Celebrating Italian Fest, 2011

This summer, Festival Italiano is just a cherished memory.

A lack of volunteers and sponsors doomed the 27-year-old institution — itself a revival of the long-running St. Anthony’s Feast.

But Westporters are intrepid.  And though the carnival rides, fried dough and Johnny Maestro are gone, we can have our own Italian Fest this summer.

Or at least, we can celebrate the reason we had a festival in the first place:  Saugatuck.

Rather than riding roller coasters, eating unhealthy food and listening to bands without most of their original members, let’s honor the place that meant so much to so many, for so long.

The Arrow Restaurant was always packed.

You can drive to Saugatuck, and ride along its still-familiar streets.  You can walk around, and — though the smells and sounds of the 1930s, ’50s, even the ’70s are gone — still see the remnants of what was once Westport’s most vibrant neighborhood.

Or just sit back, close your eyes, and think back to the days of the Arrow restaurant, Lou Santella’s barber shop, and small grocery stores and other shops everywhere.

Remember families like Capasse, Anastasia, Luciano, Cribari, Giunta, Caruso, D’Aiuto, Dorta, Romano, DeMattio, Arciola, DeMace, D’Amico, Manere, Capuano, Arcudi, Melillo, Rubino, Caputo, Tiberio, Bottone, Nazzaro, Saviano, Reitano, Valiante, Tedesco, Gilbertie and Nistico.

Construction of I-95 sliced the Saugatuck community in half.

Think of the grape arbors, plum trees and beautiful gardens of years gone by.  Some survived construction of I-95, when it sliced through the heart of this tight-knit community.  Many did not.

Recall Dr. Gillette Circle.  It’s a strange name — but it memorializes the family doctor who served Saugatuck so well.

Think about the old  Sons of Italy hall on Riverside Avenue.  Next to it — once upon a time — was a cable grip factory.  Nearby were farms, a shirt factory, homes that housed multiple generations and houses with multiple families.

Not far away is the train station.  The 2nd set of tracks was built by Italian immigrants.  It’s an important part of the community that’s still there.

Carole and Robert DeMaria in Saugatuck (now Luciano) Park. In the background is Esposito's Gulf station (soon to be Mario Batali's Tarry Lodge). On the corner is Arcudi's grocery story (now the 21 Charles Street office building.) (Photo courtesy of Terry Santella Anzalone)

So is Luciano Park.  Both the park, and the station parking lot, were apt sites for the Italian Festival when it thrived.

The thousands of fair-goers may not have realized they were standing on a patch of history — that’s tough to do when you’re playing whack-a-mole, scarfing down pizza frites and dancing to do-wop — but it’s the way the world turns.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to think back — particularly this 2nd weekend in July, the traditional date for Festival Italiano — to what it was, and why it was there.

So spend a few minutes remembering the Italian Fest, and its the entire Saugatuck community.

You can travel back there in real life, or go there in your mind’s eye.

Either way, it’s a wonderful journey.

24 responses to “Celebrating Italian Fest, 2011

  1. interested reader

    Great photos! Your list of last names brought to mind many of my classmates in Saugatuck back in the 60’s. Having grown up off of Bridge Street, bike riding into Saugatuck was a regular occurrence as was exploring the shores by the river (although forbidden by my mother!). Over the silver bridge to spy on the Jockey Club patrons was another regular activity! Arrow was our favorite Sat. night hang out for many years. It’s why I keep reading this blog!

  2. Joanne Romano

    Thanks Dan, we are all going to miss the festival but surely many of us still remember its beginnings…..Our families, friends and neighbors who gathered for fun, food and many stories 🙂

  3. Jeb Backuskool aid

    Dan, Great Job. The story hit home as I live right smack dab in the middle of Saugatuck, which will never be the same w/out festival.

    Walking from my house to the festival was a annual family tradition for the us and you could alway count on seeing old friends, eating some fantastic food and listen to greatmusic.

    The festival will be miss, but we will have those memories forever.

    Jeb Backus

  4. Jeb Backuskool aid

    Dan, Great Job. The story hits home as I live right smack dab in the middle of Saugatuck, which will never be the same w/out festival.

    Walking from my house to the festival was a annual family tradition for the us and you could alway count on seeing old friends, eating some fantastic food and listen to great music.

    The festival will be missed, but we will have those memories forever.

    Jeb Backus

  5. Elegant, eloquent and evocative, Dan. You’ve brought it all back. Here are some more names from old Saugatuck: Renzulli, Penna, Ciati, Carusone, Febraio, Fratino, Gilbertie, Pascarelli, Bossone, Boccanfuso, Pellicone, Caprio, Veno, Gianetti, Vento, Nette and DePalma. As always, thanks to Terry Santella for her photos.

  6. “Anonymous” above is me. How could I leave out more of my former immediate neighbors?: Doddo, Falasco, Tedesco, Straffolino and Esposito, plus other non-Italian names that added spice to the neighborhood: Folsom, Lupton, Bell, Arnn, Haehl, Rogers, Dunnigan, Bradley, Lonergan, Kuny, Whitmire, Sequin, Michel, Longmuir, Danaher, Jennings, Welsh, Grant, Buchroeder and Gunn.

    • Tom,
      How gracious of you to include my family’s name in your recollection of Treadwell neighbors given that we moved across town in 1957. The pther names are from long ago but conjure up definite warm memories I’ll never forget “dirty dining” in your front yard at 4 years of age.

  7. Fred Cantor

    When I think of Saugatuck growing up, I will always have great memories of going to the Arrow and the Nisticos. It seemed like the Arrow was Westport’s community gathering spot.

  8. Great memories, Dan and it makes us all miss Lou Santella. Thinking about Saugatuck reminded me that I sorely miss the green knoll on Saugatuck Avenue near West Ferry Lane by the Thruway entrance. Until the building of the Connecticut Thruway that green oasis was the site of the Saugatuck Methodist Church, built in 1853, and known in town as the Little White Church. For many years after the completion of the Thruway, that green knoll remained a lovely Saugatuck spot until the DOT began to use it for storing all kinds of equipment and it finally disappeared into a parking lot.

  9. The Dude Abides

    Nice photos and some excellent writing. While my family moved here in ’52 and were some of the new blood up off Cross Highway (in those “cookie cutter split level mansions”), the vitality of Saugatuck was not far away. My junior high days were often spent within the enormous Ogilvy family off Valley Road. Papa Ogivly (“Mr. Tennis”) constantly complained about the noise of the turnpike with one memorable comment: “They need to somehow make frictionless tires to limit the traffic noise.” Of course, the elders of the 9 children family were immediately on his back. But wow, the placement of the “turnpike” certainly affected the area.

  10. Megan "Acquino" Restieri

    I am still hoping the Festival will come back some day! I have many many great memories of setting up, working and breaking down the festival for many years..it was tradition and like a reunion.. You could go a whole year without seeing people around town, but would always catch up at the festival! I also have great family memories too, as My dad (Duke Acquino) for many years helped with the electrical work alongside the crew from Westport Electric setting up tents etc.
    Dan thanks for bringing this subject up!! We need to keep the memories alivee!

    • Megan, I remember Duke well. We played on the Jaguars Little League team together.

    • Linda Gramatky Smith

      And I remember Eva Acquino, a good friend on Roseville, Megan! Is she your aunt?

  11. Why don’t you see about Winslow for a revived and bigger Italian Fest and actually use that place for something???

    • You will need to get permission from the dogs who use it as a toilet.

      • And don’t use toilet paper. Still would be a nice setting. Folks parking on the lawn and ferris wheels, etc. Could be nice instead of just a barren (vice baron) wasteland of dog poop. Known for its unfriendly packs of dogs as well. Come on Westport, let’s starting using this stuff!

  12. Does anyone remember this colorful character named “Harpo”? He was a fixture at Mario’s. Truly nice little fellow who passed away about 12 years ago.

  13. Harpo could drink just about anybody under the table with the exception of my ex-father in law.

  14. Linda Gramatky Smith

    “Interested reader” mentioned the Jockey Club. This story may make readers laugh. In 1964, Diane, my NYC roommate for a couple of years after college and who had grown up in Westport, had a keen editor’s eye. One day she was reading a copy of the Social Register that listed the 400 families in NYC who were the richest and most elite. She started chuckling and showed me the listing for one guy who in naming the clubs he belonged to had included “The Jockey Club in Westport, Connecticut”! We knew it was a local watering hole, not the snooty club he implied.

  15. That’s hilarious, Linda! The JC, next to Santella’s barbershop and Frannie’s, was the quinessential Saugatuck neighborhood watering hole, along with bar at the Arrow and the Horse’s Tail (aka Question Mark Tavern) at the base of Sunrise. I heard at a young age that there was gambling at the JC — and I was shocked, shocked!

  16. Linda Hudson

    I regret never knowing the former Saugatuck neighborhoods, having moved here in the early 70’s. But our home is part of the former Dolge estate on Kings HIghway South, and I’ve been told that the hills of Birchwood Country club were their vineyards and orchards (some apple trees still remain, and we have a stubborn old grape vine still producing). Every fall, the Dolges would hire Italians from Saugatuck to harvest grapes and make the wine; they would then invite all the workers to a party under the grape arbor, with lanterns an plenty of vino, of course.

  17. Does anyone remember the cheese shop across the street from the RR station? I still have memories of going there with my mother and shuffling through the sawdust on the floors. I moved from Westport at age 12 so I don’t remember many of the establishments, although the names ring loud and clear! I was best friends with Keven Nette, went to school with Joe Boccanfuso, John D’Aiuto, Rit Capasse and had a terrible crush on Sammy Arciola. My friend and I would hang out in the little waiting room with the pot belly stove at the RR station.

    • The cheese shop was run by my Saugatuck neighbor, Helen Lupton, who lived on Sachem Trail. It proved so successful that the family opened several more along the East coast. Kevin Nette’s dad, Paul, owned the Mobil station across the street from the firehouse and Louie Straffolino’s pharmacy (which had probably been Arnold’s, a candy store, when you lived in Saugatuck).