About 168 Brattle Street, Cambridge
An Architectural Overview of an Exceptional Home
INTRODUCING the magnificent Joseph Thorp House. Designed in 1888 by Boston architect Arthur Little under the direction of Thorp’s daughter, Sarah Chapman Bull. Together, Bull and Little developed a highly unconventional, richly diverse plan for this outstanding and eclectic Colonial Revival masterpiece.
The house defies convention as it faces south, to the Charles River, and is approached from Brattle Street by an Italian stone drive that leads to a large piazza with fountain, where formal entrance welcomes visitors.
With a sympathetic nod to the Queen Anne style, asymmetry abounds, yet all facades are abundant with Neo-Classical elements, such as columns and pilasters, bays and balconies with delicate balustrades, scrolled corbels, keystone arches – endless beautiful details to engage the eye.
Entering the house further delights, with an ornate paneled ceiling in the otherwise understated foyer, leading up just a few steps to the grand living room. This great room has functioned as an intimate family retreat, meeting room, think tank, performance space; a space that has welcomed persons of extraordinary talent, political influence and historical renown. In every turn, one finds richly carved teak columns, beams, mantels, and openings topped with colored glass transoms and like no other room in Cambridge.The 3 large ceramic tiles in the fireplace mantel may be attributed to the potter Ali Muhammad Isfahani. The intricately carved wood pieces are the work of Lockwood de Forest, prominent leader of the 19th century American Aesthetic Movement and former partner in Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Associated Artists Interior Design Collaborative. This room may be one of the most significant intact examples of de Forest’s Indian-inspired work.
In the southeast corner, the Library, once called the “Norwegian Room,” incorporates elements of late 19th century Norwegian design, in remembrance of Sara Bull’s husband, the Norwegian violinist Ole Bull, who had passed away in 1880. This room is lined with bookcases to hold significant volumes, is adorned with leaded glass, and houses a traditional Norwegian “peasant” hearth with wood stove.
A pocket door leads to a truly Classical dining room, it’s semi-octagonal corners marked with pilasters, and domed display niches, its east wall a Palladian bay of leaded glass, framed by a graceful arched opening.
The intimate “Poet’s Corner” sits in the northwest bay, and is adorned with leaded glass windows, Greco-Roman detail and bas-relief on the walls, domed ceiling and mantelpiece. Surrounded by books and beauty, this is the space where writers have both created and shared their work.
In the northeast corner, facing Brattle Street towards Harvard Square, a French country kitchen embraces both past and present as it retains the original Walker & Pratt cast iron stove, and offers modern amenities, including a prep island, sub-zero refrigerators and FiveStar range.
Ascending the stairs to the second floor, one pauses in the Gallery, another moment of 19th century Norwegian interior design influence, to overlook the living room, enjoy a commanding a view of the courtyard, as well as an enchanting bottle glass peek through to the Library.
On the second floor, the generous master suite, replete with a dressing room, spa-like bathroom, bedroom with sleeping alcove, wood-burning fireplace and ornate mantle, also includes a small study with leaded glass details and French doors to expansive deck overlooking the courtyard. Two additional bedrooms, one with bathroom en suite, a sitting area with fireplace, hall bathroom and laundry room, complete this floor.
The third floor, currently used as home office space, was dormered in the early 1900s under the direction of the home’s original architect Arthur Little and his partner Herbert Brown. This space features an additional 6 bedrooms, two of which have fireplaces and share access to a covered balcony with views of Brattle Street. There is also a bright sitting room with smooth brick fireplace and full bathroom down the hall.
The grounds and courtyard are enhanced by perennial gardens, paths, raised planting beds and the fountain, creating an exceptional and unique oasis. With patio and decks on east and west sides, there are multiple interactions between the interior and exterior, and unpredictable moments and discoveries in the gardens and pathways.
- Asking Price: $7,900,000 SOLD
- Bedrooms: 10
- Bathrooms: 4 full, 2 half (with master bath)
- Fireplaces: 10
- Approximate Living Area: 8,372 Square Feet +/-
- Approximate Acres: 0.47 Acres +/-
168 BRATTLE STREET, commonly known as the Joseph Thorp House, is an amazing and unusual property with a social history as grand as its architecture. Rarely has a home led such a storied existence. Built by Thorp’s daughter, Sara Chapman Bull, after the death of her husband, Ole Bull, the home’s whimsical and eclectic design reflect the extraordinary energy of the Bulls.
Ole Bull, 40 years Sara’s senior. was considered by many the finest (and certainly the most famous) violinist in the world. The couple not only travelled the globe for his performances, they also developed close friendships with prominent artists, musicians and literary figures of the day. A picture of the violinist is down the street in the home of the father of American poetry, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. (That home served as the headquarters of General Washington’s Revolutionary Army.) Humorist/novelist/activist Mark Twain said of his friend:
“If Ole Bull had been born without arms, what a rank he would have taken among the poets–because it is in him, and if he couldn’t violin it out, he would talk it out, since of course it would have to come out.”
By 1888, Sara found herself a young widow and formidable personality in her own right. She became a writer, philanthropist and transformational leader dedicated to advancing women’s rights and immersing herself in the emerging psychology movement. In Cambridge, she envisioned her home as a gathering place for thought-provoking presentations, which she named Cambridge Conferences. Inviting 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 spokesman), Henry Ward Beecher (abolitionist reformer), and William James (father of American psychology).
Sara developed a deep interest in Eastern religions and culture, eventually becoming a disciple and patron of Swami Vivekananda. The young Hindu monk is widely credited for introducing modern Hinduism to the West, including the philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga. Following a meeting at her Cambridge home in 1894, Vivekananda named Sara his “American Mother.” With her friendship, financial guidance and determination, she paved the way for lectures at nearby Harvard University, throughout the US, and abroad. Now considered a patriotic saint in India, Swami Vivekananda’s January 12th birthday is celebrated as National Youth Day.
Sara was also an angel investor for Jagadis Chunder Bose, considered the pioneer of radio and microwave optics, whom she met in her travels to India with Vivekananda. She went so far as to acquire both British and US patents on his behalf.
Publisher Edwin Grozier purchased the home from Sara Bull in 1907. He had acquired the Boston Post in 1891, and by the time of the house purchase it was the most widely read newspaper in New England. With Grozier’s son Richard as managing editor, the paper grew in readership and world-class reporting, winning the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service for exposing Charles Ponzi’s devastating fraud. Edwin died in 1924, but the home remained in the Grozier family until 1963, when it was sold to the Episcopal Divinity School.
In 1969, neighborhood outcry prevented the EDS from turning 168 Brattle into an expanded dormitory facility. And rightly so. A five minute walk from the Charles River, ten minutes from a spectacular arboretum (Mt. Auburn Cemetery), and fifteen from Harvard Square, the property is spectacularly nestled in easy reach of idyllic cross-country skiing, walking, biking, kayacking, and jogging.
In the decade after the school’s ownership, a portion of the land was sold to world-class art philanthropists Graham and Ann Gund for their residence. Former United States Ambassador to Austria, Swanee Hunt and her late husband, renowned conductor Charles Ansbacher, settled here in 1997 and made substantial improvements to the grounds and interior private spaces.
Like Ole Bull, Maestro Ansbacher performed with dozens of orchestras around the world. Ambassador Hunt, Eleanor Roosevelt Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard, has worked with women leaders in more than 60 countries. But at home, 168 Brattle Street has been what Sara Bull envisioned over a century before: a crossroads of world-class scholars, artists, media shapers, and policy makers, including President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Elizabeth Warren, cellist Yo Yo Ma, NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof, and hundreds of others. But the sounds on these grounds are much more than grown-up discourse. Even as they did 128 years ago, children from every economic stratum of Boston’s neighborhoods have repeatedly gathered in the backyard to perform their dances and drama before enthusiastic audiences of neighbors and friends.
There is yet another essential dimension of this beautiful home. Graced with gardens worthy of its generative history, 168 Brattle is more than a famous center for ideas and public presence. One step inside and it’s clear that this space has steadfastly served as a warm, private retreat for Swanee and her family; Ruthie, her faithful 19-year old cat; and Pumla her mischievous African gray parrot. For a home it truly is.
Susan Condrick has developed a wonderful reputation in her 15+ years in the real estate industry. She’s earned the trust of many long-time clients. “Over the past 10 years, Susan has brokered multiple real estate transactions for us and has been a wonderful partner each step along the way,” said Jennifer and Ben. “Whether it’s preparing a property for sale, advising on improvements to add value to a property, or helping to facilitate financing, Susan brings a high level of knowledge, energy and dedication.”
Susan is consistently ranked as a top producer in the marketplace, She has a strong track record evidenced by steady referrals and satisfied clients. She offers strong negotiation skills and delivers a comprehensive set of services — from creating a pricing strategy to garner strong and qualified offers in this dynamic market, to professional staging and professional photography, floor plans and marketing tools to showcase the property online and in print.
Susan tailors a strategy to position each property in the market, thereby maximizing its value. “Susan recommended work that should be done to get it ready to be put on the market. We followed her advice and received lots of positive feedback from both agents and buyers,” said Susan’s recent client, Suzanne.
As a buyer’s representative in this competitive market, Susan helps her clients find the home that meets their needs, provides effective strategies to present the strongest offer and terms all while ensuring they get the best value for their investment. “In a very competitive market Susan was a breath of fresh air as she kept her down to earth attitude intact which helped keep us sane,” said Lance and Nicole. “Susan is truly a ‘full-service’ agent and we have recommended her to many friends in the past which led to more successful partnerships.”
Prior to her career in real estate, Susan spent over 9 years in marketing and business development roles at Lotus/IBM working with Lotus Notes Business Partners and later as an account manager for lotus.com. She also worked in a number of marketing roles for start-up companies.
A native of Massachusetts, Susan grew up in Duxbury and still has a beach sticker. For more than 25 years Susan has lived in Cambridge, Watertown and Belmont where she currently resides with her two daughters. She is Co-Chair of the Belmont Activities Committee, and an active volunteer and supporter of the Wellington Elementary School, Chenery Middle School, and the Foundation for Belmont Education.
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