Doug Werner's sold a lot of real estate, but no property is as unique as the one he's now listing.
Werner is the agent for a 3.5-acre island off Bluff Point in the Rowayton section of Norwalk, on which stands a 6,100-square-foot Tudor mansion, built in 1900, with four private beaches and a regulation-sized swimming pool, a caretaker's cottage, tea house, boathouse and shed. The property also includes docking stations for the owner and visitors who travel the roughly half-mile between a three-car garage on the mainland and the island.
Called Tavern Island, it hasn't been for sale in 31 years and was once the site of celebrity parties when Billy Rose, a lyricist and Broadway producer, owned it in the 1950s and '60s. It has been on the market for about two weeks and is priced at $12.9 million.
"The question is, how do you value something like this? It's so unique," Werner said.
Werner said he's had interest and had showings for a prospective buyer on the two previous weekends.
"We've talked to a couple of different people already," he said. "The more word gets out, the more people want to see it."
Joseph Schnierlein, manager of professional development at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, said he used to work on Tavern Island in the 1970s, when it was owned by Bruce and Sandy Falconer. At the time, Schnierlein worked for Windward Oceanographic Institute and taught classes on the island at Sandy Falconer's request.
"There were times it would be raining out there, and we would hold activities in the tea house, and it was right there on the walls," he said. "I would imagine some of that, because of the signatures on it, would have been highly collectible."
Werner said homes exist on some of the other Norwalk islands, but he believed Tavern Island was fairly unique in that it's "totally self-contained" and the only island he's aware of that is serviced by city water and electricity.
"I do think that's a rather special set-up," he said.
"I think it's fairly unique in that the other places have electricity, but it's usually generator or solar," he said.
Werner added that Tavern Island also has "a big backup generator."
Schnierlein said Bruce Falconer, whom he described as a world-class sailor and Darien architect, did "a tremendous amount of updating and modernization" to the mansion and that Falconer lived on the island year-round, while he believed the Shepherd family, which owned it previously, did not.
Before the mansion was modernized, owners had a much harder time living there because they had to transport water from the mainland to the island by hand and transport heating oil in large bladders on a boat, Schnierlein said.
"It really took an amazing amount of fortitude to do that," he said.
Werner said it takes about five minutes to travel by boat from the mainland dock to Tavern Island, and he said the owner of island now has the option of riding on a launch driven by a caretaker or driving from another launch. He said the water between the mainland and Tavern Island used to freeze up in the past from what he's been told, but that wasn't the case today.
Schnierlein said warm water discharged from the nearby Manressa Island Power Plant used to warm the water around Tavern Island, but he said the plant's output today isn't what it once was and that it's not impossible the water between the mainland and Tavern Island could freeze again.
"We know for a fact it has frozen over and it has done it in recent times, but not to the point where you can't get to shore," he said.
The mansion, which has six bedrooms, four bathrooms and three half-bathrooms, was built after the caretaker's cottage, which was built in the early 1800s and which includes a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room and study, Werner said. He said the boathouse also includes a bedroom and bathroom on the upper level and that the tea house was essentially a large gathering space.
"It's a big property, and it feels even bigger when you're on it," Werner said. "When you're in the tea house, you can't see the caretaker's cottage or the boathouse."
Schnierlein remembers Tavern Island as "a beautiful place" and "very, very quiet."
"Inside of the house, at the time I worked there, I felt like I was going back and looking at an F. Scott Fitzgerald book, like `The Great Gatsby,' " he said. "Boat traffic was minimal and there was very little activity around you."
Werner said Lillian Hellman rented a cottage on the island in 1938 when she was putting the finishing touches on her play "Little Foxes," and Werner and Schnierlein said it's possible to see New York City from Tavern Island on a clear day.
Werner said records in City Hall indicate that people lived on the island as far back as the 1720s. He said the property was used as a farm before then and that a rock on the property has "1651" carved into it. He said an old anchor and cannon on the property were found during renovations.
Werner said he believes the property acquired the name Tavern Island because a former owner used to invite sailors onto the property for drinks after they returned from their voyages. He said it was referred to as "Tavorn Island" in the 1700s.
Schnierlein said Tavern Island is on "a pretty solid rock outcropping" and that peacocks and deer used to live on the island.
"It was a pretty exotic place," he said. "They just roamed around free."
For more information, call Werner at 203-962-2601.