NL landmark adapts to new climate

Architect Dudley St. Clair Donnelly, who designed the Dewart Building in 1914, also designed what is now the Citizens Bank building on Eugene O'Neill Drive.
Architect Dudley St. Clair Donnelly, who designed the Dewart Building in 1914, also designed what is now the Citizens Bank building on Eugene O'Neill Drive.

New London - Going to work at the Dewart office building at 300 State St. could mean practicing law or storyboarding a commercial for the rock group Aerosmith.

About 40 percent of the tenant mix for the venerable four-story edifice built in 1914 is comprised of traditional and high-tech artists, said landlord Randy Abood.

The building, which once housed Garde Arts Center offices while the Garde theater was restored, has a history of catering to artists, said his wife, actress Marion Markham Abood.

Jeremy Browning, a property manager with Trio Real Estate Services, said he is undertaking an extensive marketing plan for the building.

"We're trying to really create a good mix in the building between standard professions like lawyers and architects and folks in the arts," said Browning. "It kind of gives the building a nice energy, which the owners really like, and we're trying to embrace that."

One of the tenants with an artistic bent, Steve Lettieri, who owns Killer Minnow and StoryForge Labs, recently created a storyboard aimed at selling Aerosmith's rock hit, "Dream On," in hopes of commercially promoting state lotteries.

For Lettieri and his partners, who moved into the building in January, the Aboods' interest in nurturing a kind of "mini-Tribeca" - a building full of creative businesses and production companies - was part of the attraction.

Lettieri is hoping to collaborate on future projects with others in the building, including a potential communal video lab. Though it hasn't happened yet, conversations are continually getting started about it, he said.

"It's something we talk about a lot," Lettieri said.

The building's tradition of providing affordable rent to artists as well as attorneys and accountants is one the Aboods want to maintain as they seek to fill a building with slightly less than 90-percent occupancy. But more importantly, it should be a microcosm of the New London community, Randy Abood said.

"It is a mix of small businesses," he said. "What we really try to do is expand on the inherent nature of New London. New London does have the lawyers, the musicians and people in (information technology) and real estate brokers. There's no reason for us to change the community. We want to be a large part of it, an integral part, and to cater to the people who are most a part of it."

The communal video lab is in the talking stages but creating that would depend on whether there were enough people who would use it to make it viable.

"It's got to make money or break even," Abood said. "It is a direction we might take."

Abood, a real estate investor, started his professional life as a practicing tax attorney in New York. His wife, whose stage name is Marion Markham, has done a lot of off-Broadway and regional theater, and has recently gravitated toward cabaret and independent shorts. They have homes in New York and Watch Hill.

The couple decided to buy the Dewart building two years ago, Marion Markham Abood said, after walking the city streets while she was doing dinner theater in the region. At the time the train station and the Capitol theater on Bank Street were for sale.

"We walked around one day with a real estate broker and we happened upon 300 State," she said. "We bought it."

Almost a century ago, Morton Plant, the railroad tycoon, constructed the Dewart Building, hiring architect Dudley St. Clair Donnelly. Donnelly also designed the Citizen's Bank building on Eugene O'Neill Drive. The building was named after William J. Dewart, the local business manager for Frank Munsey, a towering figure in the New York publishing industry who built the nearby Mohican Hotel.

It turned out the building needed a lot of work, and the couple has replaced windows, installed a security system, restored floors and expects to make other improvements as time goes by, Randy Abood said.

Now, the couple says they are gratified to have tenants who appreciate the investments they've made and add both creative energy and professionalism to the building.

Besides the anchors on street - Lindsay Liebig Roche Architects LLC, Allure International Salon and Hannafin's Pub - some of the tenants include labor law attorney Mickey Busca, Stellar Records and Pyramid Marketing Design & Technology.

Stellar Records is a record label that takes hits off billboard pop, country and urban charts, recreates them as sound-alike recordings and sells them as Karoake. The firm has been in the building for eight years.

"I chose this building because the industry I'm in, the music business … there's people in the building I kind of relate to," said Tony Walstra, Stellar Records' vice president of sales and marketing.

For Busca, proximity to New London Superior Court and the ability to meet artists in the building's hallways is the appeal.

"You'll walk down the hall and you might talk with a photographer who's taken pictures of Beyonce," he said. "You'll see people who have done some artwork. Everybody's friendly and helpful. It was a great find for me."


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