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Happy Birthday, Dear Longshore

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.

The Inn at Longshore back in the day. Much has changed since this undated photo was taken -- and much has not.

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.)

Longshore is a photographer's delight, at all hours of the day and in every season of the year.

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 longshore50@gmail.com)

In the mid-1960s, the Westport Recreation Commission's youth soccer program played games at Longshore. The field -- now the site of the Inn parking lot, and several tennis courts -- sloped appreciably upward. This shot looks toward the golf course; the Inn would be on the left.

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