Category Archives: Real estate

108 Cross Highway: Preserving History, Preventing A Teardown

In June 2011, 108 Cross Highway came on the market. From all indications, it would be the next Westport teardown.

An uproar ensued. The 2-story “vernacular” — with a barn — on the well-traveled stretch between Roseville Road and North Avenue was built in 1805. Records indicated it was one of the few Westport dwellings constructed by a “free black man.”

(That assertion was later challenged. The “Henry Munroe House” may, in fact, have been built by an Indian.)

108 Cross Highway

108 Cross Highway in 2011.

The usual Westport battle raged. On one side were those decrying the destruction of a handsome old home — one with historic significance.

On the other side were those who say that property owners are free to do whatever they want. After all, it’s their money.

The house was taken off the market, rented, then put back on. Jeff Porter and Rachel Ember had been thinking of contemporaries. But when realtor Amy Swanson showed them 108 Cross Highway, they fell in love.

They closed on the property in January 2014.

Nearly 2 years later, the house still stands. The new owners have redone the porch, repaired the chimney, added a paddock fence, restored and refinished the original wood floors, and remodeled the side entry and kitchen in a style appropriate to the home (sourcing reclaimed barn wood).

They also repaired the barn’s rotted siding, and reconfigured the garage doors in a more traditional carriage style.

Today, 108 Cross Highway looks better than ever.

Rear view of 108 Cross Highway, showing a new fence, walkway and covered porch.

Rear view of 108 Cross Highway, showing a new fence, walkway and covered porch.

In fact, it’s one of this year’s recipients of a Preservation Award from the Westport Historic District Commission.

The barn and pool.

The barn and pool.

Too often in Westport, structures like these fall victim to the wrecking ball. We close our eyes, wring our hands, and move on.

The next time you pass 108 Cross Highway, open your eyes wide. Put your hands together, and linger awhile. It’s a wonderful sight to see.

108 Cross Highway, today.

108 Cross Highway, today.

The kitchen, with reclaimed barn wood flooring.

The kitchen, with reclaimed barn wood flooring.

(The 2015 Historic Preservation Awards will be presented by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Historic District Commission chair Francis Henkels and commission members on Monday, October 26, 7 p.m. in the Town Hall auditorium.)


Arrivederci, Villarina’s

Villarina’s is closing very soon. The popular Compo Shopping Center seller of homemade pasta, sauces, prepared dinners, fresh bread, cheese, party trays and specialty items is the latest victim of rising rents.

“It’s been there about 18 years. Sales were strong, and margins fine,” says Joe Filc, owner of the Danbury-based company.

“But the rent doubled. And as I understand it, the landlord wants to consolidate the vacant space next door.” That’s the site of the former AAA office.

Villarina’s has been in Westport for nearly 20 years. There are 7 other stores in Connecticut, New York and Austin, Texas — like this one, all individually operated. Filc says that unlike Westport, most own their property.

Much of his business comes from private labels, Filc says. Products are also available at select restaurants and food stores.

(Photo and hat tip: Elizabeth Glaser)

(Photo and hat tip: Elizabeth Glaser)

Intriguing Real Estate Trends: 2050 Estimate Now Available

The good news is: By 2050, Westport will have plenty of new waterfront property.

The bad news: Current waterfront property will be worthless. It will sit underwater.

Want to check out if you’re a winner or loser? Head to Climate Central. They’ve spent 2 years developing interactive maps for coastal states. You can see — if you dare — estimates of areas vulnerable to flooding from combined sea level rise, storm surge and tides, or to permanent submergence by long-term sea level rise.

The site also offers reams of statistics. But the maps are the money shots.

2050 Westport coastal map

This is a very pretty map. Until you realize that blue represents water. Nearly everything south of the Post Road could be submerged. And look how far over its banks the Saugatuck River flows. Hover over or click to enlarge.

The above map is based on a 2-degree Celsius average rise in temperature.

Virtually everything south of 95 is gone. So is all of downtown, as the Saugatuck River surges over its banks.

Alert “06880” reader Glenn Payne — who we can thank (or blame) for sending the link along — notes:

While the attached is somewhat alarmist (it shows all land within 20 feet of high tide underwater), and the timing is likely beyond most readers, it does paint a very different picture of Westport sometime in the future. While some may be relieved that their house has not been submerged, their commute will be challenged, as I-95 will be.

He poses some interesting questions:

  • What is Westport without a beach and downtown?
  • Who pays the bills if the biggest taxpayers (Nyala Farms, Beachside homes) are not there?
  • And who lives in the rest of Westport if much of Manhattan (and the financial district) is gone?

So don’t sweat the details of the new downtown plan. Who cares if there’s a new traffic pattern at the beach. Neither will be around forever.

But until then, be careful where you park. “06880” will move to higher ground. We’ll still be watching.

Welcome to Westport!

Welcome to Westport!

(To see the interactive Westport map, click here. For Climate Central’s “Surging Seas” page, click here.) 

Jane’s Green’s Cottage — And Cookbook

It’s been quite a month for Jane Green.

Today, her “creaky cottage on the creek” is featured in the New York Times‘ “What I Love” feature of the Real Estate section.

Okay, the paper admits, the “cottage” is really a 4,300-square-foot house with “a couple of decks, a brick terrace and a swimming pool.” But it’s still a warm, lived- and loved-in home. Green and her husband, Ian Warburg, moved in last February, just 4 years after building a house they thought they’d love.

This 1930s home has views of Grays Creek. It needed work. But this winter, she and Ian sat at the kitchen table. “Even though the weather was cold and gloomy, I’d just feel incredibly and happy and peaceful,” Green says.

Jane Green tells the New York Times, "I feel like the house is hugging me when I come home." (Photo/Jane Beiles for NY Times)

Jane Green tells the New York Times, “I feel like the house is hugging me when I come home.” (Photo/Jane Beiles for NY Times)

She recalls her first night in her new home. “Watching the moon reflected on the water made my heart soar. And it makes my heart soar still. I’m tearing up just thinking about it.”

If that sounds as if Green has a way with words, it should. She’s written 17 books of women’s fiction, including The Beach House. Her latest is Summer Secrets.

But today’s Times story — and her new release — are not why I referred earlier to Green’s interesting month.

She’s also involved in a different project: a self-published cookbook.

Some of the creations in Jane Green's new cookbook.

Some of the creations in Jane Green’s new cookbook.

In Good Taste, Good Food, A Good Life, she combines stories from her life, and the food that followed. She describes caring (and cooking for) a friend with breast cancer, as well as her blended family with 6 children.

She also writes about life in her “cottage.”

She’s promoting it through Kickstarter. In an intriguing twist, incentives include a book club Skype chat with herself ($100), and lunch with Green, author Jen Lancaster and comedian Lisa Lampanelli at the Soho House ($1,000).

The campaign runs through Tuesday (July 14). But if you’re interested in Green’s cookbook, you better hurry (and click here). The only way to buy the book is this way. Once Kickstarter closes, sales end.

And Green will be back in her “cottage,” planning her next great project.

(Hat tip: John Karrel and Publishers Weekly)

Jane Green in her kitchen, for a cookbook video shoot.

Jane Green in her kitchen, for a cookbook video shoot.

E.T. Bedford’s Horse Track

The Bedfords — for a century one of Westport’s foremost families — have been in the news a lot this year.

Ruth Bedford — who died at 99 in June of 2014 — left $40 million to the Westport Family YMCA, Norwalk Hospital, and Foxcroft School in Virginia. That’s $40 million each.

And the Bedford estate — at 66 Beachside Avenue — is now slated for demolition. So is the family’s 2-story house at 225 Green’s Farms Road, opposite the Nyala Farms office complex.

Alert “06880” reader Neil Brickley has long been interested in the Bedfords. Growing up in Westport, he often heard of their wealth and generosity.

Neil is an engineer. He loves examining aerial photos of old Westport to figure out what went where — before, say, I-95 came through. Comments on “06880” about the Bedfords’ land-holdings piqued his interest.

He was particularly intrigued by this 1934 aerial shot, showing a horse track smack in the middle of Green’s Farms.

1934 aerial photo Wynfromere track

To get oriented: Green’s Farms Elementary School is in the upper right corner. At the upper left, Hillspoint Road runs into the Post Road (McDonald’s would be there today.) Center Street and Prospect Road meet Greens Farms Road at the bottom of the photo.

Neil found that the track encompasses over 10 acres.

However, he was thrown off by a photo in Woody Klein’s history of Westport. A caption of Edward T. Bedford — Ruth’s grandfather, and a director of Standard Oil, the founder of the Westport Y and namesake of Bedford Middle School — is shown riding his horse, Diplomat, over a track “on the spacious grounds of his home on Beachside Avenue.”

Edward T. Bedford

Edward T. Bedford

Neil saw no signs of the track on the aerial photos of Beachside. It’s hard to envision now — with I-95 in the way — but Bedford’s property extended northward, from Beachside Avenue to Nyala Farm and on into the West Parish area.

In fact, there’s a Bedford Drive off West Parish that could have been the south entrance to the track.

The track was called “Winfromere” — believed to be a reference to the term “win from here.” Today, Wynfromere Lane is just north of Bedford Drive.

Neil then found “taking maps” for the Sherwood Island Connector. To build it, they took the property that included the  Wynfromere horse track. The owner was indeed Frederick T. Bedford.

Neil was surprised to see enormous on/off cloverleaf entrances and exits proposed from Greens Farms Road — called “Shore Road” on the taking maps — to the connector. Bedford owned a large swath of land from the railroad tracks up to Hillandale Road. Neil surmises it went only that far because he had previously given the portion at the Post Road for the state police barracks (now Walgreens).

Neil noted the enormous amount of property owned by the Bedfords on Beachside Avenue too, as well as in the Morningside-Clapboard Hill area.

Now, about that story that E.T. Bedford also had a landing strip on his Beachside estate…

Affordable Housing Applications Available Now

For months, Westporters driving on the Post Road near Super Stop & Shop have watched apartments rise on the site of the old “trailer park.”

They’re not done. But applications are now available for the duplex townhouse apartments — all deemed “affordable rentals.”

Hidden Brook apartments.

Hidden Brook apartments.

Monthly rents are $900 (1 bedroom), $1,055 (2 bedrooms) and $1,200 (3 bedrooms).

Applicants must meet income requirements, based on family size, for 50% of the area median income. Click here for more details.

Applications are online (click here), or at the Westport Housing Authority office at 5 Canal Street. You can request an application be mailed to you by calling 203-227-4672.

Applications must be mailed or hand-delivered to the the Housing Authority office at 5 Canal Street, Westport. They will be reviewed in the order they are received. The deadline is July 31.


Showing Our True Colors

It’s a beautiful morning — and the forecast is for great weather most of today.

Westport is awash in red, white and blue — in many shapes and forms.

Bob Weingarten hung this replica flag over the barn door of his house:

July 4 - Bob Weingarten house

Look closely. There are 15 stars and 15 stripes — not 13.

This American flag was used from 1795 to 1818. It was created when 2 new states — Kentucky and Vermont —  joined the union.

It’s called the “Star Spangled Banner Flag” because — after being raised above Fort McHenry to celebrate a crucial victory over the British during the War of 1812 — Francis Scott Key was inspired to write our national anthem.

When 5 more states were added to the union, they got stars too. But we went back to 13 stripes, for the original colonies. Today of course our flag has 50 stars, and 13 stripes.

Bob flies the flag over his barn doors because it was originally built in 1805 as a “chaise house.” That meant it housed a chaise — an 1800 coach with a driver and seats. Back in the day, that was a luxury item.

Nearly a century later — in 1900 — this home was built on Soundview Drive:

(Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

(Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

It’s one of the last original beach cottages — and is still in the same family.

Decked out in bunting, it looks beautiful and serene. Tonight thousands of folks will stream by, on their way to the fireworks.

It will be a beautiful night, too!

Town Adds Toilets At Old Mill

For years, Old Mill beachgoers have not had access to public toilets.

Now they do:

Old Mill demolition 1

Just kidding!

That’s the scene today, at the site of what used to be 38 and 40 Old Mill. Those 2 houses — badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy — have been torn down.

They won’t be rebuilt. The town will make the land into a park. It’s located adjacent to the walking bridge, just before the privately owned Compo Cove.

Here are 2 more views of what 38 and 40 Old Mill look like now:

Old Mill demolition 2

Old Mill demolition 3


These Old Houses

It’s finally happened: Westport has run out of old houses.

Well, sort of.

Our “This Old House” series has come to an end. The Westport Historical Society has no more mystery houses to identify, prior to its upcoming show on the changing face of Westport.

Every Wednesday for 3 months, “06880” readers have seen an image of a local home, taken in 1930s by WPA photographers. Some of them had vague notations on the back — “Green’s Farms,” for example — and WHS house historian Bob Weingarten asked for crowd-sourcing help.

You guys nailed the correct location of 9 of the 14 houses displayed — not too shabby. Especially considering that many of the houses have undergone substantial renovations — and some are no longer standing.

They sure don't make 'em like this anymore.

They sure don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Before the series began, the WHS had identified 101 houses out of 133 photos. They’re now up to 110.

The WHS also has priceless historic information about some of the homes, thanks to “06880”‘s superbly alert and knowledgeable readers.

The Historical Society will display the WPA photos in November. That exhibit will highlight differences between the 1930s images and today’s houses. There will also be human interest articles on the house owners; historical and architectural details about the houses, and information on famous people who lived in several of them.

In the meantime, if you have any interesting photos — of homes, or places of interest in town — that you’d like identified, send ’em along. The “06880” crowd is ready to source!

Filmmakers Fight To Save F. Scott’s Home

In 1920, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald spent a memorable summer in Westport.

It’s taken a lot longer — more than 2 years — for another pair of locals to make a film about the literary-and-fast-living couple.

But the video project began even way before that.

A 1996 New Yorker story by Westport writer Barbara Probst Solomon linked Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby to this town. But the piece was “ignored by Fitzgerald scholars,” says filmmaker Robert Steven Williams. So he and Staples grad/social studies teacher/historian Deej Webb embarked on their own project.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, in front of what appears to be their Westport home.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, in front of what appears to be their Westport home.

They interviewed more than a dozen academics. They dug into Fitzgerald’s archives at Princeton, and presented at a Fitzgerald Society Conference in Alabama. They even interviewed one of the writer’s granddaughters in Vermont — a woman who rarely speaks to anyone.

“What we uncovered was not only surprising,” Williams says. “It made us realize that the Westport Fitzgerald home was much more than just about Gatsby.”

So when clips of their film — Boats Against the Current — are shown at the Fairfield Theater Company on Monday (June 8, 7:30 p.m.), viewers will learn about much more than F. Scott, Zelda, the Roaring ’20s and Westport.

Williams and Webb draw attention to the fact that the home the Fitzgeralds rented — on Compo Road South, adjacent to the Longshore entrance — is for sale. And unprotected.

According to Williams, that means that “anyone could buy it, and make it tomorrow’s ‘Teardown of the Day.'”

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald slept -- and partied -- here.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald slept — and partied — here.

Williams and Webb will discuss — using over an hour’s worth of clips — why “Westport needs to save this home.” They’ll be joined by Professor Walter Raubicheck (a Fitzgerald scholar from Pace University), and Westport Historical Society executive director Sue Gold.

After all, like Gatsby itself, the Fitzgeralds’ home is a classic.

(For ticket information, click here.)