Crocker House blends history and hipness

“When I'd walk in downtown New London, I would see this vacant space (the future home of her salon), and I kind of claimed it as my own.”
Kiesha Grant-Murphy, owner of Spoiled Salon Studio in the Crocker House on State Street in New London.
“When I'd walk in downtown New London, I would see this vacant space (the future home of her salon), and I kind of claimed it as my own.” Kiesha Grant-Murphy, owner of Spoiled Salon Studio in the Crocker House on State Street in New London.

Nathan Caron likes the Crocker House's sense of history, its water views, and its downtown location.

For Kiesha Grant-Murphy, who owns the Spoiled Salon Studio, the Crocker House has a certain cosmopolitan feel, with its exposed brick interiors and expansive windows along its first floor commercial spaces.

"It's very metropolitan," says Grant-Murphy, who recently moved her trendy styling salon from a smaller location in the rear of the Crocker House to a prime spot in the front of the State Street building. "You don't feel like you're in New London," she says of its big-city appeal. "There's no other place I'd rather be. I love looking out the window."

And, she adds, with her salon studio now one of the first-floor commercial tenants facing right onto State Street, she gets more walk-in traffic. "We've only been here (in the new front space) going on three months," says Grant-Murphy, "and we have had probably 20 percent more walk-ins. That is really good."

Grant-Murphy has been in the Crocker House for about three years. Her salon is one of a handful of commercial clients, including Minuteman Press of New London, on the building's first floor. The commercial tenants along the first floor surround the building's main LeWitt Lobby, whose brightly colored murals were done by the late minimalist artist Sol LeWitt.

The Crocker House's other four floors house residential apartments - 80 in all - and there's a grand ballroom on the first floor in the rear of the stately building, which dates back to 1873. "When I'd walk in downtown New London," recalls the salon owner, "I would see this vacant space (the future home of her salon), and I kind of claimed it as my own."

Caron, who lives in a fifth floor one-bedroom apartment at the Crocker House, is a teacher at the Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School on Waller Street in New London. He says he enjoys living downtown, not far from his job. He says the cool breezes from the nearby Thames River kept his apartment cool when he first moved in at the start of the school year. His apartment also affords an impressive view of the city's downtown, and he's eager for the summer sounds to fill his apartment.

Downtown experience

Both Caron and Grant-Murphy are indicative of many of the residents at the Crocker House, explains Pam Natale, who has been the building's on-site property manager for five years and is also a New London resident who enjoys the downtown's vibrancy.

She says the building's occupancy rate has remained above 90 percent for many years now, including during a phase when the building was going through a foreclosure process.

"We're (marketing) a landmark building," she says, "and the experience of living in one." She adds that few, if any, of the 80 units in the five-story Crocker House are the same. Some offer decorative fireplaces, others have almost a loft-like feel. The hallways of this venerable building are wide and the ceilings tall, evidence of its early days as one of New London's posh hotels, where its ballroom would host galas and grand balls.

That ballroom, in fact, has been extensively redone and today hosts social gatherings, weddings and community events, says Natale.

She's proud of the Crocker House's continued success - it recently underwent more renovations and an overall spiffing up, including major repointing of the exterior brick, repairing the roof, the cornice and painting of its trim.

The building is managed by Hamilton Point Investments of Old Lyme, whose other holdings range from the Bushnell on the Park condominiums in Hartford to the Cadogan Hotel in London.

In January of last year, Milton Point Investments LLC of Essex and equity partner Hamilton Capital purchased, at a discount, the delinquent $5.3 million mortgage for the Crocker House.

Wells Fargo Bank had owned the mortgage of the Crocker House after AME Development, which had bought the Crocker House in an auction in 2002, had given up the note. AME's partners included Alva Greenberg, Michael Joplin, president of the New London Development Corp., and Elie Pallandre, all downtown New London developers. During their tenure, those developers had overseen an extensive makeover of the Crocker House, which included a detailed floor-by-floor transformation. Natale praised the work of AME Development, saying the group was a driving force behind the building's renaissance as a downtown residential complex.

Young professionals

Even today, the Crocker House continues to be a bit of a work in progress, as crews ready its wide residential hallways for new carpeting and finish applying a new paint pattern along the hallway walls. Above, new ceiling and lighting give the hallways a more modern, and brighter, feel.

Of the nearly 100 residents within its four floors of apartments, a majority are in their 20s and 30s, with a smaller contingent of 40-somethings. Nearly 40 are professionals, almost 15 are in the military and the rest are students, culinary employees, retirees and others.

For Natale, it's a great fit for the Crocker House. She says many of the residents have moved there to enjoy the downtown's restaurants, bars and taverns and entertainment venues. "They want a nice place to live. They want to go to the Garde. They enjoy going out to dinner," says Natale.

"We have a lot of Conn College students," says the property manager. "Once they graduated, they wanted to stay here. They like being in a downtown location."

Caron, the New London school teacher, agrees that the Crocker House's downtown location, right across from New London City Hall, is a plus for many residents. "I'm kind of a city person," he explains.

"My apartment looks out to Long Island Sound. I think I have the best view in the place," he says of his top-floor residence. "It's really terrific. In the summer, I'm really looking forward to getting to events downtown, getting to events at the Hygienic Park (on nearby Bank Street)," says the teacher.

Caron says his one-bedroom apartment meets his housing needs. "For a single person, it's a perfect size. I can't really bring in a ton of stuff, which is good for me. It's not overly small. It's just the right size - for me, anyway."

a.cronin@theday.com

The exterior of the Crocker House in New London.
The exterior of the Crocker House in New London.
Spoiled Salon Studio is one of the street level businesses that rents space at the Crocker House in downtown New London.
Spoiled Salon Studio is one of the street level businesses that rents space at the Crocker House in downtown New London.
One of the apartments at the Crocker House in New London  as seen last week.
One of the apartments at the Crocker House in New London as seen last week.
Crocker House tenant Nathan Caron in his apartment late last month. He appreciates the building's history and its downtown location that also is near the water. Below, Kiesha Grant-Murphy at her Crocker House salon, Spoiled, last month.
Crocker House tenant Nathan Caron in his apartment late last month. He appreciates the building's history and its downtown location that also is near the water. Below, Kiesha Grant-Murphy at her Crocker House salon, Spoiled, last month.

Business snapshot

Name: The Crocker House

Location: 180 State St., New London

Floors: Five stories, four residential

Apartment units: 80

Monthly rents: 1 room studios from $650; petite one bedrooms from $750; one bedrooms from $800; two bedrooms from $1,100.

Other rentals: Grand Ballroom, Melba Room, LeWitt Lobby, Courtyard.

Website: www.crockerhouse.net

Telephone: (860) 444-6464

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