By Catherine Sherman
When Charles Ponzi lived at 19 Slocum Road in Lexington, Massachusetts, he wasn't known for his money-making schemes. The swindler was something of a celebrity. "There is newsreel showing hoards of photographers at the house. Ponzi would come out and talk to them on the front porch. He was so very proud," said Christine McLaughlin, who is selling the home for $3.3 million.
Ponzi purchased the Colonial revival in 1920, just months before his arrest for the fraudulent investment operations now commonly associated with his name. With 16 rooms, a carriage house and garden spanning nearly an acre, the property is grand -- a symbol of the success Ponzi had hoped to achieve.
"He had a chauffeur, a butler and cook," explained McLaughlin. And he spared no expense letting his wife, Rose, cover the walls with green, silk damask and other opulent decor.
Even after his financial misdeeds came to light, Ponzi remained well liked in the community. "Until the [Bernie] Madoff fraud, it was all an amusement," McLaughlin said. "He was a status-oriented celebrity."
Ponzi's wife continued to live in the home for three years until he went bankrupt. John H. Devine, a distinguished lawyer, then purchased the property and owned it for the next 70 years.
"It was pretty much untouched from the time Ponzi left until a modern addition in the late '90s," said McLaughlin, who along with husband Ofer Gneezy purchased the home in 2000. "It still had the original refrigerator and a teeny freezer."
Now there's a much bigger kitchen and a less formal family room in the back of the house. But the views of the garden, the original molding and even the zinc sink in the butler's pantry remain just the way they were when Ponzi lived there.
"You can imagine someone chipping ice with a pick [in the zinc sink]," said listing agent Jodi Winchester of Hammond Residential. "There are definitely prints of Ponzi from the past in many, many rooms."
The current owners have decided to downsize, but they admit the home is hard to leave. "We had 900 people walk through the house when the historical society gave a tour," McLaughlin said. "People in Lexington are aware of history and want to preserve it."
The home is not far from the Lexington Battle Green, where the opening shots of the Revolutionary War were fired in 1775.
"I have lived in Lexington for 53 years," Winchester said. "My mother, being in the real estate business, would always say, 'that's the Ponzi estate.' I have early recollections of the property."
Winchester says in addition to its history, the home has a spectacular, in-town location.
"Almost an acre of land near the center of Lexington - that's a big deal," she said. "This is the listing of a lifetime."
Current home photos courtesy of David Ward. Historic photos courtesy of Christine McLaughlin and Ofer Gneezy.