Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Actors' Home a Museum

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Actors' Home a Museum

Article excerpt

Take a detour off the highway between Milwaukee and Madison, Wis., and you can step back into another time, another world, another way of living.

In the small town of Genesee Depot is a historic home unlike most others you may have visited. It's called Ten Chimneys, and was the longtime vacation (and later retirement) home of the famed actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.

Their names may be forgotten today, or known only because of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Broadway. But in their day, they were among the best known and most popular actors, who built a national following by touring to theaters across the country in the shows they presented on Broadway.

They were so successful that they had contracts that gave them summers off to spend at Ten Chimneys, where they would relax, garden and host famous friends. And what friends they had there: Noel Coward, Laurence Olivier, Carol Channing and Helen Hayes.

In one room, there's a fun illustration depicting Hayes waving from the window of the original (now-demolished) Helen Hayes Theatre to Lunt and Fontanne, who look on from their theater across the street. The note says something about how lovely it is to share "the street where you live."

The original home, started in 1914, is nearing 100 years. It was expanded and redecorated over the years, and the property grew to 100 acres. It's named for the 10 (actually 11) chimneys on the grounds, which include a main house, a guest cottage, a pool house, a chicken coop and even a barn-like theater space, all nestled in a wooded area.

It was a private sanctuary, and our charming tour guides, Gene and Edi Goodman, said locals respected the stars' privacy and would dissuade visitors from looking for it. "No one gave away where it is," he said.

The centerpiece of the grounds is the main house, lovingly restored (workers apparently spent long hours cleaning the ceilings of cigarette smoke residue).

It's at once an elegant and garishly decorated place, depending on your taste, but a perfect representation of who these two stars were offstage, with homey touches, hand-painted decorative elements and paintings representing familial ties to Scandinavia. …

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