Category Archives: Organizations

Downtown Merchants: It’s Not Easy Being Green (And Red)!

The Westport Downtown Merchants Association has followed the “06880” discussion about local holiday decorations with interest. Steve Desloge says:

As president of the DMA, and also president of Rockwell Art and Framing (with custom frame stores in Westport, Fairfield, New Canaan, Ridgefield, North Stamford and Wilton), I am very familiar with each town’s holiday decorations. I share everyone’s frustration with the lack of holiday decorations on Main Street.

I would like to explain some of the short-term challenges and long-term solutions that are in store for downtown Westport.

This past summer, approximately 8 new trees were planted on Main Street to replace the dead/damaged/dying trees that were previously removed. However, 4 of these trees did not take hold, and had to be replaced within the last 90 days. Per the Westport tree warden, no lighting is allowed in the trees this year for fear of damaging or killing such young, vulnerable trees.

Tree care on Main Street, earlier this year.

Tree care on Main Street, earlier this year.

In attempt to compensate for the loss of lights, the WDMA has decorated 11 light standards between the Post Road and Avery Place, plus 2 on the Post Road with holiday greens, trees and ribbons. However, there is no electricity available on the poles for decorative lighting.  We installed solar powered light strands; however, the lights just are not as bright as we expected, and thus very disappointing and very frustrating!

We have installed a 25-foot tree with lights on the river near the bridge. Geiger’s will be selling Christmas trees downtown, and a menorah has been placed in front of the old Y to bring some holiday atmosphere.

Unfortunately, the WDMA has no control over how or if member or non-member businesses decorate their premesis.  We have been informed that some previous decorations were “jury-rigged” with extension cords, wires and other unsafe practices.

Downtown holiday events have been scheduled for the 2 weekends prior to Christmas, including carolers, Santa Claus and free horse and buggy rides, all sponsored by the WDMA. The WDMA also provided a free community party on December 3 with live music, ice carvers, Santa, and free food and drinks from members Bobby Q’s, Blue Lemon, and Westport Pizza.

Santa was part of the Downtown Merchants Association holiday party, earlier this month.

Santa was part of the Downtown Merchants Association holiday party, earlier this month.

Between February and May 2015 the town will install all new curbing and brick sidewalks between the Post Road and Avery Place. In addition, 28 new decorative light poles, similar to those in surrounding towns, will replace the current highway light standards. Each pole will have electrical outlets for holiday lighting, plus a banner on one side and a planter on the other. The WDMA annually plants and maintains the flowers in the existing baskets.

It is too early to understand if we can place lights in trees for next year, but we will certainly work with the town and the tree warden to evaluate all possibilities.  The town is working closely with the DMA. We are already talking about design ideas for next year that will be special and different.

We are working hard to improve all aspects of core downtown.  I invite you to view downtownwestportct.com, to get a good insight of how the Downtown Master Plan is developing. It is very exciting to see what is in store in the months and years to come.

Best wishes to all for a wonderful holiday season from the Westport Downtown Merchants Association.

Mark Naftalin Named To Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

Westporter Mark Naftalin is going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And not just to see the exhibits.

The keyboardist will be inducted in April, along with fellow members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The seminal blues-rock band joins Ringo Starr, Green Day, Joan Jett, Lou Reed, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Bill Withers in the “Class of 2015.”

Mark Naftalin (3rd from left) with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

Mark Naftalin (3rd from left) with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

According to the Hall of Fame website, Naftalin — along with bandmates including Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop –

converted the country-blues purists and turned on the Fillmore generation to the pleasures of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Willie Dixon and Elmore James. With the release of their blues-drenched debut album in the fall of 1965, and its adventurous “East-West” followup in the summer of 1966, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band kicked open a door that brought a defining new edge to rock and roll.

 

And they played at Monterey:

 

After leaving the band in 1968, Naftalin — the son of former Minneapolis mayor Arthur Naftalin — produced records, concerts, festivals and radio shows.

He started his own label, recording with Duane Allman, Canned Heat, Percy Mayfield, John Lee Hooker, Otis Rush, Big Joe Turner and James Cotton.

He’s been a sideman on over 100 albums — including the great jangly piano riff on Brewer & Shipley’s “One Toke Over the Line.”

 

Last night, Naftalin reflected on what he calls “a great honor.” He is proud of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s interracial makeup; grateful to have worked with such creative, energetic musicians, and gratified that from the 1960s through today, people tell him the group’s music meant something to them.

“We’ve gotten fervent testimonials that we helped get someone through high school, college or Vietnam,” Naftalin said.

“And a number of musicians have said they were drawn to exploring blues music because of our influence. It’s a real privilege to be a little part of that.”

Mark Naftalin today.

Mark Naftalin today.

He and his wife Ellen — a 1967 Staples High School grad — started coming to Westport in 1991, the year they got married in the house she grew up in. They moved here permanently in 2002.

Naftalin will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April. You can go to Cleveland for the ceremony.

Or you can head to the Westport Historical Society on December 31. From 6-8 p.m. he’s at the electric piano, part of his 7th annual First Night gig.

You can catch “Mark Naftalin and Friends” at the Pequot Library too, the weekend of January 17-18. He’ll play the Steinway concert grand.

It’s a long way from Monterey to Westport. But that detour to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame makes it all worthwhile.

 

No “Bah Humbug” Lights In Saugatuck!

Meanwhile, if you don’t like the (lack of) Christmas lights downtown — and many Westporters apparently don’t — just head a mile or so south.

Continuing their relatively new — but much-loved — tradition, Al’s Angels has made sure the Bridge Street* Bridge is a beacon of good cheer this holiday season.

(Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

(Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

Al’s Angels does so much good, for children and families challenged by cancer, rare blood diseases, AIDS, domestic violence and financial hardship.

And for all the rest of us too, with so much to be grateful for already.

Thanks, Al’s Angels, for making Saugatuck shine even brighter!

*aka William Cribari

 

David Meth On Downtown Holiday Decorations: “Bah, Humbug!”

Longtime and very alert “06880” reader David Meth is feeling a bit Grinchy this holiday season. He writes:

Westport of the past had Christmas Spirit. Main Street was lit in colorful lights.

Now what remains are cold, impersonal tiny white beads strung across the street from the rooftops of the stores. They slice the street off from the spirit of Christmas, and greet the New Year with darkness and shadow.

This lifeless garrote that threatens to surgically eviscerate Main Street from heaven above is not even turned on to illuminate the plastic banner wishing whoever dares to look up a Happy Holiday.

The "Happy Holidays" banner, and barely visible zigzagging white lights are the only decorations on Main Street. (Photo/David Meth)

The “Happy Holiday Season” banner, and almost invisible zigzagging white lights are the only decorations on Main Street. (Photo/David Meth)

The town’s attitude is whispered in bold letters: We Don’t Care! Just Come Spend!

The horrible, isolating white thread of lights decorating the (impossible-to-call “Christmas”) tree in front of Town Hall is not only an embarrassment. It is an offense.

The tree in front of Town Hall. (Photo/David Meth)

The tree in front of Town Hall. (Photo/David Meth)

If it were not for the small, colorfully lit tree in front of the offices of  Millman and Aarons, there would be no color at all.

So who cares least: Town Hall or the Downtown Merchants Association? How much more do red, green and blue lights cost in electricity to add life to the graveyard called Main Street?

 

Give Westport For The Holidays

You might not be able to give a 15,000-square foot, 4-car garage McMansion for Christmas.*

But you can still give a gift that screams “06880” (the town, not the blog).

The Westport Historical Society’s Remarkable Gift Shop — yes, it’s a clever homage to the late, much-loved book store — is filled with Westportiana.

There are books, including “Westport: A Special Place” (fantastic photos, compiled by Eve Potts); “Stars in Our Eyes” (Tom DeLong’s tribute to our arts heritage), and — my favorite — “Staples High School: 120 Years of A+ Education” (Dan Woog’s superb book on the history of his alma mater).

WHS gifts 1 - Larry Untermeyer

Some of the many gifts available at the Westport Historical Society. The best are the ones that say “06880.” (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

There are also maps; clever jigsaw puzzles of New Yorker covers depicting iconic Westport scenes; Christmas tree ornaments with Compo themes, and ties, caps, aprons, quilts, totes, pillows, sports bags, flannel pajama pants, t-shirts and sweatshirts — all with Westport (or “06880”) logos.

“06880” — the blog, not the town — is not for sale. But at the Historical Society, Westport sure is.

(The Remarkable Gift Shop is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays, and 12-4 p.m. Saturdays. The Westport Historical Society is located at 25 Avery Place; the phone number is 203-222-1424. Click on the WHS website for more information.)

*Besides, it would be tough to fit under the tree.

A wide collection of books on sale at the WHS. The history of Staples is near the top, on the right. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

A wide collection of books on sale at the WHS. The history of Staples is near the top, on the right. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

Eagle Scout Project Comes To “Fruition”

Who wants to build a pergola at the Community Gardens?

That was the challenge offered to all Boy Scouts in town, by Ellen Greenberg.

Brendan Wisniewski was the first to respond. He wanted an Eagle Scout project that would benefit the community in a lasting way. This was perfect.

After meeting with Ellen, Lou Weinberg and Nick Mancini — all Community  Gardeners — Brendan conducted research online. He figured out the size, materials and structural integrity of the pergola, then created a detailed plan including time frame, help needed, cost and drawings.

Former Troop 39 scoutmaster Tony Giunta helped. Fellow scouts offered their assistance. Guided by Brendan’s father Mark (current Troop 39 scoutmaster) and his mother Jeanne (troop committee member), construction began.

Over 175 volunteer hours later, the pergola is finished. A few hurdles remain, but Brendan should soon join his brother John in the Eagle Scout ranks.

And Nick Mancini’s grape vines will have a home.

Brendan Wisniewski's pergola.

Brendan Wisniewski’s pergola.

(Hat tip to Johanna Rossi)

 

It’s Official! Holiday Season Is Here!

Well, as official as something like this can be.

This evening, First Selectman Jim Marpe lit the Christmas tree at Town Hall. Then hundreds of Westporters trooped around the corner to Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

There — in one of Westport’s newest traditions — the Orphenians sang. A band played. Soup, chili, pizza and wine were served. Nearly 2 dozen non-profits handed out flyers and candy.

And, of course, Santa Claus came to town.

CHT Xmas 1

A small portion of the large crowd in Branson Hall.

A small portion of the large crowd in Branson Hall.

The 1st Night folks had a cake.

The 1st Night folks had a cake.

State Senator Toni Boucher and Oscar's owner Lee Papageorge enjoy the evening.

State Senator Toni Boucher and Oscar’s owner Lee Papageorge enjoyed the evening.

 

Celebrating Saugatuck, With A Mural And More

In 1852, Horace Staples — owner of a lumber and hardware business, silk and axe factories, shipping vessels and a thriving pier — founded the Saugatuck Bank.

Two years later he moved it to National Hall — his new building a couple of miles upriver, just across the bridge from a small downtown area overshadowed by the far more dynamic Saugatuck section of Westport.

Eventually, Saugatuck Bank became Westport Bank & Trust. It outgrew National Hall — which turned into Fairfield Furniture — and relocated to a pie-slice-shaped building nearby, where Church Lane feeds into the Post Road.

In 1965 the bank — whose motto was “A Hometown Bank in a Town of Homes” — commissioned Westport artist Robert Lambdin to paint a pair of murals. “Shipping on the Saugatuck” and “Hotel Square” were hung with great fanfare in the impressive, high-ceilinged room. (They’re still there, though the bank morphed a while ago into Patagonia.)

Robert Lambdin's old-time murals lend a touch of Westport history to modern-day Patagonia.

Robert Lambdin’s old-time murals lend a touch of Westport history to modern-day Patagonia.

In 1970 — to celebrate the opening of a new branch in Saugatuck, just down Charles Street from the Arrow restaurant — Westport Bank & Trust hired Lambdin to create a 3rd mural.

The artist incorporated more than 2 centuries of Saugatuck history into his new work. He painted Disbrow’s ferry, from 1745; the iron swing bridge, built in 1884; oxcarts, farms, churches, wharves, warehouses, factories and ships.

Standing prominently in the center is Captain Sereno Gould Allen, one of Westport’s last market boat captains.

The mural is framed — somewhat incongruously — by the I-95 bridge. It looks almost elegant. But when the “Connecticut Turnpike” was built in the 1950s, it destroyed the heart of that pulsing neighborhood.

Robert Lambdin's magnificent mural.

Robert Lambdin’s magnificent mural.

Westport Bank & Trust went the way of most local banks. It was swallowed up by bigger ones: Lafayette, Hudson. In 2013, TD Bank shut the Saugatuck branch for good.

Fortunately, the mural survives. In fact, it thrives.

TD Bank donated the work to the town. After restoration by Joseph Matteis, it’s the centerpiece of a wonderful new Westport Historical Society exhibit.

Called “Saugatuck @ Work: Haven of Community, Industry, Innovation,” the show includes photos and memorabilia — old maps, patents by Saugatuck inventors, costumes, and ship and railroad logs — from Saugatuck’s long history. (Did you know that before Italians came to work on the railroad, Irish did the same?)

Speaking of trains, there’s fascinating information on the role of transportation in the development of Saugatuck. The area is blessed with a river, Long Island Sound, rail lines — and of course, the highway.

Construction in 1957 of the Connecticut Turnpike bridge in Saugatuck. The highway ripped through that neighborhood.

Construction in 1957 of the Connecticut Turnpike bridge in Saugatuck. The highway ripped through that neighborhood.

The show includes photos of Saugatuck today, during its dramatic rebirth. Larry Untermeyer’s photos show new restaurants and shops, replacing some of Lambdin’s scenes.

A companion exhibit (“Framing Saugatuck: History Under the Highway”) shows the harsh impact of construction. The new interstate destroyed homes, businesses, even the Methodist Church.

The turnpike’s route was a political decision. The exhibit shows alternate possibilities. It could have cut the heart out of Green’s Farms — or even been double-decked over the Post Road, right through downtown.

The WHS exhibit runs through May 30. Lambdin’s Saugatuck mural then moves across the street to Town Hall, becoming part of Westport’s public — and very impressive — permanent art collection.

(For more information on the exhibit, click on www.westporthistory.org)

 

 

Dozens Of Staples Students Dodge Cops

Occasionally, Westport kids run from cops. Tonight, they ran toward them.

And threw dodgeballs at their heads.

The cops threw them right back.

In fact, cops and kids were on the same team. They played with and against each other, in the Westport Youth Commission’s annual “Dodge a Cop” event. Staples’ Teen Awareness Group co-sponsored the event.

Dodgeball kids 2

The dodgeball tournament — held in the Staples fieldhouse — drew over 100 students. They came from every social group: athletes, actors, robotics team members, you name it. The English department had a group of teachers.

Each of the 31 teams had at least 1 police officer. Talk about someone having your back!

Each player paid $5 to participate. The money goes to Homes With Hope.

That’s a big 10-4.

Basketball players...

Basketball players…

Staples Players (the actors) ...

… Staples Players (the actors) …

teachers...

… teachers…

... and police officers all had a great time tonight, at the Youth Commission's annual "Dodge a Cop" event.

… and police officers all had a great time tonight, at the Youth Commission’s annual “Dodge a Cop” event.

 

 

 

200-Unit Apartment Proposal Galvanizes Westporters

Just 24 hours after it went online, a petition opposing the proposed 200-unit apartment complex on the site of the Westport Inn gained over 300 signatures.

Residents in the Long Lots area have formed a group: Westport United for Responsible Development.

Their petition — available at Change.org and addressed to 1st Selectman Jim Marpe — reads:

Ranger Properties, the current owner/developer of the Westport Inn at 1595 Post Road East, proposes to demolish the Inn and to replace it with a 200 unit multi-family apartment complex. The developer is using the Connecticut Affordable Housing Statute to bypass Westport’s zoning laws and build an apartment complex that would never be permitted under the existing local zoning laws.

A drawing of the proposed apartment complex, as seen on Change.org.

A drawing of the proposed apartment complex, as seen on Change.org.

The proposed complex would contain 363,328 square feet, 5 stories (with balconies and roof amenities), and 370 parking spaces on less than 3 acres of land. This unprecedented development would rise in excess of 80 feet above an already elevated grade and tower over adjacent residential neighborhoods. The proposed project violates numerous Westport zoning laws concerning height, density, wetlands and use.

It would irreversibly alter the small town character of Westport, and would place undue burdens on schools, traffic and emergency response; resulting in significant public health and safety concerns.

The project is in the early stages of development.

And — clearly — so is opposition to it.

(To view the petition, click on change.org.)