Above: The New Haven Lawn Club, photo by Eric Brushett Photography
In the last issue of The Connecticut Bride, we introduced you to some of the extraordinary rustic-chic wedding venues the state has to offer. They were warm, they were inviting, they are oh-so-romantic, but here’s the thing: Burlap and lace surely have their place, but so do gold leaf and marble. And so this time around we decided to focus on wedding venues that have a little more sparkle and shimmer, opulence and ornamentation to offer. Grand mansions, historic ballrooms, monuments to the arts … each shines bright in its very own way. Take a look, and let us know which fits your image of the perfect day.
Night at the museum
The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, founded in 1842 by Daniel Wadsworth, is the country’s oldest public art museum in continuous existence — but that has never meant it was one to rest on its laurels. In fact, within the past five years the Wadsworth completed a massive $33 million renovation that restored its buildings to their original splendor and completely reinstalled the museum’s collections of post-war art, contemporary art, European art and European decorative arts. It’s a renovation that The New York Times has deemed a “masterpiece” in and of itself, and, yes, lucky brides-to-be, that masterpiece is available to rent for weddings.
Gilded and gleaming with Old World pomp and circumstance, Morgan Great Hall, the museum’s soaring centerpiece gallery, features a floor-to-ceiling salon-style hanging of 95 European and American paintings and can host up to 120 guests for a seated reception. The fountain sculpture “Venus with Nymph and Satyr,” created in 1600 for a garden in Florence by the Mannerist sculptor Pietro Francavilla, is the star of light and bright Avery Court, where up to 150 seated guests can also dine in the presence of surrealist and modernist masters such as Salvador Dalí, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso and Edvard Munch.
Self-guided tours of the museum can be arranged, but with so much to see (the Wadsworth’s collection includes nearly 50,000 works of art that span 5,000 years,) docent-led tours can also be tailored to a couple’s artistic preferences.
Your palace awaits
If your vision of your wedding includes your name in lights, consider Waterbury’s landmark Palace Theater, where a wedding within means your name outside on the theater marquee for all the world to see.
Famed New England theater impresario Sylvester Z. Poli opened the Palace in 1922 as a movie/vaudeville house after investing $1 million in its opulent decor. Designed by period architect Thomas Lamb in a Renaissance Revival style, the theater, which completed a $30 million renovation, restoration and expansion in 2004, features an eclectic mix of Greek, Roman, Arabic and Federal motifs evidenced in glittering lobby spaces, gilded dome ceilings, staircases of fine Italian marble and massive 800-pound crystal chandeliers, and has evolved over the years to present everything from silent films to Big Band swing sessions, rock concerts to Broadway tours.
Palace weddings take full advantage of the palatial grandeur of the elaborately detailed Grand Foyer, orchestra and mezzanine lobbies, which together seat up to 240 guests. The stage of the 2,543-seat theater itself can also seat 200. Given the setting, you can well imagine that there is “a lot of room for creativity and personalization when it comes to weddings,” says Audra Petrucelli, director of hospitality and special events. Consider printing “tickets” that can be picked up at the box office in lieu of place cards, digital monitors to broadcast a slideshow of your favorite memories and, of course, you and hubby must strike a pose in one of the orchestra boxes to be immortalized.
Once upon a time the Hotel Bond was where Hartford’s elite socialized. In the grand tradition of downtown hotels, the 12-story landmark, which opened its doors in September 1921, included a 5,000-square-foot penthouse ballroom where men in white tie and tails and women in lavish gowns waltzed beneath gilt chandeliers in a room lined with 17 towering arched windows that presented unobstructed views of downtown Hartford. The cityscape may have changed just a bit in the past, oh, almost 100 years, but the views from the Bond Ballroom, which today hosts weddings for up to 250 seated guests, are equally impressive.
Those grand windows still stretch from floor to ceiling along three walls and, in fact, each has a window seat so that your guests can get comfy while taking in the Hartford skyline (the Capitol dome, the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch in Bushnell Park ...). Recent additions to the Bond wedding experience from new owners Bond Ballroom LLC include an open, airy and decidedly serene chapel and a handsome new space for cocktails. The Bond is “classic, it’s elegant and it’s a true showcase for all Hartford has to offer,” sums up events director Nina Musumeci. The landmark building also happens to be home to Homewood Suites by Hilton Downtown — so tell your guests to pack their bags!
The New Haven Lawn Club was founded in 1891 by a group of wealthy New Haven residents interested in just such a pursuit. Russell Sargent, Eli Whitney and William Beebe were among its first members, and after the club burnt to the ground in 1929, yet another member, prominent New Haven architect Douglas W. Orr, designed the stately, red-brick Georgian mansion in New Haven’s East Rock neighborhood that the club has called home ever since.
The architecture of the club, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is said to reflect both the Art Deco and Colonial Revival styles that were popular at the time, explains weddings director Christine Brush. The original members’ dining room, with two wood-burning fireplaces, Waterford crystal chandeliers and a black-and-ochre-checkered terrazzo floor, is used for cocktail hour, while its ballroom with a 25-foot, barrel-vaulted ceiling, floor-to-ceiling windows, crystal wall sconces, a built-in stage, a terrace overlooking the tennis courts and four show-stopping Austrian crystal Art Deco chandeliers can seat up to 210 guests for a reception.
“I never get tired of seeing the look on people’s faces when they see the ballroom for the first time,” Brush says. The architectural detail, the character … “they don’t make them like this anymore. This building is truly something special.”
203-777-3494, ext. 211, lawnclubfinecatering.com
Get ready for the ‘wow’
We’re betting you’ve seen it off I-95 in Norwalk, but might not have known what it was. The Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum, centered in the city’s Mathews Park, is in fact regarded as one of the earliest and most significant Second Empire-style country houses in the country.
Built by banking magnate/railroad tycoon LeGrand Lockwood between 1864 and 1868, the lavish 62-room summer chateau reflects the grandeur and elegance of the Victorian era, but, because Mr. Lockwood was “passionate about both the arts and technology,” says executive director Susan Gilgore, it was also considered a technological marvel of its time. Think indoor plumbing (both hot and cold), gas lighting, a ventilation system that was a precursor of A/C, and a central heating system that burned a ton of coal a day — even President Lincoln’s little place on Pennsylvania Avenue was not as advanced!
So, if you were not to your own mansion born (sigh), the entire magnificently restored first floor of this one can be licensed for weddings. The stately Billiards Room, where Lockwood, one of the first treasurers of the New York Stock Exchange, hosted world-renowned guests and industrialists, and the Grand Rotunda, where the patron of the arts once displayed his collection of paintings and statuary, can seat up to 150 guests. The stunning rotunda features a cove ceiling topped by a double 42-foot skylight as well as an imperial black walnut staircase said to be a “tour de force of craftsmanship.”
Trust Gilgore when she says, “you’ll be enchanted by what you see.”
Bank on it
Stamford’s Bank Street Events has what the folks here like to call a “wealthy history.” The handsome event venue is located, after all, in a circa-1912 building in the heart of downtown that was once home to the Citizens Savings Bank of Stamford, and while the grand ol’ bank may have closed its doors, the opulence of its 23-foot, 10-foot windows, ornate wood paneling, miles of original marble and magnificent stained-glass dome ceiling remain.
Weddings here are split between two levels. The main floor is used for cocktails and dancing (hello, marble dance floor), while a mezzanine level combined with the bank’s original boardroom offers seating for up to 152 guests — and stellar photo opps for the bride and groom beneath an ornate archway with wrought-iron detailing.
Better yet, owner and event planner Nikki Glekas, who took over Bank Street Events in mid-2014, also happens to own Nikki Glekas Events, so you can bank on the fact that she will have your back when it comes to everything from lush florals to favors, linens to knock-your-socks-off event lighting.
Get to the point
The Branford House in Groton may be located on what is now the University of Connecticut’s 72-acre Avery Point campus, but don’t let that fool you: This is far from your typical campus “housing.”
This 31-room Newport-style mansion, which even in 1903 cost a reputed $3 million to build, was once the home of wealthy businessman/gentleman farmer Morton Plant and his wife Nellie. The fairy-tale mansion was, in fact, designed by Nellie, who studied architecture at the Sorbonne, and boasts an oh-so-grand exterior done almost entirely in the Tudor style using granite quarried from the grounds. The interior is something else entirely, and combines a mélange of different styles — Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance, Classical and even Flemish — that the Mrs. was inclined to dabble in.
The materials used range from rich woods like mahogany, oak and walnut to imported stones and metals like onyx, bronze and iron, while hundreds of skilled European carvers are said to have completed the finely detailed ornamentation of fireplaces (including a grand two-story marble model in the Great Room), pillars and panels, each entirely different from the next. The Grand Ballroom combined with equally lavish rooms in the East and West wings can accommodate up to 200 seated guests for a wedding, with more spilling out onto a bluestone patio that provides unobstructed blue views of Long Island Sound.
Eolia, named for the island home of Aeolus, Greek god of the winds, was once the summer home of philanthropist Edward Harkness and his family. The 42-room Italian-style villa was where the Harknesses (not to mention their 80 servants) generally spent June through September of each year — until 1950, that is, when it was bequeathed to the state. Rental of the circa-1906 mansion, which is now the centerpiece of the more than 230 seaside acres that make up Waterford’s Harkness Memorial State Park, is available March 1 through Dec. 23, and includes the use of its entire first floor for up to 150 seated guests.
Highlights include the morning room, finished in black-walnut paneling painted, as was much of the mansion, in mother-of-pearl pastels; a music room with marble fireplace, 16-foot ceilings and French doors that open onto the loggia, a glass-enclosed breakfast room with a painted ceiling depicting four seasons of floral arrangements. and an ornate “living hall” with grand Palladian windows that deliver knockout views of Long Island Sound. Ceremonies can be held in either an open-air amphitheater with beachfront views or beneath a pergola overlooking an award-winning Italian garden with original sculpture, fountains and pottery that was designed, as were many of the gardens, by renowned landscape designer Beatrix Farrand.
Between the glory of the gardens, the panoramic waterfront views and splendor of the mansion, Eolia delivers what mansion event manager Sally Hargis calls a perfect “trifecta” when it comes to Connecticut venues.
Organized in 1819, the Society for Savings was the state’s first mutual savings bank. Its first building is said to have been constructed at 31 Pratt St. in downtown Hartford in 1834, the second in 1860 and the present structure, now home to the Society Room of Hartford, in 1893. The grandeur of a wedding at this downtown landmark is hard to deny. The building finally settled into Renaissance Revival style during an interior renovation in 1926, which remains in place today.
Towering marble columns, limestonje, brass and bronze accents, ornamental plaster work, gold leafing and an ornate muraled ceiling that soars some 35 feet above the dance floor adorn an opulent ballroom straight out of Gatsby (it can seat up to 200). A 3,000-square-foot mezzanine (cocktails, anyone?) overlooks the ballroom and a grand staircase (we are proud to introduce to you …) connects the two. Don’t forget to snap the requisite shots in the building’s original bank vault or in front of the entrance’s massive carved-oak doors, reminds wedding sales manager Melissa Sundholm — stunning!
If walls could talk …
The corner of College and Chapel streets in downtown New Haven has featured either a tavern or a hotel for the past three centuries. The Hotel Taft (now Taft Apartments) was built in 1912 and in its dignified history hosted everyone from President William Howard Taft (who lived in the hotel for eight years immediately following his presidency while he taught constitutional law at Yale University), to stars like Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, who once trod the boards at the Shubert Theatre next door, to the one-and-only Babe Ruth, who was met by an estimated crowd of 10,000 (!) children waiting for him outside the hotel when the New York Yankees came to New Haven in 1932. Roìa Restaurant (pronounced ROY-uh), named for a river that flows between the border of France and Italy, is located in what was once the grand dining room of the Hotel Taft.
“It kind of feels like you travel back in time when you come here,” says Christianne Rozsa, private events director at Roìa. Think soaring ceilings, marble tile floors, ornate carvings, period fixtures, and original wood paneling. The “architectural gem,” is “very romantic, classic and elegant, but with a cozy vibe as well,” Rozsa says. A balcony overlooking the main restaurant can be rented for receptions of up to 75 seated guests, while a full “buyout” of the space means festivities for up to 175 seated guests can be spread between the two levels.
“The space is very flexible,” says Rozsa, and, better yet, Roìa will work with brides and grooms to customize a menu that takes full advantage of executive chef Avi Szapiro’s devotion to French and Italian cuisine created with locally sourced ingredients.