Category Archives: Looking back

Westport’s Place In World History Up For Sale

The commercial real estate listing is pretty straightforward: An 11,000-square foot brick and stone office building on Saugatuck Avenue, close to I-95 and the train station.

There’s a photo —

Eno Foundation

— and a name: The Eno Foundation Building.

But the listing doesn’t give a hint what the Eno Foundation was.

It’s named for William Phelps Eno. He was a Westport businessman known as the “Father of Traffic Safety.” His innovations included the stop sign, pedestrian crosswalk, traffic circle, 1-way street, taxi stand and pedestrian safety island. He designed traffic plans for New York, Paris and London.

For many years, his worldwide traffic institute was headquartered on Saugatuck Avenue, near the Norwalk line.

Believe it or not, Westport — with all our traffic woes — was once the place where transportation ideas that transformed the world were hatched.

William Phelps Eno — who (you can’t make this up) never learned to drive — is no longer around to solve our current traffic issues. He died in 1945. If he were, he could start right around the corner from his headquarters, then work his way through town, ending up at the Merritt Parkway Exit 42/Weston Road/Main Street/Easton Road goat rodeo.

But you can now buy his building. It’s a beauty.

And there’s plenty of on-site parking.

 William Phelps Eno was honored with a plaque at the old Westport YMCA.

William Phelps Eno was honored with a plaque at the old Westport YMCA.

(For more information on the real estate listing — or to buy it! — click here. Hat tip: Kate Schwartz.)

 

Bob Selverstone Asks: “What Do You Stand For?”

Generations of Staples students from the mid-1970s through early ’90s remember Bob Selverstone’s Values Clarification course.

It earned them 1/4 credit — but what they took away was far more important. In small groups — then together in a large one — students talked, thought and wrote about what they believed. And why.

Faculty and parents joined the classes. Clergy came too. The Values class — and its follow-up, Human Sexuality — were some of the most meaningful, even life-changing, parts of Staples students’ educations.

Dr. Robert Selverstone

Dr. Robert Selverstone

“Personal growth is so important,” Selverstone — who has spent 35 years as a psychologist in private practice in Westport, and was named an Outstanding Educator by Planned Parenthood — says. He is proud that, while teaching part-time at Staples, his courses may have been the only ones of their kind in an American public high school.

If the Values Clarification course sounds like something you wished you’d taken, you’re in luck. This March, Selverstone will offer them through Continuing Education.

“What Do You Stand For? … And What Won’t You Stand For?” is the name of his offering.

“The roads you take — and those you forgo — reflect your value,” Selverstone says. “Which path do you choose? Sometimes the decision isn’t so easy.”

He describes an exercise he uses with groups ranging from 8th graders to summer camp staffs. The scenario involves an engaged couple, a raging river, and sex. Plus concepts like friendship, honesty and purity.

Though everyone in a class may look homogeneous, when they discuss the scenario they realize their beliefs may be very different. Then the talk turns to ideas like: Who has the “proper” values? And how do we live those values?

“Self-awareness is the most important part of nearly everything we do,” Selverstone says. He is a master at helping even the least self-aware people start to think about what matters to them.

As a Staples student 30 years ago, Westport’s new director of continuing education Ellen Israel took Selverstone’s Values Clarification course. Recently, she invited him to teach it again.

Continuing ed website

“I love doing this stuff,” the energetic, ever-smiling Selverstone says. “I love the immediate feedback. And I love that the potential for positive impact is so huge.”

Adults of any age — “20 to 80,” he says — are welcome.

“It’s not therapy,” he notes. “But it is therapeutic. Everyone should spend some time thinking about ideas they may never have consciously thought of.”

As for Selverstone, he’s thought often of the groundbreaking classes he taught in high school.

“Staples has always been a delightful place,” he says. “Now I’ve got a wonderful chance to go back there — and give back.”

(“What Do You Stand For? … And What Won’t You Stand For?”) will be taught on 4 consecutive Thursdays, from March 10-31, 7-9 p.m. For more information, click on www.westportcontinuinged.com or call 203-341-1209.)

 

MLK

This story ran last year. Several readers asked me to republish it today. Here it is.

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Westporters will celebrate with a day off from school or work.  Some will sleep in; others will ski, or take part in a Staples basketball clinic for younger players. Few will give any thought to Martin Luther King.

Twice, though, his life intersected this town in important ways.

Martin Luther KingThe first was Friday night, May 22, 1964. According to Woody Klein’s book Westport, Connecticut, King had been invited to speak at Temple Israel by synagogue member Jerry Kaiser.

King arrived in the afternoon. Kaiser and his wife Roslyn sat on their porch that afternoon, and talked with King and 2 of his aides. She was impressed with his “sincerity, warmth, intelligence and genuine concern for those about him — our children, for instance. He seemed very young to bear such a burden of leadership.”

King’s sermon — to a packed audience — was titled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” He analogized his America to the time of Rip Van Winkle — who also “slept through a revolution. The greatest liability of history is that people fail to see a revolution taking place in our world today.  We must support the social movement of the Negro.”

Westport artist Roe Halper presented King with 3 woodcarvings, representing the civil rights struggle. He hung them proudly in the front hallway of his Atlanta home.

Artist Roe Harper (left) presents Coretta Scott King with civil rights-themed wood carvings.

Within a month Temple Israel’s rabbi, Byron Rubenstein, traveled south to take place in a nonviolent march. He was arrested — along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

In jail, the rabbi said, “I came to know the greatness of Dr. King. I never heard a word of hate or bitterness from that man, only worship of faith, joy and determination.”

King touched Westport again less than 4 years later. On April 5, 1968 — the day after the civil rights leader’s assassination in Memphis — 600 Staples students gathered for a lunchtime vigil in the courtyard. Nearby, the flag flew at half-staff.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

Vice principal Fermino Spencer addressed the crowd. Movingly, he spoke about  his own experience as an African American. Hearing the words “my people” made a deep impression on the almost all-white audience. For many, it was the 1st time they had heard a black perspective on white America.

No one knew what lay ahead for their country. But student Jim Sadler spoke for many when he said: “I’m really frightened. Something is going to happen.”

Something did — and it was good. A few hundred students soon met in the cafeteria. Urged by a minister and several anti-poverty workers to help bridge the chasm between Westport and nearby cities, Staples teachers and students vowed to create a camp.

Within 2 months, it was a reality. That summer 120 elementary and junior high youngsters from Westport, Weston, Norwalk and Bridgeport participated in the Intercommunity Camp. Led by over 100 Staples students and many teachers, they enjoyed swimming, gymnastics, dance, sports, field trips, overnight camping, creative writing, filmmaking, photography, art and reading.

It wasn’t easy — some in Westport opposed bringing underprivileged children to their town — but for over a decade the Intercommunity Camp flourished.

Eventually, enthusiasm for and interest in the camp waned. Fewer Staples students and staff members wanted to devote their summer to such a project.  The number of Westporters willing to donate their pools dwindled. Today the Intercommunity Camp is a long-forgotten memory.

Sort of like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Even on his birthday.

MLK speech

Bye, Bye Bertucci’s

For years, Westport Sunrise Rotary met at Bobby Q’s. When they needed bigger digs, they moved to Bertucci’s.

Earlier this month, Bobby Q’s announced it will close on March 31.

Once again, the Rotarians will need a new spot. At their meeting this morning, they learned the restaurant — a Westport fixture for about 20 years — will close on Wednesday.

Bertuccis_thumb

An employee answering the phone this morning said the reason was a failure to come to an agreement with the landlord.

The Westport location is the only one in the chain that will close.

There is no word on what will replace the family-friendly Italian restaurant. Longtime Westporters remember the location as the site of the long-running, much-loved Clam Box — and after that, briefly, Tanglewoods.

Sorry - voting is limited to current restaurants only.

 

Roseville Road’s Civil War Connection

This fall, the Westport Historical Society awarded its 300th historic house plaque.

They’re available (for a $300 donation) for any house at least 100 years old; any house within a local historic district (regardless of age), and houses less than a century old if either a special event occurred there, a prominent person lived in it, or it was designed by a noted architect.

The most recent addition — 88 Roseville Road — spotlights a bit of often-overlooked Westport history: the Civil War.

Benjamin Brotherton

A photo misidentified as Benjamin Brotherton. It is actually Peter Oscar Lewis, a relative who was a highway superintendent for the town.

According to historian David Press, the home’s 2nd owner, Benjamin Brotherton, was wounded in that conflict.

In July 1862 — with the war going poorly for the north — President Lincoln called for 600,000 troops. Each state and town had numbers to fill. Henry Penfield Burr of Westport was in charge of our quota. A bounty for soldiers to join was set at $480 per year.

The next month Brotherton joined 50 other enlistees in the 250-man 17th Brigade, Company E.

He was wounded in Virginia by Stonewall Jackson’s forces, and also fought in Gettysburg.

Brotherton returned to Westport. In 1866, at age 47, he married 22-year-old Phebe Batterson. Brotherton’s father-in-law, William Batterson, had built the house around 1860, on 15 acres of land. He gave a half-acre to Brotherton as a wedding gift.

Why such little acreage? Bob Weingarten — the WHS house historian, who compiled much of this information — believes it’s because Batterson was an oysterman. He had little need for farmland.

88 Roseville Road, in an 1895 photo.

88 Roseville Road, in an 1895 photo.

The current owner is Karen Brewer. She’s lived in New York and the UK (in a converted 17th century vicarage), but with friends and family in Westport — and an admiration for the town, its architecture and history — she’s long wanted to live here.

When the company she worked for moved to Stamford, she found a house with “a sense of time and place inherent in things that are not brand new.”

It was a challenge. The house had been renovated by a builder, and maintained none of the original details. Brewer spent the last 2 years developing a plan. So far, she’s focused on the mechanicals and interior cosmetic changes. This spring, she hopes to restore the original exterior wood siding.

88 Roseville Road today. (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

88 Roseville Road today. (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

Brewer is a banker — not a farmer, oysterman or soldier. But she cherishes the heritage of her home. And she’s doing her best to preserve it

Now she’s got a historic plaque to honor it too.

Westport Historical Society house historian Bob Weingarten, current owner Karen Brewer, and the historic house plaque. (Photo/Laurence Untermeyer)

Westport Historical Society house historian Bob Weingarten, current owner Karen Brewer, and the historic house plaque. (Photo/Laurence Untermeyer)

Happy 90th, Joan Walsh Anglund!

Damn! “06880” missed Joan Walsh Anglund’s 90th birthday by a day.

I’m sure she’d have something wise, clever — and very, very soothing — to say about that.

The poet/author/illustrator — who spent many years in Westport, and raised her children here — wrote over 120 children’s and inspirational books. They’ve sold more than 50 million copies, and been translated into 17 languages.

Joan Walsh Anglund quote

Among her most famous quotes:

  • Do not be sad that you have suffered. Be glad that you have lived.
  • Life is in the living. Love is in the giving.
  • Where is the yesterday that worried us so?

Wikipedia says that last year, a US Postal Service stamp commemorating Maya Angelou contained Anglund’s quote “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song” — seemingly tying it to Angelou.

That’s not the first time. President Obama wrongly attributed the sentence to Angelou when he presented the 2013 National Medal of Arts and Humanities to her.

“I hope it’s successful,” Anglund said of the stamp when it was issued.

In the 1960s and early ’70s, Staples High School principal James Calkins — who spoke often of the importance of love — frequently quoted Anglund to the student body.

"Do You Love Someone?" -- one of Joan Walsh Anglund's many illustrated books.

“Do You Love Someone?” — one of Joan Walsh Anglund’s many illustrated books.

When Calkins left Staples, Anglund’s daughter — a student there — thanked him using her mother’s words: “I did not hear the words you said. Instead, I heard the love.”

A website dedicated to Anglund lists a few of her famous fans: Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Elizabeth, Cary Grant, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Ethel Kennedy, Carol Burnett, Helen Hayes, Phyllis Diller, Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Rosemary Clooney, Shirley Jones, the Emperor of Japan and Elizabeth Taylor.

And, it adds helpfully, “etc.”

“06880”  joins Joan Walsh Anglund’s many admirers — in Westport, and the world — in saying: “Happy 90th birthday!”

Or, to quote herself: “A (person’s) health can be judged by which he takes two at a time: pills or stairs.”

 

Facing Down The Communist Menace

More than 6 decades ago, the McCarthy witch hunt — highlighted in the current film “Trumbo” — affected all Americans. Area residents like Fred Hellerman — who sang with Pete Seeger in the Weavers — saw their careers torpedoed, in a frightening, country-wide rush to judgment.

TrumboIt took the courage of men like Kirk Douglas and Howard Fast — both with Westport and Weston connections — to break the blacklist. Douglas surreptitiously hired screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to adapt Fast’s novel “Spartacus,” a major step toward helping restore many writers’ good names.

A couple of years before McCarthy, Westport faced its own charges of communism. But officials here reacted in a very different way.

According to Westporter-Herald newspaper accounts unearthed by alert “06880” reader Fred Cantor, in early April 1947 Fred Hollister wrote a long story in Inklings, the Staples High School newspaper. It described a new organization: American Youth for Democracy.

David Hollister, as a 1947 Staples High School senior: class vice president, Yale applicant, alleged communist.

David Hollister, as a 1947 Staples High School senior: class vice president, Yale applicant, alleged communist.

Hollister — a senior — was awaiting word on admission to Yale. He was vice president of his class, editor of the new literary magazine Soundings, and a member of the Norwalk chapter of AYD. That group — an “interracial teen-age club” — offered “a program for economic security and opportunity, education, housing, health, farm youth, recreation, juvenile delinquency, veterans, civil liberties, and peace,” the Westporter-Herald reported.

The AYD wanted to build “more and more inter-racial clubs in our country, clubs where young Negro and white people, by working, playing and fighting for the same things together, learn through actual experience that there are no ‘superior’ and no ‘inferior’ races.”

FBI director J. Edgar Hoover called it “part of the Communist party.”

A front-page story in the local paper said that “school officials, P-T.A. officers, School Study Council members and parents of high school students are all considering ways and means to check the infiltration of what the U.S. Chamber ofo Commerce has called subversive ideas fostered by the AYD.”

A poster of the "radical" American Youth for Democracy.

A poster of the “radical” American Youth for Democracy.

Superintendent of Schools Gerhardt Rast conducted an investigation into the “publication of the AYD propoganda.” He “emphatically” cleared Inklings’ faculty advisor, social studies teacher Eli Berton, of “any blame.” Rast said that Berton had no idea what the AYD was. However, the superintendent said that he would ask the Board of Education to take action to “prevent its growth in the school.”

“The article’s listing of the organization’s aims could be that of any liberal organization, except for an emphasis on federal aid for various projects,” the Westporter-Herald noted.

An editorial took a patronizing tone. High school is a time “when youngsters look up on the world and worry about its imperfections. They are dissatisfied with the picture of war, famine, hatred and intolerance. Naturally they dream of making the world over, fashioning it to be without sin or greed.”

That’s not the way the world works, the paper continued. But perhaps Hollister should be thanked, because by “its careless publicity (the AYD) has ruined its chances for successful proselytizing in the high school  here.”

The editorial concluded: “Fellow traveler, whither now?”

Eli Berton was a long-time, and very well-respected, Staples High School social studies teacher.

Eli Berton was a long-time, and very well-respected, Staples High School social studies teacher.

In the days that followed, the American Legion asked the Board of Ed to place more importance on the teaching of American history in Westport schools.

The board discussed the matter, but refused to remove either Hollister or Berton from Inklings. 

The superintendent took a similar stand. In fact, he said, “We do teach the Bill of Rights to our students….How can we reconcile action denying David Hollister the right to publish any further articles with what they students know about Article I?…I don’t believe such action would be wise or consistent.”

And so the communist menace in Westport was dealt with: intelligently, graciously, and with no inflammatory rhetoric.

A. E. Hotchner: Hemingway’s Muse Still At Home Here

A. E. Hotchner has just published a new book. Hemingway in Love: His Own Story is an intimate portrait of the troubled writer, by a man who knew him well.

Hemingway committed suicide in 1961. Hotchner — a longtime Westport resident — is still going strong in his 90s.

A. E. Hotchner, with his latest book. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

A. E. Hotchner, with his latest book. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Earlier this week, “06880” reader Fred Cantor chatted with Hotchner about his life and times in our town. Here is his report.

———————————————————–

A. E. Hotchner, the well-known writer and philanthropist, moved to Westport from New York City in 1953 — but not for all the reasons commonly associated with such a move.

“Somebody said to me: ‘Go to Westport. It’s an inexpensive place,'” Hotchner recalls.

A real estate broker showed him a 1920s home, on 5 acres, that had been empty for 2 years. “A real white elephant,” Hotchner remembers it. “Nobody wanted it, it was so big.”

But he and his wife, with 2 young children, liked the possibilities. They made an offer that was accepted.

A. E. Hotchner and Ernest Hemingway, in an undated photograph.

A. E. Hotchner and Ernest Hemingway, in an undated photograph.

The Hillandale Road home and surrounding acreage have provided Hotchner plenty of solitude to write the nearly 20 books he has published over the years, including his latest.

Like his previous works, Hotchner composed an initial draft of Hemingway in Love by longhand, on an old roll-top desk in his 3rd floor study in the finished attic that was already in place when he moved in.

What motivated him to write a new part of the Hemingway story almost 50 years after his acclaimed biography, Papa Hemingway?

The publisher’s lawyers edited out controversial parts of the 1966 manuscript that dealt with people who were alive then. Finally, Hotchner feels he is able to tell “a great tragic love story” that had such an impact on Hemingway’s life, and was perhaps even “more dramatic than what Hemingway was writing about” at the time.

“He was under siege,” Hotchner explains.

Hotchner was not only close friends with one of the 20th century’s most iconic authors. He was also close to one of its most celebrated movie stars: Paul Newman. That friendship led to their co-founding the Newman’s Own charitable endeavor.

 A. E. Hotchner has lived on Hillandale Road -- and been part of Westport -- for more than 60 years. (Photo/Fred Cantor

A. E. Hotchner has lived on Hillandale Road — and been part of Westport — for more than 60 years. (Photo/Fred Cantor

But long before that wonderful philanthropy, Hotchner was involved in a much smaller local charity event that was an integral part of small-town Westport life in the 1950s: the writers-vs.-artists basketball game in the Staples High School gym.

Hotchner played with illustrious teammates like Peter De Vries and Max Shulman. The event raised money for good causes — but there was pride involved too. Hotchner recalls De Vries being injured one game, lying on the bench unable to continue, encouraging his teammates to win.

Hotchner has other fond memories of his early years in Westport: a downtown butcher in a straw hat; a Main Street hardware store that sold nails by the pound; a farm just down the street from his home where cows grazed, and nearby homes dating back to the Revolutionary War.

Westport has changed considerably since 1953. Nevertheless, over 60 years later Hotchner very much enjoys his home. He considers his property “an oasis.” He calls the grounds “glorious.”

And — nearing the century mark — he likes being surrounded by “what’s familiar.”

Susan Lloyd: Save Center Street Homes!

Demolition notices are posted on Center Street.

Susan Lloyd is not pleased.

A native Westporter who has spent the last 30 years in Green’s Farms — and whose father grew up in the neighborhood (her mom is from Fairfield) — Lloyd passes 4 structures slated for destruction nearly every day.

Although 3 of the structures are old — very old — she knows that halting the process will not be easy.

One of the buildings dates back to 1700. Once classified as a blight house, she says it has been empty at least 20 years.

This house, at 21 Center Street, was built in 1700. It is one of the oldest homes still standing in Westport.

This house, at 21 Center Street, was built in 1700. It is one of the oldest homes still standing in Westport.

The 2nd house is 233 years old. Built in 1782, it belonged at one point to Joe Avery (a horseman who worked for the Bedford family and Fairfield County Hunt Club) and Marjorie Rippe Avery (a longtime Klein’s employee).

The house at 25 Center Street was built in 1782.

The house at 25 Center Street was built in 1782.

The 3rd home was built in 1880.

This house -- on the corner of Center Street and Brightfield Lane -- dates back to 1880.

This house — on the corner of Center Street and Brightfield Lane — dates back to 1880.

The youngest one — from 1938 — is still 77 years old.

“I realize these houses are not of major historical importance,” Lloyd says. “They’re not on Jennings Trail. George Washington didn’t sleep there.” (He did apparently sleep nearby, in a long-gone house at the intersection of Center Street and Lazy Brook Lane).

However, Lloyd says, “redone right, they would be perfect homes for the empty nesting baby boomers who want to stay in town. Or someone looking for a small, reasonably priced home.”

The developer is scheduled to ask the Historic District Commission to waive the balance of the demolition delay.

Lloyd hopes anyone interested in maintaining the demolition delay, and/or requesting that the developer conserve the oldest house (or at least its bones) for use in the new structures planned for the site, and/or that the structures be professionally and sensitively deconstructed by a company doing professional, historic reclamation work — attend the HDC work session and public hearing on Tuesday, January 12 (7 p.m., Town Hall Room 201).

Some of the houses on Center Street are listed on Westport’s Historic Resources Inventory. “This is good,” Lloyd says.

“But it provides no protection, other than the demolition delay (which can still be waived, so it’s no guarantee either). Maybe if the public spoke up about all the demolition of the oldest houses in town, it would be more difficult to demolish them.”

1 Wilton Road: Through The Years

1 Wilton Road — the former needlepoint shop that’s part of the reason that intersection with the Post Road and Riverside Avenue is the worst in Westport the state the world — has been in the news lately.

David Waldman hopes to buy the property, and move the house onto the former Save the Children site (which he already owns). That will pave the way (ho ho) for a dedicated turning lane, easing (somewhat) the current gridlock.

Right now, everyone in Westport loathes that corner. But 50 years ago, local illustrator Albert Hubbell found it soothing, even bucolic. His stylized illustration became the New Yorker cover on January 9, 1965. It’s also part of the great “New Yorker in Westport” book by Eve Potts and Andrew Bentley, depicting 50 magazine covers by area artists.

New Yorker cover - Jan 9, 1965 - Wilton Road and Post Road

Ten years later — on Christmas Day, 1975 — Fred Cantor found it alluring too. Here’s his photo:

Wilton Road and Post Road intersection - 1975

That corner sure looks pretty — without traffic.

But with that thing we did have every winter. It was — how do say it — “snow”?