Y Cuts The Ribbon; Long Journey Is Almost Complete

video tribute featuring Allen Raymond was the emotional highlight of yesterday evening’s Westport Y ribbon-cutting ceremony. But there were many other memorable moments too, at the new Mahackeno facility.

The spacious new parking lot was filled. Y members, staffers, volunteers and friends gathered to celebrate the move from the 90-year-old downtown facility, to the one off Wilton Road.

Longtime benefactors were honored at a pre-dedication reception inside. The Gault, Mitchell and Tauck families headed the list.

Robin Tauck enjoys one of the Y's new group fitness studios.

Robin Tauck enjoys one of the Y’s new group fitness studios.

Then the group assembled outside the west-facing front entrance. Replicating the work of his predecessor 91 years ago, Reverend Jeffrey Rider of Greens Farms Congregational Church delivered a prayer that invoked the first chapter of the Bible: Rather than dwell alone, mankind should be part of a community.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe continued the theme. He said the Y makes the community more whole, more healthful and more connected.

State Senator John McKinney — a Bedford descendant — described his family’s 5-generation support of the Y.

Board president Bonnie Strittmatter and trustees chairman Pete Wolgast thanked many people. So did Y CEO Rob Reeves, with a special shout-out to principal designer Kevin Smith.

Y CEO Rob Reeves, and  the crowd in the big new parking lot.

Y CEO Rob Reeves, and the crowd outside the new building.

After the ribbon was cut, 250 people poured into the new Y. The adults ate, talked and toured, while the kids romped in the new gym.

It was a great start. But it’s premature. Until final inspections are done and permits are issued — hopefully within a few days — the downtown Y will linger on.

Enjoying the evening (from left): Ruth Sherman, who has taught aqua fitness at the Y since the 1960s; former CEO Helene Weir, who came from Canada, and Patty Kondub, a popular Y spin and aqua teacher. (Photos/Scott Smith)

Enjoying the evening (from left): Ruth Sherman, who has taught aqua fitness at the Y since the 1960s; former CEO Helene Weir, and Patty Kondub, a popular Y spin and aqua teacher. (Photos/Scott Smith)

 

 

Blues, Views & BBQ Rocks Downtown

The 7th annual Blues, Views & BBQ Festival rocks Westport this weekend. Get ready for a kick-ass lineup of blues, rock, brass and funk music — plus fantastic food, and tons o’ stuff for the kids.

The Spin Doctors and Rick Derringer headline the stage acts. How did they — and many other Big Names — come to town? Westporter Crispin Cioe played a huge role.

Crispin Cioe gets ready to wail.

Crispin Cioe gets ready to wail.

Soon after he and his family moved here 13 years ago, Crispin met Bob Le Rose, The owner of Bobby Q’s and leader in the Downtown Merchants Association, Bob wanted to start a blues festival. Crispin — a longtime musician/ bandleader/ producer/songwriter — knew plenty of bands and agents.

Each year, the pair spends months discussing possible musical acts. They probably eat very well too.

When they hit on the idea of having the Spin Doctors star in Saturday’s show, Bob worried that the festival might stray too far from its blues-based foundation.

Crispin performed and hung out with the band in the 1990s. He knew they were “rootsy/funky/bluesy” — especially live — and that they’d gotten their start at the Wetlands club in Manhattan (a spawning ground for the jam band scene).

Listening to the band’s recent recorded work, they saw movement toward exactly the kind of music featured at Blues, Views & BBQ.

Spin Doctors will headline this year's Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

Spin Doctors will headline this year’s Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

Likewise, several years ago Crispin and Bob were searching for a way to feature well-known musicians who grew up here, and still live in the area. “Guitar god” Charlie Karp — a Westport native who played with Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Miles — helped assemble the Westport Heritage Blues Band, a special treat.

This year’s treats include Raw Oyster Cult, a New Orleans supergroup; the high-voltage, horn-drenched street band Big Sam’s Funky Nation; perennial favorite and guitar star Anders Osborne; blues slide guitarist Ms. Rory Block, and the formidable Popa Chubby.

Big Sam's Funky Nation will also perform at the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. (Photo/Adam McCullough)

Big Sam’s Funky Nation will also perform at the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. (Photo/Adam McCullough)

Crispin will play tenor sax with his old pal Bill Kirchen, guitarist and principal songwriter for Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen. The friends go back to the University of Michigan, where Commander Cody was formed.

Lately, Crispin has been working with legendary local band Cracked Ice, vocal great Darlene Love and producer Steven Van Zandt. But on Sunday (August 31) he’ll be at Blues, Views & BBQ, playing alto sax with Rick Derringer on the classic instrumental “Frankenstein.”

If you like great music, excellent barbecue and plenty of fun in your own hometown, you’ll be there too.

(For advance tickets and more information on the festival — which takes place at the Levitt Pavilion and the grounds of the Westport Library — click on http://www.bluesviewsbbq.com or call 203-505-8716. Gates open at 11 a.m. Music starts at noon, and goes straight through to 9:30 p.m.)

Allen Raymond Helps Dedicate New Y

Allen Raymond did many remarkable things in his 91 years of life on earth. The lifelong Westporter was a philanthropist, tireless volunteer, devoted church member, political leader, and adviser to selectmen. He was also one of the Westport Family Y‘s longest-serving, proudest board members, and a major contributor to the new Mahackeno facility.

He died on May 1 — less than 4 months before tonight’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. But Allen was not only at Mahackeno in spirit — he was really, truly there.

Y officials showed a video of their beloved benefactor. Filmed at Allen’s home in February — when he knew his life was ebbing away — it shows him at his best. He’s smiling warmly, joking gently, speaking lovingly and gracefully.

The new Mahackeno Y will hopefully thrive as long as its downtown predecessor did: 90 years. Yet in the next 9 decades, it’s hard to imagine any moment that can top tonight’s amazing appearance — one last time — by Allen Raymond.

(Click here if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube. Filmed, edited and produced by Brian Russell of Red Shoe Film. Aerial footage by Rick Eason.)

This Summer Did Not Bite

Alert “06880” reader Dick Lowenstein wonders:

Where have all the insects gone? Am I alone in thinking that there are few bugs flying around?

This year and last, the stinging insects seem to have disappeared — fewer hornets, wasps, yellow jackets  and bees. Also fewer mosquitoes (maybe because of less rain).

Dick says a friend noticed fewer butterflies too.

Did you notice the lack of bugs and stinging insects? Or was this summer’s weather just so fantastic, we didn’t care?

Click “Comments” below to share your entomological thoughts.

Bugs

Sand And Silt In The Saugatuck River: The Sequel

A recent “06880” post on the Saugatuck River sand and silt buildup drew many comments. Longtime Westporter Dick Fincher reached deep in his memory bank, and added these thoughts:

The river channel, from the bay to the Post Road bridge, was last dredged by the Corps of Engineers in 1969. That is a firm date, because we had just moved here. We were living in a rented house at 165 Riverside Avenue, right on the river.

In theory the Corps is supposed to keep the channel dredged on a regular basis. But in fact it has not, since the river is not considered an essential waterway for commerce and/or extensive pleasure boat traffic.

I believe the Saugatuck dredging had 2 forks, about 300 yards south of the Post Road bridge. One went straight up the channel. The other bore over to the quay more or less in front of the library, then alongside it to the bridge.

This no doubt was because in the old, old days the commercial channel actually went right up to the backs of the buildings on the east side of Parker Harding, before it became a parking lot.

Until the mid-1950s, the Saugatuck River lapped up against the back of Main Street stores. Construction of the Parker Harding parking lot changed the river's currents substantially.

Until the mid-1950s, the Saugatuck River lapped up against the back of Main Street stores. Construction of the Parker Harding parking lot changed the river’s currents substantially.

Despite not being dredged, for many years — probably into the early 1990s or thereabouts – the lower portion had a good channel (almost to the Bridge Street bridge) because Gault got regular barge deliveries to their dock. Barges with 8-foot draft scraped the channel clean every time they came in or went out.

I would venture that the shallowness your contributor saw in the upper river (unless he just happened to see it at extremely low tide) is exacerbated by the fact that the lower river is also silting. There are spots even in the lower channel that at low tide are barely passable in the middle of the channel, right by Stony Point.

I know the folks at Earthplace take regular readings on the river’s health. Perhaps they can shed some light on this.

Dick’s insights reminded me of a romanticized version of the Saugatuck River’s traffic. A number of years ago, when commercial brokers were trying to market the gruesome glass building on Gorham Island, they ran a big ad in the real estate section of the Sunday New York Times. It featured a drawing of the building — and right next to it, way upriver of the Post Road bridge, was an enormous schooner. As if.

(Photo/Scott Smith)

The Saugatuck River at low tide. (Photo/Scott Smith)

We’re #12! But We Are Definitely Not Little Rock.

Westport — well, “Fairfield County, Conn.” (okay, actually the Bridgeport-Fairfield-Norwalk corridor) — is #12 on Forbes’ list of “America’s Best Cities for Young Professionals.”

Forbes cited these statistics:

Population: 939,904
Median Salary: $63,600
Unemployment rate: 6.2%
Population with bachelor’s degree: 44.6%
Cost of living index: 136.9
Avg. Yearly Job Growth (2014-2016): 2.0%
Companies with 500+ employees: 1 for every 910 people
Companies with <500 employees: 1 for every 42.36 people

All well and good. Except for the photo that illustrates “Fairfield County”:

Little Rock

That is not Norwalk. It’s not Stamford. And it’s definitely not Bridgeport.

It’s Little Rock, Arkansas.

PS: The odds you’ll get the top 3 are infinitesimal. They are, in order:

  1. Des Moines
  2. Raleigh
  3. Omaha
(Hat tip to Peter Propp) 

Greens Farms School, Back In The Day

This morning’s post about Westport’s constantly changing school landscape inspired alert reader Seth Schachter to go his archives.

He’s lived here only 4 years, but he’s got a great sense of history. Seth writes:

This post card is from the early 1900’s. From what I was told, the school was in the same location as today’s Greens Farms Elementary School. It is my guess and understanding that the oldest section of today’s GFS (referred to on the inside as “the fountain area”) is probably this post card image.

Early Greens Farms School

Is this in fact the current site of Greens Farms Elementary School? If readers have any information on this original building, please click “Comments” below.

Noah Hawley Earns Emmy For “Fargo”

Noah Hawley — the Staples High School 1985 graduate (and former Staples Players member) who serves as writer, executive producer and show runner for “Fargo” — stood proudly last night on the Emmy stage. With cast and crew arrayed behind him, he accepted TV’s top award for the Top Miniseries.

He cited Joel and Ethan Coen, directors of the 1996 dark comedy film that sparked the FX show. Hawley said, “They let me pretend, if only for 5 minutes, that I was one of the greatest filmmakers alive, and I thank them for that.”

Beyond “Fargo,” Hawley is a film and TV producer, screenwriter, composer and author. He wrote and produced “Bones,” created “The Unusuals” and “My Generation,” and is the author of 4 novels.

(Click on this interesting pre-Emmy interview with the Los Angeles Times.)

 

Westport’s School Daze

Earlier this month, I gave a tour of Staples High School to the 50th reunion class of 1964.

Dozens of Social Security recipients — many of whom looked like they could still fit into their varsity letter jackets or cheerleading skirts — wandered wide-eyed through a 3-story building filled with Wi-Fi, whiteboards, and enough flat-screen TVs to make Best Buy go gaga.

The address was familiar: 70 North Avenue. But in the half-century since they graduated, the school underwent several major changes. Besides athletic fields, the auditorium and the JFK “Ask not…” plaque — a gift of that class to the school — there’s little they recognized.

Staples is an extreme example. But nearly every Westport school has been renovated — or at least reconfigured — since it was built.

In honor of the 1st week of school, here’s a look back at how our 8 schools got where they are.

The original Staples High School on Riverside Avenue.

The original Staples High School on Riverside Avenue.

Staples High School. The first classes were held in the National Hall building — the red brick structure across the Post Road bridge from downtown — because Horace Staples’ Riverside Avenue school was not yet ready. That structure — located approximately where the Saugatuck Elementary School auditorium is today — opened on October 31, 1884.

In 1937, a 2nd building opened just north of the 1st. It’s now the central unit of Saugatuck El (minus the gym and cafeteria wing). That 2nd addition was added in 1948.

The "modern" Staples -- now Saugatuck Elementary School.

The “modern” Staples — now Saugatuck Elementary School.

Ten years later, Staples moved to its present North Avenue site. The sparkling new school included 7 buildings, connected only by open-air walkways. Three more buildings were constructed 5 years later. It was great in the early fall and late spring, not so smart the rest of the year.

The 1st version of the North Avenue campus: 6 separate buildings.

The 1st version of the North Avenue campus: 7 separate buildings.

Later, in a 3-year project ending beginning in 1978, the 9 separate buildings were connected. That version of Staples lasted until 2005, when the $74 million current school — built while the old one was being demolished — opened for business.

Bedford Middle School. For 42 years starting in 1884, 7th through 9th graders attended the same small original Staples on Riverside Avenue. In 1926 they moved across Doubleday Field to a new “Bedford Junior High” (now Kings Highway Elementary School). In 1958, BJHS took over the recently vacated Staples on Riverside Avenue. It was renamed Bedford Middle School in 1983, when Staples became a 4-year high school. Then, in the 1990s, it too moved all the way across town. A sparkling new Bedford rose just north of Staples, on the site of a former Nike missile base. The only connection it has to the 1st school is a bust of its original namesake, Edward T. Bedford.

Coleytown Middle School. First opened in 1965 as Westport’s 3rd junior high school, Coleytown looked like the most futuristic school imaginable. Debates raged for years as to whether the circular design worked or not. (Architect Joseph Salerno’s building was, however, selected for a national exhibition on school design.) It became a middle school in 1983, and more than a decade later underwent a substantial renovation.

Coleytown Junior High (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Coleytown Junior High (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Coleytown Elementary School. Despite one renovation, this school has not changed much since it opened in the early 1950s. It’s got its original bones — and it’s always been an elementary school.

Green’s Farms Elementary School. It looks like it’s been there on South Morningside forever. Though it has, the current building is much larger than the original. And it was on hiatus for a while in the 1980s and ’90s, when our school population dipped substantially. In those years, the building served as home to the Westport Arts Center.

Kings Highway Elementary School. Until 1958, this building was the site of Bedford Junior High. That year, it became an elementary school. If you look closely, you can still see the “Bedford” name over the front door.

Long Lots Elementary School. Opened in 1955 as Westport’s 2nd junior high, it has undergone numerous renovations and changes. It’s morphed from a junior high to a K-8 school, and now it’s just an elementary school. The northernmost wing burned to the ground in 1974, in a fire set by an 8th grader.

Long Lots, when it was junior high.

Long Lots, when it was a junior high.

Saugatuck Elementary School. Riverside Avenue — home of the old Staples High and Bedford Junior/Middle School — is the 2nd location for Saugatuck El. For nearly a century it sat on Bridge Street, where the Saugatuck elderly housing complex is now. Its original name was the Bridge Street School.

In memoriam:  

Bedford Elementary School. A handsome building on Myrtle Avenue near the center of town, it was repurposed 30 or so years ago as Town Hall.

Burr Farms Elementary School (approximately 1958-83). Perhaps the cheapest, most hastily built school in the history of education. Made of steel (perhaps tin), it was nonetheless a great place (and, not coincidentally, my alma mater). Today it is the site of homes and athletic fields, near the start of Burr School Road off Long Lots.

Burr Farms Elementary School (computer image by Steve Katz)

Burr Farms Elementary School (computer image by Steve Katz)

Hillspoint (approximately 1960-85). Some brainiac had the idea of putting the gym in the center of a circular building. Noise problems, anyone? Today it’s a childcare center on Hillspoint Road.

(Got any good — or bad — memories of your Westport school building? Click “Comments” below. Please include your real name — and graduation date.)

 

 

It’s The 1st Day Of No School!

Like many Westporters, Tommy Greenwald and Cathy Utz long marked today — the 1st day of school — as a milestone on the annual calendar.

For 15 years, the couple watched their 3 boys — Charlie, Joe and Jack — move through the local schools. Each year they grew older, bigger, more independent. But the 1st day of school was always special.

This year is special too. Tommy and Cathy — themselves products of the Westport system — no longer have a child heading off to school here.

To celebrate/mourn, Tommy — author of the very popular “Charlie Joe Jackson” book series for young readers — wrote this poem. Enjoy/contemplate this “06880” exclusive.

Charlie, Joe and Jack Greenwald, back in the day.

Charlie, Joe and Jack Greenwald, back in the day…

It’s here! It’s finally here!
The first day of school!
The first day of the year!

There’s so much to do.
Try not to make a fuss.
And we can’t miss the school bus!

But wait.
Something is different this year.
Where are the children?
They’re not here!

There are no children to wake.
And no lunches to make.

That’s right!
They’re all grown!
Off to college, or other adventures all their own.

...and Charlie, Jack and Joe Greenwald  more recently.

…and Charlie, Jack and Joe Greenwald more recently.

So now what?
What do you do?

Do you sit around and mope?
Give up hope?
Possibly even bawl?

Absolutely not!
Well, maybe for a day or two.
You’re only human, after all.

But after that, enough.
Time to get tough.
Time to see what this can truly mean.
Peace. Quiet. Freedom. A house that’s truly clean!

A love to renew.
That long-delayed dream you can finally pursue.
That promise to yourself you can finally keep.
Or maybe just a good night’s sleep.

Just try to remember, whatever you choose.
This is honestly, truly good news.

Indeed, it’s time for the children to go.
Because guess what? Now it’s your turn to grow.

Cathy Utz and Tommy Greenwald drop their 3rd son, Jack, at college. They're now empty nesters!

Cathy Utz and Tommy Greenwald drop their 3rd son, Jack, at college. They’re now empty nesters!