Harold Levine: Westporters Must Help Bridgeport

Harold Levine emailed me recently. He’s 93 years old. But the famed  advertising executive — who is also chairman emeritus of Neighborhood Studios, an after-school, weekend and summer music, arts and dance program for Bridgeport students –is as passionate as ever.

Frustrated, too. The longtime Westporter writes:

I just received a troubling phone call. Our executive director projects that by the end of our fiscal year on August 30th, we will be over $80,000 in  debt.

We are seriously understaffed. So why the deficit?

Neighborhood Studios logoWhy can’t we get enough money to provide arts experiences to over 1,500 children? Is it because they are poor? Is it because they don’t live in our community? Is it because they are black and Hispanic?

I recently invited a Westporter to join me on a visit to our programs in action. I was told, “Oh, I don’t go to Bridgeport.”

Neighborhood Studios was founded over 35 years ago by Pat Hart, a young woman who became blind at 28. She was committed to teaching art and music to blind and other handicapped children. Over the years the organization has grown to serve all Bridgeport children.

For example, for private piano lessons we ask parents to pay $3 per sessions. Many tell us they cannot afford even that little.  Are we to turn that child away?  Of course not. That’s one reason we end the year with a deficit.

For the past 15 years we have sponsored Ailey Camp, a 6-week summer program in cooperation with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company. Bridgeport is one of only 7 such camps around the country.

A dance ensemble class rehearses at Neighborhood Studios. (Photo by Autumn Driscoll/CT Post)

A dance ensemble class rehearses at Neighborhood Studios. (Photo by Autumn Driscoll/CT Post)

 

Besides a great dance program, youngsters are also trained in speech, writing, and feeling good about themselves. Many campers return as interns and instructors.

This is a program that everyone in Fairfield County should be proud to support.  The campers (and their parents) are carefully interviewed. Each family pays only $25 for the entire summer — yet each camper costs Neighborhood Studios over $1,000.

We are looking for patrons of the arts. I was once told that if Neighborhood Studios was headquartered in Westport, we would be loaded with money.

But we’re not. We are in Bridgeport, serving a community very much in need. So how about saying to the children of Bridgeport: “We do care about you.”

Our programs work. We are successful in getting a high percentage of our children to go on to college.  We must continue to serve the children of our neighboring community, Bridgeport.

(To donate to Neighborhood Studios, click here.)

Harold Levine asks Westporters to help their neighbors.

Harold Levine asks Westporters to help their neighbors.

 

Goodbye And Hello

As sad as Westport is to see Maxine Bleiweis go — and we are very sad — we’re not the only town sorry to lose its library director.

The Chelsea District Library bids farewell to Bill Harmer. And throughout Michigan, the tributes are pouring in.

Board president Elizabeth Sensoli calls him “brilliant … his talent and spirit have made our library a very special place … I will miss his unquenchable enthusiasm and ‘out of the box’ thinking.”

Trustee Robin Wagner adds, “Bill is a remarkable leader, driven by a contagious passion for continuously improving the library experience for guests, staff and community. Bill’s constant focus is understanding what is this library today, envisioning how can it be better tomorrow, and wondering how to get there sooner than tomorrow.”

Well, Chelsea’s loss is Westport’s gain. All those plaudits are for the Westport Library’s new director.

Harmer takes over from Bleiweis on July 27. Sounds like we’ve got ourselves another world-class winner.

Bill Harmer

Bill Harmer

The Duck As You’ve Never Seen It Before

You can count on a lot of things at the Black Duck: Great wings. A down-home vibe. Sports on TV.

Almost always, that means men’s sports.

But tonight the TVs were tuned to the Women’s World Cup semifinal.

When Carli Lloyd stepped up to take a penalty kick late in the scoreless match, everyone — including the bartenders and wait staff — stopped to watch.

Black Duck - Women's World Cup

She nailed it. The US added an insurance goal, to beat Germany 2-0.

We play England or Japan on Sunday.

You know at least one place to watch the championship game.

ESPN: “Go Wreckers!”

This afternoon, Tom Haberstroh was a guest on David Lloyd’s “Sportscenter” ESPN show.

Haberstroh jokingly asked fellow NBA analyst Chris Broussard if the San Antonio Spurs could make him into a pro player.

Broussard laughed: “I don’t know. I’ve seen you play!”

David Lloyd, Chris Broussard and Tom Haberstroh on ESPN's "Sportscenter" this afternoon.

David Lloyd, Chris Broussard and Tom Haberstroh on ESPN’s “Sportscenter” this afternoon.

Lloyd — a 1979 Staples High School graduate — alertly noted that Haberstroh played hoops at Staples.

Sure, it was more than 2 decades after Lloyd graduated. But that gave Haberstroh a perfect opening. He drove the lane, and took it.

“Go Wreckers!” Haberstroh said, as the segment wound up.

Most of Sportscenter’s millions of listeners had no idea what that meant.

But Haberstroh, Lloyd and all of us do.

BONUS FUN FACT: Haberstroh also was featured on Colin Cowherd’s ESPN radio show. It’s produced by John Lawrence — another former Staples athlete. Quite a day for the Wreckers!

The Way We Were — And Are (Sequel)

If you’re like most “06880” readers, you enjoyed this morning’s photographic trip down memory lane.

You admired the photos. They jogged memories — or, if you’re a newcomer (or just young), you tried to imagine the Westport of yore.

If you were Mark Potts though, you headed straight to Google Street View.

Mark — a 1974 Staples grad who co-founded WashingtonPost.com, served as editor of Philly.com, and is a consultant with clients like the Los Angeles TimesVariety and Silicon Valley startups — now lives in Lawrence, Kansas.

But his heart is still here. And one of his many hobbies is taking creating “then and now” images with “06880” photos. (Click here for last October’s shots.)

Today’s batch was tough, he says. A few unusual photo angles could not be duplicated (the Merritt Parkway shot, for example, was taken from the side of the road). And Mark couldn’t figure out where the Post Road import car shop was.

But the rest worked out fairly well. Enjoy his trip back in time — and back to the present.

Then and now 1 - Saugatuck

Then and now 2 - train station

Then and now 3 - train station

Then and now 4 - downtown

Then and now 5 - Merritt Parkway exit 41

 

The Way We Were

For some reason, people have started emailing me great photos of the Westport of yore.

I know plenty of “06880” readers like them. Longtime residents, expats, even recent arrivals appreciate seeing where what’s changed in our town — and what hasn’t. (Click on or hover over any photo to enlarge it.)

So, without further ado:

A dealer called simply “Foreign Cars” did business on the Post Road near the Southport line, just past Barker’s (or, as we know it today, Super Stop & Shop).

Foreign cars - 1950s - Post Road
This looks familiar: near the train station. In the 1950s, it was Frank Reber and Charlie Cole’s Imported Cars. This photo, and the one above, came from Hemmings Daily, thanks to David Pettee.

Frank Reber and Charlie Coles Imported Cars

A few years earlier, this was the scene around the corner, at the train station. There’s Black Horse Liquors on the corner. The newsstand was Baer’s.

Train station 1950s - courtesy Debbie Rosenfield
Here’s the eastbound view. Both photos are courtesy of Debbie Rosenfield.

Train station 1950s eastbound - courtesy Debbie Rosenfield
This 1949 view of downtown comes (as do all the photos below it) from the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut, via Brian Pettee. Colgan’s Pharmacy was where Tiffany sits today. Across Taylor Place was the trolley-shaped diner. Opposite that — hidden by trees — was the small park behind the old Westport Library. And that car in the middle of the intersection? It was turning onto the Post Road from Main Street, which had 2-way traffic.

Downtown 1948 - copyright Thomas J. Dodd Research Center UConn
Main Street Mobil occupied the current site of Vineyard Vines. In the distance you can see what for many years was Westport Pizzeria.

Main Street Mobil station 1949 - copyright Thomas J Dodd Research Center UConn
Back when the Merritt Parkway was for motoring, this was the signage (watch out for those jagged edges!).

Merritt Parkway exit 41 sign - 1949 - copyright Thomas J Dodd Research Center UConn
And when you came off Exit 41, this is what you saw. Underneath the “Westport” arrow, the sign says “State Police 3 mi.” The barracks were located on the Post Road where Walgreens is now — opposite the diner. Pretty close to I-95 — though in 1949, the “Connecticut Turnpike” had not yet been built.

Merritt Parkway exit 41 - 1949 - copyright Thomas J Dodd Research Center UConn

Newman’s Own Stamp

From Walt Reed and Stevan Dohanos to Miggs Burroughs, Westport artists have designed dozens of US postage stamps.

There have been so many, in fact, that the Westport Historical Society devoted an entire exhibit to the illustrators and their stamps.

Now, a famous Westporter is being honored with a stamp of his own.

Paul Newman’s very good-looking face will grace a “Forever Stamp.” It goes on sale September 18.

Paul Newman stampThere’s not enough room on the stamp to list all of Newman’s accomplishments. He’s been an award-winning actor, producer, director, race car driver, salad dressing/lemonade king, humanitarian, founder of a camp for kids with cancer, and contributor to many causes, around the globe and right here in his home town.

So it reads simply “Actor/Philanthropist.”

To which Westporters proudly add: Our actor/philanthropist.

(For more information on the stamp, click here. Hat tip: Melissa Chang)

Cops Descend On Westport In Search Of…

…good Italian food.

Forget donuts. In 2015, police officers have a much more discerning palate.

Even so, Celia Offir was impressed — but not surprised — to see motorcycle cops from 4 different towns parked outside Gaetano’s the other day.

Gaetano's

Gaetano’s

Never heard of it? Gaetano’s flies under the radar. But in just a year the Italian deli near Super Stop & Shop has gained a fervent following for fantastic food, great service and a very friendly vibe.

Don’t believe me? Check out these Yelp reviews.

Or just ask a cop from Westport. Or Fairfield, New Canaan or Trumbull.

An Ace Customer At Crossroads Hardware

If you’ve lived in Westport for more than 12 seconds, you know that Crossroads Ace Hardware is the place — for any home-related item you could imagine, for fantastic personal service, and for that sit-around-the-potbelly-stove community feeling you can’t get anywhere else.

Ace HardwareIf you don’t know and love Jimmy Izzo, his father AJ and the rest of the Ace crew, you should crawl back into your cave.

But if you’re like me, you’ve probably driven by at night after they’ve closed and thought, “Wow, they leave a lot of stuff outside. They must really trust people.”

They do. And here’s why.

Yesterday morning, Jimmy went to open up. Under the door, he found a handwritten slip of paper.

Overnight, a customer had helped himself to some bamboo sticks, copper pipe and plastic tomato stakes.

Jimmy Izzo - Ace Hardware

The customer listed all those items on that sheet of paper. He also slipped a check under the door for the total amount.

Plus tax.

“People are good,” Jimmy says.

Well, yeah. Because, Jimmy, you’re good to them.

Cynthia Armijo: New Arts Center Director Boasts Intriguing Background

Cynthia Armijo has a degree in biology. She spent most of her career in financial services. She’s been a management consultant, a director with regional and national Boys Town organizations, and CEO/executive director of the Norwalk YMCA.

WACThat may seem an odd resume for her new position: executive director of the Westport Arts Center.

On the other hand, the San Francisco native has prepared for her new gig all her life.

A Weston resident for 10 years, Armijo and her husband —  he’s also in financial services — “jumped at the chance” to move east. They knew New York well from work, and their oldest daughter thrived at Weston High.

Growing up, Armijo saw her family constantly give back through service to non-profits. She’s been a board or committee member of various organizations since her 20s. (Her first volunteer effort was with San Francisco’s Sisters of Mercy; she ended up as board chair.)

Starting in 2007, she’s leveraged her financial and management skills in the non-profit world. (That’s where Boys Town and the Y come in.)

“I look for premier organizations wherever I work,” Armijo says. “And the Westport Arts Center has the potential to be the premier arts center in Fairfield County.”

Armijo ticks off its pluses: a passionate base of supporters; an active, engaged board; broad, wide-ranging programs; strong leadership under artistic director Helen Klisser During.

Cynthia Armijo (Photo/Helen Klisser During)

Cynthia Armijo (Photo/Helen Klisser During)

Armijo saw the executive director position posted, applied, and was “hooked right out of the gate. There’s a great strategic vision to continue bringing great art to the community.”

Of course, there are challenges.

“The gallery is in a nice location, but the size limits us,” Armijo acknowledges. “I’d love to have a larger, more accessible venue.”

Her office looks across the river, to the Levitt Pavilion and Westport Library. “We need to be there too,” Armijo says.

But that’s ahead. Right now she’s happy to talk about programs like children’s after-school and summer offerings (“I have to close my door, or you’d hear 50 kids”), and inspiring outreach at Yale-New Haven’s Smilow Cancer Center, and Bridgeport’s Homes for Heroes.

She’s also looking forward to meeting the heads of important Westport organizations — many of whom (the library, Y, Staples High School) are or will soon be new, like her.

Cynthia Armijo's office in the Westport Arts Center overlooks the river -- and the Levitt Pavilion. (Photo/Helen Klisser During)

Cynthia Armijo’s office in the Westport Arts Center overlooks the river — and the Levitt Pavilion. (Photo/Helen Klisser During)

As for Armijo’s own artistic bent, the biology major/financial services professional/management consultant is a huge fan of impressionism. Another corner of her home is filled with 16th-century engravings.

“I dabble in oil too,” she says. “But you will never see anything of mine exhibited publicly.”