Leslie Clement develops luxury condos on Crescent Hill

Springfield Republican  July 1988

Wyndhurst on Crescent Hill that choice plot of land with its future of luxurious condominiums, has a past that poses the toughest challenge yet to Leslie Clement, developer and dreamer. It was always a very special enclave, with the four acres in the center - off Maple Street and poised high above the Connecticut River - a part of Lover's Rest which used to stretch up to where the MacDuffie School is now. It has a superb view of the river, the city and the Mount Holyoke range.

 

Unhampered by city regulations, the mill-owners and industrialists who used to live there a century ago, gave each other rights to drive through their private properties, just as they exchanged calling cards during the social season.  Locally illustrious names were the common coin of the area - the Chapin family who owned Moore Drop Forge, the Ames and Mills families, George E. Howard.  The two handsome mansions which stood in the center of the land there are gone now, including the original Wyndhurst. All that remains of their past glory is a carriage house with its own teak-walled and skylighted indoor squash court - and a setting lavishly designed by nature and the New York architect Frederick Olmstead who was designing Central Park in New York City at the same time.

 

Into this hushed and empty stage setting two long buildings in the Victorian Queen Anne style are going to be built, each with under-building roads that lead to individual, two-car garages for every one of the 22 units.

Clement discovered the locked-in area only because she lived almost beside it on Maple Street and walked her dog through the fields behind her home.

 

There were the tangled and overgrown remains of old gardens - the gardens which in 1875 had encompassed windmills pumping water to the wells nearby.

 

"There were mountain magnolias and copper beeches," Clement said. "And evidence of vagrants, too, sleeping off hangovers and kids building forts."

 

The view from Crescent Hill was best seen from the top of a sharp drop which protected the land around it from intrusion by the lower city.  It was, Clement learned later, all originally lake bottom until a dam of glacial debris built up and moved majestically south of Hartford in gradual steps down to the Connecticut River, creating Wyndhurst en route.  The dropped terrace will become a garden retreat for everyone.

 

There was a lot of work for Clement even before planning could begin. The 14-foot easement from Pine Street, only enough to lead to a simple house, had to be widened by buying land from the abutters - to allow for space enough for a city-approved street.

 

For the first time in 50 years, traffic could now move into the heart of this land.

"This road will be maintained by the condominiums to match the private character of the section. And we will build an eight-foot brick wall alongside, between the road and the adjacent parking lot. A wall that will have lights and flower boxes to keep it in character."

 

Clement took as much of the gamble out of the notoriously chancy business of construction as she could.

She hired a firm which makes a business of finding and interviewing "focus groups" - and listened to the answers the groups gave. In this case, those assembled and questioned on what they wanted to buy in a condominium, were people looking for luxurious homes - who had not been able to find exactly what they wanted. The clues they gave ranged all the way from privacy to more storage space, and Clement listened and learned.  Now she is planning two main buildings and a re-designed, re-made carriage house two and a half stories high.

 

After re-studying the architectural styles which would be right for the site, Clement realized existing homes nearby and the MacDuffie School offered as good an education as a trip to England could.

Reluctantly, she left the fantasy of re-building in Tudor style with thick, heavy slate roofs, massive brick chimneys, leaded glass, copper touches everywhere and special windows.  "I just wouldn't do it in a 'fake' way, and there is no way it could be constructed authentically today."

 

What Clement has done instead is to work out carefully, with architect Philip Burdick, variations on such repetitive motifs as windows and gables to give her two buildings a feeling of grace, lightness and interest. For example, a group of three windows on the ground floor is topped by a pair of windows on the floor above, and a single window on the third floor. Such slender, tapering groups are most effective.  The Victorian style overall that Clement settled on is relatively lightweight compared to the Tudor.

 

She found workable shortcuts for such details as teak floors indoors and shaped shingles on exteriors. There were feasible ways to produce 19th-century architecture with 20th-century methods.  Her first task was to work out a route through the proposed property, so that residents will drive under the first building into a parking area. There will be 11 two-car garages in each building that can be reached without ever coming to the surface. After driving through the second building there is a turnaround for leaving the property.

 

Each building is a generous 48 feet wide by about 170 feet long. The fronts of the town houses, dining room areas, overlook an Italianate villa.  Living rooms are 20 feet by 26. Each condominium has a front yard of its own and a backyard terrace with a low brick wall overlooking the view.  There will probably be a total of 24 units, and pre-construction prices start at $240,000. Sales will be handled by Stearns & Yerrall.

 

Clement explained, using a typical unit, what each will in general include.  The lowest floor is the basement garage. The first floor consists of a breakfast room, kitchen, dining room, living room with a view and powder room.  On the second floor is the master bedroom suite, again with the superb view, which includes the master dressing room, master bath. A second bedroom has its own bath.

On the third level, one with plywood floors and windows (skylights are a possibility here) is space that could be developed into a third bedroom and third bath. The sharply pitched roof makes for a loft overlooking the master bedroom. There could also be a study and additional closets on this floor. It has one third of the space of the other floors.  The fourth floor is a trussed-roof attic space for additional storage.  Exteriors will be largely painted clapboard and shaped shingles.