Westport has been awash in 50-year celebrations. Mitchells, Staples soccer, Staples Players, Orphenians — all reached the half-century mark within the past year.
Next up: Longshore.
Few Westporters realize that our town jewel camethisclose to being something else entirely. In early 1960, the 169-acre property — the privately owned Longshore Beach and Country Club, with a golf course, tennis courts, pools, marina, inn/restaurant and play areas — came up for sale.
The typical Westport response — build houses! — was strongly considered. But First Selectman Herb Baldwin and his kitchen cabinet decided to make a bid, on behalf of the town.
They had to act quickly. In just 18 days they put together a $1.9 million package — then earned approval from the Board of Finance and RTM. The latter vote was 38-0. (The RTM doesn’t even name bridges or approve jUNe Day unanimously.)
A month and a half later — on May 28, 1960 — Longshore Club Park opened to the public. It’s gone through plenty of changes — it took several owners to get the Inn right; the golf course and tennis courts have been revamped; a much-loved but rickety apartment building was torn down; a sailing school and rental shop now flourishes; some trees have been cut down, others planted; the swimming pool was renovated; a handsome entryway was built; an ice skating rink was added, and the way-cool (but decorative only) lighthouse is long gone — but everyone and everything else has changed in 50 years too. (Except the Quonset hut behind the Boat Locker on the Post Road.)
To mark the occasion, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff has appointed a 50th anniversary committee. We (full disclosure: I’m on it) will celebrate the milestone appropriately — through public ceremonies, exhibits, a website and publications. We have started collecting materials, and despite the early stage we can tell it’s going to be a very cool project. At the 1st meeting, we saw memorabilia ranging from towels from the old private country club, to 1920s aerial photos showing just a rough 3-hole golf course near the Inn.
Westporters will learn much about Longshore over the coming year. It looks like the celebration will culminate with a grand event on May 28, 2011, honoring the end of the public park’s golden anniversary.
Hall & Oates will not appear. (If you don’t understand that reference, read the history of Longshore — whenever it comes out.)
“06880” will report back, from time to time, on Longshore’s 50th. Meanwhile, the next time you drive past the park — or into it — look around. Enjoy the spectacular view.
And think what this town would be like if — 50 years ago this winter — our civic leaders had decided that $1.9 million was just too much to pay for 169 acres of land.
(Got photos, home movies or other Longshore materials you’d like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org)