Saving 20 Maplewood Avenue

Yesterday’s “06880” post — on 3 Evergreen Avenue — brought plenty of comments on the importance of preserving older homes. Several readers referenced 20 Maplewood Avenue. It’s off Main Street, just before Clinton Avenue heading east.

Jennifer Tedesco Alfano  provided great background info. She writes:

My kids are the 3rd generation of my family to live in our house on Maplewood — and 5th generation Westporters. My husband and I are both veteran Westport teachers. The issue of this town being essentially “wiped out” is near and dear to my and my neighbor’s hearts.

We are a modest neighborhood consisting of (but not limited to) teachers, a freelance writer, a retired Gault employee who is also a special police officer, a tile layer and a musician.

Back in the day there was my dad, acting assistant fire chief Larry Tedesco. Frank DeMace (Mario’s owner), who was my godfather, lived in my house on Maplewood before my parents bought it when I was a toddler.

Currently 3 homes, including ours, consist of native Westporters. Maplewood is a street not only with lots of architectural and structural history, but a lot of “old Westport” history, too.

20 Maplewood Avenue...

20 Maplewood Avenue…

New or native, we love the charm and quaintness of our neighborhood so much that we felt it was worth fighting for. We have not had one teardown.

The most dilapidated home was refurbished a couple of years ago by Robert Mills IV. His family owned one of the houses next door to 20 Maplewood. #20 is a near-100-year-old house, once the home of Jim McKay.

The public notice for “demo”  of #20 was placed toward the back of the house, where no one could see it. We felt that the builder was trying to hide it, so my kids delivered 2 sets of letters to the neighbors to alert them to what was happening.

Robert Mills IV doesn’t even live there. He rents the home. But he was so concerned, he came to a Historic District Commission meeting to speak out against the teardown. So many neighbors showed up, a partition was opened so more people could sit.

Award-winning restoration expert William Dohme did what he’s done to numerous Westport buildings. He made it impeccable.

...and the newest refurbishment (left), next door.

…and the newest refurbishment (left), next door. (Photos by Morgan Whelan)

We are now going to try to get our street registered as a historic district, as more than half the homes on Maplewood Ave. were built in the early to mid 1900’s.

Neighbors should know that they can make a difference and perhaps change the mind of someone who wants to just make a profit on their street. I had never been to an HDC meeting before. I was amazed at the background, knowledge and experience of the people who serve on this committee.

Thanks to their careful consideration of our argument and dismay that a perfectly well maintained, 100-year old home would be demolished for no reason other than profit, a delay was granted.

Maplewood Avenue is not going down without a fight. I hope that more residents who live on the few streets like ours that are still left will stand up for what is right.

We made a difference. At least, for now!

16 responses to “Saving 20 Maplewood Avenue

  1. Mary Lynn Halland

    Kudos to you for putting so much energy into this wonderful initiative.

  2. Jennifer,

    Great to know that our neighbors (even though we now live in NC) our standing up for our unique neighborhood. My family moved into that neighborhood in 1961 and lived on Clinton Avenue til the late ’70’s. In 1984 we moved back to the neighborhood and lived on Oak Street to raise our family until we moved in July of 2007. Why? Because we could afford to buy a home there. Oak Street and Maplewood Avenue is still a neighborhood filled with young families that can actually afford to live in Westport. Your goal of getting our neighborhood registered as a Historic District is a fabulous idea. We have seen too many Westport neighborhoods changed because not enough people care about the past.
    Please let us know what we can do to help!!
    All the BEST to OUR Neighbors!!!

    Fight that GOOD Fight!! Why? Because it is RIGHT!!!

    Tom & Sue Wall

  3. Dan– Your post made my day…and it’s only 8:41 a.m.! And Jennifer, you’re my newest hero. If there’s something practical I can do to help–show up at a meeting, address envelopes–let me know. You can email me at prillboyle@gmail.com.

  4. These look like relatively small lots with homes close together. So, one thing really puzzles me here: what can a developer build here as of right to make it worth his or her while to pay current market value and do a teardown? It just seems that the economics would make it difficult for a developer to build something much larger and turn a real profit on this venture–or am I wrong about that? The teardowns I have observed have generally been happening on larger lots, with the exception of the properties near the beach.

    By the way, I, too, own a home on a street with small lots and there have only been two teardowns over the years: one when there was major damage from a tree falling and another when there was another situation involving structural damage. These were not done by developers. And we are not in a historic district. So I just assumed the marketplace dictated the preservation of the existing landscape on the street.

    • Open your eyes, dude. You’d be amazed what a nimble developer can accomplish with a small lot.

  5. Wendy Crowther

    Congrats to the Maplewood neighborhood for community action. Creating a Historic District will be the best way to preserve your neighborhood. I hope the demolition delay will provide enough time for alternatives to be discussed with the owner of 20 Maplewood, although there is no guarantee that the owner will be receptive because, unfortunately, profit often trumps history.

    I live in a similar, small, vintage house not far from Maplewood. Developers knock on my door (uninvited) and offer me “cash and quick closings if I’m interested in selling.” I’m not. They leave me with their business card “if and when the time comes.” It won’t.

    But this is an attractive offer to those who are in financial distress, or to heirs who want to unload property or tax burdens. I wish there were mechanisms by which history could become financially lucrative. Imagine if builders/developers could make substantial profits by restoring and reselling rather than destroying and rebuilding. It would change the discussion.

    Creating the Historic District is the best way to preserve the neighborhood and it will improve the value of the homes that lay within it (even the non-historic homes). However, it takes time – #20 might be lost in the meantime. I can only encourage people who live in similar communities or on similar streets to organize ahead of time so that no historic house is lost without notice or pressure.

    Good luck to the Maplewood community. Keep working toward a positive solution.

  6. I live in the Gorham Avenue Historic District and we saw the creep of MCMansion’s slowly erode the character of our neighborhood. We organized as a neighborhood to explore options. Then a developer came in and threatened the neighborhood with an 8-30g 20 unit condo development which would have altered the overall character for certain. We rallied as a neighborhood to defend what we all loved, something that is just hard to replicate. After a lengthy and drawn out lawsuit, The developers agreed to change direction and built 5 homes that and were sympathetic with the existing neighborhood. Two of the developers liked the results so much that they moved into the neighborhood.
    You will need to move swiftly as a neighborhood and start the process immediatley. So much can be done to this house that incorporates the modern amenities we all crave without disrupting the streetscape and the architectural rhythm of the neighborhood as a whole. You have the support of all of us in the Gorham Avenue Historic District!

  7. Janice Beecher

    Thank you Jennifer for speaking out and getting people involved. I believe that this is a very important time in Westport and people who move in and think they ‘need’ to tear down this beautiful old homes need to know the history and why old-time Westporters hate it. I was so disappointed in Westport when I was there in May. My neighborhood on Cross Highway is mostly destroyed. But, at least my old house is still there and being renovated. It was built by Evan Harding and has so much character, even though it doesn’t look like much from the street.

    Keep it up Westporters!! This is a cause worth fighting for.

  8. Megan Acquino Slingo

    Bravo to Jennifer and her neighbors! (I know a lot of them) It is not easy for native Westporters to remain in town anymore. (my kids were 3rd generation to live in my house I just sold on Roseville too) I wish them the best in their fight for their neighborhood…I saw a Demo permit posted on Sniffen Road around the corner and although not the same style & age of houses…I cannot imagine what type of house could be built on that lot…no matter what a new construction would look out of place! On Maplewood…any type of new construction would be a blight to the quaint street it has been for so many years!!

    • Ah, it was hard to see the Acquino/Wakeman homestead sold recently. I grew up with Eva (please give her my love, Megan) and moved back to our home on Roseville 20 years ago. Obviously we have a lot of teardowns, but check out #59 Roseville where the owners have lovingly restored the old Gampfer farmhouse and attached barn (from around 1867)! Everyone who drives by can enjoy a few “old Westport houses” together.

  9. Deborah Slocomb-Dohme

    It was very hard for us to think of moving after 35 years of living in this sturdy well built house. We did extensive interior and exterior restoration in those many years, and endless hours landscaping. We did not sell to a builder who told us he would tear it down, even though we were offered more money. We were told by Scott Garret that he planned to add on.
    We loved our neighbors and felt to, that our quaint street could not withstand large trucks and noise with all the kids on the block. Plus, a neighbor and I were able to work with the town to get our street oneway. So thank you all for your support in getting into the Historic fight!!

  10. Penny Pearlman

    Eleven years ago we bought #16 Maplewood, originally built in 1905 as a five room cottage, The house and property had been neglected but we saw the potential. Over the next two years we made careful plans to renovate and expand, always keeping in mind the esthetic and scale of the street. Our neighbors and so many others have approved of what we have done – maintaining the charm of the neighborhood while creating a family home with all the modern amenities. So yes, it can be done without radically disrupting the quality of the street. We are saddened that someone can come into our accessible and intimate neighborhood, rare in today’s world of bigger and better, and change its character with impunity. I so appreciate the support of all that have written in response to this posting. And yes, thank you Jennifer for leading the charge!

  11. I grew up at 21 Maplewood Ave., down and across the street from the house discussed in the article above. Neighborhoods in Westport that can call themselves “communities” — places where neighbors organize annual block parties, where kids play in the street, where mothers chat on porches on summer evenings, where huge lawns and long driveways don’t serve to physically and psychically isolate residents from each other — are becoming increasingly scarce. The Maplewood Ave. on which I grew up could with justification call itself a community in large part because each house was of a (relatively) modest size and design. It would be a shame for one of the last Westport communities to go the way of so many other Westport cultural institutions that have been swallowed by the influx of vast and impersonal wealth. Let’s hope the neighbors’ efforts to preserve the community receive the support they deserve.

  12. This is an example of a greedy investor who does not give a damn about the neighborhood or the impact. They were willing to lie outright to the Dohmes. They come to the HDC thinking they can bamboozle the commission and then feel victimized…please!!! You are screwing with a neighborhood in opposition and they are willing to battle you every step of the way. There is much easier fishing elsewhere… Well, if you can’t beat em join em! Our developer did!

  13. Debbie and Bill worked very hard on their home on Maplewood when they lived there. It’s a beautiful example of Craftsman Style architecture and sits perfectly in the neighbor. I hope this home and others like it can be preserved. Unfortunately, the people who are looking to move to Westport, don’t appreciate these older homes. They only want new construction. Why? I don’t have an answer. Maybe it’s the 21 different rooflines that will get ice build up during the next harsh winter. Or maybe it’s the higher taxes and heating and air conditioning bills that they look forward to paying. It surly has to be the new growth wood used in new construction, that will shrink 1/4 to a 1/2 inch within a year. Or is it the many shades of grey(not the book) that all new house interiors are painted.