Category Archives: Downtown

Vive Le Rouge!

Once you’ve earned post-grad degrees in economics and finance, started a company representing international buyers, raised 2 children, and lived around the world — from India and Hong Kong to Minnesota and Weston — what do you do next?

If you’re Aarti Khosla, you open a fantastic chocolate shop in Westport.

Aarti Khosla, in her red-and-black-themed chocolate shop.

Aarti Khosla, in her red-and-black-themed chocolate shop.

Le Rouge celebrates its grand opening this Friday (November 28, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.). Tucked away in a former optical shop below the old Sally’s Place (190 Main Street), it’s an intriguing — and different — addition to Westport’s retail scene.

As is obvious from her bio, Aarti is a high achiever. She is detail-oriented. Her store is beautifully decorated, in red (her favorite color) and black (duh).

She designed everything — from the decor to the gift boxes — herself. She makes, then brushes each creation by hand.

She has spent the last 2 years learning everything there is to know about chocolate. She took online courses, and traveled to Vancouver to learn about coloring.

A close-up of some of Aarti's creations.

A close-up of some of Aarti’s creations.

Aarti drew on her international background — and love of cooking — to create delicate flavors. Her chocolates incorporate Szechuan pepper, wasabi ginger and apple pie truffle. (My favorite is saffron and pistachio in a white chocolate ganache.) She uses no preservatives or additives, and minimal glucose.

Le Rouge’s market is world travelers, who appreciate artisanal flavors beyond Westport.

Though most chocolates are taken home or shipped, Le Rouge is also a cafe. Aarti sells cappuccino, espresso (plus of course hot chocolate), and plated desserts.

And — in a nod to 21st-century sensibilities that even the most traditional chocolate-lover could appreciate — there’s free Wi-Fi.

More Changes On Elm Street

While Westporters were admiring the Kemper-Gunn House’s new location in the Baldwin parking lot — where all sides of the structure are visible, after years in the Y’s shadow — a different “renovation” took place across the street.

Here’s a shot of the walkway, and the side of the building between Elm Street and Main Street.

Elm Street walkway

It must have taken the graffiti “artists” a while do that — in a very visible spot.

 

Bring Back Needle Park!

After the recent removal of cherry trees and ivy, Westport’s attention has been focused on the former YMCA’s former Bedford building.

Across the street, meanwhile, a sterile little plaza just sits there.

It was not always thus. Back in the day — when the Library occupied the space now filled with Freshii and Starbucks — the corner of the Post Road and Main Street was an actual park. Westporters enjoyed benches, flowers, and a fountain donated by the Sheffer family.

In the 1960s it became known as Needle Park. That’s where Westport’s alleged heroin users — both of them — allegedly shot up. In reality, it was just a great hangout for high school kids smoking a little weed.

I defy you to find anyone shooting up in this photo.

I defy you to find anyone shooting up in this photo.

Now — after several renovations (not “improvements”) — the place is a monument to concrete. It’s even less inviting than the “plazas” New York developers built in exchange for adding 30 more stories to their glass monuments.

Those developers did everything they could to make their public spaces unusable.

The latest incarnation of the old Needle Park does the same.

Library park

As alert “06880” reader Remy Chevalier points out, one of the benches is not level with the ground. That, he says, is “a nasty little trick developers use when they don’t actually want anybody sitting on them and loitering.”

A crooked -- and hardly welcoming -- bench. That's a level on top, showing that it's not level.

A crooked — and hardly welcoming — bench. That’s a level on top, showing that it’s not level.

Remy publishes a great blog, called Greenburbs. It shows what towns like Westport can look like if people in power really care about how human beings interact with their environment.

And make no mistake: Whoever is responsible for that grim “park” across the street from the old Y/new Bedford Square clearly abused his power.

One Last Look Back

The Kemper-Gunn House has moved. The old YMCA Bedford building begins renovations soon, becoming an anchor of the new Bedford Square.

But Westporters can’t stop looking back.

Alert “06880” reader Jonathan Rohner sent this fascinating postcard showing the Y and the Westport Bank and Trust building (today it’s Patagonia):

YMCA and bank in 1920s or so

I love the cars — all looking the same — parked or driving haphazardly on the trolley-tracked Post Road.

I love the elm trees framing the Bedford building, and how peaceful downtown looked.

Equally alert “06880” reader Scott Smith contributed this photo, from a decade or so later:

YMCA witih old cars

I love the hand-colored blue sky. The bike leaning casually against the tree on the left.

And check out the front-in parking job of those cars in front of the Y. That would never fly today.

I was especially intrigued by another image Scott sent. This one shows the Westport Hotel. The area was called Hotel Square. Westport Bank and Trust had not yet been built:

Westport Hotel - site of old Y

The hotel had a pool room. Youngsters were not permitted inside. Edward T. Bedford vowed to give them a place. In 1923, he built the YMCA.

The rest is history.

And now, a new chapter has begun.

 

It Took Only 2 Minutes And 31 Seconds To Move The Kemper-Gunn House Today

At least, according to this video shot by Matthew Mandell:

Moving Day: Part 2

It took a couple of hours, but the Kemper-Gunn House finally made it across Elm Street.

Gunn 8 - JPV

The Kemper-Gunn House in mid-move…

...and, for the 1st time in 125 years, a vacant spot on the corner of Elm Street and Church Lane. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

…and, for the 1st time in 125 years, a vacant spot on the corner of Elm Street and Church Lane. (Photos/JP Vellotti)

A small part of a porch overhang was removed to clear a parking lot light pole. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

A small part of a porch overhang was removed to clear a parking lot light pole. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

The Kemper-Gunn house in (almost) its final location. In this view up Elm Street, it almost looks like it's been there forever.

The Kemper-Gunn house in (almost) its final location. In this view up Elm Street, it almost looks like it’s been there forever. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

At not quite 9:30 a.m., the day's work -- moving a house -- was done. In coming days, the house will be settled into its new foundation. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

At not quite 9:30 a.m., the day’s work — moving a house — was done. In coming days, the house will be settled into its new foundation. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

How Do You Move A House? Very Slowly. And Carefully.

Today is moving day in downtown Westport.

The Kemper-Gunn House is being relocated across Elm Street, from its perch on the corner of Church Lane to the Baldwin parking lot.

Curious Westporters gathered at dawn to watch the landscape-changing event. JP Vellotti was there too, snapping special photos for “06880.”

Here’s his 1st set. More will follow, when the dust — and the house — settle into their new “home,” later this morning.

The house has been lifted off its foundation. After 125 years, it's ready to be relocated.

The house has been lifted off its foundation. After 125 years, it’s ready to be relocated.

The media was there. TV crews quickly learned how to park their large vehicles in Westport.

The media was there. TV crews quickly learned how to park their large vehicles in Westport.

A small tree is suddenly discovered to be in the way.

A small tree is suddenly discovered to be in the way.

Planning & Zoning chair Chip Stephens, 1st selectman Jim Marpe, 2nd selectman Avi Kaner, and moving company representatives pause for a photo.

Planning & Zoning chair Chip Stephens, 1st selectman Jim Marpe, 2nd selectman Avi Kaner, developer David Waldman and an associate pause for a photo.

Java had free coffee, courtesy of the Chamber of Commerce. Villa del Sol jumped on the bandwagon, offering free margaritas. But not until lunch!

Java had free coffee, courtesy of the Chamber of Commerce. Villa del Sol jumped on the bandwagon, offering free margaritas. But not until lunch!

The Kemper-Gunn is not the only change coming to Church Lane. The old Westport Y Weeks Pavilion will soon be demolished.

Kemper-Gunn is not the only change coming to Church Lane. The old Westport Y Weeks Pavilion will soon be demolished.

This is the slowest crossing of Elm Street ever. (All photos/JP Vellotti)

This is the slowest crossing of Elm Street ever. (All photos/JP Vellotti)

Golden Shadows, Compo Acres, And Eternal Vigilance

Planning and Zoning Commission meetings are often humdrum affairs. Applications are presented, text amendments debated, building sites approved. Much of the action is conducted not in English, but Legalese.

Occasionally, however, real interesting stuff happens. That was the case last Thursday.

At the end of a P&Z session — right before adjourning — chairman Chip Stephens announced 2 extra pieces of business.

First, he talked about the houses on Baron’s South. The property has already been approved for senior housing — which may be built in time for today’s kindergartners to use — but in the meantime, he’s concerned about 3 houses there.

Calling them “beautiful and historic,” Chip noted that the Baron’s old residence — yes, there was an actual baron; he was a perfume magnate, and named his home “Golden Shadows” after one of his creations — is in disrepair.

Westporters toured Golden Shadows several years ago, after the town bought  the property.

Westporters toured Golden Shadows several years ago, after the town bought the property.

The library is storing books inside, and the weight has caused part of the foundation to crack. Copper gutters have been stolen, and Belgian block along the driveway has disappeared.

The Tudor house next door — used as a guest house — is being used too. (Chip did not say so, but I’ve heard it’s a haven for the homeless.)

The Tudor house next door to Golden Shadows.

The Tudor house next door to Golden Shadows.

And another guest house — the white one, which sits on South Compo Road — is being used for storing furniture. (I’ve heard it comes from foreclosed homes.)

The 3rd town-owned house, on South Compo Road.

The 3rd town-owned house, on South Compo Road.

Chip’s questions are simple: What is happening to these town-owned houses? And do we care about saving them?

New Canaan did it (with Waveny House). Norwalk did it (Cranbury Park). We seem to be losing a “golden” opportunity, at a similarly well-suited spot.

Chip then asked about work being done on the parking lot behind Compo Acres Shopping Center.

Excavation work behind Compo Acres Shopping Center.

Excavation work behind Compo Acres Shopping Center.

P&Z director Larry Bradley reported that the project has “gone beyond” what the P&Z approved.

The hillside was excavated more extensively. More trees were removed. And more will have to come down, as a result of the work already done.

He said that the P&Z permit will be revoked. A new one must be applied for, and approved.

The only reason the revocation did not come earlier was because immediate cessation of work could endanger stability of the hillside.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. It’s also, apparently, the price of construction in Westport.

And of preservation of what we already own.

(To view the entire P&Z meeting, click on the town website. To see only the Baron’s South and Compo Acres portions, slide the timer to 1:23.)

The More Things Change…

Many Westporters are lamenting the loss of 3 cherry trees. Cut down last week as part of the new Bedford Square project, they stood outside the downtown Westport Y seemingly forever.

“Seemingly forever” is actually 50 years.

A very alert “06880” reader found a Westport Town Crier clipping from March 15, 1964. The paper reported that despite spraying, pruning and feeding, a “venerable” tree succumbed to Dutch elm disease.

The "venerable elm tree" frames the Y.

The “venerable elm tree” frames the Y.

For 100 years or more, it stood on that exact same spot: in front of the Y.

The elm tree is removed after toppling.

The elm tree is removed. It was taken to the “city dump,” and burned.

In its place, the Town Crier said, 3 flowering Japanese cherry trees were planted. Twelve feet high, they were donated by Westport garden center owner (and very active citizen) Alan U. Parsell.

They flourished there for exactly half a century.

In 2064, I’m sure “06880” — or whatever replaces it — will run a nice looking-back story on the “venerable,” lovely trees that for 50 years framed handsome Bedford Square.

The Westport YMCA, after the Dutch elm was removed. Note the lack of ivy too.

The Westport YMCA, after the Dutch elm was removed. Note the lack of ivy, too.

 

Everyone Lift! Kemper-Gunn House Move Set For Tuesday

It’s not the Saugatuck Congregational Church move. But it should be pretty cool anyway.

In 1950, the church — sanctuary, bell tower, hymnals and all — was moved from its longtime location near Baron’s South (the site today of a gas station) across the Post Road (then called State Street) to its current spot on the corner of Myrtle Avenue (where it now looks like it’s been all along).

How do you move a church? In 1950, this way.

How do you move a church? In 1950, this way.

The move — accomplished thanks to a series of logs — took 10 hours. Life Magazine spotlighted the event. (It was a slow news week.)

This Tuesday (starting at 6:30 a.m.), the much smaller Kemper-Gunn House makes a much shorter trip. The 1890-era building will be wheeled — or in some other way conveyed — across Elm Street. Its new home is the Baldwin parking lot.

An artist's rendering of the Kemper-Gunn House, after it is moved to the Baldwin parking lot.

An artist’s rendering of the Kemper-Gunn House, after it settles in at the Baldwin parking lot.

Lost in the mists of history is what those mid-20th-century Westporters did while watching the church make its verrrry slooooow trip down Route 1.

But we do know what will happen Tuesday. Java — the 1-year-old coffee shop across Church Lane from Kemper-Gunn —  will hand out free coffee and baked goods (courtesy of the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce).

Pray for good weather.