Category Archives: YMCA

Weather Cold, Action Hot

It’s friggin’ freezing out. And the wind is blowing like we’re in Siberia.

All the more reason to head to the Y.

The Westport YMCA‘s new Mahackeno facility was filled today — as always. There was basketball, swimming and classes — you name it.

But nothing beats working out in the fitness center. From inside, the view almost makes you want to go outdoors.

Almost.

Y fitness center

Be Careful What You Wish For

While planning for its move to Mahackeno, the Westport YMCA assured the public (and politicians) that there would be plenty of parking. Even during big events, Y leaders said, they could handle the crowds.

They can’t.

Today, a masters swim meet — “not even a major one,” an employee admitted — caused chaos. People parked in snow banks, at odd and dangerous angles, on the narrow entrance road — anywhere they could. Between drivers circling endlessly looking for spots, folks pulling out in very cramped quarters, and families dodging traffic as they trooped over from the Merritt Parkway commuter lot, it was a dangerous scene.

One small part of the giant parking mess today.

One small part of the giant parking mess today.

I don’t mind walking a good distance before I work out. But plenty of Y users are not as mobile.

The move out of downtown has made the Y wildly popular. Officials may be surprised at the number of new members. But they should not be surprised at what happens, now that they can hold swim meets with more teams than before.

A couple of weeks ago, a 16-team youth swim meet caused a similar parking frenzy. The Y sent several teenage employees outside, telling swim team parents to drop their kids off in front and then park in the commuter lot. They were ignored, so today they were nowhere in sight. The result: one big goat rodeo.

Not to mention the even-more-cramped-than-usual locker room. So I won’t.

Y’s Words On Shoveling

The Westport YMCA posts daily health tips on a whiteboard near (of course) the “Wellness Center.”

Today’s suggestions are worth passing along to everyone:

Y's words on shoveling

Be sure to show this to your kids, who will no doubt be very eager to help.

Coming In 2015: Outdoor Fitness Parks In Westport?

Four years ago in Tel Aviv, Vadim Mejerson looked out his hotel window. He saw what looked like a child’s playground — but it was filled with adults. They were all exercising, on equipment you’d find in a gym but adapted for outdoors.

You or I might think, “Hmmm … interesting.” Meyerson — a longtime Weston resident with a Ph.D. in exercise physiology, who helped Exxon and many other companies develop fitness centers for executives — thought: “Wow … opportunity!”

He and his son Adam — who’d seen the same sight, independently, on that trip to Israel — did some research. They learned the parks were open 24/7. Some were roofed. Some were linked by bike trails.

A fitlot park by the sea in Israel...

A Fitlot park by the sea in Israel…

Vadim and Adam found that outdoor fitness parks were exploding in popularity around the world. England, Switzerland, Australia, Canada — everywhere, it seemed, governments and private sources were developing 1,000-square-foot areas where people could work out, get fit and socialize.

Everywhere — except the U.S.

Believing that every individual should enjoy the health benefits of parks like these, they formed a 501(c)(3) organization called FitLot. Partnering with neighborhood associations, and with funding from corporations, foundations and governments, it’s developing outdoor fitness parks throughout New Orleans.

That’s a perfect place for them. The city is burdened with obesity, diabetes and other health-related problems — but it’s also rebuilding itself, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

...and one in Europe.

…and one in Europe.

Now Mejerson wants to build facilities closer to home.

The other day he and 2 fellow enthusiasts — Steven Lewine and Rick Jaffe — talked about their vision for Westport.

“It’s free. It’s easy to access. It’s not an intimidating ‘gym environment,’ so it appeals to everyone,” Lewine said.

They ticked off potential spots for outdoor fitness parks: Compo Beach. Luciano Park, near the train station. The Y. The library. The Senior Center. Winslow Park. Baron’s South. The front lawn of Town Hall. Mini-parks, like Grace Salmon on Imperial Avenue.

They also like Sherwood Island. Connected by bike trails, they say, the fitness parks would be a way of tying the town together with the state park in our midst.

A roof may be necessary for a Westport outdoor fitness park.

A roof may be necessary for a Westport outdoor fitness park.

They know there are obstacles. Compo Beach is in the early stages of a renovation project. Winslow Park has been deemed “open space.” Bike paths are tough to build and maintain.

Still, the 3 men have had preliminary discussions with town officials, including 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Parks and Recreation Department director Stuart McCarthy, and Parks and Rec Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh. The talks were “constructive and productive,” Lewine says.

The cost of an outdoor fitness center is no more than $100,000 — 10% of the cost of an indoor facility, Jaffe says.

“It’s inexpensive, it’s public, it’s a beautiful concept,” notes Mejerson. “There’s no downside.”

Westporters embrace physical fitness.

Westporters embrace physical fitness.

“We think the community would welcome this gift with open arms,” Lewine adds. (It would be a “gift” thanks to corporate or private sponsorship.) “Westport is an enlightened town that considers physical fitness to be an important value.”

The big problem, the outdoor parks advocates know, is finding the right space(s), then gaining public support.

In Israel, Mejerson says, outdoor fitness parks are everywhere: hospitals, schools, prisons, gas stations, eldercare facilities.

Will one or more rise in Westport? If so, where? Click “Comments” to weigh in.

 

 

 

Not Your Father’s YMCA

Despite this morning’s post, there are some holiday decorations downtown.

But they’re not Christmas lights.

And they’re not where you might expect them.

Alert “06880” reader Jeff Giannone sent along this shot:

Y menorah

A menorah stands ready for tonight’s celebration of Hanukkah — the “Festival of Lights.” Set for 6:30 p.m., it’s sponsored by the 4 synagogues in town. All Westporters — of all faiths — are invited.

So head down to the site of the recently vacated Y.

Or — as it was once known — the Young Men’s Christian Association.

 

 

One Last Look Back

The Kemper-Gunn House has moved. The old YMCA Bedford building begins renovations soon, becoming an anchor of the new Bedford Square.

But Westporters can’t stop looking back.

Alert “06880” reader Jonathan Rohner sent this fascinating postcard showing the Y and the Westport Bank and Trust building (today it’s Patagonia):

YMCA and bank in 1920s or so

I love the cars — all looking the same — parked or driving haphazardly on the trolley-tracked Post Road.

I love the elm trees framing the Bedford building, and how peaceful downtown looked.

Equally alert “06880” reader Scott Smith contributed this photo, from a decade or so later:

YMCA witih old cars

I love the hand-colored blue sky. The bike leaning casually against the tree on the left.

And check out the front-in parking job of those cars in front of the Y. That would never fly today.

I was especially intrigued by another image Scott sent. This one shows the Westport Hotel. The area was called Hotel Square. Westport Bank and Trust had not yet been built:

Westport Hotel - site of old Y

The hotel had a pool room. Youngsters were not permitted inside. Edward T. Bedford vowed to give them a place. In 1923, he built the YMCA.

The rest is history.

And now, a new chapter has begun.

 

How Do You Move A House? Very Slowly. And Carefully.

Today is moving day in downtown Westport.

The Kemper-Gunn House is being relocated across Elm Street, from its perch on the corner of Church Lane to the Baldwin parking lot.

Curious Westporters gathered at dawn to watch the landscape-changing event. JP Vellotti was there too, snapping special photos for “06880.”

Here’s his 1st set. More will follow, when the dust — and the house — settle into their new “home,” later this morning.

The house has been lifted off its foundation. After 125 years, it's ready to be relocated.

The house has been lifted off its foundation. After 125 years, it’s ready to be relocated.

The media was there. TV crews quickly learned how to park their large vehicles in Westport.

The media was there. TV crews quickly learned how to park their large vehicles in Westport.

A small tree is suddenly discovered to be in the way.

A small tree is suddenly discovered to be in the way.

Planning & Zoning chair Chip Stephens, 1st selectman Jim Marpe, 2nd selectman Avi Kaner, and moving company representatives pause for a photo.

Planning & Zoning chair Chip Stephens, 1st selectman Jim Marpe, 2nd selectman Avi Kaner, developer David Waldman and an associate pause for a photo.

Java had free coffee, courtesy of the Chamber of Commerce. Villa del Sol jumped on the bandwagon, offering free margaritas. But not until lunch!

Java had free coffee, courtesy of the Chamber of Commerce. Villa del Sol jumped on the bandwagon, offering free margaritas. But not until lunch!

The Kemper-Gunn is not the only change coming to Church Lane. The old Westport Y Weeks Pavilion will soon be demolished.

Kemper-Gunn is not the only change coming to Church Lane. The old Westport Y Weeks Pavilion will soon be demolished.

This is the slowest crossing of Elm Street ever. (All photos/JP Vellotti)

This is the slowest crossing of Elm Street ever. (All photos/JP Vellotti)

Waaaay Before The Ivy

Since we’re looking back at the YMCA in its pre-ivy days — check out yesterday’s 1964-era photo — we might as well do it right.

Alert — and history-minded — “06880” reader Patty Mraz Graves sends along this postcard from the 1920s 1930s. There was no ivy — but the elm trees mentioned in yesterday’s post were already mature, and handsome.

YMCA1920s

Two things have not changed much from nearly a century ago, though.

There was plenty of traffic.

And the cars were big.

The More Things Change…

Many Westporters are lamenting the loss of 3 cherry trees. Cut down last week as part of the new Bedford Square project, they stood outside the downtown Westport Y seemingly forever.

“Seemingly forever” is actually 50 years.

A very alert “06880” reader found a Westport Town Crier clipping from March 15, 1964. The paper reported that despite spraying, pruning and feeding, a “venerable” tree succumbed to Dutch elm disease.

The "venerable elm tree" frames the Y.

The “venerable elm tree” frames the Y.

For 100 years or more, it stood on that exact same spot: in front of the Y.

The elm tree is removed after toppling.

The elm tree is removed. It was taken to the “city dump,” and burned.

In its place, the Town Crier said, 3 flowering Japanese cherry trees were planted. Twelve feet high, they were donated by Westport garden center owner (and very active citizen) Alan U. Parsell.

They flourished there for exactly half a century.

In 2064, I’m sure “06880” — or whatever replaces it — will run a nice looking-back story on the “venerable,” lovely trees that for 50 years framed handsome Bedford Square.

The Westport YMCA, after the Dutch elm was removed. Note the lack of ivy too.

The Westport YMCA, after the Dutch elm was removed. Note the lack of ivy, too.

 

Y Not?

What’s up with this very ordinary photo?

YMCA parking lot

It’s part of the Westport Y’s parking lot, off Wilton Road. It shows a small number of the many cars that are no longer jockeying for a spot downtown.

I went to the new Y today, for the first time. I liked the spacious, airy fitness center.

I did not like the very cramped locker room. (I was a member of the Men’s Health Center at the old Y. I miss the gym clothes and towels, too.)

And I wonder why so many able-bodied people take the elevator instead of the stairs. It’s a health and wellness facility, people.

Meanwhile, here’s what the Y’s Bedford building looks like today. With the trees (and ivy) removed, you can see a pair of gargoyles that were hidden for years.

YMCA ivy removed

That view won’t last, I’m sure. Get ready for big changes downtown.