Jul 16, 2014
Plans to Turn Wallace Stevens' House Into a Museum Have Fallen Through
“Several times I've gone by there and looked longingly from the outside and thought it would be wonderful to be on the inside,” says Johnson, who lives in Topsham, Maine.
When the house on Westerly Terrace, which Stevens lived in from 1935 until his death in 1955, went on the market in June, it looked as if Johnson’s wish was going to be granted.
Johnson, who is the author of Wallace Stevens A Dual Life as Poet and Insurance Executive had organized a consortium of investors who planned to buy the house and hold it while a nonprofit organization could be formed to open a museum at the site.
The group put an offer in on the house in early July and was scheduled to close on it this Friday (July 18). But on Monday the plan began to crumble and yesterday the offer was officially withdrawn.
“Unfortunately we had a situation where one of the members of the consortium could no longer put the money in,” Johnson says regretfully Wednesday afternoon. “It was a nice dream while it lasted.”
Johnson does not name the individual who backed out but confirms he was also going to loan the proposed museum some of the original furniture and paintings from the home. A July 9 article in The Hartford Courant stated that Stevens' grandson was involved with the group and planning on loaning these or similar objects. Johnson says that the combination of the $100,000 being withdrawn, along with the rescinding of the loan of Stevens’ items, make a museum unfeasible.
“Even if we tried to replace his hundred thousand, just not having the collection of furniture and paintings to be the cornerstone of the museum was a big loss,” she says. “The whole project was much less viable once [the furniture and paintings] were no longer available to us.”
The 3,900-square-foot house has six bedrooms and three bathrooms. It went on the market June 22. The asking price is $489,999. The house has belonged to the Christ Church Cathedral since Stevens’ death in 1955. Paula Ostop of Ellyn Marshall & Associates is the listing realtor and says many potential buyers have been intrigued by the house’s historic connections.
“Buyers who love the architectural details available in older homes have been further intrigued by the historical significance of the home’s previous owner,” she says. “Approximately 30 groups have viewed the home. I would venture to guess a little more than half have been intrigued as a result of the Wallace Stevens connection.”
Beyond its ties to Stevens, the house has many selling points.
“[The] West End neighborhood is fabulous, very social and engaging,” she says. “[The] home has incredible architectural details and, for the most part, an open and inviting floor plan.”
A native of Pennsylvania, Stevens became a celebrated poet while simultaneously working as a top executive at a Hartford insurance company. He was a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and his best-known poems include Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock, The Emperor of Ice-Cream, Sunday Morning, The Snow Man, and Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.
His Hartford home is already something of a tourist attraction. A few years ago the Connecticut based organization The Friends and Enemies of Wallace Stevens organized a walking tour that traces the path Stevens, who never learned to drive, would walk on most days from his home to his job at The Hartford building at 690 Asylum Avenue. Stevens would often write poems in his head as he walked the route, which is a little over two miles. The walking tour includes 13 knee-high stones, each inscribed with a verse of Stevens’ poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.
(The Friends and Enemies of Wallace Stevens’ name is a light-hearted nod to the poet’s sometimes cantankerous personality. Ernest Hemingway once described Stevens as “pleasant like cholera” and the two well-known literary figures had a fist fight one night in Key West. In Key West Stevens also met and argued with Robert Frost, only this time the argument was limited to words alone.)
The President of The Friends and Enemies of Wallace Stevens, Jim Finnegan, says he regularly receives emails from Stevens enthusiasts who followed the walking route. Finnegan expects Stevens’ reputation to continue to grow.
“His work is very profound and his use of the language is exquisite,” Finnegan says. “One of his big themes had to do with perception and reality, imagination and how that affects human understanding of the world. He had a lot of philosophical underpinnings within his poetry that come out in poem after poem. In that way he’s sort of a thinking person’s poet as well as one who wrote very gorgeous lines.”