No More Needle Park?

In the beginning it was a pocket-size park at the corner of “State Street” (Post Road) and Main Street, around the corner from the entrance to the original Westport Public Library.  It featured benches, flowers, and a fountain donated by the Sheffer family.

In the 1960s it became known as Needle Park.  That’s where Westport’s alleged heroin users — both of them — allegedly shot up.  In reality, it was just a great hangout for high school kids smoking a little weed.

When the library moved a few hundred yards south — replaced by Starbucks, a short-lived restaurant, a few ever-changing retail outlets and (of course) a bank — the park was spruced up by developers.

"Needle Park," in one of its many incarnations.

Quickly, it fell into disuse.  Yet it was always there, a handsome reminder of the library’s storied past, and one of the few places on Main Street to rest when your shopping bags got too heavy.

Now, “Needle Park” — as it’s still (now affectionately) known — is no more.  Construction equipment is busy tearing it up.  Soon, it will be reconfigured into a  store entryway.

A construction worker said it will still look “like a park.”  He did not know any more details.

"Needle Park," yesterday afternoon.

I thought a deed restriction promised it would be a park “in perpetuity,” but realtor Mike Calise — who is not involved with the project — says no.  He says that when the library relocated in the mid-1980s he proposed the town receive the small property in a land swap, but first selectman Bill Seiden said no.

Mike says that “public access” will continue to be guaranteed — but that just means no one can shoo you away if you have lunch on the new steps.

It’s a small change for downtown Westport, but it augurs bigger ones ahead.  Across the street from the now-defunct park sits the handsome Bedford building, first a hotel and then the original Westport YMCA.

When the Y vacates the property 3 years from now, who knows what will happen there?

At least we know we can sit in a new park — or, if that does not come to pass, on the steps across the street — and watch.

35 responses to “No More Needle Park?

  1. an interested reader

    Sigh and sigh again. Sorry if I don’t seem to want progress for downtown Westport, I do. Why is it when one visits many European cities, towns and villages, somehow, some consciousness is able to preserve centuries old buildings, streets, landmarks but we just like tear downs! I hope that isn’t the way of the Y buidling. I hope not. Don’t live in Westport anymore, but would love to be able to recognize some of it when we do visit. The Y building is a historical landmark of downtown Westport. One worth holding on to. Just one opinion, of course.

  2. Karen Huppi Vail

    In the early ’70’s I worked as a ‘page’ at the old library, and used to have lunch in ‘Needle Park’. In the ’60’s I would walk by it holding my Mother’s hand and ask about the unusual looking people who hung out there, my Mother said they were ‘hippies’. Very sad to see all the changes going on in Westport, the old haunts fading away…

  3. Not a Stepford

    Oh man! That’s sad. It was nice to have a non-commercial spot on Main Street. It made me feel like it was still a neighborhood street.

  4. The Dude Abides

    Many a good totes were had at that “park.” We called it “walling” whereby you could sit there and do some people watching while inhaling the melody of life. Everybody in too much of a hurry to do that anymore. Like hampsters on a treadmill. Where is the Historical Society when you really need them????

  5. No rest for the weary

    Perhaps, Dan, you referred to Christina’s restaurant which occupied that space for a few years and preceded the arrival of Starbucks. If I remember correctly, Christina’s did a wonderful job sprucing up the garden area. (Inside, there were murals by local artists.) There were benches and a pergola upon which rested wisteria. Although the garden area was the entrance to Christina’s, the public was welcome. I thought it was a lovely pocket garden that gave respite and offered the opportunity for impromptu visits.

  6. My youth just died with that park….
    Muriel’s Restaurant was on the corner.
    That’s the one I remember.
    You could see everything, and I mean everything, from Needle Park and from Muriel’s.

  7. When the Y vacates, the building will be demolished and replaced by (a minimum of) two banks and some more chain stores (primarily clothing). Waaaay gone are the days of originality … stores like Selective-Eye, the Separate Shop, Packroads, and the Remarkable Book Store, stores that made Westport ‘Westport’.

    • Old Time Westporter

      Yeah, when gas was 32 cents a gallon and they had a filling station right on Main Street. Welcome to the 21st century. Time to move on, those stores were not all that great. Like the Ice Cream Palor or the Clam Box. What makes Westport is the people. Like our good friend, Raj now.

  8. Gary Singer

    The evil named “progress” cannot be stopped. But one would think that local history deserves some respect. Apparently not in Westport. A walk down Main St. is a sad event. Corporate greed has replaced family entrepreneurship.

  9. Arthur Champlin

    “Mom and Pop” are living in Florida or Vermont. Can’t get a line of credit with the Too Big To Fail Top Ten Banks or a SBA Loan from the deficit concious ADD federales. Westport sold their soul in the ’70’s when Stauffer Chemical came and they said it would lower the tax base. Yeah right.

  10. Downtown Westport’s “front porch” demolished with no warning? Something doesn’t seem right. Is there anything that can be done to prevent the Y building from the same fate?

  11. Dick Lowenstein

    The appearance of the existing Tudor-style Y building is protected. As for Needle Park, the renovation plans, which call for a more open and inviting public space, have been OK’d by the Historic District Commission and the Archictecture Review Board

    • Are these the same folks who OK the demolition of Westport’s grand old houses in favor of a McMansion, or is that another group?

      • How you can tell the difference is that the Archictecture (sic) Review Board attended Raj’s daughter’s wedding and the Historic District Commission were not invited.

      • One man’s grand old house is another man’s dump.

        • The Dude Abides

          Speaking of which, have you noticed how they have spruced up the dump??? Rather stylish.

          • A bit over the top for me, but if 8000+ Nouveau is your style I guess it’s OK.

          • The Dude Abides

            Love the dump. It is better for the soul than going to church.

  12. For those of us who did needle in Needle Park, we are honored that it will now be more open and inviting. More the merrier.

  13. I miss the Peking Inn.

  14. Gave up my Yanks season tickets.

  15. I miss Phil Rizzuto, Johnny Mize, Yogi Berra, the Liverpool Shop on Main Street, the African Room…..oh, you know. I miss the Sixties everywhere. Sigh.

  16. Live in Northampton. Close enough.

  17. I was pre-Richardson — Jerry Coleman was my 2nd baseman. Pat Boone was a dope and I listened to Big Bill Broonzy. I had no idea one could submarine-watch at Compo — by the time I got to Westport I was too busy standing in the peace vigil at Town Hall Saturday mornings and ranting.

  18. The Dude Abides

    Jerry ended up flying in Korea with Ted Williams in the same squadron as John Glenn. The Senator said neither knew anything about flying jets. Pat WAS a dope but those white bucks. Submarine visualosity started when Jimmy Carter entered Annapolis and took his maiden voyage past Port of West on his way to Nantucket. It was better than the drive-in by early LBJ.

  19. Dude, you really know the stuff!

  20. The Dude Abides

    A plethora of trivia. BTW Keith Richards (“Life”) thought Pat Boone was tops but knew he couldn’t make the transition to R&R.

  21. How sad indeed!!! I spent many afternoons after school there and at the “Green” late 70’s. I was in town not so long ago, and oh the changes. I will always remember Westport the way it was when I was growing up. I can still smell the food cooking from West Lake sitting in the park with friends and watching people go by. What a shame this little town is so keeping up with the Jones’s.

  22. The Dude Abides

    Oh, Susan, it was the same way back then. Everyone concious of the material factors of thy neighbor’s toy chest. Hasn’t changed much but kids don’t run free anymore. That has changed. No more just hanging out downtown or a pickup game of football or a bike ride to the beach. But I gotta tell you, running across the bridge today with all the American flags waving brought back memories and still no place like Westport.