Open House

Open House

Once upon a time, you could just wander around and see what happened.

* * *

It’s prudent to decline when a stranger invites you into his house. For some reason, I didn’t.

I could see it must’ve been a regal place once. Under a broad mansard-style roof, it had two balconies stacked on round pillars, a lacy wood ribbon arching over the top. Molded and carved, its eaves and windows and hulking front door had more layers than Raskolnikov.

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And like Raskolnikov, it was falling apart. The balconies were bowed, their balustrades broken. The moldings were discolored and the front railings tilted. The paint had peeled more than it hadn’t.

To a neighbor or potential home buyer, it would’ve been unsightly. To a photographer, it was sightly indeed, and the man who invited me in—a renter, he later told me—could tell. Calling from the front sidewalk, across the street from where I was taking pictures, he thought I might like to capture more than the exterior.

He was right. Spanning 5,000 square feet and 16 rooms, the inside, too, was a mix of grandiosity and decay. Heavy arched doors and thick crown moldings were luxurious and impressive. So was a huge central bannister wending up three floors. Some rooms, a few with dormant fireplaces, were carefully painted or papered in lively colors and patterns.

There were also gaps in the ceilings and exposed wooden ribs. The walls of a narrow, winding stairwell at the rear were marbled with compound-filled cracks. One bathroom had raw wood details, never finished. Another had a rusted steam radiator that’d lost a lot of its silver coverup.

Like many of the home’s scenes, the radiator was nonetheless charming, amplified by a white honeycomb floor and porcelain tub and amplifying a nagging question: What charms lie hidden within New Haven’s many other once-regal homes?

Written and photographed by Dan Mims. The address of this story’s subject has been withheld for privacy reasons. This updated story originally published on March 31, 2016.

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