Remembering Gorham Island

Wednesday’s “06880” story on the death of Sidney Kramer included a few lines about his founding of Save Westport Now. The impetus for Westport’s 3rd political party was the construction of a 40,000-square foot glass office building on Gorham Island, diagonally across Parker Harding Plaza from Kramer’s Remarkable Book Shop.

Reader Kathleen Burke was reminded of a beautiful watercolor postcard. Artist Walter Dubois Richards created it, as part of the campaign to save the Victorian house that sat on Gorham Island.

Whether all you know of that spot is the bile-green office — or if you fondly remember the old home there — you’ll appreciate Richards’ painting:

Gorham Island - Walter Dubois Richards

Here’s another view, of unknown origin:

Gorham Island house

Noted artist Al Willmott painted this view of Gorham Island and downtown:

Gorham Island by Don Willmott

As did famed “Little Toot” artist Hardie Gramatky:

Gorham Island by Hardie Gramatky

Here’s the view today:

Gorham Island office

We can’t get that house back. But it wasn’t because Sidney Kramer didn’t try.

14 responses to “Remembering Gorham Island

  1. The building should be on the Westport Haunted House Tour.
    A son killed his father in the old house before it was demolished and rumor had it that the ghost of one of them is still hanging around. I thought it was hogwash till my cocker spaniel acted really weird whenever we went there to work on weekends in my first real estate office.

  2. Eric William Buchroeder 'SHS '70

    We should leak to Al Qaeda that the regional CIA headquarters is in that bizarre building, (operating every night after closing time to save money), they set off a few pipe bombs (after everyone has gone home to their McMansions so no one gets hurt) and then we declare it open space (for dog defecation) and use the technology we learned with the Kemper Gunn house to move the new YMCA where it belongs: Winslow Park.

  3. Harriet Smiley

    We lived and raised our sons in the house that Al Willmott and his wife had lived in early in their years in Westport. During a renovation, we found some of his sketches in the attic, returned them to him and followed his career from that point. He created many beautiful scenes of Westport over the years and some of his work was converted into note cards, etc.

  4. When properties fall into disrepair there is little else to do. I was in the house at the end as friends had rented a room. The old fireplaces and fixtures were awesome. Too bad Sidney didn’t take the initiative earlier.

  5. Chip Stephens - Staples 73

    As I remember it the house was not in danger of demolition, instead it just went down, no permits no forewarning, it was what they call an oops moment. There have been other terrible infamous examples of teardown in Westport but none as out there as the Gorham Island oops.
    The upside it sparked interest in groups and residents to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings and asking is this really right, is it allowable and if the answer is no, striving to maintain the character of the town.
    As my fellow commissioner Mr Whittle observed we can not and should not expect everything to stay the same, businesses come and go, but we can all try to work to maintain the charm and nature of Westport as was so well illustrated in the DSC studies and soon to be released report.
    Thank you Sidney,

  6. in the 40’s my mother, Jane Buell Neidlinger, was very close to several
    ladies who lived in that house…Ethel Wright, and Swan (later Suzanne) Conn. they had been close to my grandparents, Ralph and Mary Buell,
    who had moved to 5 Thomas Rd. in the early 30’s from NYC.
    mom would often leave me in their care when she drove in from
    Weston to park at Walt Brown’s Mobil Station and shop at Gristedes, Kleins,
    Greenbergs, Dorains (Dora knew all our first names, and so did Mr. Klein !)
    The first jazz i ever heard was being played in the oil-change pit at Walt’s
    by the first Afro-American i ever knew, Bob Kegler, who worked at Walt’s for years. It was Charlie Parker on Savoy, and i still remember the sound, probably the reason i went into music. Anyway, about that house; the woodwork and the fixtures were like you might see on Park Avenue, the windows had huge wide ledges at the bottom of the inside frame, and a six-year-old could sit on them like a windowseat. i especially loved the dormer on the third floor ! the yard had once been beautifully landscaped but was quite unkempt due to lack of maintenance. i recall the ladies being stranded on Gorham Island a few times when the Saugatuck washed out the road/bridge.
    that the Town of Westport allowed the demolition of that treasure is beyond me; guess they wanted a new tax base for that property. What goes on in that ugly building that is there now ?

  7. I covered the story when the design of the Gorham Island building was chosen. It was a competition, of sorts, and I believe the Architectural Review Board had the final say. This design was chosen because they said it would be the least obtrusive, with the mirrored walls reflecting the surrounding marsh grasses. I preferred the design that looked like a weathered fishing village.

  8. Dan, I lived on Main St during WWll just north of “downtown”. I remember a large old white house just opposite Avery Place. I believe that is the Gorham Island house moved from Main St. The “View of Westport” dated 1874 shows no house on Gorham Island, but did show every other structure near the center of town including Gorham Island.

    • Russell – to your point, the 1867 map of Westport by F.W. Beers shows no house on Gorhams Island (which bears that name) but a house belonging to “S. Gorham” on Main opposite where Avery Place comes in.

  9. My best information at the time of the Gorham Island flap was that the house on the island had been moved from another location and housed transient workers who were involved in the construction of I-95. The house, which looked beutiful from a distance and was featured on a popular Westport poster, was in fact infested by rodents and dry rot and was uninhabitable, although it had some useful and attractive lintels, windows and other historic features which were offered to others to save or repurpose but for which there were no takers. We did take out a demolition permit and we were geared up for a full scale demolition but the house all but collapsed when a small front-end loader was run against it. Your reader is correct that the building design was the result of a compettition judged by a committee with the participation opf the ARB. .