Chasing Away Past Comments
The Chase Mansion, West Hartford
I see it every day
2019 Update: This has always been one of the most ridiculous pages on CTMQ ever since I first wrote it in early 2008. In the many intervening years between then and now, I’ve met Mr. Chase. I’ve had email correspondences with him. He’s counseled me in more than one area. He’s helped me personally with his advice and he’s generously helped with some fundraisers that I’ve run for the Smith-Magenis Syndrome Research Foundation. He’s a CTMQ reader and fan of what I do.
All of that in spite of a page I wrote questioning the sanity of his 50,000+ square foot house up the mountain from my own little abode at the bottom of the mountain. Mr. Chase is down to earth and unassuming. The house is large, yes, but not for the reasons you may assume, nor in the environmentally damaging way you may assume.
So what do I do about a page I wrote in 2008 that wasn’t so kind to Mr. Chase? What about the 70+ comments below arguing the merits of such a massive home? Eh. Just keep reading. I’ll figure it out – and I’ll also figure out how to get Arnold to invite me up there someday.
Your first thought upon reading this page is probably, “Um. It’s a big house, so what?” And that’s fair… Until I tell you the Arnold Chase Mansion up on Talcott (aka Avon) Mountain is… The biggest house in the history of the universe! Or at least close enough.
I used to have words on this page like “monstrosity,” and “vainglorious.” And while one could easily still justify their use, I’ve removed them. Why? Because I’ve come to learn how the house came to be and a bit about why it came to be.
The easiest answer to “why?” is “why not?” Mr. Chase has serious money that he worked very hard for. As a pioneer is the telecommunications broadcast communications fields and a wise real estate investor, he became wealthy. Really, really wealthy. So he built a big house. And while the house looks huge from route 44, the enormity of the house isn’t fully apparent from the outside, where only 17,000 square feet of it lies in plain view.
Wrap your brain around that. But let’s dive into it a bit. Quoting Mr. Chase,
The actual “living” area of the space is about 15,000 sf. Large, yes, but not unlike many homes in the area. The reason the ‘total’ figure is so high results from the decision not to erect numerous ‘out buildings’ for the various collections, etc. throughout the property, but instead, they were all placed underground next to the living area.
What gives people pause is the 2 basements featuring a combined 33,500 square feet of living space. The upper level basement features 20,410 square feet of living space with a 100 seat home theater, soda fountain room, 4700 square foot game room, music annex, and more. The lower basement features 13,063 square feet of living space with 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen, workshop and storage/mechanical rooms.
What’s cool about the massive underground space is that it requires very little energy. The building computer keeps these spaces at ‘below grade’ ambient temperature your round – like a wine cellar more or less. If there’s an event going on, sure, they turn up the heat a bit, but the R value of the rock surrounding the underground levels is off the charts.
At nearly 50,900 square feet, the Chase home is slightly larger than billionaire Bill Gates’ home in Washington, about 4,000 square feet smaller than the White House, and 20 times larger than the average-size home in America.
It’s the largest private home in New England and one of the largest few being occupied privately in the country. (Some Newport mansions are larger, but they are now museums.)
Some question the morality and environmental impact of building a private home that large. Those questions are fair, but Chase has answers.
Despite its size,the project is a marvel of environmental stewardship through material recycling and educated re-planting. Case in point: the decision to place the majority of the house underground necessitated the blasting of millions of pounds of trap rock. By itself, that had the potential to be environmentally negative. By bringing in material processing equipment on-site, however, ALL the processed stone needed for my project was created right there, with zero transportation needed. The real environmental bonus, however, was the fact that my house required only a small fraction of the total produced, with the majority of materials subsequently used for homes, commercial buildings, and a state roadway within a few miles of my home. Since the energy used is the same regardless of where the rock processing is done, the environmental key was the savings of literally thousands of truck miles that would otherwise been used to bring the processed material for all these projects in from remote locations.
As for “clear-cutting” the forest, my property was originally “farmers woodlands”, i.e., a completely clear-cut mountaintop that was a late 1800’s source of firewood. As a result, a ‘forest’ of poor condition new growth trees trying to get a foothold on surface rock grew. My property is immediately adjacent to 3,500 acres of protected watershed land. The size and purpose of that land is obviously extremely beneficial and important to the environment, but what is the incremental value of ‘more of the same’ on my property, versus properly planting hundreds of complementary species trees, acres of clover and wildflower, etc.?
Experts will tell you that numerous species of birds, small animals, etc. depend on open spaces to watch for predators. This is something that would not have existed without doing what I did. The increase in biodiversity, from the enhanced bird and butterfly population speaks for itself. The clover and wildflower fields are considered the most ecologically responsible way to go, requiring no fertilizing, weekly cutting, etc. Given the fact that one of the most worrisome biological events happening right now is the bee Colony Collapse Disorder, I ask what environmentally would you suggest to better address this than what I did?
Dang. But why? Why so big?
The answer revolves around the requirements of the restoration and display of 100 year old orchestrions, and the commitment to the various charities to open our house up several times each year for critical fund-raising. The reality of fund-raising is really simple math: the more people you can attract and bring to an event, the more you can raise. Across the country, similar large events that raise several HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS in a single evening will typically need at least 100 guests. The last time I checked, a 1,500 square foot home that was proffered by the bloggers would have a REAL tough time doing this. To accommodate 100+ people properly, space needed to be provided for coats, bathroom facilities, seating, etc. Before you respond, “well, just give the money to charity”, don’t loose sight of the fact that that would result in a one time donation, versus decades of fund raising potential and exposure for the various causes.
Dang. As one who has discussions with Arnold about this very thing, he’s not just blowing smoke. While some of his fundraisers are politically misaligned with my own politics (The climate change denying Paul Ryan was one particular), most of them are for the arts, sciences, humanities, and other charitable causes that I celebrate. Heck, he got a helipad installed – ostensibly to allow LifeStar to whisk away all those who suffer accidents on route 44 at the end of his driveway.
(And, probably, to allow for wealthy folks to fly in and out easily, but let’s call that a bonus. I’ve never seen a helicopter coming or going up there, but I don’t exactly hang out on top of the mountain.)
If I were to guess, The Chase Mansion will become a museum someday like those aforementioned Newport Mansions. He houses a large art collection and all those orchestrions.
Yes, the house is huge. But it’s not dumb. This page used to be dumb, but now it’s not.
And I do really believe I’ll be invited to check it out someday. After all, I’m huge orchestrion fan.