A 19th-century home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with a pedigree of famous owners changed hands late last month for $7.4 million, the highest sales price for the city in 2017, according to agents and MLS records.
For the past 20 years, the 20-room residence on Brattle Street in the Old Cambridge Historic District has been under the stewardship of Swanee Hunt, former U.S. ambassador to Austria. Ms. Hunt is also a political activist and daughter of oil tycoon H. L. Hunt, who was believed to be the richest person in the world at the time of his death in 1974, with a net worth of over $1 billion.
Ms. Hunt and her late husband, renowned conductor Charles Ansbacher, who died in 2010, bought the house in 1997 for $2.8 million, property records show.
Ms. Hunt, 67, said she was awed by the history, the architecture, and the soul of the house. “It’s impossible to own a house with such a storied past; we were but stewards who created a home amid history,” she told Mansion Global.
During her ownership, Ms. Hunt entertained a crossroads of world-class scholars, artists, media shapers, and policy makers, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and cellist Yo Yo Ma, among others.
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The three-story home was built in the late 19th century for Sara Chapman Thorp Bull, an author, philanthropist, wife of Norwegian violinist Ole Bull and a dedicated disciple of Swami Vivekananda, who was credited for introducing the Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the Western world.
Sarah Bull created the “Cambridge Conferences,” salons promoting social and political change and hosting the likes of Jane Addams (Nobel laureate), Julia Ward Howe (composer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”), Gertrude Stein (known for her own Parisian salons), Frederick Douglass (anti-slavery activist), Henry Ward Beecher (abolitionist reformer), and William James (father of American psychology).
The next owner was Edwin Grozier and his son Richard, who owned the now-shuttered Boston Post. During their tenure, the paper won the Pulitzer Prize in 1921 for exposing Charles Ponzi’s fraud (the fraudster is the inspiration behind the term “Ponzi scheme”).
Later owners include notable names from the architecture world, academia, and other walks of life, according to public records.
The Queen Anne-style home features a facade with Neoclassical elements, such as columns and pilasters, bays and balconies with delicate balustrades, scrolled corbels and keystone arches.
It has approximately 8,400 square feet of living space, including 10 bedrooms, four full and two half bathrooms, a library that features late 19th-century Norwegian design with a traditional peasant hearth, a French country kitchen and a dining room that incorporates a Palladian bay of leaded glass and an intimate “Poet’s Corner” adorned with bas-relief arts on walls and a domed ceiling. There are large windows between rooms.
Ms. Hunt describes the features as “not logical, but it’s about making you smile.”
The living room has an intricately carved teak salon by the American Aesthetic Movement’s Lockwood de Forest, whose work includes the Teak Room at the Cooper Hewitt Museum, according to listing agent Susan Condrick of Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty.
“While the City of Cambridge Historic Commission and the Cambridge Historic Society have always known/written about the Indian teak in the living room, the connection to Lockwood de Forest is a new discovery,” Ms. Condrick said. “It appears de Forest consulted on the design and supplied the materials” to the home, she said.
An unusual feature of the historic home is its orientation. When it was built, the lots on the other side of the street were considered more desirable, as they faced south toward the Charles River. So the house was built with its back toward Brattle Street to boast some river views. Because of new developments in the neighborhood, it no longer has those river views.
Ms. Condrick declined to identify the buyers, but added that “I do believe they will be wonderful stewards of the home.”
The buyers were represented by Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, which only disclosed that it’s “an international move” for them.
The transaction has yet to appear in public records.
The sales price is the highest for Cambridge in 2017, and the priciest single-family sale in the state of Massachusetts for the week ending Oct. 20, according to Ms. Condrick and Multiple Listing Service records.
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