A recent post highlighting one former Westporter’s disillusionment with what his former hometown lit a (predictable) fire in the “06880” comments section.

In response, someone who grew up here in the 1960s — then returned to Westport 10 years ago to live — offered these thoughts on positive changes in over the decades.

For example:

Staples.  “What a magnificent facility this is now,” the writer says.  “It reminds me of a modern college complex.  And while going to classes back in the ’60s via outdoor walkways was great on beautiful fall and spring days, it was a pain in the neck in the winter and during downpours.

The fieldhouse and pool, the returnee adds, represent much-improved athletic facilities.  They’re used often, by people of all ages.

The Staples High School of yesteryear looked nothing like this.

Levitt Pavilion.  “We had nothing like this growing up.  A true cultural and entertainment jewel.”

Toquet Hall.  “There was no teen center when we grew up,” the “06880” reader notes.

Senior Center.  “Was there anything like this back in the day?”  No way.

Library.  The writer says there is “absolutely no comparison between the old cramped Post Road building and the current location.  Besides the far greater offering of books and periodicals, the present-day library is much more of a community center in so many ways.  The hours are also much more extensive now.”

The Library looks a lot different from its previous, cramped quarters.

Speaking of hours, stores are open far longer than in the past.  This is a function of the repeal of Connecticut’s blue laws, but it’s a change for the better, the reader says.

Restaurants offer a “much greater choice today (and I’m sure most people would add, a great choice of high quality).”

Longshore, including the building housing the tennis pro shop, lockers and food concession, is “a beautifully designed gateway to that section of the club, far superior to the prior run-down building.”  Much of the rest of Longshore — the pool, inn, golf course and marina — is also vastly improved.

The person who responded served up this challenge:  “If you’ve got a Westport connection going back at least 20 years, what else is better now?”

I’ll start it off:  We never had local blogs 🙂

To add your own thoughts, click the “Comments” link.

21 responses to “Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

  1. Chip Stephens

    Times are changing and there are some great new things in town, but the old days were not so bad and we who still are here from the 60-70s kinda had and have the best of both worlds.
    Let’s start with teen center, sorry kids but we had it made in the 60s and 70s, you name the national group or singer du jour , we had them at Staples or Longshore. There was not a summer week end there was not a dance with a live band at Longshore.
    Now it is Splash and the “hall” is just a expensive reception area, shame. As to Splash it was the patio at Longshore where you could get a cocktail or beer for under $5 and bring the kids and dogs along, no wall the party spilled out to the lawn to the shore for running and frisbee.
    Staples was tough on the occasional rain or cold spell but the outdoor break between classes and free times was totally worth it. Sitting under a tree, buck-buck. a toss, cards or just mellowin out.
    The stores were local for the most part and if you needed something bad enough you knew who to call. When my Grandfather died and I needed a quick proper set of clothes Ed Mitchell, was quick to open his store late on a weekend evening to help out. And always one local pharmacy was open 24 x 7.
    Restaurants, fuggatabout it, there were many great restaurants around 2 very good French, many Italian where the local kids all worked, Manaros, Clambox, Allans on the mill pond, Café Dela Plage (on the water) and many others with their own character and owner that knew you after one visit.
    Finally Torquet and Senior center were not really needed as much , we had a bowling alley, a trampoline center (Ed Halls), the Beach all night, and seniors mixed with everyone else at church and synagogue events, staples plays, music, and sports events, downtown and on the benches by Chubby Lanes at the beach.
    Things are good now, things were good then too, kind of makes Westport a special place !

  2. Chip, your response brought back all sorts of fond memories–playing buck-buck in front of the Staples cafeteria (who invented that game?), the bowling alley, trampoline center, etc. Today, we’ve got all the amenities Dan mentions, plus a wonderfully renovated Playhouse, twinkle-lighted trees on Main Street, the Trex boardwalk at the beach (no more splinters!), the new Bedford Middle School, Wakeman Town Farm (bring back the Aitkenheads!), the new & improved Christies (my new favorite place to get an ice cream cone), all the farmers’ markets (okay, I do miss Rippes), L&L Market with Lloyd’s poetic updates, and Winslow Park, to name a few.

  3. Carl Addison Swanson

    For a kid growing up in the 50’s & 60’s, there were few places better than Westport. Indeed, we did have the bowling alleys, driving ranges, Coach
    Hall’s trampoline center next to the hockey/ice skating rink, a ragged but fun Longshore, a nucleus center of the YMCA and really only Little League, Pop Warner football and a few basketball leagues. But eveything was not organized or structured. As a kid, you could jump on your bike, or hitchhike anywhere in this town to find a pickup baseball game or a tackle footbal game down at Doubleday. There were Saturday afternoon matinees at the move theatre followed by a fist fight by the Town Hall (now the Police Station). Once in high school, there were dances at Staples nearly every weekend, a drive-in movie in Norwalk and people hung out at the Crest Drive-in or the Big Toppe. You could watch the “submarine races” at the beach (open all night) and take a run to Port Chester or Vista for a few beers followed by some drag racing down Roseville or or riding the cows on Nyala Farms. Good times. The buildings have changed. The library is vastly improved as are the green fairways of Longshore. The restaurants are new but seemingly lacking in the unique charm of the Cobb’s Mill, Silvermine, Three Bears or the Clam Box. The people seem much the same too. Hard working folks with middle class values wanting the best for their children and their community despite the long hours at work it takes to provide such. And the town has held its beauty. NO place has a more lovely downtown setting as you gaze across the bridge with the flags waving or a sunset stroll down at Compo or take a bike ride down Beachside Avenue. It is a wonderful place and as the late Paul Newman once said: “It is a privledge to live here.”

    • Correction: The fist fights took place at the Municipality Court building which is now the police station. Town Hall was right next to the theatre and is a bank now.

  4. better now: sewage treatment facilities, both in Westport and around the Sound.

  5. Expanding on Becky’s comment, the Sound and other waterways are much cleaner than I remember them being as a kid in the 60s.

  6. Gary Singer

    Sitting and walking on sand at Compo nowadays has to be a lot more comfortable than when I had only rocks to walk on ( 30s & 40s ). If the water was dirtier then, I never noticed.

  7. Good point, Gary. You used to break a toe trying to get to the water in the 60’s at Compo. B-Hill still ain’t great.

  8. I would agree that almost everything mentioned in Dan’s article is an improvement … except that I actually LIKED walking outside from building to building at Staples, no matter what the weather was.
    I was lucky, at a younger age, to go to Greens Farms School. During the time I was there, friends in certain neighborhoods left to attend two new schools, Hillspoint and Burr Farms, both of which turned out to be failed architectural experiments, Burr Farms so wretchedly so that it’s been torn down. At least 21st century Westport kids don’t have to put up with places like that anymore.

    • The Dude Abides

      I agree, Jake. I liked the old campus of Staples much better for some reason? I am sure the present school is state of the art but it reminds me of a Home Depot when you drive up. As a very astute fellow alumni said at our recent reunion: “Many of us don’t attend because we really don’t like to see change. It is a reminder that we are older.” I think the caretakers of past decades here feel much the same. The good ole days weren’t all that good but then again, they ain’t so wonderful now either. Stay thirsty my friends.

    • I agree, Jake. I LOVED walking between buildings, even in the rain.

  9. I can vividly recall, the parking lot at Compo was littered with broken glass bottles. All over. That was in the early 70s.

  10. When we were newcomers in the 50s the oldtimers, like Alan Parsells were complaining that there were so many kids and we had to build more schools. But the old folks built up the Post Rd and forward thinking P&Z Commissions made sure there was a green strip along it, and now we have a good looking commercial center. We loved the Minny Bus for kids to get around town. Westport is still a great place to live.

    Jo Ann Davidson

  11. Thanks Dan, nice column. I’ll just comment that I agree there were good things about Westport in the past and some of them are lost, but there have been a lot of improvements over time as well. Think back to those days and you’ll probably remember someone condemning them too, saying some earlier period was better, and the world had gone to hell.

  12. @Jake – Burr Farms was not meant to win any awards as it was intended to be but a temporary solution to an immediate need for another el, although it was used much longer than “temporarily” (as Dan can attest).

    I don’t have the town tenure of some the posters, but like others my answer is a mixed one – sure we have more and better facilities for kids now, but kids seem to have lost the ability to get together spontaneously for a baseball, soccer or football game on someone’s yard or open field. One thing is different – Wakeman’s, Rippe’s and other real farms (and associated farm stands) are gone, and having grown up near Wakeman’s I can attest to how well a bunch of boys can use open and unrestricted space. I don’t much bemoan large houses (fairly certain we have always had those in town, my collection of old postcards doesn’t lie) but I do miss the small-town feel of downtown that I grew up with, with establishments that kids like to visit on their own like Friendly’s, Bill’s Smoke Shop, Schaeffers, Klein’s and its record shop, etc. And of course 5 different movie theaters.

    But I am still among this town’s greatest fans – and Staples is much better than before, the Longshore pool and concession area is better than ever, the Sound and Cockenoe (which I still cannot spell) are cleaner. And we have blogs and comment sections to talk about it all.

    • Jack: You’ll be pleased to know that pick-up soccer is alive and well in Westport. Nearly every day, high school kids organize themselves into games, with all ages welcome. And, believe it or not, some of them actually ride their bikes on their own to play. Of course, they communicate when and where they’re playing by text, which is different than back in the day.

      As for Burr Farms: It was indeed built hastily to address a school-age population explosion. If I recall correctly, it was a US Steel prototype, meant to be taken apart, with movable classrooms to expand or contract as needed. Of course, that never happened. And when it came time to closeit, all the bolts had rusted. So rather than dismantle it, and sell the scrap metal, it had to be demolished the old-fashioned way.

  13. Not so old time Westporter

    I’m a 4th generation westporter..and I love some of the new features, but it’s hard not to miss some old landmarks..I grew up in the 80’s and even back then it was very different. I miss the shops on mainstreet, like Party Barn, selective eye and Kleins…I also miss the movie theatre’s…back then us kids had nothing until you could drive and hang out at the beach or Dairy Queen..we had no teen center, bowling alley or mini golf..we had the movie theatres and Arnie’s Place…and the town gave him such a hard time he eventually gave up! Some great new things we have… Fresh Market, a soon to be new and improved YMCA, community gardens, and let’s not forget how far our Emergency Services have come..our award winning VOLUNTEER ambulance service (which buys emergency vehicle for the town to say the least!) Police & fire department have come a long way from years ago…and how about the Veteran’s memorial across the street from Town great is that!! Although we miss our favorites from years ago, there are still a lot of hidden gems that make Westport great!

  14. I just wish people would smile a bit more, and not try to knock you off the sidewalk when walking from Compo Beach to Old Mill. Every once in a while someone will smile and say “goodmorning”.
    I did like the old Staples.

  15. Going on thirty five years in this town. Born and bred and raised up from Pre-School to Staples, the Ivy league and back. I have to say that Westport is still a beautiful town, but it used to be a kinder town. A nicer, gentler place to live. It was a community that celebrated the diversity of its artistic wealth not through competition and corporate sponsorship, but through sincere passion. It was a place where artists, real artists, not Sunday painters and mug makers, could live and work away from the buzz of the city. When I was young person and studying art in town (long before showing my own artwork in exhibitions in major museums around the world), it was not unusual to spend time with professional actors, choreographers and sculptors. They came into our schools and were part of our community. Westport is no longer a place where artists can afford to live. The “artsy” vibe that is so beloved by many newcomers will soon be gone and the homes where these cultural producers once lived a “teardown of the day.” Say goodbye quickly and enjoy another Viking Stove.

    So Dan, what’s better about Westport now?
    It’s much easier to find Hedge Fund Dudes and Tiffany Silver Spoons, if that is your thing.