Connecticut Trust For Historic Preservation

Ernst House, Norwalk

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This stately Neoclassical mansion was built in 1908 for George Ernst, an important collector of early American furniture. It is now owned by Norwalk Hospital. Located on Elmcrest Terrace overlooking South Norwalk and the harbor, the building is one of a row of three large houses built in the late nineteenth-century. Known locally as the “Three Sisters,” they are reminders of the grand architecture of a once wealthy and prestigious residential neighborhood. The other two buildings, which stand to the left of the Ernst House are excellent examples of the Queen Anne style and are now used as apartment and rooming houses. A parking lot for Norwalk Hospital is located to the right. The house is under imminent threat of demolition for more parking, but the hospital has allowed a short reprieve while preservationists seek a buyer for the house and lot. If the hospital can recoup its purchase costs by selling the house quickly, it will forgo using the site and will expand its parking capacity elsewhere.Constructed of brick on a granite base, the building was designed to provide a setting for Ernst’s extraordinary collection of early American furniture and decorative objects. The academic precision of the architectural details reflects his knowledge of history. An impressive two-story portico with four Doric columns lends grandeur to the facade. A second-story balcony rests above an elaborate front door, and dentils trim the pediment, which contains a semi-elliptical window. The main roof is tile, while slate is used on some of the additions. These were probably added by Ernst himself soon after the house was built and are in keeping with the original concept. The rearmost addition suggests a brick one-story kitchen ell of a type seen in the South. A freestanding low brick wall encloses a rectangular plot for a kitchen garden and remains as a landscape feature behind the house. Ernst was a pioneer in the appreciation of American decorative arts and amassed his collection before it became fashionable.The interior retains many interesting features including a mantel derived from the work of Christopher Wren and accurately referenced Federal style moldings. The building has been vacant for about a year. It was most recently used as doctors’ offices and could become an office complex again or a multi-family residence.  The building contains 6,000 square feet of floor space, which could be augmented by constructing an addition if needed. Price: $925,000. Contact: Norwalk Preservation Trust, 203-899-0480.