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Ten Chimneys, Genesee Depot

Genesee Depot and Wales, Wisconsin

getaway-chicago logoCreated over the better part of two decades (1919-39), Ten Chimneys in Genesee Depot, Wisconsin is a monument to the American actor Alfred Lunt and his English born actress-wife, Lynn Fontanne. Far from the bright lights of Broadway and London's West End, Lunt and Fontanne built for themselves and their many stellar theatrical guests a summer sanctuary in what seems to be the least probable place to entertain the likes of Helen Hayes, Noel Coward, Alexander Wolcott, Lawrence Olivier or a Carol Channing.

genesee1The Getaway Guys knew that long before radio and TV, talking pictures and the Internet there was something called the Theater; live, heavy-duty drama or light comedic fare to enlighten and/or amuse. During the years between the World Wars (1918-1939) New York-London was the theater axis of the English speaking world and according to critics of their day Lunt (born in Milwaukee) and Fontanne were the reigning couple of that long ago gay and glittering milieu.

The Getaway Guys have negotiated the 90 degree turn at the juncture of Wis. 83 and Depot Road numerous times, spied the innocuous 10 Chimneys sign pointing west and wondered what the heck is that? The answer: a sprawling stage set for a theater company of two (Lunt & Fontanne). Recently rescued and restored, the Lunt-Fontanne estate was for many years an off-season refuge for the couple and also the place to which they both retired prior to their deaths. Combined with a side trip to the Antiques Center at Wales (just up the road apiece) and an early evening meal at The Union House, the Getaway Guys think "Chimneys & Antiques" makes an enjoyable and informative Getaway day trip.genesee2

Too young and not aficionados of the stage, Neil and Alan know of Lunt and Fontanne (Hayes, Coward, et al.) via reading or word of mouth and typically found aspects of Ten Chimneys to agree and disagree about. The first act (they agreed) is the Main House. Built in stages over an extended period , this eclectic structure seems to defy gravity. Although outwardly normal looking, the interior is (to say the least) baffling. With no discernible floor plan and seemingly missing load bearing walls, the Guys wondered what held it up! Stuffed with the acquired possessions of two theatrical life times and meticulously restored, the Main House is a wonder. Alan liked the "Hen House" best and Neil grooved on the "Studio." Alan thought the Studio too "woods." Both thought the Visitor's Center (outstanding and free) essential to understanding Ten Chimneys, the Lunts and the theater milieu they inhabited.

Reservations are strongly recommended ( and the cost is $35.00 per person. The guided tour lasts about two hours and time should be allowed both before and after to soak up the very informative interactive displays in the Visitor's Center. genesee3The Book and Gift Shop is a must-do too. One of the best.

Getting to Ten Chimneys isn't arduous and the drive after leaving I-94 is quite pleasant. I-94 north to Wis. 20 west (near Racine) to Wis. 83 north to Genesee Depot. For the Antiques Center at Wales continue north on 83 to U.S. 18 east for a short way. Back in G.D. on 83 you can't miss The Union House. Reservations are recommended.

Incidentally, Alan counted only 9 chimneys instead of 10. October 2006

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