Category Archives: Saugatuck

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

 

Remembering Kevin Brawley

Kevin Brawley — the easygoing owner of a number of popular Westport restaurants — died this past weekend. He was 59 years old.

2178700 (1)Kevin was a wrestler at Bedford Junior High and Staples High School (Class of 1973). Later, he and Danny Horelick opened Dunville’s, on Saugatuck Avenue. It quickly became one of Westport’s favorite gathering spots.

Kevin’s next venture was Tavern on Main. Decades later, little has changed from his original vision.

He later opened the River House on Riverside Avenue.

Tavern on MainKevin worked — and enjoyed — long hours at his businesses. He mentored dozens of employees, who themselves went on to own many local restaurants.

Friend, classmate and former wrestling teammate Chip Stephens says:

Kevin will be remembered for his gravelly voice and infectious laugh, his smile and being a host with the most, his huge circle of friends, and his ability to create and run dining and drinking establishments. Two of them still exist after decades — something very rare today.

 

Fred Cantor’s Timeless Westport

As an alert “06880” reader, Fred Cantor has seen comments on every side of every debate about the changing nature of Westport.

As someone who came to Westport in 1963, Fred has seen many of those changes himself.

An accomplished attorney, film and play producer and writer, Fred has spent years taking photos around town. Recently, he asked Staples grad Casey Denton to help create a video of those shots.

Fred’s goal was simple. He wanted to document his belief that the essence of Westport’s beauty and small-town New England character — which his family discovered upon moving here over 5 decades ago — remains alive and well.

The video opens with long-ago Westport scenes. There are photos of mom-and-pop stores, the kind that filled Main Street back in the day. Obviously, that’s changed.

But most of the photos are from the recent past — many taken within the past year. And, Fred notes, they are “timeless Westport scenes.” Churches, barns, the Saugatuck bridge, the Minuteman and Doughboy statues, the Mill Pond and cannons — we are surrounded by wonderful history and spectacular beauty.

Fred knows that family businesses are very much with us. From long-time establishments (Oscar’s, Mario’s) to relative newcomers (Elvira’s, Saugatuck Sweets), there are more here than we realize.

Finally, Fred wanted to show that institutions like the Library, Westport Country Playhouse and Levitt Pavilion have been significantly upgraded over the years. The entire community benefits, Fred says, from “the strong commitment to the arts that existed when my parents brought us here over 50 years ago.”

Fred knows this is the perspective of just one near-native. But, he says — as health problems limit how far he can go from home — he is glad he can notice and appreciate more than ever what is right around all of us.

 

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)

 

 

Scores Of Santas Stumble Through Saugatuck

Saugatuck, Santa Claus and alcohol. It doesn’t get better than that.

The trifecta is our 2nd annual “Santa Cause.” The creation of Westporters Kelley and Drew Schutte, it’s an absurdly fun (and adult) afternoon. And it’s a fundraiser for a wonderful beneficiary: Adam’s Camp New England, which helps special needs children realize their full potential.

Did I mention there are drinks?

Drew and Kelley Schutte — aka Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Here’s the deal. This Saturday (November 29), attendees must dress up in Santa and Mrs. Claus outfits. (Full costumes, please!)

Everyone gathers at the Whelk, at 3 p.m. sharp. Every 45 minutes they drink/crawl their way from one fine Saugatuck establishment to the next. (Saugatuck Sweets provides free coffee, because man does not live by bread beer alone.)

At the last stop — the Rowing Club — awards will be presented (don’t ask). Then come (surprise!) drinks, bites, and dancing your bells off to Fry Daddy’s.

Here’s the holiday catch: The cost is a minimum of $125 per person Santa.

Of course — this being the holiday, and there’s alcohol involved — you can give more. $2,700 covers a full camp experience for one child.

Christmas drinkThis being litigious Westport, there are guidelines. Each party’s drop-off and pick-up rides must be arranged in advance (unless there’s a designated sleigh or car driver).

Cash is requested for drinks and tips. No credit cards — bartenders have enough trouble without trying to figure out which Santa bought which Christmas ale.

Ho ho ho!

(Pre-registration is requested; send a check made out to “Adam’s Camp,” with a list of the number attending and your email address, to the Schuttes, 12 Sunnyside La., Westport, CT 06880. Include the name of all your Santas, and your email address. For more info, call 917-297-1324.)

Hey, Guest Bartender!

If restaurants can have a guest chef, I guess bars can have a guest bartender.

Today (Thursday, November 13, 8 p.m.) Steve Schneider slips into that role at Dunville’s.

It’s a way of celebrating the renovations the popular Saugatuck spot has made. Co-owner Stephen Carpentieri calls it “Dunville’s 2.o.”

“Carpi” and Schneider are no strangers to each other. They co-starred in “Hey Bartender,” the award-winning documentary directed by Doug Tirola and produced by Susan Bedusa. Both are longtime Westporters.

Steve Schneider

Steve Schneider

The film examines the 2 Steves — Schneider and Carpentieri — as they try to achieve their dreams through bartending. It’s available on Showtime, Netflix and iTunes.

Since the theatrical release, Schneider has flown to London, Berlin, Russia, Asia and Australia. He’s guest-bartended at the top spots in the world.

Tonight he adds Dunville’s to the list.

 

A Developing Story

Ever since the Wright Street and Gorham Island buildings were erected in the 1970s — and those were quite some erections — Westport has been consumed by construction.

Even so, 2014 stands out as a landmark year.

Here are some of the developments — as in, real estate developments — that have occurred in the past few months. Or are occurring right now.

  • The Y moved into its new home. The Kemper-Gunn House is being moved across Elm Street to the parking lot, and Bedford Square will soon rise downtown.
  • The Levitt Pavilion finally completed its renovation. Nearby, plans for Jesup Green — with possibly reconfigured parking, a new Westport Arts Center and a renovated library — are in the works. And, of course, committees and commissions have been talking all year about new ideas for all of downtown.
  • Across the river, Save the Children has skedaddled. That fantastic waterfront property will be redeveloped, such as the adjacent Bartaco/National Hall buildings have been reimagined recently.
The west side of the Saugatuck River is also part of the new downtown plan. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer for DowntownWestportCT.com)

The west side of the Saugatuck River includes the old National Hall and the relatively new Wright Street building. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer for DowntownWestportCT.com)

  • Compo Acres Shopping Center is being renovated. The Fresh Market shopping center — and the one across the Post Road, with Dunkin’ Donuts — will get a facelift (and new tenants) soon.
  • Applications have been made for housing on the site of the Westport Inn. Across town, there are rumors of new housing on Hiawatha Lane, near I-95 Exit 17.
  • Senior housing has been shot down on Baron’s South. But it won’t remain undisturbed forever.
  • Phase II of Saugatuck Center has been completed. Phase III — on  Railroad Place — is coming down the tracks.

That’s a lot — as in, lots of building lots.

And nearly 2 months still remain in this year.

P.S. Oh, yeah. The beach too.

 

Goodbye, Cocoa Michelle. Hello, Bonjo!

Cocoa Michelle — the long-lived, very popular coffee-croissants-and-chocolates spot across from the train station — is closing today.

They’ve been bought out by their coffee roaster. On Monday, they reopen as Bonjo.

The current staff is staying. And Bonjo will feature an expanded selection of food.

For the rest of the week, there’s still Commuter Coffee. And — on the other side of the tracks — Steam.

(Hat tip to John Hartwell.)

The cozy interior of Cocoa Michelle.

The cozy interior of Cocoa Michelle.

A Sneak Peek At What’s Coming Down The Pike…

…or, more accurately, next to the Turnpike.

And on the Post Road.

A Westporter with political connections gives some background:

Connecticut legislation known as 8-30g mandates that new development projects include 30% “affordable” residential units. Developers around the state have made humongous proposals that include large amounts of affordable housing — then “offer” a “compromise” of scaling back, in order to get what they really originally wanted.

Last week, a developer came to Town Hall with an application to demolish the Westport Inn. In its place would come 2 levels of underground parking. On top would be 2 stories of housing — with 50 units per floor. It would be the largest new building on the Post Road in decades — rivaling the Wright Street office complex across town.

The Westport Inn has stood on the Post Road East since 1960 (it started as a motel). It may not stay there forever.

The Westport Inn has stood on the Post Road East since 1960 (it started as a motel). It may not stay there forever.

Also across town from the Westport Inn, a developer is eyeing Hiawatha Lane. That’s the limited access neighborhood adjacent to the I-95 Exit 17 on/off ramp, which already includes some of the most affordable houses in Westport. The developer would like to build 100 — maybe even 200 — units of housing there.

If both — or even one — of those proposals passes the many approval hurdles, it would affect every aspect of life in Westport. Education, traffic, emergency services, you name it — all would be impacted, in a variety of ways.

Neither proposal is on the Planning & Zoning calendar yet, where such developments usually begin.

But people on the street — Post Road East, Saugatuck Avenue, and points in between — are already talking about them.

What’s Up With This Mansion?

Word on the street — Riverside Avenue — was that Mansion Clam House may have closed.

It was shut Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. There’s no activity today. The sign in front of the building is gone, and the exterior lights have been on for a few days. It looks deserted.

But folks in the know say Mansion will try to open on Friday.

Let’s hope it’s just a bump in the road — Riverside Avenue — for this long-lived, much-loved Westport institution.

Mansion Clam House

Mansion Clam House (file photo).