Golden Shadows, Compo Acres, And Eternal Vigilance

Planning and Zoning Commission meetings are often humdrum affairs. Applications are presented, text amendments debated, building sites approved. Much of the action is conducted not in English, but Legalese.

Occasionally, however, real interesting stuff happens. That was the case last Thursday.

At the end of a P&Z session — right before adjourning — chairman Chip Stephens announced 2 extra pieces of business.

First, he talked about the houses on Baron’s South. The property has already been approved for senior housing — which may be built in time for today’s kindergartners to use — but in the meantime, he’s concerned about 3 houses there.

Calling them “beautiful and historic,” Chip noted that the Baron’s old residence — yes, there was an actual baron; he was a perfume magnate, and named his home “Golden Shadows” after one of his creations — is in disrepair.

Westporters toured Golden Shadows several years ago, after the town bought  the property.

Westporters toured Golden Shadows several years ago, after the town bought the property.

The library is storing books inside, and the weight has caused part of the foundation to crack. Copper gutters have been stolen, and Belgian block along the driveway has disappeared.

The Tudor house next door — used as a guest house — is being used too. (Chip did not say so, but I’ve heard it’s a haven for the homeless.)

The Tudor house next door to Golden Shadows.

The Tudor house next door to Golden Shadows.

And another guest house — the white one, which sits on South Compo Road — is being used for storing furniture. (I’ve heard it comes from foreclosed homes.)

The 3rd town-owned house, on South Compo Road.

The 3rd town-owned house, on South Compo Road.

Chip’s questions are simple: What is happening to these town-owned houses? And do we care about saving them?

New Canaan did it (with Waveny House). Norwalk did it (Cranbury Park). We seem to be losing a “golden” opportunity, at a similarly well-suited spot.

Chip then asked about work being done on the parking lot behind Compo Acres Shopping Center.

Excavation work behind Compo Acres Shopping Center.

Excavation work behind Compo Acres Shopping Center.

P&Z director Larry Bradley reported that the project has “gone beyond” what the P&Z approved.

The hillside was excavated more extensively. More trees were removed. And more will have to come down, as a result of the work already done.

He said that the P&Z permit will be revoked. A new one must be applied for, and approved.

The only reason the revocation did not come earlier was because immediate cessation of work could endanger stability of the hillside.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. It’s also, apparently, the price of construction in Westport.

And of preservation of what we already own.

(To view the entire P&Z meeting, click on the town website. To see only the Baron’s South and Compo Acres portions, slide the timer to 1:23.)

9 responses to “Golden Shadows, Compo Acres, And Eternal Vigilance

  1. Cornelia Fortier

    Westport, with all the construction, development and elimination of so many trees, feels like a runaway train.

  2. They need to restore everything they destroyed outside their
    permit. Such arrogance!

  3. Kudos to Chip Stephens for raising the issue of the Baron’s historic Golden Shadows mansion. It is an iconic part of Westport and it deserves being saved and restored as do the other houses on the property. The town can certainly find the resolve to do a better job of maintaining these properties and likely can put them to good use with a little creative thinking. Lets see if the town can pull together the proper resources to make this happen.

  4. Forget the tree issue, really people, get a life, there are more trees today in Fairfield County than there ever were in the entire history of the area. But as far as town owned property goes, what seems to be the norm for our illustrious politicos is “oh, we got…what, we have to maintain it also?” And then only the barebones work gets done on it, ergo Compo Beach, the facilities at Longshore, Baron’s South. It just goes on.

  5. I was at Waveny Park last night for, of all things, a discussion on preservation and “making places”. Driving in I thought to myself, there is no reason Westport can’t do this with Golden Shadows. Despite the neglect, the building is in good condition and, with vision, could become a viable part of our downtown campus. What a terrific opportunity we have here, let’s not let this asset go to waste.

  6. Nancy Powers Conklin

    Can’t Golden Shadows be restored to the extent where it could be used for a local wedding venue? Just like the Waveny Manor building? At least, it could generate some rental income for the town, like Penfield Pavillion on the beach in Fairfield. It is worth some consideration, I would think.

  7. Of course it can be restored. It’s quite restorable, in fact. Waveny was, as I noted above, the kind of model that came to mind while recently driving through…Waveny Park. From its dramatic, sweeping staircase in the front entry hall to the (once) gracious rear terrace and lawn – replete with a tiered cast iron fountain – the site would make a romantic backdrop for weddings or other events. Alternately, it could provide badly needed municipal meeting and office space – the competition for both has practically become a contact sport in Town Hall. There are no shortage of options for this historic building – it just needs humans to make that commitment. Sort of like Kemper Gunn.

  8. I would like to add my enthusiastic endorsement to Morley Boyd’s plea to
    restore the Baron’s Mansion, aka “Golden Shadows.” While thinking of this
    as a venue for weddings and other ceremonies, we should also be thinking
    of this for town offices where more space is needed. Preserving and
    conserving the Mansion is, in my mind, in the same spirit as the recent
    major initiative with the Gunn House. Historically and aesthetically, the
    Mansion has important architectural and interior features which, while neglected, have gone unspoiled, giving Westport yet another “sense of place” and part of our “downtown campus.” We can do better than leaving
    it as a storage depot or worse, a tear-down.

    Robert E. Fatherley

  9. Thanks for your thoughts Bob, as it happens, Westport’s Historic District Commission (HDC) voted on April 8th of this year to begin the process of designating Golden Shadows as a Local Historic Landmark Property – which offers, as you probably know, many strategic and economic advantages. The enabling legislation for the designation clearly indicates that the HDC must now produce a Study Report (an evaluation of the architectural and historic merits of the building and its setting) which will be sent to P&Z and the State Historic Preservation Commission. Hopefully this step in the process is, by now, nearly complete.