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Archive for the ‘Connecticut’ Category

Williamstown, Mass.

Cole Porter home

“Buxton Hill”

1411 Main Street

In 1919, composer Cole Porter (June 9, 1891-1964) married sophisticated divorcee Linda Lee Thomas, a woman eight years his senior. Linda proved a perfect “beard” for her husband, agreeing to separate bedrooms early in the marriage and tolerating his frequent, though always brief, sexual encounters with men. Some rumors suggest Linda may have been queer, too.

The Porters had homes in Los Angeles and New York City before purchasing this estate in the northwest corner of Massachusetts in 1940 as a summer getaway. Cole hated the place at first, complaining that it was too far removed from the social life of Manhattan. Later, he grew to love the sprawling estate, when he discovered he could entertain in the style he enjoyed and accommodate numerous guests in the spacious main house and separate guest cottage. Prospective weekend visitors received a detailed map directing them to Buxton Hill (“down dirt road & up over hill”), complete with a schedule of the best train service from Grand Central.

As his private workplace, Cole used the gatekeeper’s cottage, posting a warning sign saying “No Trespassing.” Here he could work any hour of the day or night without disturbance, and he reportedly wrote much of the score for Kiss Me, Kate there.

Linda Porter died in 1954, and during the remaining 10 years of his life, Cole became a virtual recluse at Buxton Hill. He was embarrassed and incapacitated by the amputation of one of his legs, which was crushed in a riding accident in the 1930s. According to one of his biographers, visitors to Buxton Hill became fewer and fewer because most weekends Porter was drunk and ignored his guests, some of whom dubbed the farm “the torture chamber.”

At Cole’s death, Buxton Hill went to Williams College, but returned to private hands in 1966. It is now a luxury inn, with tennis courts, “the largest private swimming pool in the Berkshires,” and nature trails.

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Young Cole

New Haven, Conn.

Cole Porter residence

242 York Street

While an undergraduate at Yale University from 1909 to 1914, Cole Porter (1891-1964) lived at this location in a single room in Garland Lodging House, which is no longer extant. From his home in Indiana, young Cole arrived in New Haven with a wardrobe of checked suits, pink and yellow shirts, and salmon-colored ties, which he considered proper Ivy League attire but which made him stand out like the proverbial sore thumb.  Luckily, he also brought a battered upright piano. To win over his more genteel, upper-crust Yankee classmates, Porter composed and performed songs with droll, uniquely rhymed lyrics. His earliest known compositions for which he wrote both music and lyrics were “Bridget McGuire” and “When the Summer Moon Comes ‘Long.” He also wrote Yale-themed songs, like “Bull Dog” and “Bingo Eli Yale,” many of which included the names of the young men whose companionship he craved. His close and longtime friendship with actor Monty Woolley dated from their Yale days.

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Bridgeport, Conn.

Bloodroot
85 Ferris Street

The 1970s saw a flourishing of women-owned feminist and/or lesbian businesses, including bookstores, cafes, and publishing companies. Among the many ventures was Bloodroot, a “feminist restaurant/bookstore with a seasonal vegetarian menu,” which is, remarkably, still in operation after more than 30 years. The name derived from an Eastern wildflower. “We found something symbolic in its slow spreading rhizomatous root system and the way each piece of root throws up its own grey-green leaf furled protectively around the eight-petaled white flower,” say owners Selma Miriam, 74, and Noel Furie, 64.

At its waterfront site, Bloodroot consists of a large room furnished with mismatched tables and chairs, and one wall covered in herstoric photos of women (see photo). “People gave us pictures [for] the wall,” Miriam told The Connecticut Post; one person gave her a photo and said, “This is my sister. I want her here.”

Off the restaurant is a small bookstore crammed with books by women, where authors occasionally come to read. There is also an outdoor patio facing scenic Long Island Sound.  Meals are strictly self-service – from ordering to picking up food to bussing tables. The veggie menu – printed daily on a chalkboard – includes ethnic soups and salads, crusty breads, and rich desserts.

Bloodroot also published four cookbooks in its “Political Palate” series, which included not only recipes but the most appropriate seasons in which to make the various dishes. Although the older cookbooks are now out of print, two Best of Bloodroot volumes are available.

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Hamden, Conn.

Thornton Wilder gravesite
Mt. Carmel Cemetery
3801 Whitney Avenue

If you’ve visited my other blog, “A Very Gay Play,” you know that I wrote a play called Their Town on the topic of same-sex marriage that was inspired by Thornton Wilder’s classic Our Town. It seemed to me the height of irony that the most-produced play in this country – one considered quintessentially American – was written by a closeted gay man.

Though he spent the early part of his life in Wisconsin, California, and Shanghai, Wilder (1897-1975) called Hamden, Conn., home from 1929 on (his home at 50 Deepwood Drive is still standing), and it is in this town that he’s buried.

Wilder won the Pulitzer Prize three times, for The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927), Our Town (1938), and The Skin of Our Teeth (1942). A lifelong bachelor who as a young man described his own walk and mannerisms as “queer,” Wilder was intensely homophobic. He commented to Gore Vidal that “a writer ought not to commit himself to a homosexual situation of the domestic sort” because it would damage his career. As a result, Wilder experienced only arm’s-length infatuations, often with actors (including Montgomery Clift), and brief, clandestine sexual encounters. He would have hated this website (and my play!) – he believed that to speculate on the sexuality of famous writers was simply to “whip up a prurient oh-ha! in millions of people.”

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New Canaan, Conn.

Glass House
798-856 Ponus Ridge Rd.

Philip Johnson (1906-2005) – the celebrated architect who designed the sculpture garden and east wing of the Museum of Modern Art, among numerous other structures – built this home in 1949 in one of the wealthiest areas of Connecticut. The idea for a “glass house” came from an argument with his mentor, Mies van der Rohe – could it actually be done? The two competed to solve the problem at the same time, with Johnson finishing his house first. (Van der Rohe’s, located in Plano, Ill., was not completed until the following year.)

Johnson’s Glass House is located in a thickly wooded area on a knoll overlooking a pond. “I learned from the Japanese…[that] a shelf keeps good spirits from straying, and the evil spirits will be unable to climb up to you,” Johnson noted about the location. The Glass House is a simple, modern structure, a 32-x-56-foot rectangle with one door centered on each side. Eight black steel columns form the framework, holding sheets of clear glass between them. A central brick cylinder extending the height of the house contains a bathroom. When Frank Lloyd Wright visited the completed house, he reportedly asked, “Am I indoors or am I out?” Said Johnson, “With the lights out and the snow falling, it is almost like a celestial elevator.”

Over the next 30 years, Johnson added other structures to his 40 acres of land – a solid brick guesthouse to contrast with the glass structure; an arched pavilion in the pond; an underground art gallery; and a climbable tower in the woods, built to honor his friend Lincoln Kirstein, co-founder of the New York City Ballet. One critic calls the compound Johnson’s “architectural autobiography”; he himself labeled it “the diary of an eccentric architect.” Johnson willed the property and all the buildings to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1986. The architect died in 2005, followed shortly thereafter by his longtime partner, David Whitney. The compound – complete with a visitors’ center designed by Johnson – opened to the public in April, 2007. 

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