Category Archives: People

Putting The “Sound” In 17 Soundview Drive

Ginger Baker sent a drum set to the house. Peter Frampton lounged on the front deck. Carly Simon wanted to buy it.

Those are just a few of the musical memories associated with 17 Soundview Drive. It’s one of the most handsome homes lining the Compo exit road, drawing admiring glances from walkers and sunbathers for its beachside gracefulness.

If only they knew the musical history hidden throughout the property.

17 Soundview Drive.

17 Soundview Drive.

It was built — like the rest of the neighborhood — as a summer house in 1918. One of Frank Lloyd Wright’s students designed it, ensuring harmony with the beach environment.

Francis Bosco — current owner Gail Cunningham Coen’s grandfather — bought it in 1928. A Sicilian immigrant and lover of opera, he tuned in every Saturday to NBC Radio’s live Met broadcasts. For years the voices of Enrico Caruso, Maria Callas, Robert Merrill and others soared from the living room, under the awnings and onto the beach, thrilling neighbors and passersby.

In 1982 Gail and her husband Terry Coen bought the house. She’s a musician and music teacher; he’s a songwriter and music promoter. Over the past 32 years they’ve lavished love on it. It was one of the 1st Compo homes to be raised, to protect against storms. It’s been beautifully renovated inside. The Coens also added a secluded rooftop deck, and flower and vegetable gardens.

You can see the water from nearly every room in the house. This is the living room.

You can see the water from nearly every room in the house. This is the living room.

But the professionally designed, fully soundproofed music studio is what really rocks.

It — and the chance to hang out privately, yet in the middle of all the beach action — has made 17 Soundview a home away from home for 3 decades of musical royalty.

Ginger Baker spent many evenings talking about the birth of British rock, touring with Eric Clapton, and his childhood in England during World War II. He also recited some very bawdy limericks. In return, he gave Ludwig drums to Soundview Studios.

Ginger Baker, and his drums. (Photo/Wikipedia)

Ginger Baker, and his drums. (Photo/Wikipedia)

Peter Frampton brought his young family. They loved the warm summer breeze, and being able to sit anonymously just a few feet from the hubbub of a beach afternoon.

One summer day, Carly Simon said she was thinking of buying a beach house. #17 was her favorite, because it reminded her so much of Martha’s Vineyard.

Meat Loaf played Sunday morning softball at Compo. After, he headed to the Coens’. One day, he played his next single on the roof deck. No one on the beach could see he was there — but they heard him. At the end, everyone applauded.

The Remains reunited for the 1st time in decades in the studio. (Full disclosure: I was there. It was one of the most magical moments of my life.)

Eric von Schmidt loved to sing by the fireplace, and joined jam sessions in the studio. One day, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott rambled over with him.

Other regulars included Jimi Hendrix’s bass player Noel Redding; Corky Laing and Leslie West of Mountain; former Buddy Miles Express front man Charlie Karp; Eric Schenkman of the Spin Doctors, and guitarist/producer/songwriter Danny Kortchmar.

17 Soundview - roof deck

The rooftop deck is a great place to watch fireworks. It’s also where Meat Loaf played his next single, to the unknowing delight of a Compo Beach crowd.

Some of those musicians — and plenty other great ones, though less known — were guests at the Coens’ annual July 4th fireworks parties. The food and drinks were fantastic, capped off by watching the passing parade on Soundview.

But the real action happened when the fireworks ended. Everyone piled into the studio, and jammed till the sun came up.

From Caruso to the Spin Doctors, 17 Soundview Drive has seen it all. If only those walls could talk (or sing).

It’s on the market now, ready for the next gig. For Westport’s sake, I hope the new owners understand the home’s history. I hope they realize how the place has sheltered so many artists, and helped their creative spirits grow.

And though Brian Wilson was one of the few musicians not to hang out at 17 Soundview Drive — well, I don’t think he did — I hope whoever buys this beautiful, wondrous property will “get” its longtime, way cool and very good vibrations.

(Interested in buying the house? Click here for details.)
 
 

 

Westport’s Oral Histories: A True Hidden Treasure

It’s easy to overlook the tab at the top of the Westport Historical Society website.

“Oral History,” it says. You probably figure it provides a bit of info about whatever oral histories the WHS has collected.

But clicking it reveals nearly a dozen videos — all on YouTube, all waiting to provide 10-minute-to-an-hour chunks of intriguing Westport history. (Another 300 oral histories are on audiotape only.)

On camera, Jo Fox Brosious remembers the (thankfully successful) 1960′s fight to save Cockenoe Island from becoming a nuclear power plant. Close-to-centenarians Lee Greenberg and Elwood Betts recall the Westport of even longer ago.

(Click here if Katie Chase’s interview with Elwood Betts does not load directly from YouTube.)

Former police chief Ron Malone and former fire chief Harry Audley share stories. Shirley Mellor sits in Max’s Art Supplies, describing the importance of the store to Westport’s artists’ colony.

Other oral histories explore our literary heritage, community garden, oystering and more.

Each year, the Historical Society runs a tour of Westport’s hidden gardens. Visitors to Wheeler House — the WHS’ historic home across from Town Hall — constantly revel in the surprises they find there.

These oral histories are one more treasure — hidden in plain sight, at the top of their site.

(Click here to go directly to the Westport Historical Society’s Oral History page. Videos are also available for puchase, at $10 each.)

(Click here if Allen Raymond’s interview of Ron Malone does not load directly from YouTube.)

 

The Art Studio Flings Open Its Doors

For 364 days a year, Helen Werngren’s art studio is open to the public by appointment only.

On 1 day, she welcomes everyone.

That day this year is Friday, April 25 (noon-8 p.m.). It’s well worth noting.

Helen Werngren

Helen Werngren

The studio — called (why not?) “The Art Studio” — is a loft at 170 Post Road West (next to Peachwave). Helen opened it in 2008, fulfilling a longtime vision of a creative community centered on a collaborative studio space. She even had an old enamel sign — “Entree des Artistes” — she’d bought years ago in Paris, hoping some day to use it.

Today The Art Studio thrives. It’s filled with paintings, prints and mixed media works. Eight talented artists (including Helen) work on their own schedule — and find community — there.

Helen’s sense of community reaches beyond the studio walls. She and her husband David Ross — a native Westporter — support Neighborhood Studios of Fairfield County. Part of the proceeds of their art sales help send Bridgeport youngsters to summer camps and after-school programs.

Helen’s once-a-year openings are true events. Perhaps she should think of changing the name from the generic “The Art Studio” to something a bit more colorful.

Like “Brigadoon.”

The Art Studio.

The Art Studio (obviously), 170 Post Road West.

 

 

 

Jean Paul Desrosiers’ Unfathomable Moroccan Marathons

This is getting ridiculous.

First, “06880″ reported on David Friezo’s attempt to raise $500,000 for cancer victims by running a marathon at the North Pole.

Then it was Yaacov Mutnikas, who rowed across the Atlantic Ocean  – and set a world record in the process.

I hope you are sitting down for this next one — though Jean Paul Desrosiers certainly was not.

The owner of Westport’s Sherpa Fitness Center has just returned from Morocco. He competed in the Marathon des Sables — only “the toughest footrace on earth,” according to the Discovery Channel.

Jean Paul Desrosiers marathon des sables

How tough?

Desrosiers ran — no, raced — 156 miles in 5 days. That’s the equivalent of 6 marathons.

He did it across 10-story-high sand dunes, in temperature reaching 130 degrees.

While carrying all his food and a sleeping bag on his back.

I’m exhausted just typing that.

“I’ve always been an outdoor enthusiast,” the 39-year-old Weston resident says. “I like to push boundaries. I believe life happens on the edges of your comfort zone.”

That philosophy has made Sherpa Fitness — on the Post Road, across from Athletic Shoe Factory — a very popular gym (among a certain type of clientele, to be sure). Its tagline is “Move Your Boundaries.”

Jean Paul Desrosiers looks like a normal human being.  But he is not.

Jean Paul Desrosiers looks like a normal human being. But he is not.

It’s also the philosophy that saw Desrosiers through 6 years in the Marine Corps, starting at age 19, and propelled him later into college as an exercise science major, a career as a semi-pro cyclist, and helped him run 4 marathons and 1 ultramarathon.

But the Marathon des Sables is an ultra-uber-unbelievable marathon.

Desrosiers did the entire race on just 17,000 calories. Carrying all his gear, every ounce was important. He used dehydrated food — and then repackaged it in vacuum bags. Shaving a few grams here and there could end up saving a full pound. Running 156 miles over sand, rocks and gravel — there were no asphalt roads — every ounce counts.

Desrosiers did bring 100 salt tablets. They were key to keeping his electrolytes up.  Race organizers provided water — but not a lot. And it wasn’t even quenching. “Hot and dry,” Desrosiers calls it.

He began training in October. But when winter came, the Polar Vortex hit. Not exactly the best way to prepare for a desert that’s 110 in the shade.

So Desrosiers stuffed a backpack with 28 pounds of rock salt, and hit the treadmill. As he got stronger, he ran with the pack on roads.

When the race drew nearer, he turned the heat in a Sherpa room up to 90, added a space heater, and rode a stationary bike for 90 minutes. “It helped, but it wasn’t perfect,” he says.

He also ran on Sherwood Island. The snow helped him practice his footing on difficult terrain.

Jean Paul Desrosiers, pausing very briefly in Morocco.

Jean Paul Desrosiers, pausing very briefly in Morocco.

Once in Africa, reality hit quickly. There was brutal heat, dry air, strong wind, and the biggest dunes Desrosiers had ever seen. And, with 1100 runners in such soft sand, it took a long time to get through.

As difficult as the physical race was — and boy, does it sound daunting — the emotional part was equally tough.

“You can’t prepare fully for the reality of knowing you have to survive with just what you’ve got,” he notes.

Still, he adds, “If I’d never done anything before, I wouldn’t have believed I could do this. You can’t start 12th grade without having gone through 1st grade.”

Desrosiers trusted in his ability to adapt. The human body, he says, is “pretty dynamic.” But the overwhelmingness of new stimuli shattered even some hardened competitors. Day after day, many racers dropped out.

Day after day too, the pack got lighter — and Desorsiers lost weight. But the temperature did not drop. His feet blistered. Fatigue set in.

What kept him moving were emails from home. Each night, race organizers handed printouts to the racers. Knowing people in Westport were thinking of him “made more difference than any food or drink,” Desrosiers says.

He did not expect to win. But each day he finished in the top third. He was sick on Day 4 — the double marathon, or more than 50 miles — but the next day he clocked in at 5:20, good for the top 200.

A scene from the 2013 Marathon des Sables.

A scene from the 2013 Marathon des Sables.

Desrosiers completed the entire 156 miles at #303. “I was surprised,” he says, using the same tone I would to describe a movie that was better than I expected.

The end affected him, though. He’d expended enormous physical and emotional energy. He was exhausted, dehydrated, overheated and blistered. His back was marked, where his pack dug in.

Then Desrosiers crossed the finish line, and it was all over.

No one was there to congratulate him. He ended the race as he’d begun it: alone.

Desrosiers walked to his tent, dropped his gear off, and headed to the medical area to get his feet looked at. Then he returned to the finish line, to watch the others straggle in.

Jean Paul Desrosiers earned this -- the very hard way.

Jean Paul Desrosiers earned this — the very hard way.

When we talked earlier this week, he’d been home only a couple of days. Besides his girlfriend, he had not talked about the experience with anyone.

“You learn a lot about yourself when you’re uncomfortable,” Desrosiers says. “You persevere, you look forward, you’re happy you got through it.

“This is not a carnival. It’s hell.”

Back in Westport, he’s not sure what his next challenge is. Right now, he’s happy to focus on Sherpa.

But, he notes, “I’m fitter, I’m stronger, I’m lighter. Hopefully, I can inspire people to do things they didn’t think they could do.”

Even if they’re not things you or I would have believed were humanly possible.

 

 

 

 

Finally, A Parking Job At Fresh Market We Can All Enjoy

(Photo/Ellen Meehan Jent)

(Photo/Ellen Meehan Jent)

The Bucks Don’t Stop Here

This is New York Knicks territory. But in one house on Beachside Avenue, Milwaukee Bucks jerseys may soon be in vogue.

Hedge fund titan Marc Lasry — whose $1.7 billion fortune lands him at #1047 on Forbes’ list of the world’s billionaires — is one of 2 men hoping to buy the hapless NBA team. (How bad are they? Their 15-67 record this year was even worse than the 37-45 Knicks’.)

Marc Lasry. (Photo/Avenue Capital Group)

Marc Lasry. (Photo/Avenue Capital Group)

Lasry — a low-key financier, but also a prodigious Democratic fundraiser — and fellow Wall Streeter Wesley Edens have offered longtime owner Herb Kohl $550 million for the Bucks. The 4-term Democratic Senator from Wisconsin bought the team in 1985 for $18 million (about $40 million today), according to the New York TimesThe sale must be approved by at least 23 of the 30 NBA owners.

But don’t expect to see the Bucks in Webster Bank Arena. Lasry and Edens have pledged to keep the team in Milwaukee.

Thankfully.

Milwaukee Bucks

 

 

Cell Phone Controversy Towers Over Green’s Farms

5 RTM members — including 4 from Green’s Farms, the center of this issue — sent this letter to “06880.” Don Bergmann (District 1), and District 5 members Seth Braunstein, Peter Gold,  Paul Rossi and John Suggs write:

An AT&T cell tower may be located in a Residence AA Zone, close to the intersection of Hillspoint and Greens Farms Roads. The tower will be 120 feet tall. It would loom above the tree line at this “gateway” intersection leading toward our beaches. The address of the site is 92 Greens Farms Road, a private residence.

The house on the left is 92 Greens Farms Road. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

The house on the left is 92 Greens Farms Road. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

We write to engage the public, and to express our abhorrence of a 120-foot cell tower in a residential zone. A citizens group has been formed, and all avenues of opposition are being explored.

Cell phones are part of day-to-day living. They are convenient and, in emergencies, important. Nevertheless, the adverse impacts of a cell tower resonate with most citizens.

Cell towers generate health risks. Also, the size of cell towers, particularly their massive foundations, requires and impacts upon a large land mass.  That will be particularly so at 92 Greens Farms Road, since there are water courses that flow into a nearby pond and also under I-95 to the Sherwood Mill Pond.

The cell phone industry managed in 1996 to secure the passage of very favorable federal legislation. As implemented in Connecticut by the unfortunate creation of a State Siting Council, local communities are severely constrained in their ability to impact upon cell tower siting. Those constraints preclude challenges based upon the adverse effects from electromagnetic fields and radio waves generated by cell towers.

An AT&T cell tower.

An AT&T cell tower.

Those dangers, particularly for the young and those with certain genetic pre-dispositions, are well known, but must be ignored in any site determination by reason of the law. The law also pre-empts local zoning regulations, for example a regulation adopted by Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission in 2000.

Our P&Z regulation makes it clear that Westport does not want any cell tower in a residential zone. Sadly, the law negates the effectiveness of our regulation, except as a public declaration by Westport in opposition to cell towers in residential zones. We believe Westport does not want a 120-foot tall cell tower looming above the trees at 92 Greens Farms Road.

First Selectman Jim Marpe is pursuing avenues that he believes appropriate. However, whatever the town undertakes, public interest and concern is crucial. We need to stop this before it gets to the Siting Council. So please join in this battle. Let us or others on the RTM know of your support. Even better, contact the citizens group by e mailing: notowerat92@gmail.com, or Hope Hageman, hhagema1@gmail.com.

Please engage. Like Joni Mitchell’s “tearing down trees for a parking lot,” this cell tower will also be a blight.

“06880″ readers, what do you think? Dangerous? Unsightly? Necessary? An issue of one property owner doing what he wants with his property, or one where the wishes of a majority of neighborhood residents should take precedence? Click “Comments” — and please use your full, real name. If relevant, include your neighborhood too.

 

 

Debra Haffner Prays With The President

The email was exciting: President Obama invites you to the annual Easter Prayer Breakfast, held in the East Room the day after Palm Sunday.

“White House invitations are always a little mysterious,” says Rev. Debra Haffner, president of the Westport-based Religious Institute. She thinks it may have been because her multi-faith organization — which advocates for sexual health, education and justice — has supported contraceptive coverage in the Affordable Care Act.

This was Rev. Haffner’s 3rd trip to the White House. But it was the smallest gathering — 150 clergy — and, in many ways, the most moving.

“Some people call these events ‘window dressing,’” she said. “But it was very profound.”

Rev. Debra Haffner sat this close to President Obama (and George Washington) in the East Room.

Rev. Debra Haffner sat this close to President Obama (and George Washington) in the East Room.

President Obama opened his remarks by citing the shootings the previous day at 2 Jewish facilities in Kansas. He said that no one should be fearful when they pray, and called on members of all faiths to combat the ignorance and intolerance that leads to anti-Semitism, hatred and violence.

Rev. Haffner — who laughs that she may have been “the 1st Jewish-Unitarian Universalist minister” at the event — had walked over from her hotel with Pastor Joel Hunter. He leads a 20,000-member mega-church in Orlando, and gave the opening prayer.

“People across the theological spectrum prayed together,” Rev. Haffner notes. “There was a very inclusive message, in a very diverse room.”

Dr. Otis Moss — who took over at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ after Rev. Jeremiah Wright stepped down — gave a powerful sermon. The black theologian tied together Anne Frank, Martin Luther King and the Easter celebration in a “spellbinding” way, Dr. Haffner says.

She was seated very near the front. Her table included Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, head of the 40,000-plus Hispanic Evangelical Association. Rev. Haffner told him about the Religious Institute’s Safer Congregations movement — keeping children and vulnerable adults safe from abuse and harassment — and says, “There’s a good chance we will work together on it.”

Rev. Debra Haffner with Gene Robinson, retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire.

Rev. Debra Haffner with Gene Robinson, retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire.

Also at their table: Bishop Vashti McKenzie, the 1st female head of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

At the end of the breakfast, President Obama looked around. No one was scheduled to give the closing prayer, so he asked Rev. Gene Robinson — the retired openly gay Episcopal bishop — to give the benediction. He was as surprised as anyone, but spoke movingly, off the cuff.

“Starting with Joel and ending with Gene really shows the broad theological spectrum” of the day — and the administration — Rev. Haffner says.

After the breakfast, President Obama greeted the clergy. Rev. Haffner’s table was 1st — and she was the 1st member of her group that he spoke with.

Returning to Westport from Washington, Rev. Haffner reflected on the day — and all that came before it.

“My grandparents immigrated from Poland and Ukraine,” she says. “I don’t think they could ever have imagined this.”

(If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.)

 

This h communities and society.

Bobby Q To The Rescue

Laura Oestreicher Rikon is a 2008 Staples grad. She lives abroad now, but always appreciates returning to her hometown.

On Saturday night, she and a friend had dinner at Bobby Q’s. They enjoyed their meal — but later, Laura realized one of her earrings was missing.

Laura Oestreicher Rikon, and her beloved earrings.

Laura Oestreicher Rikon, and her beloved earrings.

They have great sentimental value — they were the last birthday present Laura’s grandmother gave her.

Laura and her friend searched all over the car, the parking lot and the street. Finding nothing, they returned to Bobby Q’s.

The staff helped her look around the floor, and in the bathroom. But they said they’d already swept up, so her earring might have been thrown away. They suggested she call in the morning. Laura thanked them and left — very disappointed and upset, yet grateful for their help.

But she dawdled on her way out, still  hopeful she’d find the missing jewelry. Once more, she searched the parking lot. Once more, nothing.

About to give up, she saw 2 men running toward her. They yelled, “We found it! We found it!”

They told her they knew how important the earring was to her. So after she left they crawled on the floor, using their phones for light. There it was!

Laura was thrilled to have her earring back — and floored by the kindness of strangers, who went far out of their way to do a good deed.

“Their generosity was so heartwarming, I couldn’t find words to express my gratitude,” she says. “And all they asked in return was that I pay it forward.”

In her excitement, she forgot to get their names. She hopes that telling her story on “06880″ is one way of thanking them — and letting Westporters know how special Bobby Q’s is.

Bobby Qs Westport CT

 

 

Breaking News: Tyler Hicks Wins A Pulitzer For Breaking News

Westport native and Staples High School graduate Tyler Hicks has just won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography.

He received the award — one of the most prestigious in journalism — for “his compelling pictures that showed skill and bravery in documenting the unfolding terrorist attack at Westgate mall in Kenya.”

The event took place last September. Hicks — a staff photographer for the New York Times who has covered major conflicts around the world, won numerous other major awards, and survived a kidnapping in Libya — now lives in Nairobi. When he heard news of the massacre, he raced to the scene.

The Pulitzer Prize website shows 19 of Hicks’ photos. They include these:

A woman tried to shelter children from gunfire by Somali militants at the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in an attack that killed more than 70 people. Tyler Hicks made this photo from a floor above, in an exposed area where the police feared for his safety. (Tyler Hicks, The New York Times - September 23, 2013)

A woman tried to shelter children from gunfire by Somali militants at the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in an attack that killed more than 70 people. Tyler Hicks made this photo from a floor above, in an exposed area where the police feared for his safety. (Tyler Hicks, The New York Times – September 23, 2013)

Plainclothes officers rushed into the mall and Hicks accompanied them, knowing well that many terrorists remained inside and fearing not only guns but explosives around every corner. (Tyler Hicks, The New York Times - September 22, 2013)

Plainclothes officers rushed into the mall and Hicks accompanied them, knowing well that many terrorists remained inside and fearing not only guns but explosives around every corner. (Tyler Hicks, The New York Times – September 22, 2013)

Terrified Saturday-afternoon shoppers rushed from stores and a casino toward the exits. The police feared that escaping attackers had camouflaged themselves among them. (Tyler Hicks, The New York Times - September 21, 2013)

Terrified Saturday-afternoon shoppers rushed from stores and a casino toward the exits. The police feared that escaping attackers had camouflaged themselves among them. (Tyler Hicks, The New York Times – September 21, 2013)

Tyler Hicks travels the world. He has seen sights, and undergone experiences, that none of us could ever comprehend.

He has recorded them — in all their brutality and gruesomeness — for all the world to see.

It’s a terrible — and terribly important — business. But no one does it better.