“One Royal Holiday” is this year’s newest Hallmark Christmas movie and Connecticut is prominently featured. Kara and I watched it with great anticipation because our old home has a starring role.
The movie takes place in Boston and the fictional town of Kentsbury, Connecticut. The main character is a nurse who works in a hospital in Boston and lives in a brownstone that is decorated for the holidays. That “Boston” brownstone is actually located at 25 Capitol Avenue in Hartford, where Kara and I lived when we first married. In the film you see exteriors and interiors of this historic home built back when Ulysses Grant was president. Also featured in the film: the towns of Woodstock and Putnam which play Kentsbury. It was the creation of Synthetic Cinema of Rocky Hill which brought in fake snow in August for the shoot. More on the film coming up.
Twenty years ago this fall I bought the old brownstone in downtown Hartford’s SoDo neighborhood. It had been on the market for a while, with surprised me, because it had nearly 3 thousand square feet, three fireplaces, amazing hardwood floors, postcard views and tons of architectural details and character. I knew it had a storied past and once was home to the attorney of Samuel Clemens, you know that writer who went by the name Mark Twain. The price was a relative bargain and my realtor at the time, Jill Brock of the now defunct DeWolfe Realty, negotiated an even better bargain. It needed some updates and a few repairs, but nothing too major.
My first meal in the new house was pizza. Kara and I had only known each other a few months, and she came over from her apartment across town to help celebrate. We sat on the floor of an empty place with nary a stick of furniture in sight: no curtains, nothing. It was the beginning of a period in our life we will never forget.
The brownstone was built in 1871 and was split into three units. Three bedrooms on the top floors, where we lived, a spacious one bedroom on the first floor, and a law office on the ground floor. Our plan was to eventually buy the bottom units and turn it into one house.
The place had been well maintained and updated in the previous 129 years, but needed paint, and something to make the kitchen a little more appealing. The cabinets were bright yellow formica like a banana, which we painted white until we put in a new kitchen.
Move in day was a surprise. My couches didn’t fit in the curve of the stairway to the front door, or the back fire escape, so we had to come up with another plan. My friend Mike Guerrieri, his dad Andy and I devised a strategy to lift them onto the top of the U-hawl truck, then up and over the fire escape to the back deck and into the kitchen door. It wasn’t easier pretty, but we did it.
Over the years, Kara and I worked hard to make that place our own. Kara was the designer and her vision completely transformed the place. The guy I bought it from had turned into a bachelor pad, complete with a collection of empty wine and liquor bottles. I built shelves, wainscoting, railings and installed crown moulding on a 20 foot ceiling that a carpenter told us couldn’t be done. Kara made drapes and designed a new kitchen and did plenty of shopping for what was needed. We only hired experts for the kitchen, heavy carpentry and electric work. Every thing else we did on our own, including hand painting the “25” on the front window above the door.
That home was the scene of our engagement party, Thanksgiving celebrations, family Christmas gatherings, a baby shower, shoots for Hartford Magazine, WFSB and Parents TV, lots of painting, renovations, barbecues, going away bashes, pool matches and our traditional St. Patrick’s Day Parade parties. The Hartford parade went right by our front steps.
We watched the First Night fireworks from our living room and often just kicked back and gazed at the skyline. The views were incredible.
In early 2007 we took Helena home from the hospital to the brownstone to a nursery Kara designed and I painted. It was featured in the Hartford Courant along with our colleagues Rebecca Stewart and Jamie Muro who also did the nursery thing for their son Charlie. We had planned on Helena growing up in the brownstone until reality started setting in.
The home had plenty of room and we loved the convenience of being able to walk to restaurants, Bushnell Park, concerts, church, events and for many years, work. It had character everywhere including multi-level rooms with 12 foot ceilings which unfortunately meant lots of stairs. I counted them once: 67 steps from the sidewalk to the top floor. It didn’t phase us for years until we had to carry a baby up those stairs and a stroller, and a car seat, and the all the baby stuff. We would need baby gets everywhere. Plus, we wanted to grow our family which meant more stuff to lug up and down. We also started to think we needed a yard with a swingset and other family types of things. Life changes and your needs change. It was time to say goodbye to downtown living.
After we moved, we rented the place to two young professional women, and then sold the brownstone to an awesome couple who moved in from Ohio and who fell in love with the place just like we did. A few years later they sold it to the couple who lives there now. They are the latest in a long string of people who called the brownstone home. The first owner in 1871 was William Hamersley, who later became a Connecticut Supreme Court Justice. Like us, they all made memories in the brownstone. The owner before us had their son’s briss in the dining room!
Check it out in “One Royal Holiday” on Hallmark. Here is more on the film from the Hartford Courant: https://www.courant.com/coronavirus/hc-news-coronavirus-hallmark-christmas-movie-hartford-avon-20201027-mdgyvdhgcbf5zlsw733kaq6jpm-story.html
Here are some photos of before we owned it:
After some renovations and updates: