Friday’s “06880” post on the benefits and drawbacks of a restaurant in the residential Old Mill neighborhood noted that 4 years ago, area residents opposed Positano’s owners plan to add 4 tables of outdoor dining at the site.
Several commenters pointed out that before Positano, Cafe de la Plage enjoyed a long and storied run as a beachside dining spot. Sally Kellogg Deegan remembered a restaurant called Leo Williams in the 1940s.
She’s exactly right. But there’s a lot more to the tale than that. And it involves the same issue that Positano faced decades later: neighbors.
The Bridgeport Post of August 21, 1954 ran this headline: “‘Fed Up With Town,’ Says Restaurateur Leo Williams in Quitting Westport.”
The story begins:
Leo Williams’ restaurant, a landmark at Old Mill Beach since 1945, will change owners on or about October 1 as the result of a zoning feud between the proprietor and the town.
Ired by what he termed the ‘petty complaints of jealous neighbors,’ Williams and his partner, Fred Wittenberger, moved to Essex, where they purchased a colonial mansion.
In 1945, Williams had taken over the Old Mill restaurant. Officials granted permission to build a screened-in porch, on land that partly encroached on town property.
In 1954, he added a wooden fence in front of his adjacent Hillspoint Road home. Neighbors complained it was on Old Mill Beach property. Williams said the land was his.
After a survey, Westport’s selectmen ordered the fence removed. Williams refused. The case went to the Court of Common Pleas.
Williams then placed large boulders in front of his fence. He said he needed protection against tidal storms. The selectmen had the rocks removed, and billed Williams.
After Williams announced he was moving to Essex, neighbors told him to remove the porch. They said it belonged to him, not the restaurant. Williams countered that without the porch, no one would sublet the restaurant.
Comparing himself to Vivien Kellems — a longtime Westporter who left for Stonington following zoning battles over her cable grip manufacturing company — Williams said, “I’m getting out of Westport and the sooner the better. If the porch must be removed, I’ll take it with me to Essex. I’m fed up with the town and my nosy neighbors.”