Category Archives: Library

It Pays To Advertise…

A heap o’ parking lot snow was dumped on Jesup Green yesterday.

Then someone actually climbed it, to plant an advertising sign at the summit.

Library sign

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The good news: A few hours from now, it will be buried.

The bad news: A few hours from now, it will be buried.

 

Breaking News — Maxine Bleiweis To Retire

Maxine Bleiweis — the innovative, energetic and much-admired director who over the past 17 years propelled the Westport Library into the forefront of institutions nationwide — has announced her retirement. She moves into a new career as a consultant on July 1.

The decision was difficult. But, she says, “with the Westport Library solidly set on its future path, I hope I will have the opportunity to help other libraries achieve similar goals.”

Board president Michael Guthman said that because of Bleiweis’ “imagination, visionary thinking and ability to motivate others, our library is now recognized as one of the most innovative libraries in the world.”

Maxine Bleiweis

Maxine Bleiweis

She came to Westport in 1998, after serving as library director in upstate Newington for 18 years. She made her mark here in many areas, from personal interactions and customer service to programming, community involvement and technology.

She is passionate about new ways of learning, intergenerational collaboration, support for the business community and independent entrepreneurs.

Bleiweis also championed the adoption and implementation of new technologies. Under her leadership the Westport library instituted automated circulation systems, provided internet access and wireless computing, introduced 3D printing, taught programming with robotics and maintained a MakerSpace.

Her library was also one of the 1st in the nation to maintain a MakerSpace.

In 2013, the Westport Library earned a 5-star rating from The Library Journal. That year Bleiweis was asked by the State Department to host a conference of librarians visiting from Moscow. She was later invited to Russia with staff members from The Smithsonian Institute.

Bleiweis has worked in libraries for over 40 years. She says:

It has been an honor to serve the town of Westport, a place where individuals are truly committed to learning, culture, and coming together for the betterment of the community.

It is this commitment, the generosity of donors and volunteers, and our gifted  staff that have made the success we achieved possible. I am confident that this team and this community will continue to expand and grow the Westport Library into the extraordinary place it will be in the future.

For nearly 2 decades Maxine Bleiweis has been the library director that most towns only dream of. She has made our library into a true community jewel, for Westporters (and others) of all ages. We will miss her greatly.

Fortunately, in her new consultant role, we can call on her whenever we need to. As the Westport Library heads into its next era — with physical expansion in the works — this gifted librarian will continue to help us stay informed, connected, and proud.

Maxine Bleiweis' impact extends to hiring innovative people. She and Bill Derry share a love of using technology in a variety of community-minded ways.

Maxine Bleiweis’ impact extends to hiring innovative, creative people. She and Bill Derry share a love of using technology in a variety of community-minded ways.

Downtown Planning Report: 44 Ideas Worth Examining

After several years, countless meetings and surveys, and endless anticipation, the 1st draft of Westport’s Downtown Master Plan has been made public.

A full house of interested observers was on hand yesterday when the Downtown Steering Committee got a look at the 159-page document.

Now the fun begins.

Larry Untermeyer's spectacular aerial photo in the opening pages of the planning report highlights the inherent beauty -- and potential -- of downtown.

Larry Untermeyer’s spectacular aerial photo in the opening pages of the planning report highlights the inherent charm — and problems — of downtown.

The consultant — Norwalk-based RBA Group — has provided 44 recommendations and strategies. They range from big-picture creative ideas to practical smaller improvements.

Here — drum roll, please — they are:

Near-term

  • Improve and complete the sidewalk network
  • Implement Main Street streetscape improvements
  • Create a new road: Library Lane
  • Redesign Church Lane into a “shared street”
  • Support improvements to Toquet Hall
  • Support the redevelopment of the west side riverfront
  • Build a pedestrian bridge crossing the Saugatuck
  • Create a Westport Arts & Culture Heritage “Trail”
  • Improve pedestrian safety at Post Road crossings
  • Improve pedestrian and vehicular safety at Post Road intersections through traffic signal modifications
  • Redesign Myrtle Road intersections
  • Improve traffic movements at the Route 1/33 intersection
Traffic often backs up on Wilton Road, near the Post Road intersection. Development of the west side of the river is an important element of the Downtown Master Plan.

Traffic often backs up on Wilton Road, near the Post Road intersection. Development of the west side of the river is an important element of the Downtown Master Plan.

  • Improve the wayfinding system for motorists
  • Develop directional and informational signs for pedestrians
  • Support initiatives to access and connect downtown through transit
  • Provide amenities for transit passengers
  • Provide bicycle parking in downtown
  • Combine and co-manage public and private parking lots (Baldwin lot with Avery Place)
  • Change parking from 1-hour to 2-hour maximum in downtown
  • Implement seasonal valet parking
  • Relocate long-term parking

Short-term

  • Reinvent Jesup Green
  • Coordinate and implement uniform streetscape improvements throughout downtown
  • Support the Westport Cinema Initiative
  • Monitor the relocation of the Westport Arts Center
  • Create new pedestrian passageways
  • Consider the future of Elm Street
Modifications to Elm Street are shown in this rendering. The old Westport Pizzeria is on the right; Vineyard Vines is hidden behind trees at center.

Modifications to Elm Street are shown in this rendering. The old Westport Pizzeria is on the right; Vineyard Vines is hidden behind trees at center.

  • Redesign Taylor Street into a “shared street”
  • Support the library transformation project
  • Improve the appearance and safety of the Imperial Avenue lot
  • Consider a fee-based system to manage parking in certain locations
  • Redesign Jesup Road
An illustration of the possible reinvention of Jesup Green shows a pier, and relocation of parking.

An illustration of the possible reinvention of Jesup Green shows a pier, and relocation of parking. The library is at right.

  • Build a bridge to connect to the Imperial Avenue parking lot
  • Redesign the Main Street/Elm Street intersection
  • Consider implementing a real-time parking information system
  • Create a town-wide bicycle plan

Long-term

  • Transform Parker Harding Plaza
A section of the reimagined Parker Harding Plaza shows much more green along the riverfront.

Reimagined Parker Harding Plaza shows more green along the riverfront.

  • Place a cafe on the green
  • Provide public restrooms
  • Construct a downtown landing
  • Create a barge restaurant
  • Extent the westside riverwalk
  • Combine and co-manage public and private parking lots (Gillespie Center with old Town Hall)
  • Consider providing additional parking supply

Each idea is explored in greater depth. Of course, a section of the report is devoted to financing.

It’s fascinating — and important — reading. If you’ve got a few hours, the report can be downloaded here.

The next stage begins now. The committee will present the report to the Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday, January 15.

The public gets a crack on Wednesday, January 28, with an open house in the Town Hall auditorium (4:30-9 p.m.), and 2 separate report presentations (5:30 and 7:30 p.m.).

Nothing is chiseled in stone, as 1st Selectman Jim Marpe points out. However, it looks like 2015 will be a year in which downtown might really start to rock.

(For more information, click on www.downtownwestportct.com)

Downtown Westport offers many opportunities for growth and rebirth. (All photos and renderings courtesy of the Downtown Master Plan report)

Downtown Westport offers many opportunities for growth and rebirth. (All photos and renderings courtesy of the Downtown Master Plan report)

 

First Night 2015; Last Post 2014

First Night got underway late this afternoon. The sun was setting, the air was cold — but the anticipation of Westport’s 21st annual New Year’s Eve community celebration made for a warm feeling all around downtown.

Festivities continue through 10 p.m., when fireworks soar over the river. Come on down!

(Click on this schedule for all events.)

Horse-drawn carriages clomped throughout downtown. For more modern transportation, buses run between Jesup Green and Saugatuck Elementary School through 9 p.m.

Horse-drawn carriages clomp downtown. For modern transportation, buses run between Jesup Green and Saugatuck Elementary School through 9 p.m.

The Westport Astronomical Society hauled out some serious telescopes. The view is better now that the sun has set.

The Westport Astronomical Society hauled out some serious telescopes. The view is better now that the sun has set.

First Night Westport/Weston runs smoothly, thanks to an army of volunteers.

First Night Westport/Weston runs smoothly, thanks to an army of volunteers.

The Survivors Swing Band kicked things off at the library. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

The Survivors Swing Band kicked things off at the library. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Jayne Mauborgne’s Love Letter To Westport

It’s Westport’s 2nd favorite sport, after tearing down perfectly good homes: Bashing our home town. (See? I can’t resist, even in a perfectly good introduction to this story.)

But, of course, there is much — very much — to love about this place. Alert “06880” reader (and longtime Westporter) Jayne Mauborgne sent this along. She wrote it 10 years ago. A real estate agency reprinted it for potential buyers. It’s as relevant today as it was, way back at the dawn of the 21st century. Jayne said:

When I was in my late teens I traveled with my  father, who was in sales. He called on a clothing store, on Main Street.

Part of the pleasure of traveling with him was lunch. This day was no different.  We ate at a Chinese restaurant on Main Street, then took a walk in the back by the water. I remarked to my dad, “when I grow up I hope I can live in a house in Westport.” It was love at first sight.

When Jayne Mauborgne first visited Westport, the Saugatuck River lapped up against the back of Main Street stores.

When Jayne Mauborgne first visited Westport, the Saugatuck River lapped up against the back of Main Street stores.

Many years later the dream became a reality. My husband and I moved with our 2 little daughters to a lovely house in the town of my dreams.

That was 54 years ago, but the thrill of Westport never wears thin. My girls attended public schools here, getting attention one can only dream about.  Teachers were our neighbors and friends, and the caring was overwhelming.

I didn’t work when my children were young. I enjoyed the PTA, made lasting friendships, played tennis, my husband golfed at Longshore, we enjoyed the beach and 4th of July, Staples Players, wonderful restaurants, Memorial Day parades, a first-class library (even before the new building) – too many things to mention.

Nothing beats a Memorial Day parade in Westport.

Nothing beats a Memorial Day parade in Westport.

Life has changed. The girls are professional women. For the last 35 years I have owned my own business. I worked hard. But at the end of each day, just walking at the beach, watching a sunset at Compo or walking at Winslow, my thoughts stray to the wonder of this town. To the familiar faces in the supermarket. The friends and acquaintances I run into in a restaurant or just walking on Main Street. How lucky I am.

The greatest pleasure for me is Winslow Park. What forward-thinking people we have had at the helm of this town, to put 22 of the most valuable acres aside for walking, enjoying or doing nothing at all (which is a lost art in this town). How beautiful to watch the sun go down, see the dogs playing, see their owners having a few relaxed moments from their busy days, moms with carriages, joggers, kids on sleds in winter.

To have such a beach 1 mile from my house is unbelievable. An Olympic pool at Longshore, sailing, tennis courts galore, golf: what doesn’t this town have?

Longshore's charms are endless -- and timeless.

Everyone loves Longshore.

I have had occasion to call the police a few times over the years. I don’t think I have even hung up the phone when they appeared at the door. The same holds true for EMS. The dedication of the people who serve this town voluntarily. Hats off to all of you who give tirelessly of your time and energy — especially as everyone here has a point of view and wants to be heard, even if it is midnight.  And show me another town where you get to meet, eat and chat with the top executives.

Yes, I knew this was the right place for me. So I just want to say “thank you Westport.” You have given me a really nice life,  and if I am lucky I  hope for many more years of pleasure.

Westport Library Serves All Types

Westporters take pride in our cutting-edge library. The Maker Space, 3-D printer — if it’s creative and new, Maxine Bleiweis and her staff are all over it.

But sometimes you just need a typewriter.

Again, the library rides to the rescue.

An old IBM Selectric sits all alone in a cubicle overlooking Jesup Green, just waiting for someone to peck away.

Kids: Do you know what this is?

Kids: Do you know what this is?

Still, the library draws the line somewhere. Long ago, the wooden card catalog went to that great reading room in the sky.

(Hat tip to Fred Cantor)

 

Fred Cantor’s Timeless Westport

As an alert “06880” reader, Fred Cantor has seen comments on every side of every debate about the changing nature of Westport.

As someone who came to Westport in 1963, Fred has seen many of those changes himself.

An accomplished attorney, film and play producer and writer, Fred has spent years taking photos around town. Recently, he asked Staples grad Casey Denton to help create a video of those shots.

Fred’s goal was simple. He wanted to document his belief that the essence of Westport’s beauty and small-town New England character — which his family discovered upon moving here over 5 decades ago — remains alive and well.

The video opens with long-ago Westport scenes. There are photos of mom-and-pop stores, the kind that filled Main Street back in the day. Obviously, that’s changed.

But most of the photos are from the recent past — many taken within the past year. And, Fred notes, they are “timeless Westport scenes.” Churches, barns, the Saugatuck bridge, the Minuteman and Doughboy statues, the Mill Pond and cannons — we are surrounded by wonderful history and spectacular beauty.

Fred knows that family businesses are very much with us. From long-time establishments (Oscar’s, Mario’s) to relative newcomers (Elvira’s, Saugatuck Sweets), there are more here than we realize.

Finally, Fred wanted to show that institutions like the Library, Westport Country Playhouse and Levitt Pavilion have been significantly upgraded over the years. The entire community benefits, Fred says, from “the strong commitment to the arts that existed when my parents brought us here over 50 years ago.”

Fred knows this is the perspective of just one near-native. But, he says — as health problems limit how far he can go from home — he is glad he can notice and appreciate more than ever what is right around all of us.

 

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.