Category Archives: Looking back

This Old House #4

Last week’s house — the most recent in a series seeking readers’ help identifying homes photographed for a 1930s WPA project — remains a mystery.

Though the caption on the back said “Coleytown,” readers thought it might have been located as far away as Edge Hill Road. Westport Historical Society house historian Bob Weingarten is still trying to track down the answer. (Click here for that story, and comments.)

This week’s house seems to be easy. The back carries clear identification — “Allen (Bailin). Riverside Avenue.” But no one at the WHS — including Bob Gault, whose company has been on Riverside since 1863 — can pin it down.

This Old House - March 25, 2015

It’s pretty clear that this house was torn down. But where exactly did it stand? What took its place?

If you think you know, click “Comments” below. Information is needed for an upcoming Historical Society exhibit on preservation in Westport.

Making The Grade

The recent grade-crossing train wreck in Westchester, plus heroic actions by a police officer preventing a similar accident in Norwalk a few days later, jogged what alert “06880” reader/1970 Staples graduate Scott Brodie calls “a dim memory.”

Long ago, he thinks, he heard that Westport was spared the same hazard by “thoughtful negotiators who represented the town” when the New Haven Railroad was first built, in the 19th century.

“They granted permission for the right-of-way through Westport, on the condition that there be no grade crossings,” Scott says — er, thinks.

True? A (sub)urban myth?

I’d never heard the story. But this is a great question for our “06880” readers. If you know about this — or anything else regarding the early days of Westport’s railroads — click “Comments” below.

South Compo Road crosses underneath the railroad. It floods often -- but that's a subject for another post. (Photo/Google Maps)

South Compo Road crosses under the railroad. It floods often, and trucks regularly get stuck — but those are subjects for other posts. (Photo/Google Maps)

 

This Old House: #3

“This Old House” is a new series on “06880.” Every Wednesday we’ll show a Westport house, photographed in the 1930s for a WPA project. They’ll be featured in an upcoming Westport Historical Society exhibit on preservation in Westport — but we need readers’ help in identifying them.

The jury is still out on where the 1st house (posted last week) was located — or whether it’s even standing. It’s near the corner of North Avenue and Cross Highway, but we’re not sure exactly where. Click here, then scroll down to “Comments” to see the ongoing debate.

At least that had a relatively clear location. All we know about this one is a single word on the back: “Coleytown.”

This Old House - March 18, 2015

If you recognize it — or think you do — hit “Comments” below. As with all houses in this series, it may have already been demolished.

Westport Y: Suddenly $40 Million Richer

A capital campaign for a new Westport Weston YMCA  fell short of its goal earlier this decade. So the Mahackeno facility — called the Bedford Family Center — was broken into 2 phases.

Phase I opened last fall, with an airy fitness center, gleaming new pool, well-lit exercise rooms, nice new gym and a much-needed child’s play space. The site was purchased decades ago — with the generous help of Frederick T. Bedford, Ruth’s father.

The new YMCA -- known as the Bedford Family Center -- at Mahackeno.

The new YMCA — known as the Bedford Family Center — at Mahackeno.

But the new Y lacks other amenities, like childcare, gymnastics and racquetball. And the locker rooms are badly cramped. Y officials promised they’d be added some vague time later, during Phase II.

Phase II suddenly seems a lot closer to reality.

The Y announced today that it has received $40 million from the estate of Ruth Bedford. The last surviving granddaughter of Edward T. Bedford — a director of Standard Oil and founder of the Westport Y, among many other philanthropic projects — died last June, at 99.

Norwalk Hospital logoYet this is not Ruth Bedford’s only astonishing gift. She also left $40 million to Norwalk Hospital. She loved that institution too — and volunteered there, logging almost 17,000 hours in the gift shop, over 5 decades. (A previous gift from E.T. Bedford, decades ago, enabled the hospital to double its patient capacity.)

But wait! There’s more! Another $40 million bequest — believed to be the largest ever to an all-girls’ school — went to Foxcroft, a tiny private girls school in Virginia that was Bedford’s alma mater.

The Y’s plans for the fallen-from-the-sky money are not yet set.

Officials say they will use it for “current and future capital development needs” — perhaps including new locker rooms? — and “to endow programs for wellness and youth in a way that honors the tradition of the Bedford family legacy.”

For nearly a century, that legacy has enriched Westport. It continues to do so, even after death.

Westport Woman’s Clubs: In 19th-Century Home, Addressing 21st-Century Issues

Bedford Hall — the Westport Woman’s Club‘s newly renovated, recently dedicated event space — is very modern.

Costing $120,000, it includes a state-of-the-art AV/home theater system, recessed and cove LED lighting, new halogen stage lights, and much more. It will be Westport’s go-to space for weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, art shows, memorial services and much more, for years to come.

But its story begins 108 years ago.

In 1907, a group of Westport women decided to do something about the muddy, horse manure-filled streets of downtown. They put on a fair, raised money, and built sidewalks.

By 1925, the Westport Improvement Association had added sidewalks -- and gotten rid of mud and manure on Main Street. The entrance to what became the Westport Woman's Club (the "Bedford House" portion of the YMCA) is on the right side of this 1925 photo.

By 1925, the Westport Town Improvement Association had added sidewalks — and gotten rid of mud and manure on Main Street. The entrance to what became the Westport Woman’s Club (the “Bedford House” portion of the YMCA) is on the right side in this 1925 photo.

That “sanitary” project led to others: bathrooms at Compo Beach. Hot lunches and vaccinations (!) in the schools. More sidewalks on Compo Road.

A few years later, when E.T. Bedford was building his YMCA, that same group of women — now called the Westport Town Improvement Association — asked what he was doing for the ladies. He modified the Y’s design, giving them a separate entrance on Main Street. It was called “Bedford House.”

That’s where the Westport Woman’s Club — as it was known by the 1930s — held art shows, conducted dental screenings, handed out scholarships and hosted the visiting nurses’ offices.

“It was a very popular club to be in,” says current WWC president Dorothy Curran. “It was also the de facto health department in town.”

WWC logoIn 1945, as men returned from war and new families began moving to Westport, demands on the Y space increased. Bedford’s son Frederick continued his father’s commitment to the Woman’s Club, buying an 1881 house at 44 Imperial Avenue for the organization to use.

It was a beautiful waterfront home, with a big veranda. But it was in disrepair. And because there was no meeting space inside, it sat unused for 5 years.

In 1950, as the Saugatuck Church prepared to move its 1832 meetinghouse from the Post Road/North Compo corner, several hundred feet across US 1 (to its present site near Myrtle Avenue), it put its 1866 Sunday school building on the market for $2,000.

The WWC was interested. It would cost another $18,000 to move it to Imperial Avenue, and renovate the interior. Frederick Bedford agreed to pay half the cost of the purchase, moving and renovation price.

In September 1950 — a couple of weeks after the church made its slow, famous trek across the Post Road — the 2nd, less famous building was cut in half. The 2 sections then made their own journey west.

Photos depicting the Saugatuck Congregational Church's Sunday School building move hang in its current  home on Imperial Avenue.

Photos depicting the Saugatuck Congregational Church’s Sunday School building move hang in its current home on Imperial Avenue.

When the Sunday school building was reassembled and joined to the Imperial Avenue house, the clapboard matched. “It was meant to be!” Curran says.

A kitchen was added. Dedicated the following June, the hall was used for the WWC’s active theater club, and rented to outside groups.

Over the years, the room grew old. Rental income dropped.

The gazebo and gardens are a lot lovelier in spring, summer and fall.

The gazebo and gardens are a lot lovelier in spring, summer and fall.

But the space is great. It’s centrally located. There’s a garden with a gazebo, for wedding photos ops. And so much parking! In 1955 the WWC granted the town 2 acres of riparian rights. The land was filled in, and now the club has 100 parking spaces to use in perpetuity.

Westport is one of only 2 Woman’s Clubs in the state with their own clubhouse. (The other is in Greenwich.) They share space with 2 tenants: Connecticut Braille Association, and the Westport Young Woman’s League.

The WYWL was formed in 1956, when a group of younger Woman’s Club members realized they were doing much of the group’s work, but had no representation on the board. The split made the New York Times.

Westport Woman's Club president Dorothy Curran stands proudly outside the organization's Imperial Avenue home.

Westport Woman’s Club president Dorothy Curran stands proudly outside the organization’s Imperial Avenue home.

At the time, the Young Woman’s upper age limit was 35. It became 40, then 50. Now there is no limit at all.

Today, the median age of Woman’s Club members is “a bit older” than the Young Woman’s group, Curran says. But in many ways the 2 clubs are similar.

The WWYL organizes the Minute Man Race and CraftWestport, and awards many grants.

The WWC runs the Yankee Doodle Fair, art shows, the Nutcracker Tea, Curio Cottage, Westport food pantry — and donates to many of the same organizations as the WWYL.

Which brings us back to the new Bedford Hall. The $120,000 project — funded mostly by Lea Ruegg and her son Erhart, and completed in January with a stage, Steinway baby grand piano, maple floors, crown moldings and seating for over 100 people — will be the site this Wednesday (March 18, 12-1:30 pm) of the 1st-ever event co-sponsored by the Westport Woman’s Club and Westport Young Woman’s League.

A Steinway piano and modern lighting are just 2 features of the new Bedford Hall stage.

A Steinway piano and modern lighting are just 2 features of the new Bedford Hall stage.

It’s a panel, breakout discussion and brown bag lunch on the topic: “What is the role of women’s volunteer service organizations in the 21st century?” The public is welcome.

After so much help from 2 philanthropic Bedfords, it’s fitting that 44 Imperial Avenue finally has a “Bedford Hall.”

And fitting too, that a pair of well-run, very generous women’s organizations — both born in the 20th century — are joining forces in their shared 19th-century home, to address 21st-century women’s issues.

(For information on renting Bedford Hall, contact Susan Loselle: 203-227-4240 or 203-246-9258; westportwomansclub@sbcglobal.net or seloselle@gmail.com)

The handsome, 19th-century interior leads into the modern Bedford Hall (rear).

A handsome, 19th-century interior leads into the modern Bedford Hall (rear).

Remembering Bob Genualdi

Robert Genualdi — known to generations of Westporters as Staples’ superb orchestra conductor, who went on to further careers and renown as headmaster at Fairfield High School, then director of the Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestras — died yesterday morning in Bridgeport. He was 84.

Genualdi was part of Staples’ legendary 1960s music department, teaching and leading with John Ohanian, George Weigle (who turned 87 on Friday) and John Hanulik. A string bass player, he received degrees from the University of Miami, Northwestern and Bridgeport. He played under the baton of Arthur Fiedler.

Robert Genualdi

Robert Genualdi

Genualdi’s love for music led him to play in symphonies and chamber music ensembles; judge competitions in many states; conduct at festivals; and compose several music compositions, and 2 works for full orchestras.

Genualdi moved into administration, serving as Staples’ vice principal in 1971-72, then acting principal twice (1972-73, and 1975).

In 2004, I interviewed Genualdi for my book, Staples High School: 120 Years of A+ Education. He said:

When I came to Staples in 1960 I had already spent 8 years teaching in northwestern Illinois, so I was not a novice. But Staples was by far the biggest school I had ever worked in.

It was such an exciting place, in many ways. The students were bright and ready to learn. There was a decent amount of diversity, with old-line Westporters and people who had recently moved in from other places.

And then – the icing on the cake for me – there were the arts. You had parents who were professional musicians, artists and actors, and they were so involved in making Staples a place that supported the arts. It was a very exciting time for me.

The campus was volatile, in a largely positive way. There was something wonderful about the way people interacted with each other. And the teachers very much cared about students, and the school.

Bob Genualdi, doing what he loved at Staples in 1970.

Bob Genualdi, doing what he loved at Staples in 1970.

I had terrific opportunities there, in the classroom and then as an administrator. (Assistant superintendent of schools) Frank Graff got me out of the classroom. I’d been the Westport Education Association president, and he berated me – kindly. He said if I really wanted change to happen, I could do it from the inside. It was easy to criticize from the outside, but he wanted me inside.

When I was acting principal, there was a lot going on: modernization, a reduction in staff because of declining enrollment, and the Staples Governing Board was being challenged by the Board of Education for taking too much power. I was in the middle on a lot of those issues.

It was a special school – a wonderful, unique place. It started with the staff, then the students, and of course the community. And not just parents of kids in the school – you had alumni, and people like Alan Parsell and Ed Mitchell. Plenty of people had a lot of pride in Staples, because it was the only high school in town.

Robert Genualdi, from the 1976 Andrew Warde High School yearbook.

Robert Genualdi, from the 1976 Andrew Warde High School yearbook.

After Staples, Genualdi became a high school administrator in Fairfield. The 1976 Andrew Warde yearbook called him a “truly sincere, honest, and open human being (with) a real concern for others.”

His 3rd career was as music director and conductor of the Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestras. He spent more than 25 years there, before retiring in 2007.

With his wife, violist Dorothy Straub, Genualdi helped organize and produce the national Jenny Lind Competition, for years a staple of Bridgeport’s Barnum Festival.

Funeral arrangements will be announced Monday, by the Spear-Miller Funeral Home in Fairfield.

 

Westport’s Newest American Idol

Millions of viewers across the US have seen Randy Jackson’s replacement on “American Idol”: Scott Borchetta.

A dozen or so oldtime Westporters probably say “hmmmm…”

Back in the day, the Post Road was filled with mom-and-pop grocery stores (think Calise’s, without the hot foods). The owners worked hard, and served their neighborhoods well.

One — near Old Road, about where the Lexus dealer and Anthropologie are now — was owned by a Mr. and Mrs. Borchetta.

Scott Borchetta

Scott Borchetta

Their son Mike graduated from Staples in 1961, then went off to California. He became a noted record promoter for labels like Capitol, RCA and Mercury.

Later Mike moved to Nashville, to start his own independent record promotion company.

Scott is Mike’s son. He was a race car driver, then founded Big Machine Records and discovered Taylor Swift.

Now he’s “American Idol”‘s house mentor. The show, of course, is all about hard-working, unknown people trying to make it big.

Sounds like 3 generations of the Borchetta family, right?

(Hat tip: Dick Alley)

This Old House: #2

Last Wednesday, “06880” inaugurated our “This Old House” series. Each week, we’ll run a photo of an old home that will be shown at an upcoming Westport Historical Society exhibit on preservation.

We began with a house the WHS had already identified. Several readers — not many! — knew it’s now the site of the Tavern on Main restaurant, downtown.

But the rest of the homes in this series — all taken in the 1930s by WPA photographers — have stumped even Historical Society experts. We’ll highlight the photos in the hopes that at least one alert “06880” reader knows something about the house.

Lost house - March 11, 2015

The inscription on the back reads (vaguely): “Warner; S. of NW Cor. Cross Hgwy. toward Coleytown.” Like all the photos we’ll run in this series, we don’t even know if it’s still standing.

Got info? Click “Comments” below.

Greens Farms Post Office: Back In The Day

Our recent story about the sign on the Greens Farms post office spurred alert “06880” reader Seth Schachter to action. He sent along this photo he found on eBay, from decades ago:

Greens Farms PO - 1950s

Seth says it’s from the 1950s. He’s probably right. The sign above the windows — while similar to the current one — does not include a zip code. They were introduced in 1963.

An Old-Time Compo-Staples Connection

Around Westport, “Staples” means one thing: our high school.

Everyone knows the name. Some folks (though not enough) know that the namesake is Horace Staples. In 1884, at the age of 80 — after making a fortune in lumber, shipping, farming, banking, and a silk and axe factory — he “put up” a school.

Horace Staples. However, this story is not about him.

Horace Staples. However, this story is not about him.

But this isn’t a story about Horace Staples. It’s about what the rest of the world thinks of when they hear “staples”: the tiny wire thingies that fasten sheets of paper together.

The other day, Mark Kramer was cleaning out his late father’s Minuteman Hill house. Sid died in December, a month short of his 100th birthday. A noted publisher and literary agent, he’d lived in Westport for much of his adult life. There was a lot of stuff around.

Mark spotted an old stapler — one he’d used at Staples, before graduating in 1961. Curious, he went online to learn more about it.

He did not find that device. But he stumbled on a whole web world of stapler aficionados.

Including this, from Tom Crandall on the Antique Outings website:

OK I will admit it. I just love staplers from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  There is something special about them that just warms my heart. The Compo Stapler was manufactured by the Compo Manufacturing Company located in Westport Connecticut. The patent  dates back to 1923 and was invented by Richard J. Holt-Hausen….

The Compo Stapler.

The Compo Stapler.

The patent was for a Staple Machine, which at the time, was what some staplers were referred to as. I couldn’t find much information on how long the Compo Manufacturing Company existed for or how long the Compo stapler was produced.

The Compo Stapler was sold as a non clogging paper stapler. It accepted No 1 staples, but they suggested using the Combo No 1 staples to increase sales no doubt. It was touted as a stapler that could also unbend staples. They even made a rubber cushion that would fit on top of the plunger. They had a motto “It Never Foils In the Clinches.”

There you have it. Everything you never even knew you needed to know about Westport’s connection to staples.

But if you know more — like where the Compo Manufacturing Company was located — hit “comments.” Westport — and stapler fans everywhere — want to know.