The 1920s are fondly remembered as the period in which jazz music blossomed, women began wearing short skirts, and humans communicated solely through title cards projected above their heads. Delve into times past with today’s Groupon: for $20, you get a full-estate tour for two at Ten Chimneys in Genesee Depot (a $70 value). This deal expires on October 9, 2011.
As the summer home of legendary theatrical acting team Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Ten Chimneys thrived in the 20s, 30s, and 40s as a hotspot for famous artists, actors, and writers. Revisit the golden age of this opulent national treasure by embarking a comprehensive two-hour tour of the full estate. After ogling the graceful, birch-tree-surrounded main house, visitors traverse its three stories, which include a garden room, lavish bedrooms, a flirtation room, a cosmonaut command center and launching pad, and a kitchen. The full-estate tour also grants guests the opportunity to visually tickle the decorative plates inside the Lunts' on-site log-cabin studio, examine the intricacies of the cottage, and glimpse the splendor of the pool house. Along the way, guests spot fascinating relics, such as priceless Spanish statues and photographs of the Lunts posing with the Queen Mother. Each tour is led by a passionate and highly trained Ten Chimneys guide, who'll dish out action-packed anecdotes on the Lunts’ romantic lifestyle and provide interpretations on artifacts, architecture, and the décor. All tours require standing, stair climbing, and walking on uneven terrain, but much of the main house and the entire Lunt-Fontanne Program Center are accessible by wheelchair.
In 1928 the famous stage-acting couple Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt declared that from then on they would only appear onstage together. They also refused to act during the summer so they could spend the season at Ten Chimneys—their 60-acre estate retreat in the rolling hills of Kettle Moraine. Alfred had begun the construction himself in 1914, designing the first part of the three-story main house. In 1922 he and Lynn, newly married, began making additions: they converted the house's chicken coop into a private five-room country cottage and built a Swedish-style log cabin for use as a performance studio. Here, they lived and entertained a revolving cast of actors, writers, and artists until their retirement in 1960.
Today, trained docents lead small groups on tours through the cottage, the studio, and the main house's 18 rooms. Some of these confines bear unique titles such as the Flirtation Room, whereas others are named for past guests Helen Hayes, Laurence Olivier, and Noël Coward. Guides divulge the history behind many of the eclectic artifacts found there, such as Staffordshire figurines, pre-Civil War oil lamps, and Delft china, and reveal details about more personal pieces such as handmade gifts from Helen Hayes and Noël Coward, photographs with Charlie Chaplin, and murals painted by set designer Claggett Wilson. Outside, they lead visitors past a creamery and greenhouse, and point out a copper mermaid—designed and crafted by Cecil Beaton—that sits atop the estate's pool house to scare away sailors.
Throughout the year, Ten Chimneys hosts special theater-centric events. Play readings held in partnership with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater showcase the theater's interns as they read works connected to the Lunts or guests at their estate. During Music in the Drawing Room, cabaret artists from around the country gather around Noël Coward's historic piano to perform for small crowds and confuse unprepared time travelers. The estate also invites well-known local or national theater practitioners for a guest-speaker series inspired by the theater-minded talks that took place at the Lunts’ dining table.