From House Of Morgan To Abe Fortas

For the past few days, “06880” readers have had fun with photos of Main Street taken from the 1930s through ’50s.

Alert reader Fred Cantor sent along this photo he took in 1976. (That spot seems to be a perpetual photographer’s paradise.)

West Lake — at the time one of Westport’s only “foreign” restaurants — had moved in next to the park.

Liverpool — a hippie clothing store — replaced the long-departed Kiddie Lane and House of Morgan.

But Welch’s Hardware was still there.

Welch’s was more than just a long-lived hardware store. At least twice, it popped up in national magazines.

On March 16, 1946 it was on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Westport illustrator Stevan Dohanos took a few liberties — he added a floor, for instance, and the “US 1” sign points the wrong way — but Welch’s was the model for what the magazine called “Hardware Store at Springtime.”

And in 1968, Supreme Court judge (and part-time Westport resident) Abe Fortas had just been nominated by President Johnson to be Chief Justice. Fortas would later withdraw due to ethics problems, but on July 5 — almost exactly 45 years ago today — Time magazine opened its profile on him this way:

“Will you trust my judgment, Mr. Fortas?”, asked the salesman at Welch’s Hardware Store in Westport, Conn. Dubiously, the Chief Justice-designate of the U.S. fingered the new, chemically treated dustcloth, examining it carefully by sight and feel. Finally, aware perhaps that this was a matter beyond his competence, he concurred with the clerk’s opinion.

Tramping around the narrow streets of Westport, accompanied by TIME Washington Bureau Chief John Steele, Fortas was enjoying the scruffy anonymity of any other summer refugee from the city. In baggy grey pants, a flame-red cardigan sweater, scuffed brown shoes (one with a tongue missing) and…

Can you think of any other Main Street store that received national attention like that? And no, the Gap, Banana Republic and Pottery Barn don’t count.

36 responses to “From House Of Morgan To Abe Fortas

  1. I think the photo of West Lake on Main St. Is earlier than 1976. I participated in exhibitions at a gallery on that stretch, The Half Moon Gallery, in 1976, the year that I also won first prize in the Westport Outdoor Art Show. I have very fond memories of washing dishes at West Lake when I was a sophomore at Staples. It was one of the best jobs a 16 year old could have, with unlimited ribs, shrimp scampi, egg rolls, etc. I learned lots about what the Chinese cooks did on their day off, as well as how to make egg rolls!

    • Fred Cantor

      I had marked on the back of the photo when I took it. (And the camera I took it with was my college graduation gift the year before.)

      • I remember Jimmy from West Lake, as well as Mary, the waitress who took no prisoners. I think she tended bar, too. I used to buy most of my clothes at Liverpool — in the mid-to-late-sixties. They were “mod” clothes, not hippie clothes. The owners were Hank & Jeff, and Jeff was from Australia.

        • Does anyone know what became of Hank and Jeff? There used to be a Liverpool store in Provincetown but when I was there all it sold was beachwear. I’m not sure if they also owned that one.

    • Gary Singer

      Michael, the photo was taken in 1976. Until then, Gray’s Drug Store was located directly next to the Westlake and moved up Main St. later that year.

  2. Bev Breault

    Michael, do you remember a waiter Jimmy that worked at West Lake? I got to know him well. What a sweetheart he was. He used to come into my Dad’s place The Bridge Grill on his time off. Another place & person gone that could address you by name.

  3. From looking at those cars, looks like the photo was taken prior to 1976.

  4. Eric Buchroeder

    When I was a kid and we got Chinese take out from West Lake I couldn’t understand how the food got all the way from China in such a short time. What did those Chinese characters in white on their red sign mean anyway?

  5. Loved it when my dad would arrive home, after a long commuter’s day in NYC, and suggest going to the West Lake for Chinese (Jimmy was always so friendly)…or Peppermill, Three Bears Inn, Clam Box, The Arrow…or the Norwalk harbor (can’t remember the restaurant’s name) for lobster and clams…among so many other places to dine!…Mod clothes at the Liverpool or the shop at the Ice Cream Parlor! Loved the colors, styles and their departure from the “Villager” era!!! :0)

  6. There is another Steve Dohanos picture, painted in about the same location, in the impressive Westport Schools Art Collection: “Crisis at Main and Elm” showing a young girl trying to cross the street while her ice cream cones melted. …..wonder where on Main she’d bought them…

  7. Probabky the Ice Cream Parlor which, in the Dohanos era, was located in its original Main Street home. Deb, the Norwalk harbor seafood restaurant was Lyon’s Pier.

    • That’s right! Thanks Tom…would you know if it is still there? Loved lobster there! mmmmmm.

      • Westport Convert

        No, they no longer exist. That area is now occupied with a boat shop and a fiberglass repair company.

        WC

  8. brad french

    the bridge grill…when dave reynolds owned it…became a legendary spot…murphy bros. soccer team was sponsered by it

  9. Bev Breault

    Hi Brad. I know when my Dad sold it to Dave that was “The Hangout” for the younger crowd. My Dad shall I dare say had the “mature crowd ” lol

  10. Wendy Crowther

    West Lake was the first place I ever ate Chinese food. I’d been a very picky eater throughout my youth and teenagehood so I hadn’t tried an Asian meal of any sort until a gang of friends coaxed me to come with them to West Lake for dinner. My first dish was beef and broccoli, and I was surprised that I liked it. From then on, I’d frequently stop in to pick up something to take back to the Y for lunch (where I worked) or to take home for dinner. The friendly receptionist would always greet me by saying, “E hee aw take ow?” I loved the accent, and to this day, some twenty five years later, I still can’t enter an Asian restaurant without that expression coming fondly to mind.

  11. Westport Convert

    For $20.00 you can relive your meals at the West Lake.

    Just came across this on eBay… http://www.ebay.com/itm/Vtg-8-pc-Rust-Melmac-Cup-Saucer-Gold-Interior-West-Lake-Restaurant-Westport-CT-/380428777416

    Someone in Darien is selling a cup & saucer set from the restaurant. How funny. An “06880” reader needs to snatch it up!

    WC

  12. Gary Singer

    All these comments of the West Lake. and not one mention of Ed Lee. For shame!

  13. Bev, your dad’s place was also the lunchtime — and after work –hangout for the illustrators from Famous Artists around the corner, which Dohanos founded along with Al Dorn. My mother was one of them — and a regular! Deb, when you’re in town again try the SoNo Seaport restaurant. It’s much smaller than Lyon’s Pier but not bad. I’ve lived in NYC for many, many years so am spoiled when it comes to Chinese food, but the West Lake was my introduction to it. My only bad experience was when I took a date there in high school but forgot my wallet. Friendly Mr. Lee, the owner, waited patiently while I ran to the pay phone by the old library and called my dad who delivered my wallet, and added $20 for a tip for the inconvenienced waiter, a lot of money in 1966.

  14. Thanks Tom. We hope to go back in the Fall. We shall have to give SoNo a try. Hmm, NYC Chinese food compared to Southern CT?….Yup, NYC wins, but West Lake was always a treat, and, if memory serves me right, the only Chinese place around. Cute date story! $20 in those days?…You must have been rolling in $’s! :0)

  15. Westport Convert

    Slightly off-topic but is there any decent online collection of old Westport photos? Even 50’s or 60’s?

    Been loving the nostalgic posts by Dan and got me thinking. Thanks readers.

    WC

  16. What about the meat market further up Main Street? I know Mr. Dohanas also painted a picture of that that was a cover on The Saturday Evening Post. How fun all these memories.

  17. Deb, the $20 tip my dad made me give to my waiter was way more than the dinner cost – and way more than was in my wallet. You know who my date was. Was she embarrassed? You bet. Give SoNo a try. The fish isn’t bad, dining is outdoors on the harbor — and the beer’s cold. There was another Chinese restaurant, the Golden Door, I think, near McClellan’s, but the West Lake was better, and close to the Fine Arts. Plus, the West Lake gave Mike Tingley (Mike was Brian McCarthy’s college roomie and my across-the-hall neighbor) a job.

    • Ha!…Very funny Tom! Do know who your date was! Forgot about the Golden Door. But, have to agree, the West Lake was much better. Love the memories refreshed on this site. (Thank you Dan…well done!) Lately, I have been working on our family tree. So,along with “06880”, some great memories have been renewed! We were sure lucky to grow up in Westport! Miss the Northeast, but not the weather!…Southern Cal spoiled now. :0)

  18. Bev Breault

    Hi Tom, thanks for reminding me of my Dad’s best patrons at the Bridge Grille

  19. Patricia driscoll

    I have a framed cover by Dohanos. It’s of the Town Hall Honor Roll. The date is 12/4/43. My Dad and my uncle are listed on the wall. My family has had the cover since it first came out.

  20. When did West Lake close?

    Ah, Ye Olde Bridge Grille …. A haven for underaged drinkers. I was 16 when I first darkened that dive bar. But by ’81 or ’82, Dave and his surly staff got serious and start checking for IDs. Then the door was closed for good around ’85. Last I heard, Dave is now at Ernie’s in Darien.

  21. If you want to get back to Dan’s original question: Can you think of any other Main Street (non-chain) store that received national attention? Yes, I can. In 1977, I bought – and still own – the first edition of “Roadfood,” by Jane and Michael Stern of Bethel CT. Besides writing up “Louis Lunch” and “Pepe’s Pizza” of New Haven, they spotlighted the outstanding doughnuts made daily (except on Monday!) by Derek at Coffee ‘An. Several years later, that entry – and stopping at that marvelous Main Street landmark – sparked my family and I to move to Westport.

  22. Sarah Wunsch

    Allow me to add a different bit of information about Steven Dohanos, the illustrator. See the letter by Professor Austin Briggs whose father, also named Austin Briggs, was an illustrator. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2000/nov/16/norman-rockwell-lives/?pagination=false
    Briggs’ letter is the second one down at that link.
    He writes of an illustration his father did of a family at a NY Giants game. The illustration was to be for the Saturday Evening Post. It included the likeness of a black woman known to me because she worked as a housekeeper for my family after she worked for the Briggs family. Her name was Fannie Drain, a wonderful woman. Unfortunately, the Saturday Evening Post refused to use an illustration like that with the image of a black person. Briggs writes that when his father was told he would have to remove the black woman from his illustration, he broke the thing over his knee and walked out of the Saturday Evening Post office. Steven Dohanos apparently had no qualms about it and re-did the illustration. That revised illustration was the one printed in the magazine.

  23. Great backstory story, Sarah. I know the illustration. The anecdote, sadly, has the ring of truth. Ironic, though, that the NY Giants home ballpark was the Polo Grounds at 155thSt./8th Avenue…in Harlem. The illustration resides in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I’ve seen it there many times. I’ll bet the folks at the Hall would like to know the backstory. Sarah, write a note to HOF prez Jeff Idelson. I can almost guarantee that you’ll get a response from Jeff.