Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum Bette-Ing on “The Stepford Wives”

Lockwood-Mathews looks to capitalize on ‘Stepford’ success
The Stamford Advocate
By Ryan Jockers
Staff Writer
May 21, 2004

NORWALK — The Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum will kick off a campaign in June to raise $1 million to expand cultural and educational programs at the National Historic Landmark.

The museum’s board of trustees announced the fund-raising drive at its annual meeting last night in the mansion’s rotunda, which was refurbished by Paramount Pictures, the movie studio that shot scenes of “The Stepford Wives,” with Nicole Kidman and Bette Midler, in the building last fall.

“As we look around, this mansion hasn’t looked like this in a long time,” said Joe Passero, chairman of the board of trustees.

Passero called the last year a “tumultuous” one for the mansion, as it began with concerns about Hollywood taking over and forcing the closure of the museum for several months. But he said the museum achieved several accomplishments, too, such as the $200,000 of restorative work donated by Paramount, and retrieving statues that were original to the 1868 mansion.

“We also made a wonderful dent in an astronomical debt the mansion was in,” he said.

Bolstered by the $70,000 Paramount paid to lease the building, the museum ended the year with its operating budget $50,000 in the black. The trustees have used the surplus to pay down the debt owed on loans for improvement projects, said Patsy Brecia, board treasurer. Brecia said the museum still owes about $150,000.

The board of trustees will begin the fund-raising drive June 13 with a private gala in the mansion aimed at attracting potential donors. A general campaign will begin in the fall.

Board members said they hope to capitalize on the attention the museum has gotten and will receive when “The Stepford Wives,” a remake of the 1975 original, opens June 11.

Joseph DeBlasi, the board’s development chairman, said raising $1 million will allow the museum to expand its cultural and educational programming.

“It will give us four to five years of underwriting to do the things we want to do,” he said.

Some ideas for additional programs include a storytelling camp, free music concerts on the mansion’s lawn, a jazz festival and a clam bake.

Another accomplishment of the past year, trustees said, was a boost in membership. Christopher Cooke, the membership chairman, said the museum gained 67 percent more members in 2003, and now has 362 members. But Cooke called that figure “woefully inadequate” for a National Historic Landmark and said the museum had 800 members about 10 years ago.

“I’d like to see thousands of members,” he said. “The membership fees would be a tremendous help to the maintenance of the mansion.”

The museum will also stage a musical production of “Ben Franklin in Paris,” in the rotunda on July 10, said Marjorie St. Aubyn, the executive director. The playwright, Sidney Michaels, a local resident, will perform the piece. St. Aubyn noted that Benjamin Franklin was a financier for the Revolutionary War and LeGrand Lockwood, the mansion’s original owner, was a financier for the Civil War.

She added that the museum is trying to contact Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf to read a speech the Ben Franklin character gives in the musical about freedom. The speech, St. Aubyn said, is one Schwarzkopf has given in the past and has said he would do again.

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