I'm the Co-founder and CEO of The Grommet. We launch undiscovered consumer products. It's also the birthplace of Citizen Commerce. I write about design, cultural anthropology, and start-ups, mostly.

Real Deal Road Trip No. 15: The Ponzi House

The 7,000 square foot "Ponzi" House

The 7,000 square foot “Ponzi” House

Being in our final three weeks of living in Lexington, Massachusetts my husband and I seized a golden opportunity to tour the Charles Ponzi (of Ponzi Scheme fame) house that is just a few blocks away.  Built in 1913, it’s one of the grandest estates in town, with an acre of gorgeous landscaping and an interior that has been lovingly maintained–having had only five owners.

Charles Ponzi with his much younger wife Rose, and his mother, on the porch of the house

Italian immigrant Charles Ponzi with his much younger wife Rose, and his mother Imelda, on the porch of the house.  This was just a year after he started his famous shell game.

Ponzi was busted just two months after moving in and the poor orignal seller, who took some kind of Ponzi scrip in the transaction, never got paid as a consequence.  Ponzi’s wife got the benefit of living in the estate for three additional years, after having lavishly furnished it–until bankruptcy forced her out.  (She later divorced Ponzi, who died penniless in Brazil.)  There’s a great little history of them and the house here.

A shot from the copious and lush gardens

A shot from the copious and lush gardens

I wasn’t permitted to take interior photos but I had already grabbed a few detail shots before I learned that restriction.  That’s no big deal as the estate happens to be up for sale–you can see a full range of interior shots here.  The house being listed at $3.3M–there ought to be a lot of great documentation!

Truthfully, I found the current owners’ collections and art even more interesting than the house.  I don’t like traditional furniture and room arrangements very much (when they are actually supposed to be modern homes), so I tend to focus on the art when I visit a period-piece type of abode.

Ceramic succulents.  They somehow grew actual cacti outdoors too.

Ceramic succulents. They somehow grew actual cacti outdoors too.

There was a room seemingly dedicated to lovely collection of quilts and fabrics

There was a room set up to display a lovely collection of quilts and fabrics–this is a quilt detail.

I loved this detail on the corner of a frame

I loved this odd “what is that peeking out under the carvings” on the corner of a frame

Detail of an exquisite hooked wool rug

Detail of an exquisite hooked wool rug

My favorite pieces were a collection of French button samples that were previously used by salesmen to show their wares.  I spoke with the owner who told me he found the collection of six large wooden panels in an antique shop in Wiscasset, Maine

My favorite pieces were a collection of French button samples that were previously used by salesmen to show their wares. I spoke with the owner who told me they found the collection of six large wooden panels in an antique shop in Wiscasset, Maine

Another button panel.  They were about three feet tall--very heavy to haul to a sales call!

Another button panel. They were about three or four feet tall–very heavy to haul to a sales call!  You can see how they were displayed in the Ponzi House if you click into the real estate listing.  They are currently decorating the giant master bathroom.

There was a room dedicated to finely detailed children's and doll clothing.  I was taken with this tiny corset and bathing costume.

There was a room dedicated to finely detailed children’s and doll clothing. I was taken with this tiny corset and striped bathing costume.

Interestingly, one reason the house was so well preserved was that in 1923 a lawyer named John Devine Jr. bought the estate and left it largely untouched until he sold it in 1994.  In fact, at one point he even moved into the former carriage house and simply rented out the grand home, as is.

Interestingly, one reason the house was so well preserved was that in 1923 a lawyer named John Devine Jr. bought the estate and left it largely untouched until he sold it in 1994. In fact, at one point he even moved into this small building, the former carriage house, and simply rented out the grand home, as is.

This was Mr. Devine's modest carriage house bedroom.  Being in the process of downsizing, I could definitely legitimately appreciate this choice, over the grand but demanding main mansion.

This was Mr. Devine’s modest carriage house bedroom. Being in the process of downsizing, I could definitely appreciate this spare choice, over the grand, but demanding, main mansion.

I chatted with the current owners of the Ponzi house, who are taking on another restoration in a nearby town.  The couple is currently living with just two card tables, four folding chairs, and a futon, while they leave this grand Lexington house virtually intact for prospective buyers to view.   Since I am writing this post as a break from packing my own (far more modest) lifetime’s possessions, I would be tempted the sell the Ponzi House fully furnished, just to avoid the horrendous effort required to carefully remove so many priceless objects.  But I guess people who own that kind of stuff can afford to hire a crew to pack it all up.

As for me, I am headed back to packing my own gear.  In fact, below is a picture I took yesterday of ALL the various decorative tchotchkes we own. (Not counting our art on the walls, baby artifacts/kid art, flower vases/food service stuff, and my ridiculous 20+ linear feet of photo albums.)

This collection looks downright puny compared to our neighbors’.  Phew.

IMG_0694

 

Here is a prior blog post I wrote about packing up my Barbie collection. (I neglected to think of it when writing about our “stuff” above. It was already out of sight-out of mind.)

 

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