Category Archives: Real estate

Hope Langer: “Those Trees Were Part Of My Roots”

Hope Klein Langer is an “06880″ fan. She likes the stories of “experiences that resonate with all generations of Westporters,” and the “healthy dialogue about community issues” that follows.

Hope has a community issue of her own. It concerns trees: those on private property, which affect neighbors and neighborhoods. She writes:

The beauty of Westport is that it is a place where people come to plant their roots and build their family. Unlike many towns, people come back year after year because there is a community feel that simply can’t be matched or replaced.

Both of my daughters are Staples graduates. I became a grandmother to a baby boy just a few months ago. There are little things that I look forward to doing with my grandson: playing at Compo Beach, walking along Main Street, and taking him for a milkshake at the Sherwood Diner!

Trees once framed Hope Langer's back yard -- a view she loved. (Photo/Granite Studios)

Trees once framed Hope Langer’s back yard — a view she loved. (Photo/Granite Studios)

However, there is no ignoring the many changes that our beautiful little town has faced throughout the years—for better and worse.

A few weeks ago, without any prior notice, the developer of property next door to my home ripped out all of the trees that divided our properties for 50 years.   These evergreens stood probably 40-50 feet tall. and were there long before we arrived 23 years ago. There were at least 25 to 35 of them.

The view now, after the trees were removed.

The view now, after the trees were removed.

Yes, these trees are technically on the developer’s land (by mere inches). And yes, they are just trees.

But having lived in this home at 163 Bayberry Lane for over 20 years, these trees and this home are part of my roots. I am devastated to see them torn down, with little regard for the way it might affect me and my family.

The trees were almost on my property line. Taking into consideration the setback laws, they were not in the developer’s’ building envelope. Though not important to him, they contributed greatly to our privacy and sense of security.

When I called the builder, his response was, “I don’t really care about your property. I am here to make money.” I have been a Realtor in this town for 23 years, but I am appalled at his disregard for our neighborhood and my home.

All that remains of the trees on Hope Langer's property line.

All that remains of the trees on Hope Langer’s property line.

It’s hard to ignore the silent tug-of-war between the new Westport and the old. If nothing else, I hope my story will plant a seed of compassion in those who are in the business of overhauling our sweet town. I hope we can find a way to meet in the middle, and preserve the community that has been such a magnificent place to call home. For example, our laws should be discussed and re-evaluated before Westport loses all of its charm and beautiful mature trees.

I am passionate about the preservation of this incredible town. I will make changing the town’s regulations one of my daily jobs. Laws must be put into place to prevent builders from cutting down mature greenery that has nothing to do with construction of the next soulless McMansion.

Many towns have such rules. It’s high time for our government to protect the character of our neighborhoods — and for developers to display common respect, before clear-cutting nature out of what we hold dear.

Hope Langer now sees the street from her house. And passersby can see her house from the road.

Hope Langer now sees the street from her back yard. And passersby see her property from the road.

54 North Avenue: The End Of The Mills Family Legacy

Though they may not know it, Westporters are very familiar with 54 North Avenue.The brown wooden house stands a few feet from the southern entrance to Staples High School. It’s more than a century old.

54 North Avenue

54 North Avenue

But that’s not why 54 North Avenue rates an “06880″ story. More significant is that later this month its owner, William B. Mills, will sell his home. And that will end more than 200 years in which the Mills family has lived on North Avenue.

The oldest house on North Avenue between Long Lots and Cross Highway is #29. Built by Revolutionary War veteran John Mills (1760-1829) for his daughter Charity and her new husband Hezekiah Mills (a cousin), it was constructed in the right of way — without title to land. In fact, John seemed to have no claim to the spot whatsoever. Nevertheless, John set up a blacksmith shop for his daughter and son-in-law.

29 North Avenue

The saltbox at 29 North Avenue.

19 North Avenue was built by John’s grandson Charles Mills (1833-1909). Longtime Westporters know the property as “Rippe’s Farm” — now Greystone Farm Lane — but the Rippes bought it later.

Charles was a master mason who built the foundation for the original Staples High School (1884) on Riverside Avenue. When it was torn down in 1967, Charles’ great-grandson recycled the bricks to build his chimney. Charles — who represented Westport in the state legislature (1885-86) — sold off most of the Mills’ farmland on North Avenue. Legend has it he got $50 an acre — a good sum in those days. But he gave each of his 4 sons 4 acres of property up the road from the house: #54, 58, 62 and 66.

54 North Avenue — the one being sold this month — was built by Charles Mills (1857-1945) on land he got from his father. Charles planted the beautiful red maple in front that is now a local landmark. Williams Mills — Charles’ grandson — is only the 2nd owner.

A red maple frames 54 North Avenue.

A red maple frames 54 North Avenue.

48 North Avenue — built by Homer Mills (1898-1981) — was built in 1943. The road was still rural; there were no side streets, and few houses. Homer attended Adams Academy on nearby Morningside North, but left school after 8th grade. He never got to Staples — which his father helped build. As did many Westport boys, he went to work on a farm. He later became a mason, like his father and grandfather.

Other long-lived Westport families have schools or parks named for them. The Mills family does not.

But they truly built this town. Their monuments are the countless stone walls, sea walls and foundations that exist to this day.

What will happen to 54 North Avenue after it passes from the Mills family? Well, a demolition sign hangs prominently near the front steps.

(Hat tip to Jacques Voris – William Mills’ nephew — for much of this fascinating historical information and insight.)

Tear Down These Walls! (Updated Info)

On Thursday, an alert “06880″ reader was golfing at Longshore.

I say alert because — while concentrating at the 2nd green — he noticed a house directly adjacent being torn down.

14 Manitou Road

The reason he was so intrigued — and snapped a photo — is because he believes the house is less than 1000 days old. He says the recently demolished house replaced an older home, which itself was a teardown.

Turns out he’s wrong. The house was built in 1965. Last year the owner removed all the trees from the back of the property toward the golf course — so some people thought it was a new house. In fact, it had been there 50 years.

At any rate, here’s a Google Maps view of the most recent house, before the wrecking ball:

14 Manitou - Google

Meanwhile, not far away — in the Compo Beach neighborhood — a smaller, older home will soon be torn down too.

Beach demolition

But despite the large “Demolition” sign on the outside wall, the owners seem to be enjoying themselves. Between the hammock, easy chair and twin lion statues with Uncle Sam hats, all’s right with the world.

This Is A Teardown

We see impending teardowns often, on “06880″ and WestportNow.

We see the end results — first in the form of vacant lots; later, as much larger structures.

But we seldom see a teardown in progress.

This afternoon, I was driving down Turkey Hill North. Here’s what I saw:

Enjoying a steak dinner is far different from watching a cow get killed. Just as watching a house demolition is not at all like seeing a McMansion rise quickly on empty land.

 

Richard Brodie Built A House — And Made A Home

Scott Brodie was a baby boomer — one of tens of thousands of youngsters who arrived in Westport with their families during the late 1940s and ’50s. Like nearly all of that generation, his story begins with his parents.

Scott writes:

In 1954, my father set out to relocate with his wife, 2-year-old son and infant boy. They left a 1-bedroom apartment on upper Broadway in New York City for a town midway between Manhattan and New Hartford, Connecticut, where he was the director of a summer sleepaway camp. They chose Westport, then a sleepy community of farmers and artists, with a population under 10,000.

They rented a house on Newtown Turnpike, and went looking for a lot on which to build a home. They settled on an acre near the end of Burr Farms Road, which was being developed as a street of cookie-cutter split-level homes extending past the Burr Farm apple orchard into the woods just west of North Avenue. He chose a wooded spot, on the uphill side of the street.

With time on his hands after the camping season was over he became his own general contractor. He built a California-style ranch house, unlike anything else on the street, largely with his own hands.

Richard Brodie in the rafters as he built his home, 1954.

Richard Brodie in the rafters as he built his home, 1954.

There, he and his wife raised 2 children, and welcomed a generation of youngsters growing up on the street. It was a simpler time. Dozens of kids, all nearly the same age, enjoyed the quiet of the cul-de-sac, riding bicycles and toy cars, and sledding down each other’s backyard hills.

There were no “play dates.” We would walk over to a friend’s house, literally knock on the door and ask, “can Johnny come out and play?” We went trick-or-treating by ourselves, without a parent lurking a few steps behind.

Richard Brodie and his wife Esther, in the house he built. They were married nearly 65 years.

Richard Brodie and his wife Esther, in the house he built. They were married nearly 65 years.

We all walked through neighbors’ yards to Burr Farms School, and later (through different yards) to Staples. (The first day I walked through the woods to the high school, I was worried to see a sign at the edge of a yard. Not to fear — it didn’t say “No Trespassing,” only “Please keep off the grass”!) Long Lots Junior High was a longer way off, most days a bike ride away.

The “synchronous culture” of the first generation on the street grew up and went  their separate ways. We became doctors, lawyers, musicians, furniture makers (novelist Cathleen Schine grew up down the street). As new families moved in, they found fewer children of the same age as theirs to walk over and knock on doors.

Then came the tear-downs. With increasing affluence and rising real estate values, the 1-acre lots became desirable as places to build much larger houses, with 3-car garages, pools and tennis courts. But the lawns to play on and hills to sled down were smaller. We still refer to them by the names of the families who first lived in them, all of them long gone.

The “Steidel House” across the street from the Brodies' – one of the few 1950s split-levels in its original state on the road, as it looked in 2012.

The “Steidel House” across the street from the Brodies’ – one of the few 1950s split-levels in its original state on the road, as it looked in 2012.

Most of them have been enlarged beyond all recognition except to a practiced eye:

The “Fleming House”  just to the north of the Brodies'. The deck over the original garage remains, but the garage has been converted  into living space, and a new garage added (left). The porch, dormer and new gables effectively camouflage the original '50s split-level.

The “Fleming House” just to the north of the Brodies’. The deck over the original garage remains, but the garage has been converted into living space, and a new garage added (left). The porch, dormer and new gables effectively camouflage the original ’50s split-level.

Our California Ranch is still there – now a wonderful place for an older couple, with no stairs to negotiate.

 

The Brodies' house, today.

The Brodies’ house, today.

The house to the south of ours was replaced a year or so ago. The “Steidel House” diagonally across the street came down last month. There have been massive excavations, and new foundations were poured last week.

The lot where the “Steidel House” sat, as it looks today. At least the demolition crew left the red maple on the front lawn.

The lot where the “Steidel House” sat, as it looks today. At least the demolition crew left the red maple on the front lawn.

No one builds his house on our street with his own hands these days…

My father, Richard Brodie,  passed away earlier this month, at age 96. He was a Westporter for nearly 60 years.

Richard Brodie, at his 96th birthday party.

Richard Brodie, at his 96th birthday party.

Richard Brodie graduated from New York University in 1938. His medical studies at the University of Edinburgh were cut short by the outbreak of World War II. He joined the US Army, serving in the Philippines, New Guinea and with the Occupation Forces in Japan.

After the war he joined his father as director of Camp Berkshire in Winsted, Connecticut. In 1954 he, his wife and 2 young children moved to Westport.  

He was active as president of the local chapter of B’nai Brith, and a leader of local Boy Scout troops, in the off-seasons between camp. He returned to school in his 40s, earning M.S. and Ph.D degrees in educational psychology from Yeshiva University.

Brodie spent many years as an educational psychologist in the Ridgefield and New Canaan school systems, and developed a private practice as a psychologist and nutritional advisor.

In the 1980s the Camp Berkshire property was sold to the town of New Hartford, which operates the site as Brodie Park. Richard remained an active and very competitive tennis player into his 90s.

He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Esther; his sons Scott and Bruce, and 5 grandchildren.

268 Wilton Road Is Able To Be Saved

You see Able Construction‘s signs a lot in Westport. The company tears down old (sometimes not-so-old) homes, and builds new (often bigger) ones in their place.

But Able’s project at 268 Wilton Road is very different.

There — on a quite visible, well-traveled site, just south of the Red Barn — Able is renovating a handsome circa-1790 home.

Able partner Peter Greenberg says, “We knock down a lot of 1960s and ’70s houses. To do that to this one would be a crime.”

Attracted by the gracefulness of the home — unlike many old homes, it has big windows and decent ceilings – as well as its symmetry, Greenberg decided to do something different.

268 Wilton Road.

268 Wilton Road.

Able has moved the house 60 feet back from the busy street. Using architect Joe Cugno’s design, they’ll make the old home the centerpiece of a new one. Framing begins soon.

“It lends itself to a historical reproduction,” Greenberg says. The backyard of the 2-acre property is perfect for gardens and a pool.

“Lots of people are happy we’re saving this house,” Greenberg says.

Including the several alert “06880″ readers who clued me in to this very Able construction, on one of the most visible sites in Westport.

Thoughts Before The Wrecking Ball

Tom Kretsch is a retired educator, an excellent photographer, and — since 1974 — a resident of Wakeman Place. He and his neighbors, the Burroughs family, have been friends for years.

Sometime soon, the Burroughs’ home will be razed. Tom sent along these thoughts on the impending demolition.

Gazing across the street, my eyes are fixated on the parched land once filled with a seemingly forested landscape of hemlocks, rhododendrons, tall pines and several towering oaks. The trunk of a once mighty oak rests on the back roof, which the final slice of the tree man’s saw sent crashing through what was once the studio and home of Esta and Bernie Burroughs.

Peering through the broken windows in the living room are the bare walls where their collection of funky artifacts (including Bernie’ s paintings) were gathered from art shows and places like United House Wrecking long before this sort of collecting and decorating was in vogue.

Walking along the side of the house and into the backyard brings back memories of the magical place it was.  A small swimming pool that Bernie helped create was the focal point of a garden of statues, shaded trees, a funky gazebo and pathways around the pool that led to gardens of shaded plants along a small stone wall.

The Burroughs' house in 1974 -- the day Miggs was married in the back yard.

The Burroughs’ house in 1974 — the day Miggs was married in the back yard.

The back of the house was adorned with signs like “The Remarkable Bookstore” (where Esta  worked for so many years), “Gentleman’s Clothing” (which Bernie made for a friend), and  “Woodman’s Ice Cream Store” (a sign found at some tag sale).

On summer nights friends seemed to gather nightly for little parties. They were the artists of Westport, as Bernie was a fine illustrator. Their social comings and goings often centered around that community, a vibrant part of Westport in those days. We could hear their laughter and joy as we sat on our screened front porch.

Our houses were actually mirror images of each other, built by the same builder back in 1938. My wife Sandi and I aspired to make our place as artistic as theirs. Following the sign example, we bought one in the Berkshires for $3. It said “Homemade Candies and Cookies.” We thought it would look artsy on the front of our house, but after several knocks on the door from people wanting to purchase cookies and then a call from our insurance company asking whether we had started a business in our home, we moved the sign to a less conspicuous place.

And so the Burroughs home awaits the final wrecking ball, a familiar scenario in this town. A new structure will arise, hopefully a tasteful and graceful one that will fit the contours of the land and melt into the fabric of the street. To the unwary driving by, the house now looks like an eyesore deserving of destruction. But for us there is sadness in seeing a place once of such beauty and style standing naked and broken, with but the memories of what used to be.

The Burroughs' house today. The wrecking crew arrives soon.

The Burroughs’ house today. The wrecking crew arrives soon. (Photo/Tom Kretsch)

Time brings change, and things left to their original being are often difficult to fix and salvage. It is easier to tear them down and start from scratch. Over the last years while she was living there, Esta graciously offered me a few of the signs that adorned the outside of the home. Miggs, her son, gave me the “Gentleman’s Quarters” sign during the final days of the salvaging period. This and the others now adorn our home, and remind us of what an inspiration their classy home was to us.

The morning light dances across the old red house that once stood gloriously on Wakeman Place: not a mansion by today’s standards, but truly a unique home that was cared for and loved by a wonderful couple. Like the place Esta worked in, it was “Remarkable.” It is sad to see it go.

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.)
 
 

 

Coleytown? That’s Rich!

Recently — tired of posting stories like “How to Destroy the Stock Market in 8 Steps” and “Why Men Are Dressing Better” – Business Insider asked a few interns (aka recently unemployed college graduates who are sons and daughters of actual business insiders) to write “The 25 Richest Neighborhoods in the New York City Suburbs.”

Hey, it was a slow news day.

Based on census tract data compiled by Stephen Higley, professor emeritus of urban social geography at the University of Montevallo — you’ve seen all those “University of Montevallo” college stickers, right? — the website posted its list.

New York State boasts 12 of the most affluent census tracts: 9 in Westchester, 3 on Long Island. Connecticut has 10; New Jersey, only 3. (Who wants to live in a place with so many traffic jams, right?)

Of those 10 — all in Fairfield County — half are in New Canaan. Greenwich has 3 (including the richest neighborhood in the entire friggin’ country: the Golden Triangle). The median household income there is a Lamborghini- and Bvlgari-popping $614,242.

Darien has 1. We have the other. It’s #10 overall.

Business Insider's photo of a home in Westport's richest neighborhood, courtesy of Zillow.

Business Insider’s photo of a home in Westport’s richest neighborhood, courtesy of Zillow.

It is … drum roll, please … not a surprise if you read the headline … Coleytown.

According to Business Insider:

Westport is a coastal town with colonial origins. Coleytown sits at the northernmost edge of town. Most homes date back to the 1950s, with some as old as the ’30s.

The area has a higher proportion of married couples living there than most other U.S. neighborhoods.

And, the site helpfully adds:

Coleytown is 91.7% white, 3.1% Asian, 2.7% Latino, 0.9% black.

Eat your heart out, Beachside.

(To see the entire Top 25 list, click here.)

20 Maplewood Avenue: The Sequel

Maplewood Avenue is a great neighborhood, filled with older homes. Residents love the streetscape, and work hard to protect it.

In 1996, Bill Dohme — a restoration builder — and his wife wanted to expand their home, at 20 Maplewood Avenue. They drew up plans that kept the body — and historical integrity — of the house intact. But other expenses put the remodeling on hold.

20 Maplewood Avenue

20 Maplewood Avenue last year…

Right after Memorial Day last year, the Dohmes sold their house. Knowing that teardowns are rampant all over Westport, they made the remodeling plans available to the new owner.

In February — hearing that 20 Maplewood would be torn down — Bill gave the plans to the Historic District Commission. He hoped they’d meet with the new owner, and urge him to reconsider.

It did not happen. On Tuesday, the bulldozers moved in.

Yesterday, they were done.

...and today.

…and today.