Improving Compo Beach, For Nearly 90 Years

In some ways, Compo Beach has changed little since the 1920s.

The sand is nicer. There’s a new jetty. But really, you can’t do too much to a beach.

In many ways, the neighborhood looks the same too. Homes line Soundview Drive, and fill the side streets. They’ve been winterized, modernized and raised to escape hurricanes and floods, but they’ve never lost that great beach vibe.

And after nearly 100 years, a Lane is once again in charge of the Compo Beach Improvement Association.

Back in the day, Joe Lane lived on Soundview. The CBIA was formed in 1928, and he was president. The organization took care of the beach, put floats in the water, and provided lifeguards. It also threw great parties.

In the 1950s, rafts off Compo Beach were a great attraction.

In the 1950s, rafts off Compo Beach were a great attraction. But look at those rocks!

Toni Cunningham succeeded Joe, and served for decades as CBIA president. She’s nearing 100 now, and still lives on Soundview. (Her daughter, Gail Cunningham Coen, and Gail’s husband Terry were longtime active CBIA members. Last year, they sold their Soundview home a few doors from Toni, and moved south.)

Three years ago, the torch was passed from Toni to Skip Lane. He’s Joe’s grandson. His father, Paul Lane, is the now retired, much-admired former Staples football coach who (of course) still lives in his own Soundview Drive home.

These days, the CBIA’s main job is taking care of the plantings along Soundview, monitoring issues like traffic and signs.

Skip Lane

Skip Lane

But Skip hopes to broaden the group’s impact. He’s getting more neighbors involved — including those on Minuteman and Bluewater Hill Roads, and around the corner on Hillspoint — and is looking at new projects, like how to add sand to the beach, and remove rocks.

“The beach is fantastic,” Skip says. “But it needs a little TLC.”

Skip now lives on Roosevelt Avenue, off Compo Beach Road.

“Even when I was growing up, I thought the beach could be better,” he says. “Little things like the parking lot bugged me. As much as everyone loves it, it can be polished.”

He is happy to see an influx of young families into the area. “There’s a group of them with little kids. They have parties at the end of Fairfield Avenue nearly every night,” he notes. “That’s the way it used to be. And the way it should be.”

Meanwhile, the Compo Beach Improvement Association is planning a party of its own. With summer renters gone — and some former residents coming back just for this event — the CBIA holds its annual barbecue this Sunday, at the Ned Dimes Marina.

There will be food and drinks. And plenty of back-in-the-day stories from Paul Lane and Toni Cunningham, who knew the beach then and still love it now.

A large wooden bathhouse once stood at Compo Beach. Today this is the site of the playground. The 2-story pavilion (right) is now only 1.

A large wooden bathhouse once stood at Compo; walkways led to the beach. Today this is the site of the playground. The 2-story pavilion (right) is now only 1.

22 responses to “Improving Compo Beach, For Nearly 90 Years

  1. The grand plan for Compo of two years ago was inspiring and noble, but sounded like it included too many millions for paving. Some justifiable howling ensued. I said then, and say today, it could be possible to transform the paved parking surfaces to grass (how does Yale Bowl do it?), and maybe some residents could visualize the increased possibility of new soccer or lacrosse fields. Please don’t “pave paradise” to “put up a parking lot”.

    • Have you any idea the space required to put in a soccer or lacrosse field? It’s a beach, not a sports arena. The open space there now is used for the summer camps, and there is already a baseball field there and basketball, and volleyball, why add more? Fix the parking lot, and it is looking much better,, and add the bathrooms at South Beach, leave the rest alone. More important, the town should maintain that facility better.

    • Oh, and then there is the cost of putting in a soccer or lacrosse field. You want to bear the cost of such a field?

  2. We are lucky to have Skip Lane at the helm of the Compo Beach Improvement Association.

  3. More sand. Fewer rocks. Yeah!!

  4. Joyce Barnhart

    Dan, you didn’t mention Skip’s mother. I think she was Pat Lane, a lovely, caaring woman who taught at Greens Farm School for many years.

    • Dan, you didn’t mention Skip’s NFL career. I think he played for the Jets, a lovely, caring football team who suffers in New York for many years.

  5. Compo Beach is a treasure for the community that surrounds it and for the diverse sun worshippers who crowd it on summer weekends. It’s where you sit iyour kid in a diaper at the edge of low tide to establish their connection to the ebb and flow of life. It’s where you bake in the sun and sleep through a good book. It’s where schmooze politics with friends in a circle of chairs and past dusk.

  6. Compo Beach is a treasure for the community that surrounds it and for the diverse sun worshippers who crowd it on summer weekends. It’s where you sit your kid in a diaper at the edge of low tide to establish their connection to the ebb and flow of life. It’s where you bake in the sun and sleep through a good book. It’s where you schmooze politics with friends in a circle of chairs past dusk. It’s where you walk in all seasons to find a connection to things greater than yourself.

    It’s where my father went to paint people at play after their weekly labors, and where I now go to paint to witness all of the above.

    I remember the block parties where the band played hits by Tommy James and the Shondells, Herman’s Hermits, The Zombies, The Dave Clark Five, The Stones and The Beatles and we all danced in the street.

    I remember Beach School and making lanyard bracelets, tether ball and the red, white and blue rocket Popsicles that were the goal at the end of every Pavillion lunch.

    I cannot remember a bad day at Compo, despite the floods. It has always been a special place and all efforts that seek to maintain its inherent appeal without super-sizing it should be supported. Kudos to Skip!

  7. don l bergmann

    I am delighted with Skip’s new role. A broad based and effective CBIA is a benefit to Compo Beach and hence to the entire Town. TLC is needed, indeed, maybe a bit more than that. Let’s all work together to make the kinds of improvements that should not be controversial, in essence, things like more sand, fewer rocks, better maintenance, address trees, foliage and grass, a bathroom at South Beach, the new “cabanas” and bathrooms at Main Beach and, in general, a really serious spruce up. Also, never forget ongoing maintenance. There will be some cost, but nothing overwhelming.

    Don Bergmann

  8. And move the parked cars back away from the sand, improving pedestrian and bicyclist safety and opening up the views for all. Better to see sand and sea than tailpipes.

  9. Didn’t the town of Westport dissolve the Compo Beach site committee Skip Lane was recently on because it was so out of touch with what the residents of Westport wanted for Compo beach? This article quotes Skip, “Little things like the parking lot bugged me. As much as everyone loves it, it can be polished.”
    Three of the five people on the Compo beach site committee members lived within walking distance to Compo Beach. They said they wanted to clean up Compo Beach, (sound familiar) the next thing we knew they had town funding and a 80 page report with recommendations for Compo Beach.
    The committee spent $50,000 on a plan that had the taxpayers spending
    -$21,000 to removing healthy trees.
    -Removing 325 parking spots
    -Adding sand dunes, to change the topography at Compo beach which will create future maintenance problems. Storms continually remind us of how futile attempts at sand control can be.
    -Remove the skate park to build a parking lot.
    The plan had us queuing up, like LaGuardia Airport, to drop off family and provisions, by the beach, then driving halfway across the beach to park, then walking back to where you dropped everything off. The plan had vehicle-to-beach distance that could have been up to 120 feet.
    But most importantly they wanted to remove most of the parking along the water’s edge. Currently, Westport residents have an obstructed view of the Long Island Sound, isn’t this one of the reasons why we all enjoy Compo beach?
    I got involved by passing out fliers and asked the residents of Westport to sign a petition not to remove the parking along the water and to keep the skateboard park for the children of Westport.

    In the end, how many more people need to fight this argument — again? The residents of Westport have spoken.

    After having standing room only town hall meetings and presenting over 1200 petition signatures haven’t we learned anything, when Skip Lane says he wants to clean up Compo beach hand him a garbage bag.

    Dee Chapman

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Way to go Dee. Skip had what seemed like a ‘private’ agenda. He was trying to remove the cars from parking at the beach-which is a true benefit for most.

      Are we back at it agin?

  10. Dee brings up a good point. Why go through all this again? The committee want to keep trying til they get their notoriety and funding? Stop all the madness about this already.

  11. Skip et al …..please address the grass areas and foliage. It looks like a forgotten parking lot and middle island. Never move the front line of cars. People enjoy pulling up and looking at the water year round as well as it is convenient. Lines are not even painted. A sidewalk was build for walkers who still walk in the street. Only one beach….lots of places to walk. Just stop with the meetings and get a maintenance CREW out there and clean, plant grass, attend to trees and make it the pristine jewel it should be…..not a pricker, weed disgrace.

  12. Dan, you wrote that the sand is now nicer than in the 20s. I used the beach almost daily in the late 30s and 40s. It was vitually all rocks. The conversion to sand most have come later. You might check that but I’m fairly sure I’m rigt

    • We’re in agreement, Gary. The sand is nicer than in the ’20s. Also nicer than in the ’30s and ’40s. The conversion to sand from rocks came in the 1950s, I believe.

  13. I wonder where “our” sand winds up every year. Funny if the winter waters of the Sound return the sand on Compo’s beaches to the same place it was taken from the spring before.

  14. Bruce Erickson

    I liked Compo Beach the way it was back in the 50’s with the bath house stiil there and the great pavillion where you could buy a hot dog for 15 cents :>)
    I think the old Compo Beach had more character in the old days.