A house for happiness — and for healing

A HOUSE FOR HAPPINESS—AND FOR HEALING

I have such happy, and at the same time wistful,

memories of Dino De Laurentis and his wonderful family. 

It all got started when we received a phone call from Dino's secretary saying that the legendary film producer would like to look at some houses in Westchester—bighouses. We were told hewanted large red brick houses. He wanted something very strong and substantial for his big family. 

And so we decided to focus in on the first house, called Brookside, which was in the Purchasearea, and was listed by a fellow broker friend of mine. It was a magnificent house, the former home of a very prominent socialite who had a boyfriend who was a great tennis player. Every bit of the property was kept extremely well.

We arranged to meet Dino there. We thought that he would like the house, even though it wouldultimately be in a development, because all the land around was being sold for additional houses. At that time, the great estates in Purchase were being divided up by developers. 

We arrived at Brookside, and Dino and his wife were very impressed with the exterior of the estate. After they left the car, Dino ran right through the house all the way up to the third floor without stopping, as excited, it seemed to me, as a young boy.

But suddenly I hear him yelling and yelling in Italian.

While he was yelling, Dino was looking from window to window on the third floor.

Finally, he came rushing down, clearly no longer excited—at least not in a good way.

"No, no,” he said, “this is not the house.  This is not it.  I don't want this."

And I said, "What is it?  What don't you like?"  I thought we could cure anything, once we found out what it was that was upsetting him.

"I can see the cemetery from the third floor,” Dino told us. “No, no, very bad luck." 

And that was the end of that house.  Brookside never again came up for discussion with us. 

We immediately began thinking about what we could do, where we could place him where he'd be happy, where he could make the life he wanted with his family in a setting he loved.  And we thought of the estate of Lowell Thomas, the famous radio announcer and journalist.

Clover Brook Farm, his house and estate in Pawling, New York, became available through the University of Colorado, I believe. It’s one of the most well-spoken of properties I’ve encountered in all the years I have been in real estate. It is just a wonderful piece of property, 300 acres with a lake, and its own very distinctive 9-hole golf course. There is a brick Georgian petite maison, and a barn—everything a gentleman farmer, or a gentleman wanting to get away from the city would love to live in.

We made an appointment through Lowell Thomas’s office, and we met Dino and his wife at our office in Bedford Hills and they followed us up to Clover Brook Farm. 

I'll never forget that after Dino got out of his car, his beautiful then-wife, the actress Sylvan Magnano, got out of the back seat with two young Filipino girls to aid her. Not that shehad difficulty getting around—the girls were simply there as her handmaids.

They opened the door and she stepped out in q magnificent Russian sable coat and a beautiful,stunning silk scarf, which she immediately hoisted up over her ears, because although it was no longer winter, there was still a chill in the air.  And they insisted on walking the property first--not all 300 acres, of course, just the grounds around the house. 

And so we did. We got out back and the lake came into view. And as soon as Sylvano saw the lake, I knew she had fallen immediately in love.  She didn't even care about the inside of the house. 

Which was good thing. We were concerned about the inside because while we knew it was vacant,we didn't know just how vacant it was. The house by this time had been gutted, but not renovated. It was little more than the walls—the brick walls and nothing more. There was no place to stay.

But there was a charming little cottage bear the barn, so we walked down to see that. And when we got to the cottage, she felt quite at home, and she said, "We want this.  We want this." 

Before they completed the purchase of the property, though, tragedy struck Dino’s life. His beloved son Federico was killed in airplane crash in Alaska. We felt for Dino and his great grief, and suspected that, now, they would never buy this house.

Then we read in the Timesthat Dino had his son buried in a small cemetery in Pawling. We knew then that they were going to buy the house—to be near Federico’s resting place and live in a beautiful setting where they could mourn their loss, and, with time, begin to heal. 

And they did.

Dino and his wife never did anything with the main house.  There was never time. He was always back and forth from California with his family, and she was still acting. Dino’s daughter Rafaella was producing movies by this time as well.  

But they came up and used the cottage when they could.  It was sad that they didn't have the time to spend there and add their own touches to the property, because I know with Dino's talent, it could have been spectacular.

Eventually Dino and his family came to Pawling less and less frequently, ultimately letting us know that he wanted to sell the property.

We had advertised the house, and Edgar Bronfman called my son Steve directly, and let Steve know he wanted to see the house.  He told Steve he'd meet him up there.  Steven and Craig both went. They positioned themselves on the driveway, waiting patiently until it dawned on them that Edgar Bronfman wasn’t going to drive 90 minutes from the City to see a house—not when there were much faster ways of getting there.

No sooner had they realized that than they heard the sound of a helicopter approaching  preparing to land in the back yard. Steve and Craig hurried to the back yard just as the big, beautiful helicopter touched down.

Edgar Bronfman, tan and immaculate in an Armani suit, stepped out and introduced himself.

Craig and Steve knew right away this man was a perfect match for this property. Edgar had recently married a beautiful woman from Venezuela, and he wanted to get out of the city.

Steve and Craig showed Edgar the main house, which stillhad not been renovated and remained little more than walls and a roof.

When they showed him the cottage, it was clear that Edgar had fallen in love with the property. It was a little farther to the north than he expected, but that was a small flaw compared to the charm and potential the estate offered.

Edgar bought the property and added bedrooms and an indoor gymnasium to the cottage, although he, too, never renovated the main house.

But the cottage, with its charm and comfort was more than enough for him and his young family. They came up on weekends for the next twelve to fifteen years, giving their children the chance to grow up in the country as well as the city.

The property was eventually bought by Marshall Manley, a young insurance executive from the City who held on to it because he knew it was beautiful. He died of cancer years later. I’m not sure who owns the property now, but I do wonder, from time to time, if any of the owners ever did anything with the gutted and vacant main house. Craig described the house in that state as a “blank canvas.”

And for all I know, it may still be blank.  

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