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Ten Chimneys

A tiny Wisconsin town holds the restored retreat of the glamorous acting duo known as “The Lunts,” once the toast of Broadway

Ten Chimneys
Photo by © Ten Chimneys Foundation

Driving a narrow road through the deep woods just 30 miles west of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, you come upon the house suddenly—an imposing, sparkling white country manor, just the setting for a gentleman farmer. This is Ten Chimneys, the rural retreat of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, widely considered the greatest acting team in theatrical history.

The Lunts, as they were known, ruled the New York stage for four decades, a contribution commemorated by their namesake Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York City. The legendary pair appeared in more than 40 productions from the 1920s until they retired in 1960. They always performed together, most famously in Private Lives and Design for Living, written for them by their friend Noël Coward. Yet the Lunts’ most perfect production may have been Ten Chimneys, the summer home they built during the 1920s and 1930s near Alfred’s birthplace in tiny Genesee Depot. They furnished and stocked their retreat with furniture, books, paintings, and personal collections. They spent every summer at this perfect haven from 1932 on, inviting their friends as guests—the likes of Laurence Olivier, Helen Hayes, Katharine Hepburn, and Carol Channing.

For theater buffs, a visit to Ten Chimneys is a stroll through Broadway history and an intimate glimpse into a pair of well-lived lives. A National Historic Landmark since 1997, the estate is open from May through mid-November for small-group tours conducted by docents steeped in Lunt lore. The rooms are as carefully dressed as a stage set: Murals hand-painted by prominent scenic designer Claggett Wilson, the drawing room with the Noël Coward piano, and “Larry” Olivier’s bedroom propped with a breakfast tray on his bed. Also on the estate is the Studio, a Swedish log house where the Lunts rehearsed each summer; the Cottage, another charming guesthouse; the Pool House adjoining the first in-ground pool in Wisconsin; and vegetable and flower gardens. Tours begin May 4, 10 a.m.– 2:30 p.m., Tuesday–Saturday. Tickets: $35. For more information call 262-968-4110, or go to tenchimneys.org.
 


MNMO'S GUIDE TO MILWAUKEE


Where to stay

InterContinental Hotel, 414-276-8686, interconti­nentalmilwaukee.com; and the historic Pfister Hotel, 800-472-4403 or 414-273-8222, thepfisterhotel.com.
 

Where to Eat

Karl Ratzsch Restaurant, German landmark setting and cuisine, 414-276-2720, karlratzsch.com; Kilawat in the InterContinental Hotel; Bacchus for premier fine dining, in the Cudahy Tower, 414-765-1166, bacchusmke.com; Balzac Wine Bar in the Brady Street neighborhood, 414-755-0099, balzacwinebar.com
 

What to see

The Quadracci Pavilion. Designed by famed international architect Santiago Calatrava, this incredible structure attached to the Milwaukee Art Museum is located on the shores of Lake Michigan. The graceful, all-white pavilion’s signature “wings” fold out and up to a span of more than 200 feet. Be there for an unforgettable sight. Wings open at 10 a.m., Tuesday–Sunday. 414-224-3200, mam.org.


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