Desire Under the Elms
The eatery and inn enter the next generation
The center building once housed The Elms restaurant. On the right: the 1799 inn. On the left: for long-term guests. All are now private residences.
With one foot planted firmly in the past, Stephen Scala is placing the other foot assuredly in the future. He’s hoping the resulting pose is Main Street–worthy. This fall Scala begins to market the first of 16 single-family units of The Elms, the development that fills a three-acre parcel across from Ballard Park. “I wanted to keep the integrity of the building intact,” says Scala, a former Wall Street investment banker. “There is no way that I could get rid of this place.”
The Elms has always been part of Scala’s life. He’s a third-generation owner of the historic property that housed the award-winning restaurant, most recently operated by Brendan Walsh, and an inn that had been continuously operated since 1799 before closing two years ago. Scala himself spent his childhood on the property, in a single-family house that became part of the inn and that now will become a single-family house once again.
“When Schlumberger left town, that took a lot of the regular business away from the inn,” says Scala of the research company that moved its operations to Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2006. “Financially, it did not make sense to keep it going. And to bring a new owner into the restaurant, after Brendan left, would have required a huge capital investment.”
So with the help of DCA Architecture and Mickey Principi’s craftsmanship, Scala is turning the restaurant space into two single-family, three-bedroom homes. The front unit, in the core of the old eatery, maintains authentic artifacts of the past: notched wood beams placed during the 1790s construction, slightly uneven flooring, a front porch, an old brick basement oven, and barrel ceilings in the guestrooms. “We mimicked the trim from the building,” says Scala. “This is a new, quality-crafted house, but it holds some of the original elements.”
Scala likes to recount tales of the construction. He discovered comments, scribbled on the brick in the upper portion of the main building, that were written in 1863 by a member of the Rockwell family—Ridgefield historic royalty. And he still has an old woman’s leather shoe pulled out from behind a wall. “We plan to put it back in,” he says as it’s thought to kick away evil spirits.
Behind and attached to the front unit is a larger, nearly 5,000-square-foot space that has been constructed to appear as if it’s part of the original building. A 35-foot, silo-like tower was totally replaced and attached to a newly constructed element that has the appearance of an old barn. Together they make up a creative and wholly original living space that includes three bedrooms, a super-bonus attic space, and a potential bonanza of a basement room. The house could fetch close to $2 million, Scala thinks.
The old inn, across from Ballard Park, has been transformed into three two-bedroom units on each of its three floors. The northern-most building, where the Scala family lived until 2001, before it became a few efficiency units for longer-stay guests at The Elms, will eventually become a stand-alone, three-bedroom unit with a two-car garage, which all units have.
Moving down the hill away from Main Street will be ten three-bedroom units lining a private drive. Each has a distinct look—“We didn’t want it to seem like a development,” says Scala—a couple with brick face and the others with various clapboard styles. All 16 dwellings will boast 500 Main Street as their address, but with separate drives and unit numbers. One unit has already pre-sold for $1.3 million.
“I’m glad to be in Ridgefield,” says Scala, who was a partner at Goldman Sachs in New York before leaving in 2008 to be closer to home and to care for his late wife. “I want to hold onto one of these houses,” he says, “to keep this as true to Ridgefield as it has always been. I want to be proud to call one of these my own.