This Old House: Yesterday, Tomorrow — And Today

Matthew Mandell sends along this fascinating 1914 photo of the Kemper Gunn House:

Kemper Gunn 1

Already nearly 30 years old, it sat handsomely on the corner of Church Lane and Elm Street.

On the opposite side of Elm Street we see the Methodist Church (now Seabury Center).

And just west of the church is — whoa! — another house. It’s located in what is now the Baldwin Parking Lot — almost the same spot where David Waldman has offered to move the Kemper Gunn House, when he develops the new Bedford Square project.

Here’s a rendering of how the house would look, in its new location:

Kemper Gunn 2

This view is on Elm Street, looking east. The Kemper Gunn House is on the left, across from Villa del Sol restaurant (right).

Meanwhile, this sign sits outside the Kemper Gunn House, at 35 Church Lane:

Kemper Gunn 3

It reminds everyone that the RTM will meet on Tuesday, October 22 to decide the fate of this old — and suddenly controversial — house.

15 responses to “This Old House: Yesterday, Tomorrow — And Today

  1. Dan, that looks historical to me, and somewhat more like I remember it in the ’60’s — did it still have the larger wrap-around porch then? I have no dog in this fight, no, I don’t pay taxes in Westport — so I’m sure I’ll get some choice words here — but I did spend many years growing up there as integral a part of the town as a kid—- and— I love history where ever I can find it in American cities and towns, not just Westport.

    I seem to remember you ran a story awhile ago about who lived there — a famous woman and her daughter who founded a toy/educational store/company in Westport? The reason I ask is I have a vivid memory of going to that house on a cold rainy fall night after the Y and dinner at Westlake, to visit an interesting woman who lived there. It seemed huge and beautiful yet scary but it was Halloween time and I was a kid in grade school. She sat in an old armchair with very low, gaslight type of lighting, examining my broken toys and a doll that I left with her to fix. She was also very kind. So, just wondering if that was a time period — mid-sixties– when those women might have lived there. We never went back to that house after we picked up my doll on a sunny Saturday when the house seemed more ordinary but I do remember being fascinated from that night on with the big house by the Y. It was a strange and wonderful memory of a night at the Kemper-Gunn house. It’s always lived as a presence in downtown Westport as a part of the town it seems.

  2. Thanks Dan,
    If the house is going to be used for commercial tenants, will it be useful enough or would commercial tenants be better served by Commercial structure of a similar post modern design with modern insulation and technological features? Is it possible that it will sit there partially vacant always having sub par featurs never fulfilling the lot’s highest and best use? It’s a tough decision.
    Best,
    Charles Rosoff, ASA, MRICS

  3. Armelle Daniels

    “This old house” is a funny expression to me… where I come from, this gorgeous house is still quite new… Anecdote: when I told my American friends I was buying a house in Westport built in 1995, they said: “great, an old house, it must have character!” Meanwhile, my French relatives: “why do you always buys such new houses in the US, don’t you love the history and architectural beauty of ‘real’, centuries-old houses?”

  4. Ready for this…the white house in the old photo that sits where the Gunn house is slated to be moved to still exists. It was also moved and is now on North Compo Road, near Evergreen Ave.

    Sort of a full circle thing…

  5. Thanks Dan for showing us just what the house will look like in its proposed new location. Up to now, it seemed difficult to picture just where it was to be placed. This clears it up for me. I am all for the move. Regards, Dick Commer/The Ad Works/Westport

  6. Mr. Rosoff. To answer you concerns about modern amenities…insulation and technologies…. Easily addressed given the building will be gutted and designed to maximize square footage.

  7. Sandy Soennichsen

    If a house is classified and registered as an “Historical Landmark,” can it just be completely gutted out, walls, windows, electric, plumbing and all? It is my understanding that the historical relevance has to be maintained in a big way which is why it is so expensive to renovate houses designated as Historical Landmarks. So if the Kemper Gunn house is to be made over bigtime, it’s not registered or considered as having a “Historical Landmark” rating and the status appertaining to that?

    • The Kemper Gunn house, unlike the current home of the Westport Y is not a protected historic property in Westport – thus the approved demolition permit. The Bedford Square developers intends to fully gut the interior of the Y building while maintaining the exterior, historically protected facade. They also intend on fully satisfying the parking requirements of the development on-site on land they own – unlike others with dreams of development downtown who covet the Baldwin lot for a multi-story parking garage (or as Mr. Rosoff above would vaguely describe as the “lot’s highest and best use”).

      On a separate but related note, what if the recently contracted traffic study tells us what everyone who drives through the Westport Post Road corridor already knows – traffic and congestion in Westport is a nightmare? “Destination shopping ” translates to a diminished quality of life for the vast majority of Westport residents.

  8. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Westporters will want to powder their noses when “Massive Moves” comes to town.

  9. Sandy Soennichsen

    I agree with the traffic and congestion which is already a major issue in town, not only on the Post Road but also on Main Street. And to add to that dilemma, as anyone can see if you spend more than 10 minutes on Main Street, are the people who feel they are entitled to make a UTurn on Main because there is a parking space on the other side. Silly me, I thought that was illegal, I do know it is just plain dangerous and rude. And I haven’t even mentioned the number of drivers still on cell phones while driving, some even while attempting to parallel park, people not stopping at stop signs, cutting in front of oncoming traffic, not signaling turns…..I guess they are all entitled.

  10. A house like the Kemper- Gunn house is a piece of our local history with a colorful story that we should not dismiss. Preserving and celebrating what’s part of our town’s heritage deserves our support and keeping the integrity of this home alive in a new location is an appropriate compromise to having it part of the new downtown plan. It can evolve into something new that our town can be proud of and we should give it a chance.

    • Nancy Hunter Wilson

      This is exactly what drives me crazy about the Town’s thinking!
      Why move a piece of local History? Why blow up old homes in order to build those with zero character? Why take down healthy trees and keep the dead ones? I’m afraid Westport’s “Heritage” is gone.

  11. I grew up right near here, on Myrtle Ave. and walked through the methodist church parking lot and down Elm st. to go to BJHS and the downtown area. My former lovely back yard is part of the Episcopal church parking lot. I can’t help but qoute Joni Mitchell. “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot…”Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…”

  12. Understand certain members of the new Coalition running for P&Z are running around trying to kill the proposal to move the Gunn House across the street. They think it should go elsewhere….maybe put it on a GIANT trailer with a team of CL&P linemen and move it around town. How about next to the Shack now getting fined parking at Burying Hill Beach! They believe more thought needs to go into this move across the street. Not true! Let’s take advantage of a public private partnership that works effectively with someone who has a proven track record of doing the right thing. David Waldman is extending himself and many who live around the downtown area now view this as the right thing to do. Hope the Coalition comes around!