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Oct. 14—STONINGTON — On Thursday, Eva Franchi sat in the red-hued living room of the home that her husband, singing star Sergio Franchi, purchased in 1979. She reminisced about how enraptured Sergio was when he first saw the estate, whose land reminded him of his home country of Italy.
But she spoke, too, about various points in their lives together and about his legendary career — how he sang for then-President Ronald Reagan at the White House and how he sat in the same chair his widow was sitting in now when he was interviewed by Gayle King.
Eva Franchi was, as always, witty, charming and full of life. She also seemed, a few times, almost wistful, perhaps because she knows time here is limited; she has decided to put the estate on the market.
Franchi — now 79 and a widow since Sergio died of brain cancer at age 64 in 1990 — said in her Hungarian-accented English, "Timing is everything in life. I think everything around me tells me (it's time to sell)."
The estate is on the market for $12.6 million.
It is listed with Tammy Tinnerello at William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty. Tinnerello said that interest so far has been split about 50/50 between developers who want to develop the site and people who want their families to live there. She noted that Sergio Franchi had once planned to divide the property into 64 lots, although that never came to fruition. The property is zoned RR-80, which means the minimum lot size would be 80,000 square feet.
Eva Franchi said, "I love my friends here, I love this area. I will not sell to anyone that would not enchant Stonington, what Stonington stands for."
The property is stunning, all 240 acres of it, making it the largest private property in Stonington. Down a long driveway off Pequot Trail sits the main house, a Georgian colonial that was built in 1938. It boasts 6,300 square feet of living space and, among other features, a sunroom with an indoor pool. There are seven bedrooms. The huge country kitchen has a black-and-white checkerboard floor and a walk-in china closet.
Near the main house are other smaller buildings — a guest house, a carriage house and an artist studio among them. Sergio kept the antique cars that he loved collecting in a seven-vehicle detached garage.
The Franchis first saw the estate named Farmholme after Sergio Franchi went there to look at an antique car for sale. Eva Franchi said her husband was taken by the beauty of the site and its fields, trees and stone walls. Instead of the car he had come to see, he bought the property.
"He loved this place," she said.
It's been a tough year for Eva Franchi. She was hospitalized with COVID-19 in early 2021. Once that health scare was past, she caught Lyme disease.
She was hit by COVID-19 on Jan. 6, not long after she wrapped up working at Conair Corporation when the business was sold. She had worked there for 30 years, creating the hospitality division for the company that manufactures personal and home care appliances like hair dryers.
She felt sad about no longer being at Conair, but then she recalled realizing: "I don't feel good, I don't feel good, I don't feel good."
She had a temperature of 103 and ended up in Westerly Hospital for two days with COVID-19. It was tough, and she ended up losing 17 pounds.
Eventually, she felt good enough to go back to the gym. While working out, though, she noticed a bullseye mark on her leg. The stiffness she was feeling made sense: Lyme disease. "Everything hurting again," she said.
So from January to July of this year, she said, she was sick.
On her birthday in July, her two sisters and brother surprised her by traveling from California and showing up at her home in Stonington.
"There was crying and hugging. They only stayed for three days, and we had a long talk and the talk was: 'You're coming home.' And they (were) right," Eva said, her eyes watering.
She said she loves it here but it's tough to be alone. She then bounces back with her usual sense of humor: "I even thought about: What if I drop dead here, who's going to get me? Another deer or the tick?"
She looks forward to spending more time with her siblings and her 18 nieces and nephews.
When there was music
Not only has the Stonington property been a place where the Franchis lived and socialized, it has also been where, for 25 years, Eva Franchi hosted a summertime concert in honor of her husband's memory. She brought in amazing talent — such as singer Latonia Moore, who has performed at the Metropolitan Opera, and David Miller of the group Il Divo. Thousands of fans — usually around 4,000 — gathered on the lawn, picnicked and listened to the otherworldly voices wafting through the air. Franchi even allowed concertgoers to walk through the downstairs of her house as part of the afternoon.
Those shows helped raise money for the foundation she created, the Sergio Franchi Music Scholarship Foundation, which gives grants and scholarships to talented young singers.
Eva Franchi held the last concert in 2019, deciding to end with the 25th show. She explained her decision to The Day that year, saying, "My heart tells me it's the time."
She also told The Day back then that she might put the estate up for sale after the final concert and move to California to be nearer to her family. She has finally done that.
"Now it is a happy decision in my heart," she said.
But she promises to come back to visit Stonington, and she even hopes to give one final concert at the estate this Christmas.