Tag Archives: Fred Cantor

This Distracted Life

Every week, it seems, WestportNow features an automobile accident that came out of the blue. They happen in broad daylight, on beautiful, clear days.

Whenever I see a photo like the one on Easton Road last week, I think: cell phone. The driver had to have been talking — or worse, texting. How else could someone hit a telephone pole — or another car — in perfect weather?

Alert “06880” reader Fred Cantor has been thinking about this too. He writes:

The other day I sat at a light at the intersection of Green’s Farms Road and Compo. It was a beautiful fall day, with trees starting to turn — what we live for in Westport. I enjoyed the scenery.

The light turned, but the car in front didn’t move. I waited patiently. I saw the driver. Her head was tilted down. I assume she was occupied by her cellphone.

Texting is so much more interesting than paying attention to the road.

Texting is so much more interesting than paying attention to the road.

I waited 5 seconds before tapping my horn. She started up like an Indy 500 driver. There was no “I’m sorry” wave. I guess she had been transported to another place, thanks to her cell.

A few days before that, my wife and I were at a bakery on a weekday afternoon. A man in a business suit came in with a middle school-age girl.

I thought: How nice. A busy dad picked up his daughter at school; now they’ve got some quality time together.

They got food, sat down, and proceeded to take out their cellphones. They looked down as they ate, with no conversation between them.

Recently at Compo, I saw a timeless scene: kids hanging out on the cannons at dusk. But as I got closer, I realized 2 of them were staring down at their cells.

Kids using cellphones on the Compo cannons. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Kids using cellphones on the Compo cannons. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

I’m not a Luddite. I fully embrace the internet, and how we connect in ways unimaginable years ago.

But in the 1950s, television was seen as both a marvel and an innovation with downsides. My parents set clear rules about TV viewing in our home.

I would love to know what types of ground rules Westport parents set about cellphone access and use? Are they barred from dinner tables at home? At restaurants? What — if anything — are you trying to do to ensure that your kids are not only focused on what they’re doing, but that they know you’re focused on them?

Great questions, Fred! Let’s hear what “06880” readers have to say. Click “Comments” to share what happens in your house — the theory and the reality.

Just Another Boring Day In Westport

Cotton candy clouds at Sherwood Mill Pond. (Click or hover over to enlarge.)

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

You Can Go Home (To Coleytown El) Again

In 1963, Fred Cantor’s parents moved to Easton Road from Queens. Two years later he graduated from Coleytown Elementary School, just down the street.

To mark that 50th anniversary, a small group — Fred, Nancy Saipe, Leslie Schine, Andy Lewis, Jeff Wilkins, Dan Magida and Cherie Flom Quain — arranged a literal stroll down memory lane. Principal Janna Sirowich and her assistant Carol Borrman helped them take a tour of the current school on Tuesday. Here’s Fred’s report:

Coleytown was K-6 during our time there — the peak years of the baby boom era. Our 1965 photo shows 97 kids in 6th grade. We had 3 teachers, so that’s 32-33 students per class!

Coleytown Elementary School's graduating 6th graders, in 1965.

Coleytown Elementary School’s graduating 6th graders, in 1965.

Most in our group had not been back inside in decades. Some long-lost or fuzzy memories were jogged during our visit.

There was no formal auditorium at Coleytown. The gym with a stage on the side doubled as the auditorium. We had an annual Christmas concert there. Parents sat in rows of folding chairs on the basketball court.

The gym/stage space brought back memories of a graduation ceremony. Boys and girls walked in from the playground. We were lined up by height, from shortest to tallest.

The rear view of Coleytown Elementary School, before expansion and modernization.

The rear view of Coleytown Elementary School, before expansion and modernization.

Walking down the corridors and visiting old classrooms evoked other images from the distant past:

  • Nap time in kindergarten, where kids stretched out on giant towels.
  • A particularly unruly 3rd grader who was disciplined regularly by having his desk placed in the hallway.
  • Developing a newspaper-reading habit for current events discussions, by clipping stories on topics like civil rights and space exploration.

Everyone remembered recess fondly. Popular games were 4-square and “maul the ball carrier” (tackling the kid with the ball — an activity schools might not embrace today).

Report cards have certainly evolved over 50 years. Our 5th grade math classes were divided into “fast,” “high average” and “low average” tracks. We were also graded on “penmanship.”

Fred Cantor's report card.

Fred Cantor’s 5th grade report card. It’s quite a bit different from those used today. According to teacher Miss Belz, Fred “made good progress this year.”

At this stage of life, thinking back on those early childhood years elicits thoughts of classmates and friends no longer with us.

Those feelings were particularly poignant this week. Our classmate Andy Lewis — who looked very forward to the tour — died of an apparent heart attack just days before he was to head to Westport.

My last email exchange with Andy was about our Coleytown experiences. He said he’d walked home for lunch “if the menu was bad, like fish sticks.”

Andy’s sudden death is also a reminder that we never know what the future holds. We should be grateful for every opportunity to reunite with old friends.

Old friends gather in the Coleytown Elementary School gym (from left): Cherie Flom Quain, Fred Cantor, Jeff Wilkins, Nancy Saipe, Dan Magida, Leslie Schine.

Old friends gather in the Coleytown Elementary School gym (from left): Cherie Flom Quain, Fred Cantor, Jeff Wilkins, Nancy Saipe, Dan Magida, Leslie Schine.

You Won’t Believe What Someone Left At Compo Beach Tonight

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

Down By the Riverside

Today’s weather is not exactly the get-outside-and-enjoy type.

But a couple of days ago, it was. Westporters did.

And alert “06880” reader/photographer Fred Cantor was there — at the Riverwalk — to capture them.

Rodin's "The Thinker"? No, Cantor's "The Reader."

Rodin’s “The Thinker”? No, Cantor’s “The Reader.”

A late lunch, and great light.

A late lunch, and a great view.

Fred Cantor - 3

Not an abandoned bicycle. The rider walked down the nearby steps, to the water’s edge.


Gone Fishin’

Fred Cantor captured this timeless scene yesterday, off Ford Road:

Ford Road - Fred Cantor

Tearing Down A Teardown Sign

The stretch of Hillspoint Road from Hales Road to Old Mill is not an official historic district. But plenty of older, handsome homes line both sides of the street, as it dips gently from I-95 and the railroad down to Elvira’s.

For a long time, a “demolition” sign seemed to doom 158 Hillspoint Road. But the other day, Fred Cantor — who in addition to being an alert “06880” reader is also a very alert neighbor — noticed the sign was gone.

He spotted contractors’ trucks on site. So on one of his walks he talked to a next door neighbor, and a worker. Both confirmed that the home was sold, and will stay.

Score one for preservation!

158 Hillspoint Road is no longer a teardown. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

158 Hillspoint Road — built in 1803 — is no longer a teardown. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Fred is not content to just spread the good news. He also passes along the history he’s dug up.

According to tax assessor records, Fred says, the original portion of the home was built in 1803.

Fred found information from former owner Sue Braley on WestportNow in 2013, when it was first slated for demolition. Sue — who sold it in 1996 — said it was originally an outbuilding of the Sherwood House at 160 Hillspoint, then modified for human occupation in the early part of the 20th century, when artists and others began coming to Westport for the summer.

Sue writes:

Oral tradition claims that it was a tea room for the tourists, perhaps operated by Edith Very Sherwood, who lived at 160 and was the Westport librarian.  (A subsequent owner was) Richard Seyffert, a portrait and landscape painter who began construction of the studio toward the rear of the property.

Felice Holman Valen (the author of over 20 children’s books, including “Elisabeth and the Marsh Mystery” and others clearly inspired by the nearby mill pond) and Herbert Valen (who worked in advertising and later as a “gag” writer for the New Yorker) owned the property from 1955 to the late 1980s.

Westport’s old homes are disappearing at an alarming rate. How nice to read of at least one that escaped a very imminent wrecking ball.

Two doors away from 158 Hillspoint is #170. It bears a plaque, dating it from 1870. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Two doors away from 158 Hillspoint, this house bears a plaque dating it from 1870. (Photo/Fred Cantor)


Danish House Follow-Up: No, No, It Really Is The Philippines!

This morning’s “06880” post — about the 1964-65 World’s Fair Danish Pavilion that ended up in Westport — started out:

It’s an urban suburban myth: The Philippines (or Indonesian) (or Danish) pavilion from the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair ended up as a residence at the end of Compo Cove.

The piece described how the Danish pavilion actually became a Danish furniture store near the Sherwood Island connector. In the final paragraph, I wondered whether that was the same house everyone speculates is on Compo Cove.

I should have checked with Fred Cantor first.

The very alert “06880” reader/avid historical researcher sent along a document from 1991. The 11-page application to the National Park Service — signed by state historic preservation officer John Shannahan — requests that 22 buildings comprising the “Mill Cove Historic District” be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Here’s the interesting part: One of the cottages at the south end of the district has “an unusual history. Originally, this building was a bamboo hut built for the Phillipine [sic] Exhibit at the St. Louis Exposition in the late nineteenth century [sic]; it was dismantled and re-erected on this site about 1900.”

(Well, a bit later. The Exposition was held in 1904.)

The houses that came from the Philippine Exhibit are at the far right in this Google Maps photo. Beyond them (to the right) is Sherwood Island State Park. To the left is the path leading to Old Mill Beach.

The houses that came from the Philippine Exposition are at the far right in this Google Maps photo. Beyond them (to the right) is Sherwood Island State Park. To the left is the path leading to Old Mill Beach.

But wait! There’s more! “A smaller cottage to the rear is also a re-built bamboo hut but it has retained its form and some exterior materials.”

UPDATEAlert reader SW Reid posted in a comment (below): “Brooks Jones built the guest house behind the ‘pavilion’ maybe 25 years ago. He wanted the unit to look like the original structure on the water.”

So there you have it. The house is Filipino, not Danish. But how and why it ended up in Westport remains a mystery.

Until, that is, Fred finds out.

BONUS FUN FACTSThe 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair — also called the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition — was built to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the purchase of the Louisiana Territory by the US from France.

The Philippine Exhibit was the largest (47 acres, 100 buildings), most expensive ($2 million) and most popular at the entire fair.

A bird's-eye view of the mammoth Philippine Exhibit.

A bird’s-eye view of the mammoth Philippine Exhibit.

There were about 1,100 Filipinos at the Philippine Exhibit. They were shown in various stages of cultures, from primitive to highly cultured.

The head-hunting, dog-eating Igorots were the greatest attraction at the Philippine Exhibit, not only because of their novelty, the scanty dressing of the males and their daily dancing to the tom-tom beats, but also because of their appetite for dog meat which is a normal part of their diet.

(Hat tip to Virgilio R. Pilapil — and Google — for the above information. Read much more from him about the Philippine Exhibit by clicking here.)

Philippine Exhibition


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.


Westport At The Crossroads

Fred Cantor is an alert “06880” reader — and a talented researcher with an eye for intriguing stories about Westport’s past.

The other day, he sent 4 clippings from the New York Times. All were from 50 years ago. Westport was in the midst of a historic transformation, Fred said, as the town’s population rocketed skyward.

On February 2, 1964, 1st Selectman Herb Baldwin announced the formation of a Development Commission. The aim was to attract light industry, thus broadening the tax base.

“The move grew out of a recent fiscal seminar where concern was voiced over the town’s high bonded indebtedness, principally due to school construction,” the Times reported. The debt was approximately $12 million.

On June 26, the Planning and Zoning Commission tightened restrictions against new apartment buildings — despite acknowledging the need for apartments serving “older people and young married couples.” The previous day, the Zoning Board of Appeals denied an application for construction of a 48-unit apartment on the site of the Tennex factory on Riverside Avenue.

Many of today's familiar Riverside Avenue buildings were once factories.

Many of today’s familiar Riverside Avenue buildings were once factories.

On October 4, 1964, the Times said that a group of Greens Farms property owners were  “aroused by a proposal to build a department store, a supermarket and a parking lot for 617 cars in their midst, two miles east of the town’s center.” The centerpiece would be an Arnold Constable store.

Opponents cited a traffic hazard for students at nearby Green’s Farms Elementary School, and destruction of the “rustic charm” of the area. One person said, “We don’t want to turn Westport into another Rye or New Rochelle.”

Proponents countered it would add “sorely needed town revenue. They say the chief reason the town has sunk into debt over the last 20 years is that it has resisted business growth.”

The 7 1/2-acre property — bounded by South Morningside Drive and Church Street — would add between $40,000 and $52,430 a year in taxes.

Years after it was proposed, a shopping center was built near Greens Farms Elementary School.

Years after it was proposed, a shopping center was built near Greens Farms Elementary School.

Two months later, the P&Z proposed action to reverse the “hodgepodge” and “visual mayhem” — town officials’ words — of the Post Road. Fifteen properties along busy Route 1 would need special permits for development. New zones would be limited by “natural boundaries, such as topography, existing streets or similar barriers.”

Included was the Greens Farms tract. It took a number of years, but the shopping center — anchored today by Barnes & Noble — eventually was built.

Half a century later, some things haven’t changed. Westporters still debate property taxes and affordable housing.

But we no longer argue about shopping centers. They’re here, they’re there, they’re everywhere.

There’s nowhere left to put a new one.