The Geiger Barn: Under The Gun

Wendy Crowther’s family came to Westport in 1971. They moved into an antique house, which captured the teenager’s interest. A few years later she did the research necessary for it to be listed in Westport’s Historic Inventory. 

That sparked a love of Westport history that continues today. It also spurred her to write this commentary, for “06880.”

Having been elated over the RTM’s recent action to  “approve the move” that saved the historic Kemper-Gunn House from the wrecking ball, it was particularly disheartening to notice the following:

Westport’s Historic District Commission just posted the agenda for its November 12 meeting. Of the 16 agenda items, 14 are requests to waive the balance of the delay period for a demolition permit. So there are 14 requests to demolish 15 structures in Westport (one is a request to demolish 2 structures on 1 property). Each is 50 years old or more.

One of the 14 requests is a house listed on Westport’s Historic Resources Inventory. Another is located in the Mill Cove Historic District.

Among the 14 requests to waive the balance of the delay period for a demolition permit is this cottage next to Westport Wash & Wax. Built around 1900 and on Westport's Historic inventory, it's located on Long Lots Road, near the  Post Road and Bertucci's. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Among the 14 requests to waive the rest of the delay period for a demolition permit is this cottage next to Westport Wash & Wax. Built around 1900 and on Westport’s Historic inventory, it’s on Long Lots Road near Bertucci’s. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

A 180-day demo delay has already been placed on each of these structures. However, the applicants are requesting that the HDC waive the remainder of the delay.

I’m always astounded at the number of demo permit applications that the HDC must review each month. But  this might be the biggest list ever.

I’m not intimately familiar with most of the 15 structures/homes listed for pending demolition. And I’m not saying that all of them are notable enough to warrant preservation efforts (though I do object to decent, livable homes being relegated to landfill).

However, one of the demo permits involves the 2 buildings on the Geiger Garden Center property.

This property has been in and out of the news for a few years. A site plan for redevelopment was floated through the town’s approval bodies a year or two ago (I think the application ran into difficulties and was withdrawn). Based on the above request to waive the demo delay, I’m guessing a new stab at redevelopment of the site is coming around again.

I’m not a fan of the Geiger house that fronts the Post Road — but I am a big fan of the old barn in the rear. Inside that barn are supporting beams/joists that still have bark on them. I was told by an old-time Westporter that these joists were made of hemlock trees that came from what is now Winslow Park.

The Geiger barn. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The Geiger barn. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

I hope the HDC will not waive the remainder of the demo delay for this barn. In the meantime, I hope there might be a way to save it and incorporate it into whatever plans the developers might have for the property.

Or perhaps someone out there would love to put an old barn on their property.  Could the developers of the Geiger property be convinced to fund such a move?  David Waldman and his partners (of Kemper-Gunn preservation fame) have learned what good sense and good will can come from preservation efforts.  Perhaps David can put in a good word for this great old barn.

Westporters have helped encourage some great saves lately. The Kemper-Gunn House was one of those saves. Another was convincing the corporate entity that owns Terrain that they couldn’t tear down the little, vintage house (formerly the Dress Barn) to help improve their parking problem.

Can the barn on the Geiger property stimulate a similar rallying cry for preservation?

20 responses to “The Geiger Barn: Under The Gun

  1. This town is blessed by people like you who don’t shrug their
    shoulders, but get involvedin I working to save our heritage.
    Notes on my calendar. Thanks

  2. I’m so old I’m still mourning the loss of the house on Gorham Island, the one on the Hall-Brooke property and the beautiful building that was at the corner of Post Road and Compo Road at Winslow Park. Every time another one of these landmarks comes down, we are chipping away at the heritage of Westport. Westport has a long history of saving its past. Years and years ago I happened to be at a P & Z meeting where the request was made to tear down a wonderful house that was on the Stauffer property. I stood up to remind the board that Stauffer had signed an agreement with the town to preserve the house when they were in the process of getting approvals for their buildings on the old Nyala Farms. That house was saved because I remembered the history. It is only through the vigilance of people like Nancy Crowther and the Historic District Commission that we can preserve what is left of the town. The unanimous vote of the RTM on the Gunn house is a perfect example of the reverence with which we hold our history. It is important for those of us who remember to make our voices heard.

  3. Brian Hershey

    I used to work at Geigers. That barn is WAY beyond saving.

  4. Sandy Soennichsen

    Here we go again……help save this, help save that. When does this end? If it’s old, not really historically significant (apparently as the HDC has already determined, and in the way of new progress, tear it down or dismantle it and give it to someone. What David Waldman did was, in my opinion, more than generous, but already it has set a precedence in some peoples minds.Why should a developer put money towards an old house to move it and recondition it. You want it, you buy it. And if you don’t want to buy it, or can’t afford it, that’s too bad, stay out of it. Progress is usually a good thing, and sometimes it just unfortunately requires some undesired steps and attitudes, but it must be perpetuated or nothing will ever happen. Aren’t there other things in town that are more important? Staples High School is over capacity and a new club or group can’t even get room to do what they need to do; the roadways aren’t being maintained (has anyone seen a town truck out this year trimming the overgrowth on the sides of the roads?), and the list goes on.

  5. Sandy Soennichsen

    That house next to Westport Wash and Wax is a real eyesore (and that’s being nice). OK, why pull punches now, it may be old but it is really unattractive and the property isn’t any better. It would probably be much better off razed. And the house on the Terrain property still sits there, ugly and decrepit; put it out of its misery. The Gorham Island building is not old or decrepit (I guess) but it really is out of place and looks awful; and how did the politicians in power at that time allow that travesty to take place? So much for Westport’s waterfront!

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

      I agree with you Sandy as to the specific examples you’ve cited as not worth fighting about but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that’s the rub.. I think people are at the point where they are fed up with the tear downs no matter what’s getting torn down. There’s a limit to what anyone can do to stop progress but some tear downs would be defined as progress while some clearly are not as is your point, I think. Maybe it all started with the travesties of long ago such as the tear down of the beautiful Gorham house on the island and the building of the monstrosity on the corner of State and Wright streets. I grew up in Westport and love to visit as offten as possible but I think the damage was done many years ago and the chickens are coming home to roost. Why Westport is unable to retain its charm to the degree that other, less affluent towns in New England escapes me but at least New England will never be Ohio where I live.

  6. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    All of us lament the decline of “Old Westport” but I’m afraid its a losing cause as we’ve all either moved away or are getting older. There’s a lot of acreage in town that’s public owned and a thought would be to do something creative like Henry Ford did with Greenfield Village where he gathered primary specimens of the country’s past except on a much smaller scale minus the commercialism. Maybe at Winslow Park. The barn would be pretty cool there and so would the Gunn house and maybe one or two other examples. The battle for the Post Rd. was lost at least 50 years ago in my opinion.

  7. The barn in question is listed on Westport’s Historic Resources Inventory (HRI), a database that was established and is maintained by the Town of Westport’s Historic District Commission to track structures that have been identified by certified architectural historians as significant. This (on-line) list is maintained to provide awareness to the general public, potential purchasers, planners, etc., that a particular structure may have architectural, historical or cultural value. The highly visible barn, which appears perfectly sound, is very likely the last of its kind along the Post Road in Westport and, as such, represents an important link to Westport’s agricultural past. Luckily Westport has at its disposal one of the most significant preservation tools (Sec. 32-18) in the State of Connecticut – one that makes the repurposing of historic accessory structures very attractive. Quite a number of historic structures in our town have already been saved using this regulation – including one on North Compo
    (the little red house across from Winslow Park) that just won a Preservation Award. As one of the earliest buildings in Westport, this modest 18th century structure was previously headed for the landfill. Depending on the circumstances, the barn at Geigers could become an attractive and vital piece of any new development with the kind of possibilities and incentives that would never be allowed with new construction. As important, a rare survivor that helps physically document Westport’s agricultural heritage could be conserved. Perhaps something can be done where everybody wins.
    Seems worth talking about.

  8. Tracey Crowther Maya

    Thanks, Wendy, for writing a terrific article and sparking another spirited debate amongst Westporters – those who care and those who don’t – about the historic preservation of their beloved town.

  9. Does anyone else find it ironic that the Dairy Queen just across the street was transformed last month to look like an old Little Barn, yet here is an actual old little barn, ready to be torn down.

  10. Good point JP, (ye of marine preservation superhero status) it is ironic. But it’s also not surprising: People respond well interesting architecture – it doesn’t have to be serious to be successful: the Little Barn is fun and it’s also a humorous tip of the hat to the iconic DQ many of us recall with fondness. In the same vein, people respond well to authentic historic streetscapes as well. Look at revitalized Church Lane, for example; it contains a diversity of historic architectural styles that have evolved over time – and somehow work. It’s romantic, evocative and welcoming. I get a lift just walking down it.

  11. Barns are relatively easy to disassemble and move.

    There are plenty of companies who do exactly this – find old barns to take down and rebuild elsewhere. Of course it would be nice if it was rebuilt on a property in Westport.

    There is no way this barn should be scraped. Someone would love to have it. Should the current owners pay for its preservation – I think that is a lot to ask. But to ask them to be sympathetic to a move would seem reasonable. They might even make a couple of bucks.

    From a Fairfield neighbor who enjoys driving through both our towns.

    Oh, I also have a special affection for barns as we live in a converted dairy barn in Greenfield HIll.

  12. Matthew Mandell

    I don’t think it is a lot to ask a developer, especially if they are asking for something from the town. There needs to be a quid pro quo, just as was worked out with Mr. Waldman. It would be great if the barn could be saved as well as the little green house at Long Lots and Post.

    And NO, just because it is old and in the way, does not mean it needs to be terminated. The new can always come in, but better if the old is adapted and reused in some way. It is a way of thinking that has roots in Westport and has to be part of process moving forward. The same is true of land, not all of it has to be developed, some can always be set aside for the environment. Both together improve our spirit as individuals and as a town.

  13. Sven Davidson

    Mr. Mandell: Can you please clarify your “quid pro quo” idea; what is this developer asking of the town? And what is the town owed?

  14. Theses structures help define the overall character of our area…. The slow erosion of these historic resources will eventually put us on par with the architectectural character of Most parts of Westchester and Long Island.

  15. Well put Jamie. And that’s why our town’s Plan of Conservation and Development places so much emphasis on the preservation of historic resources. At its most elemental level, preservation is a function of planning -and it helps explain why we put special zoning incentives in place to further that end.

  16. Sandy Soennichsen

    Mr Mandell…I agree with Mr Davidson. What does the town owe Geigers? Absolutely nothing but to guarantee a fair evaluation of their proposed expansion and plans, as it falls within the town’s laws, statutes, etc. And what does Geiger’s owe Westport? Absolutely nothing also, other than to run their establishment within the town’s regulations, and have any expansion or development approved by the town. And just to add here, driving through our town and seeing old buildings in need of repair or have been altered so much that they don’t resemble their original appearance (and are vacant), and property that is unkempt and overgrown, does not improve my spirit one iota, and I hope it wouldn’t improve the town’s spirit either. Also, there’s a fine line between “quid pro quo” and bribery when it comes down to it (probably something that could have occurred with the “development” of Gorham Island back in the 70’s). If our town statutes allow the demolition of a building as part of an expansion, then so be it, and if a person is so concerned about that building, let them buy it and move it.

  17. Phil Chankaya

    The Westport Historic District Commission doesn’t seem to be very effective. It’s just going through the motions. I’ve been following “Teardown of the Day” on Westport Now, the online newsource, for several years. I have yet to see them block a demolition. I hate to see hundred year old, or older, houses destroyed. Some are from before the Civil War. I think anything that old should be preserved. The problem is the high affluence in Westport now. Multi millionaires only want the location, then they build what they want. I live in Dallas Texas now where there are designated historical districts to keep this from happening.

  18. Designated Local Historic Districts in Connecticut are, essentially, created by concerned property owners – and are then administered by the Historic District Commission. So, in order for the protections to be in place, the people who live in the places that need protecting have to (a) recognize that fact and then (b) request that their property or neighborhood be considered for landmark status. That is not to say that the HDC doesn’t do everything it can to encourage the formation of local historic districts and local historic properties; three districts were formed in downtown Westport in just the past few years and I think one district may be underway at present. Interestingly, the HDC also seems to be regularly receiving requests for individual landmark status from Westport property owners. As an aside, Westport was the first in the state to establish the tough, new 180 day demolition delay ordinance (up from the previous 90 day delay). Very few towns in CT have anything approaching that. It’s been my observation that the HDC in Westport regularly invokes this ordinance when it comes to important historic properties – much to the chagrin of the applicant.To Phil’s very good point about historic districts, in the end, if you really want to protect a historic structure or area, you take matters into your own hands and landmark it.