Tom Kretsch is a retired educator, an excellent photographer, and — since 1974 — a resident of Wakeman Place. He and his neighbors, the Burroughs family, have been friends for years.
Sometime soon, the Burroughs’ home will be razed. Tom sent along these thoughts on the impending demolition.
Gazing across the street, my eyes are fixated on the parched land once filled with a seemingly forested landscape of hemlocks, rhododendrons, tall pines and several towering oaks. The trunk of a once mighty oak rests on the back roof, which the final slice of the tree man’s saw sent crashing through what was once the studio and home of Esta and Bernie Burroughs.
Peering through the broken windows in the living room are the bare walls where their collection of funky artifacts (including Bernie’ s paintings) were gathered from art shows and places like United House Wrecking long before this sort of collecting and decorating was in vogue.
Walking along the side of the house and into the backyard brings back memories of the magical place it was. A small swimming pool that Bernie helped create was the focal point of a garden of statues, shaded trees, a funky gazebo and pathways around the pool that led to gardens of shaded plants along a small stone wall.
The back of the house was adorned with signs like “The Remarkable Bookstore” (where Esta worked for so many years), “Gentleman’s Clothing” (which Bernie made for a friend), and “Woodman’s Ice Cream Store” (a sign found at some tag sale).
On summer nights friends seemed to gather nightly for little parties. They were the artists of Westport, as Bernie was a fine illustrator. Their social comings and goings often centered around that community, a vibrant part of Westport in those days. We could hear their laughter and joy as we sat on our screened front porch.
Our houses were actually mirror images of each other, built by the same builder back in 1938. My wife Sandi and I aspired to make our place as artistic as theirs. Following the sign example, we bought one in the Berkshires for $3. It said “Homemade Candies and Cookies.” We thought it would look artsy on the front of our house, but after several knocks on the door from people wanting to purchase cookies and then a call from our insurance company asking whether we had started a business in our home, we moved the sign to a less conspicuous place.
And so the Burroughs home awaits the final wrecking ball, a familiar scenario in this town. A new structure will arise, hopefully a tasteful and graceful one that will fit the contours of the land and melt into the fabric of the street. To the unwary driving by, the house now looks like an eyesore deserving of destruction. But for us there is sadness in seeing a place once of such beauty and style standing naked and broken, with but the memories of what used to be.
Time brings change, and things left to their original being are often difficult to fix and salvage. It is easier to tear them down and start from scratch. Over the last years while she was living there, Esta graciously offered me a few of the signs that adorned the outside of the home. Miggs, her son, gave me the “Gentleman’s Quarters” sign during the final days of the salvaging period. This and the others now adorn our home, and remind us of what an inspiration their classy home was to us.
The morning light dances across the old red house that once stood gloriously on Wakeman Place: not a mansion by today’s standards, but truly a unique home that was cared for and loved by a wonderful couple. Like the place Esta worked in, it was “Remarkable.” It is sad to see it go.