmerker Staples 1958

      Bonnie, like you, I keep, looking back at Dan’s blog and look for new posts. I would love to contact you and get any thoughts that you have about Mrs. Heyn. I’ll e-mail Dan and ask that he give you my contact information so you can contact me if you wish. The Daytona Beach Historical Preservation Society is interested in Mrs. Heyn. I will be talking to them in November. I remember your mother very fondly. I am one day older than “Jimmy” and she picked out the sweetest jewelry ( age appropriate of course) for me as a young girl. I also have a picture of the three of us in front of Dr. Jarvis’ house. I think your mother is in the back of the picture.

    • Mom also enjoyed chatting it up with your Mom in the parking lot at Peter’s Bridge Market…my parents were distant cousins thru the Bradley family. Anyway, just a year ago, she could still be found on the golf course. Living here in Naples, FL has certainly contributed to her longevity for which we are thankful for.

  30. Anne Kantor Lynn

    So glad to see names and experiences from my childhood. A teenage test of courage was jumping off of Mrs. Heyn’s seawall into not much water. I grew up in #9 which we just sold last year after much soul searching. And it looks as if it’s the next for demolition. Thank you Bonnie, Wendy, Peach, Mary and many more.

  31. Mary (Cookman) Schmerker Staples 1958

    Originally my grandmother’s house was between Mrs. Heyn’s and the Jarvis’ home. We were never brave enough to jump. We did put down a ladder or walk down from the Jarvis’ house. Did you dig for clams? When we were kids it was legal to dig for the cherry stone clams with out a license.

    • Anne Kantor Lynn

      Ah, dear Mrs. Otis. We sang Christmas carols under her gracious leadership. Then went from house to house. You must have been with us. We never understood why Mrs. Heyn’s house had no access to the water. Surely the new house will address that. Clams, the float, Miss Butler’s mulberry bush, flashlight tag. Thanks for bringing it all back.

      • Mary (Cookman) Schmerker Staples 1958

        Mrs. Heyn’s mother, Mrs. Hotchkiss, was blind. That explains why there was no access to the water. Originally Mrs. Hotchkiss lived in the house next door. My grandmother rented and then bought the house from Mrs. Heyn and it was moved to #36 , it was Mrs. Hein’s wish to have more space and privacy, if my memory is correct. It is so good to know that people remember my grandmother and her musical efforts. The big danger to Owenoke, as I see it is how many lots Mrs. Heyn’s house occupied and how many homes can be built in the space. Every square inch of concrete equals drainage problems during storms. Thanks for adding to the memories.

        .

  32. Mrs (Miss?) Otis – was she the one with the greenhouse full of geraniums? We used to go visit her all the time. She lived down at the end of the road before you got to the Whelan’s house. Mrs. Whelan used to design prints for Lily Pulitzer — when Lily was still selling from the fruit stand.

    • Mary (Cookman) Schmerker Staples 1958

      My grandmother, Mrs. Otis, Ella was the one who had the greenhouse, down the road, near the Whelan’s on the Creek side. I remember the green house more for her orchids, cactus, hibiscus and night blooming Cereus. I’m sure she had some geraniums as well. After her death my mother lived there with my sister, brother Corky and later Nancy Lauber who became the Headmistress of Laycock Country Day School. Nancy was the Headmistress who, with the able inspiration of Lucy Bedford Cunningham Warren and the Board of Directors, turned the school into a coed school and renamed it Greens Farms Academy. By the time my mother moved in I was already out of college and working in New York City.

  33. Bonnie Bradley

    Mary, Sally, Anne (you babysat for me too!): Believe-it-or-not, I still have a cactus Ella Otis gave me from her house in the 1960s! It has gone everywhere with me over the years. It was quite big and healthy but a few years ago developed some dreadful fungus or something and almost died away. I was able to save a small healthy piece and so still have the original plant, in reduced form. It’s doing well now. Remember the Owenoke kids playing flashlight tag so well…..lots of screaming and laughing. Those were the days…..

  34. Ellen Greenberg

    The history of this house and the street is fascinating. It is unfortunate that it takes a demolition to bring it out. I remember Bonnie Bradley coming to visit a number of years ago. She met with many of the residents and shared some of the history of the street. It was fascinating. In response to Nancy Hunter, yes, parts of the home were salvaged. The Westport Garden Club was allowed to rescue plants that would have been destroyed including tree peonies and roses. Not-for-profits were invited to salvage whatever they could from the interior including the kitchen, bathrooms and living room mill work.

  35. Grant Monsarrat

    45 Owenoke, my childhood home that was in the family for 25 years, was demolished a couple of years ago. The new owner gave me permission to go in and revisit the place. I was amazed at how little had been done to update it, and it became clear as to why it had to be demolished. Its enormous replacement is still under construction. Sad, and a little scary, how many homes they have now managed to cram into Owenoke, once a humble onion patch I believe. What an idyllic place to grow up, and such nice neighbors!