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Hepburn Estate Owner Renovates Saybrook Lighthouse

The New York builder who bought and renovated Katharine Hepburn’s shoreline estate has now turned his sights out to sea.

Wed September 23, 2015 - Northeast Edition
Kenneth Gosselin - Hartford Courant

OLD SAYBROOK, Conn. (AP) The New York builder who bought and renovated Katharine Hepburn’s shoreline estate and then constructed a beach house on the property has now turned his sights out to sea — and the Saybrook Breakwater Light.

Frank J. Sciame Jr. said he is the buyer who placed the high bid of $290,000 in an online auction for the iconic lighthouse that was announced recently — and he plans to restore and renovate it as a guest house for family and friends.

The 129-year-old lighthouse — rendered on some Connecticut motor vehicle license plates — is about a three-minute boat ride from the dock at the Hepburn estate in the Fenwick section of Old Saybrook.

“I’ve been looking at it for over 10 years since I’ve lived at the house,” Sciame said. “It something that everyone sees if you buy a property in the borough of Fenwick. It’s an important part of the seascape.”

Sciame said he does not know how much it will cost to renovate the lighthouse, but the work could easily run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Sciame envisions a wine cellar in the basement, a kitchenette on the second floor, a master bedroom suite on the third floor, one or two bedrooms on the fourth floor, and an outdoor area on the open fifth-floor deck to take advantage of the views.

“The exterior needs a good restoration, the window pediments, doors and windows,” Sciame said. “I’d like to do it right. I do have a love for historic buildings and this is a great historic structure.”

The 48-ft. high, cast-iron structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that would regulate any work done on the structure’s exterior. The lighthouse remains a functioning beacon, including its fog horn, even under private ownership.

The federal government’s General Services Administration, which oversees the sale of lighthouses for the Coast Guard, said it expects to formally award the lighthouse — also known as the Saybrook Outer Light — to Sciame soon, pending final review of the bid. Sciame is then required to negotiate a lease with the state for the submerged lands under the lighthouse.

Sciame said he hopes to close the purchase early next year.

Sciame has had a connection to Fenwick for a decade. In 2004, he and his wife, Barbara, purchased the Hepburn property for $6 million, a year after the actress’s death. The couple subdivided the 3.5-acre property into three lots and pursued an extensive, top-to-bottom renovation of Hepburn’s house.

Earlier this year, the Sciames completed the construction of a 3,800-sq.-ft. beach house on the lot east of the main house.

The main house has been on and off the market for several years, last listed for $14.8 million. Recently, the Sciames decided to keep the 8,500-sq.-ft. main house, which they had used as a summer home, and the lot to the west. Originally, they had intended to keep only the beach house, but they are now listing it at $6.8 million.

Sciame’s ownership of the storied property has not been without controversy. He battled with the borough over the height of granite posts marking the entrance to the driveway off Mohegan Avenue. Sciame also won a $2.2 million jury award against a title insurance company over access to the property.

The price Sciame agreed to pay is less than the $340,000 bid in a 2013 auction for the same lighthouse. That deal fell through when a lease with the state for the land under the lighthouse couldn’t be negotiated. Since then, the state legislature enacted a law to clearly outline the path for such negotiations.

Just two of the state’s 20 lighthouses — Morgan Point in the Noank section of Groton and Stamford Harbor Light — are in the hands of private property owners.

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