Category Archives: Library

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.

New Life For Old Trees

Last January, tree warden Bruce Lindsay determined that some of the mature trees in the beloved entrance drive to Longshore had reached the end of their useful lives. For safety reasons, they had to go.

This being Westport, the decision created a firestorm (figuratively). Many folks lamented the loss of the iconic and beautiful trees. Many others pointed out that nothing lasts forever — and that, though beautiful, they’d become dangerous.

The Longshore entrance road, several years ago.

The Longshore entrance road, several years ago.

The discussion on “06880” was robust. Amid the fury, several commenters suggested that the trees be repurposed for furniture, benches or in other useful ways.

The trees were removed. The entryway still looks great, thanks to the foresight of Parks and Recreation officials 20 years ago who planted replacement trees near the older ones they knew would eventually go.

Now the old trees are back — just as some smart Westporters suggested.

Tomorrow (Monday, November 10, 2 p.m.), a hand-crafted bench repurposed from those trees will be dedicated at the Westport Library, near the copy center. A pictorial exhibit depicts the entire process.

A repurposed table on display in the library.

The repurposed bench on display in the library…

Lindsay, First Selectman Jim Marpe, library director Maxine Bleiweis and “furniture artist” Zeb Essylstyn will answer questions.

Unlike most old trees — which end up in landfill or as mulch — the Longshore specimens live on handsomely. Essylstyn’s Higganum, Connecticut-based company City Bench created 2 tables, plus the library bench. The tables are on display at Town Hall.

...and the Town Hall table.

…and the Town Hall table.

All are on sale to the public. So are additional pieces that City Bench will create. A portion of the proceeds goes to the town’s Tree Fund, to support further plantings.

If you want to buy a table or bench, email info@city-bench.com, or call 860-716-8111.

To simply admire them, head to the library or Town Hall.

A Developing Story

Ever since the Wright Street and Gorham Island buildings were erected in the 1970s — and those were quite some erections — Westport has been consumed by construction.

Even so, 2014 stands out as a landmark year.

Here are some of the developments — as in, real estate developments — that have occurred in the past few months. Or are occurring right now.

  • The Y moved into its new home. The Kemper-Gunn House is being moved across Elm Street to the parking lot, and Bedford Square will soon rise downtown.
  • The Levitt Pavilion finally completed its renovation. Nearby, plans for Jesup Green — with possibly reconfigured parking, a new Westport Arts Center and a renovated library — are in the works. And, of course, committees and commissions have been talking all year about new ideas for all of downtown.
  • Across the river, Save the Children has skedaddled. That fantastic waterfront property will be redeveloped, such as the adjacent Bartaco/National Hall buildings have been reimagined recently.
The west side of the Saugatuck River is also part of the new downtown plan. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer for DowntownWestportCT.com)

The west side of the Saugatuck River includes the old National Hall and the relatively new Wright Street building. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer for DowntownWestportCT.com)

  • Compo Acres Shopping Center is being renovated. The Fresh Market shopping center — and the one across the Post Road, with Dunkin’ Donuts — will get a facelift (and new tenants) soon.
  • Applications have been made for housing on the site of the Westport Inn. Across town, there are rumors of new housing on Hiawatha Lane, near I-95 Exit 17.
  • Senior housing has been shot down on Baron’s South. But it won’t remain undisturbed forever.
  • Phase II of Saugatuck Center has been completed. Phase III — on  Railroad Place — is coming down the tracks.

That’s a lot — as in, lots of building lots.

And nearly 2 months still remain in this year.

P.S. Oh, yeah. The beach too.

 

Welcoming A Wet November

The view today, from inside the cozy Westport Library:

Saugatuck River from library

PS: Don’t forget to set your clocks back tonight. Enjoy the extra hour of sleep we lost last spring!

Town Takes Over Riverwalk Maintenance

In 1992, a volunteer committee led by the indefatigable Betty Lou Cummings created the Library Riverwalk and Gardens.

A 6-month fundraising campaign drew 5,000 contributors, donating cash as well as services.

Together with a 2nd phase 7 years later, the accomplishments are stunning:

  • 11,000 bricks, many of them engraved, in a path 638 feet long
  • 57 benches, 3 picnic tables, 23 pole lights and 2 sculptures
  • 127 shrubs and bushes, plus 19 trees (and a sprinkler system)
  • Stairs from the library to the water, and a boat launch walkway.
A small portion of the library Riverwalk.

A small portion of the library Riverwalk.

After 22 years, the committee has asked the town to take over responsibility for maintanance. They’ve turned over $15,000 in their account to help.

Parks and Rec is happy to accept the responsibility. Over the past several years they’ve taken a more active role in assisting the committee. With the opening of the renovated Levitt Pavilion nearby, the time is ripe for the transfer to happen.

The Riverwalk is one of Westport’s hidden gems.

Okay, it’s not really hidden. Plenty of people enjoy it, at all times of day and throughout the year.

But many others don’t know it exists. And not many know the back story of its creation.

Thanks, Betty Lou and the 5,000 donors who helped make it a reality. More than 2 decades later, your work is greatly appreciated.

And it looks better than ever.

Shirley Land Memorial Service Set For October 18

A memorial service for Shirley Land — Westport’s uber-arts-and-history volunteer who died in July — will be held on Saturday, October 18, at the Westport Library (1:30 p.m.).  That’s a fitting site, as the library was one of her greatest passions. Shirley served it well for many decades, in countless capacities.

Immediately following the service, the family will gather at the nearby Westport Senior Center (21 Imperial Avenue).

Contributions in Shirley’s name can be made to the Westport Library, 20 Jesup Road, Westport, CT 06880.

Shirley Land. Among her many accomplishments, she founded the Westport Library Book Sale in 1993.

Shirley Land. Among her many accomplishments, she founded the Westport Library Book Sale in 1993.

 

Check Out These Robots!

The Westport Library long ago branched out from books, newspapers and magazines.

From a fantastic art collection to DVDs, CDs and Blu-rays, to a cutting-edge Maker space and 3D printer, our li’l ol’ library has served a broad range of interests, tastes and technologies.

Get ready now for robots.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that library officials have acquired a pair of humanoid NAO Evolution robots. The main object is to teach “the kind of coding and computer programming skills required to animate such machines.”

One of the Westport library's new robots. (Photo/Danny Ghitis for the Wall Street Journal)

One of the Westport library’s new robots. (Photo/Danny Ghitis for the Wall Street Journal)

Westport, the WSJ says, is the first public library in the nation to offer instruction using “sophisticated humanoid bots made by the French robotics firm Aldebaran.”

According to library director Maxine Bleiweis, robotics is the next big technology — so it should be made accessible to everyone, to learn about it.

Bleiweis adds that from economic and job development perspectives, this is an important step.

The library will debut the robots October 11, with programs and workshops to follow.

Unless the robots have other ideas.

(Click on the full Wall Street Journal story.)

Steve And Toni Rubin Say Goodbye (Y’All)

35 years ago, Steve Rubin’s medical and surgical supply company was considering a move from Long Island to Norwalk.

Steve and his wife Toni lived in Douglaston, Queens. They began talking about moving to “the country.” Their friends thought they were crazy. They sort of did, too.

“We both grew up in New York City,” Steve says. “For us, Westport was the edge of the earth, before it cracks off.”

But fresh air, and a produce stand on North Avenue, lured them in. The Rubins rented the big white Rippe house, next to 7 acres of corn farmed by a guy named Buster.

“We truly felt like we lived on a farm,” Steve recalls. “We fell in love with this place.”

Toni and Steve Rubin.

Toni and Steve Rubin.

The 1st folks they met were Betsy Wacker — from Welcome Wagon — and her husband Watts. George Underhill, from the town tax office, soon became a good friend too. All 3 introduced the Rubins to many aspects of their new home town.

Steve’s company never moved to Norwalk. He spent 5 years commuting to New York.

Then, 23 years ago — at age 47 — he suffered a heart attack.

The Rubins’ Westport friends responded immediately. Meals poured in. People drove him to the doctor. They did whatever they could for the couple.

Steve Rubin

Steve Rubin

The heart attack led Steve to retire from his stressful work. He got a job with Westport’s Parks & Rec Department, manning the Compo gate.

He organized workers for the Compo Beach playground construction project. He joined the Y’s Men. Toni created the Respect program, for children with special needs.

“It snowballed,” Steve says. “It was like we’d lived here 100 years. This town has a magic effect. It makes people feel like natives.”

The Rubins’ activities grew. Steve spent many years as the voice of Festival Italiano. He did not stop until the last raffle ticket was sold. “I made a whole bunch of new friends there too,” he says.

Perhaps his most important contribution began the day he complained to Gordon Joseloff about “some safety issue.” Joseloff — at the time the moderator of the Representative Town Meeting — urged him to run for the legislative body.

Earlier this month — almost 20 years later — Rubin resigned from the RTM. In an emotional farewell, he announced that he and Toni are moving to Charleston, South Carolina.

Steve and Toni Rubin's t-shirts say it all. He adds, "I could not have done any of this without my wife and best friend."

Steve and Toni Rubin’s t-shirts say it all. He adds, “I could not have done any of this without my wife and best friend.”

The impending move is “bittersweet,” Steve admits. After a couple of years of consideration, the lure of warmer winters and a lower cost of living was too good to pass up.

“We don’t want to wait until, god forbid, we’re too old to do it,” Steve says.

The Rubins don’t know a soul in Charleston. But, he notes, “We didn’t know anyone when we moved here. We did it before, and we’ll do it again.”

Steve adds, “we’ll love this town forever. There are so many great people here. It seems like Westport is filled with mensches.”

Steve Rubin in the Memorial Day parade.

Steve Rubin in the Memorial Day parade.

The Rubins leave knowing they’ve made a major mark on their adopted home town. Their name appears on the quilt at Town Hall, the library River of Names and brickwalk, the Wall of Honor at the Staples football field and the Longshore pool wall mosaic.

They’ll miss the many activities they’ve participated in, and enriched: the Memorial Day parade. First Night. PAL fireworks. Downtown trick-or-treating.

They’ll miss Compo, Longshore and Saugatuck. “We’ll even miss the Post Road and Main Street,” Steve laughs.

They’ll miss Westport a lot. But not as much as we will miss Steve and Toni Rubin.

Library Honors Robin Williams

Robin Williams’ death saddened countless fans around the world.

The Westport Library is honoring the brilliant actor/comedian by screening some of his best films.

This Friday (August 15, 1 p.m.) they’ll show “Good Morning, Vietnam.”

Saturday (August 16) offers a double feature: “Dead Poets Society” (11 a.m.) and “Good Will Hunting” (2 p.m.).

On Sunday (August 17, 2 p.m.), it’s “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

Of course, the library has plenty of other Robin Williams videos in its collection.

Though I’m betting they’ve all been checked out this week.

Robin Williams in "Good Will Hunting" -- one of his best roles ever.

Robin Williams in “Good Will Hunting” — one of his best roles ever.

Thankful For Trees

The driver of a Toyota Camry is thankful for the bank of trees bordering the Saugatuck River, at the Westport Library riverwalk. They kept her from plunging into the water, after she lost control of her vehicle in the upper parking lot.

(Photo/Susan Holden)

(Photo/Susan Holden)

Fortunately, the driver was not injured.