Not Just Another Teardown

Realtors love new construction: It sells. But there’s something to be said about old homes too — especially when the teardown is one you grew up in.

Back in the day, Toni Horton was a 1978 graduate of Staples. Today she’s Toni Mickiewicz, and a William Raveis realtor. She also blogs about real estate trends and local news on “From Town to Shore.” Yesterday, she wrote about another teardown. This one is personal: It’s the home she grew up in.

Toni says:

I was recently told that my mother’s house in Westport had a demolition sign on it. Even though we sold it three years ago, it will always be “my mother’s house.” Well, that is until it’s torn down.

The house of Toni's youth.

The house of Toni’s youth.

It wasn’t my favorite house. I actually always thought that it should be torn down. It was a combination of stages in my mother’s life. It started as a little tiny beach house with no heat and it sat on wine barrels. It gradually grew to have an architecturally designed front section with two floors that looked a little like a church.

When I went off to college it grew a backside with 2 floors, 4 bedrooms and 3 additional bathrooms. It never really matched the front, or anything else for that matter, but it added square footage and allowed my mother to rent it out regularly as we all moved out and she had to spend most of her time caring for my grandmother in Norwalk. The house worked for her and it gave her children what she wanted all along — a place to call home, an education in a town with a reputation for excellence, and a “castle” by the water.

Once, Toni asked her mother if there was room for a pool. Her mom replied: 

“Why would you want a pool when we have the beach?”  I was much older when I finally got how blessed we were to live where we did.

Views of the water, from the home.

Views of the water, from the home.

When I moved back to Westport — a grown-up having been married, raised children, divorced, and re-inventing myself — my mother let me live at the house, as a paid renter of course, but the house was there for me. It was my transitional home for 6 years. It wasn’t perfect, but it was my home, a place to provide my youngest with an education in a town known for excellence. It was our “castle” by the water.

Now it will be torn down. And while I know it’s the right thing to do to get the “highest and best use of the land” for the new owner, it still made me more emotional than I ever imagined.

This was my home, where I grew up and where I sought refuge. It provided me, my siblings, many cousins and lots of renters over the years, a lot of fun memories along with the challenges that an imperfect house can provide. It will only be in my memory now and that is a little sad for me.

Toni knows she is not alone. Many friends have experienced similar situations. And, she adds:

Toni Mickiewicz

Toni Mickiewicz

Much of the landscape of my childhood is gone. Allen’s Clam House, where I used to work in the kitchen, has been gone for a long time. Ten Pond Edge Road, where I lived with my “other” family when my mom rented out the house for the summer, has been torn down as well.

I could go on, but what I really want to say is that after tearing up a little and feeling woeful for a time, I realize that it is okay. I am who I am from my experiences and life lessons in this town and in this home, and I will always have that.

Thanks Mom, for what you did for us and allowing us to grow up in a castle by the water.

(To read Toni’s full blog, click for “From Town to Shore.”)

9 responses to “Not Just Another Teardown

  1. Robert R Mills IV

    Well, I guess you don’t really feel the pain unitl it happens to you. The face of Westport is forever changing, and I feel it is for the worst. Sad, all of us long time families who have been here are feeling your pain.

  2. Good one. Great commentary on teardowns and the ever changing landscape of the town — some areas are almost unrecognizable to those of us who grew up there in a different era. That’s of course to my drive-through eye each year. I wonder why everything has to be so pristine and built new? Why isn’t there much room for quirkiness, individuality, wild, old yet restored, imperfect but beautiful? Just wondering…

  3. We happen to live in the Kings Hwy Historic District so the specter of some day a wrecking ball knocking down our home is one thing our daughters will be spared. In fact, there have been a couple of homes on the street in the past two years, had they been anyplace else other than in an historic district, would have most certainly been leveled and replaced by something considered “higher and best use of the land”. Fortunately, there are a handful of people out there such as these new owners who take the time and great cost to update and preserve. Unfortunately, the economics make it very difficult to appeal to most buyers.

  4. We live across the street from the house that Toni so warmly remembers. We of course know Toni and her mom While Toni’s tale is one of warm memories, zoning issues also arise. Tear downs/rebuilds in our beach areas almost always raise a zoning variance issue, i.e. action by our Zoning Board of Appeals. Some of us have worked to constrain the size of these new houses that arise from variance requests. On occasion, indeed with growing frequency, the ZBA has denied variances which developers felt certain they would obtain. Toni’s house tear down/rebuild will pose the same issues, the most common one being the fact that the grandfathered or approved variances for the demolished house generally are not legally pertinent to the new house. In other words, when you build new, you start new as to zoning compliance. This is an important legal concept.
    Sorry for being technical with Toni’ poignant story, one which in our own way as neighbors we shared. However, it is important to remember that the law and our ZBA impact on the preservation of homes that have served their prior owners so well. .
    Don Bergmann

  5. A nicely expressed and very personal story about how we shape our houses and how, so often, they shape us. Thanks, Toni.

    Like Bill, I too live in a historic district – for which I say a little prayer every time I am greeted with what would have been the alternative.

  6. I’m happy to say that the folks who purchased our home on Crawford Rd. that we lived in for almost 30 years, kept the integrity of it and was able to build up to enlarge and they made all the improvements to it that we always wanted to do. It is beautiful.

    • Rhoda,
      It is great to hear of your experience. I think my wife and I can take credit for accomplishing the same outcome, a tasteful renovation of an older house, with our Sherwood Drive home. We had an owner from around 1950 and her children stop by several years ago just to see their “old” house. They had lots of stories to tell, many fond memories and were delighted with what we had done. We gave to them their family bible, which we we had found during the work.
      Don Bergmann

      • Linda Gramatky Smith

        Don, love your story about your house. I am sure you did a great job renovating instead of tearing down.

  7. Bonnie Scott Connolly

    As far as I know our house at 28 Narrow Rocks Road is still standing. I even think the same people that bought it from us in 1969 still own it. I haven’t been back for a while now.