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News August 2013

New Canaan mystery house hits the market

August 23, 2013

From the late 1940s through the 1960s there were frequent and heavily attended house tours in New Canaan, CT, showcasing the most exciting examples of Modern architecture in a town that sported a disproportionally large number of fine specimens. This practice picked up again around 2000 as interest in mid-century Modern architecture grew, and it continues. Through all this activity one house has remained a mystery to the public, having never been included in a tour: The Dana House.

The Dana House was designed by Ulrich Franzen and completed in 1963. It is one of Franzen’s “pavilion houses,” comprising five two-story brick-and-glass-walled pavilions arranged in an asymmetrical pattern with two large decks. The 5,500-sq.-ft. house takes center stage on a gorgeous 9-acre site that was previously farmland and an apple orchard. Approaching the 50-year mark, the Dana House retains its original owner and original design. It’s been beautifully maintained and remains surprisingly intact, the only changes being some bathroom and kitchen finishes. It hit the market for the first time in June.

All sounds wonderful except this is New Canaan. A house on nine acres with absolutely no preservation protections means the possibility of three hulking new houses. Adding to the developer’s dream site is the fact that the property is a short walk to the train station and protected by surrounding green belts and a land trust. The owner declined to have the house included in the 2008 New Canaan Mid-Century Modern House Survey, which in turn precluded it from being included in the National Register Multiple Property nomination that followed and could have provided at least a smidgen of protection. (In September 2010, 18 New Canaan Moderns were added to the National and Connecticut State Register of Historic Places through this effort.)

The sample subdivision plan prepared before the house was listed suggests holding the prime 2.8 acres for the Dana House and partitioning two additional lots: one 3.4 acres not in the view line of the house; one 2.9 acres that would be visible. Maintaining the house on its nine acres would be the optimum outcome of the sale. Building a design-compatible house on one or both of the subdivided lots would be second best. Demolishing the house for three fresh buildable lots could also be the outcome.

Saving a Modern house on a valuable site from the standard-plan real estate developer means finding a new owner who appreciates the period and its great works. The DOCOMOMO community can help spread the word about the Dana House so that it survives its first sale intact—and maybe even makes it on a future house tour.

For a photo gallery, floor plan and full real estate details see the website of the listing agent, Susan Blabey/William Pitt Sotheby’s: www.thedanahouse.com

Todd Goddard’s Architectural Homes NY site has some historical photos of the Dana House mixed in with the current.

Dana House by Ulrich Franzen, 1963