Friday Flashback #1

If you’ve lived in Westport for more than a day, you know what a visually intriguing place our town is.

If you’ve lived here for a while — or lived here once, before moving away — you know it’s always looked intriguing. And a lot different yesterday than today.

“06880” is excited to announce a new feature: “Friday Flashback.”

Each week, we’ll post a new photo of a place that no longer exists. Some will be old. Others will be very old. A few will be real old.

For a while, folks have been sending me great shots. There are many more floating around on the internet, including some great Facebook pages. (Thanks, Paul Ehrisman!) It’s time to share them with the wide “06880” community.

This week’s Friday Flashback shows the Pine Knoll Inn.

Pine Knoll - now Playhouse condos

For many years a boarding house — and before that, a home owned by the Kemper family (whose tannery and orchard are now the Westport Country Playhouse) — the Pine Knoll was torn down in the early 1980s.

Today it’s the Playhouse Square condos, behind the post office.

“Friday Flashback” needs your help. Please email any great photos — showing any Westport places, buildings, stores, etc. — to dwoog@optonline.net. Thanks!


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47 responses to “Friday Flashback #1

  1. Great photo Dan! I only remember it as a dilapidated old white building.

  2. Sally Campbell Palmer

    I wish we still had some of the great old houses that have been torn down. It would add a lot of character to the town.

  3. Joyce Barnhart

    What a beauty! I thought of Saratoga Springs and rocking chairs the minute I saw it. So sorry it’s gone. We’ve been in town since the early 70’s and I have no recollection of it at all. Was it set far back from the Post Road?

  4. What a beautiful Inn!

  5. I lived there in 1972 on the 1st floor fully furnished studio was only $50 a week !!

  6. Susan Hopkins

    I vaguely remember it, but painted white (?) perhaps. Looking forward to “Friday Flashback”! Great idea … thank you, Dan!

  7. Lynne Betts Baker

    Friday Flashback sounds like fun. My family goes back generations in Westport. I can tell you some stories of the Pine Knoll Inn from the 60’s and 70’s when it fell on hard times. Loved seeing a picture of it in all it’s glory. What a beauitul building it was. Thks Dan

  8. Nancy Powers Conklin

    I love this “Friday Flashback,” Dan! Looking forward to every Friday now:) Thank you!

  9. Alice Crowther

    I agree with Nancy Conklin. What a wonderful idea, especially for those of us who have been around for a while.

  10. Sharon Horowitz

    What could possibly have been the rationale for tearing it down. What a loss for the charm and character of our town. Was restoration not an option?

  11. Bobbie Herman

    Just wondering — I moved to Westport in 1983. At that time, it was considered “the watering hole of Fairfield County.” I remember so many restaurants — Ships, Chez Pierre, Tanglewood, The Peppermill, Le Chambord, Soup’s On, Mario’s, Red Barn, Matthew’s, Three Bears, Oscar’s — as well as many others. The only ones left today that I can think of are Gold’s, Sherwood Diner, The Black Duck and Westport Pizzeria. Have I missed any?

  12. Angelina’s, Dunville’s, Viva’s.

  13. One of my brothers (a musician) rented a room here briefly in 1979/80 (w/ some of his bandmates in other rooms). It was painted white then – as other posters commented. The landlady was an elderly German woman. I think I remember that she had owned it w/ her late husband prior to that. I’m sorry I can’t remember her name but perhaps someone else does and can post it. Sadly she had to put up w/ a lot of graffiti and disrespect there. Someone at that time said that it used to be on the Post Road (State Street then) where Crazy Eddies and formerly Crest (the ice cream – burger place) was: that it was moved back to put in the shops. (The shopping center behind was added later – in the 70s I recall). Also at that time – word was that when the house fronted the street one could see all the way to The Sound/shore from the captain’s walk at the top of the building. (See photo). This was said to have been possible because at that time (when the house was built) there were fewer trees – due to clearing the land for farm usage. I’m not sure if the owner was also a sea captain. I remember that being part of the story – but as historians know those tales can get out of hand quickly! I think it was the elderly landlady who had described the history of the building to my brother. She had been an actress: perhaps the Westport Historical Society would know something about her. (Perhaps that’s how she came to own the property next to the Playhouse?).

    I was sad to learn of that house being torn down. I wish that entire Kemper property (Playhouse outbuildings & main house) had been preserved as a whole. Also those rooming house properties provided what is now called ‘affordable housing’ in a dignified way (private landlady – near shops etc.). Thank You for posting this Dan.

    • PS: The landlady allowed me to walk in the captain’s walk at the top of the building but I couldn’t see the shore from there: just basically trees. But as I said: this was also after the building had been moved far back from the Post Road (State Street). I think she had been an actress in NYC theatre in the early 20th century.

  14. my mother used to visit a fortune teller who lived in a room on the third floor, looking out that front right window. it was during WW II, and Mom always asked the lady about my Dad, who was stationed in London. Mom wanted to know when he’d be coming home. My brother Roger and I used to run all over the place- up in the attic, even into that round turret, which was filled with ancient clothing and dust. that place had already fallen on hard times by1944.

  15. Nice feature, Dan. I recall reading somewhere in my stack-o-stuff that the Kempers built this marvelous confection on spec. But then, for whatever reason, decided to make it their own. Personally, I would have never left that second floor porch in the summer. Except to get more iced tea.

  16. I lived up in the “Cupola” for awhile, it lost it’s charm pretty quickly having no walls…and stayed in a few of the rooms on the 2nd floor. One time an elderly lady passed away in her room, nobody realized it until she started to smell…Chot traded us free rent in exchange for cleaning it out for him. It’s amazing what packrats will keep! Piles of newspapers, those styrofoam trays that meat comes packed in at the grocery store…no treasures though…somebody must have gotten those before we got there :-)There were always such an assortment of characters who lived there , it was never boring! Being next door to the Player’s Tavern was convenient …

  17. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Southern Vernacular meets Baroque meets Neoclassical meets Revival? What is it?

  18. Wendy Crowther

    As mentioned above by Dan, the house that became the Pine Knoll Inn belonged to Charles H. Kemper (Sr.) who owned and operated the tannery. According to my Kemper family research, it was Charles’ grandson, Charles Morton Kemper, that may have converted the house into a hotel. In the 1931 and 1933 Westport Directories, Charles Morton Kemper is listed at 138 State St., Pine Knoll Hotel.

    I don’t believe that the house was moved there from another location as Zoe Kassis may have been told. There was a different inn once located where the former Crazy Eddie’s sat (the corner of Post Rd and S. Compo). The inn at that location was known as the Hawthorne Inn. There was also an inn located where Colonial Green Shopping Center is today. That was the Westport Inn (the building is still there but was moved to the rear of the lot).

    It’s worth making one more historical connection here. Charles H. Kemper (Sr.) was the uncle of Frederick Kemper who built and lived in the house that formerly sat on Church St. next to the YMCA but was moved across Elm St. two years ago into the Baldwin parking lot. Frederick’s house, known more recently as the Kemper-Gunn House, is now the home of the Serena & Lily retail store.

    Dan, “Friday Flashback” is a great idea. It not only informs new Westporters about the history of our town, but it also evokes such wonderful stories from those who have lived here a long time or who “knew her when.” These stories are priceless and demonstrate the importance of preserving the past – its tales, its structures and its places.

    • Thanks, Wendy — much appreciated. I think all of us — longtime residents and newcomers — will have a ton of fun with “Friday Flashback.”

      But as for Crazy Eddie’s — don’t you and Zoe mean Sam Goody? There were actually 2: one where Qdoba is now (and where the Crest used to be), the other where Patriot Bank is now in Compo Acres Shopping Center (the former site of Franklin Simon).

      • Wendy Crowther

        You’re right, Dan. I was thinking of Sam Goody (also a record/music store) where Patriot Bank is now. Hah…my recent history isn’t as good as my past history!

    • Thank you for the clarification re. the rumour of the house having been moved from The Post Road.

      • Zoe, you’re right. A comparison of aerial photos from 1934 and 1965 — sent to me by my good friend Neil Brickley — shows that the Pine Knoll in was indeed moved back a ways between those 2 dates. It was never right on the Post Road, but it was definitely moved back.

        • Perhaps the lawn / front garden in the photo you posted Dan – showed the original placement? That was my initial impression from the photo – as the topography in the photo looked different than I remember it from when the house was behind the newer shopping center. The shopping center property seems to have a similar incline (on a slightly ascending hill) to the front property in the photo. I believe the info came from the elderly former actress who – as I mentioned previously – was the last owner. If it was on a hill vs. directly on the road that would have made it easier to see the shore from the top of the building (re. remembrance passed on & described in my initial post).

  19. If you are looking for a collection of great old Westport pictures, try 246 Post Road, East. Webster bank is in that building. The hallway entrance to the bank and the 2nd floor too has a great postcard collection displayed.

  20. @ Nancy Hunter
    Yes – they really prettified photos when they coloured them. Also this looks to have been a colour postcard (?) – so probably it’s a colour lithograph of a photo. And then some postcards had that textural woven linen look finish (I forget what postcard sellers & collectors call that). That would add to it looking more painterly – or like a ‘drawing’ as you said.

    • Nancy Hunter

      Linen Phostint postcard, perhaps. Popular travel advertisements.

      • Greetings 🙂 Yes I think “linen”… probably referring to the textural woven look vs. actual linen rag content in the paper. Which is more expensive… but who knows – as there were some high quality card printers when collecting was huge – mostly in Switzerland & Germany… & NYC & Chicago… (Well somebody knows – but not me!). I read about it some months ago but my mind is becoming a sieve… I studied printmaking in NYC a lifetime ago – but that was at SVA – not commercial printmaking… I do remember reading recently that those textured cards stopped being made (in the 50s?) possibly due to expense or when lithography was replaced w/ other commercial cheaper more expedient techniques. Hahaha – not only has this post stirred up so many comments from the architecture & history obsessives – but you & I branched off into a little twiglet of photography – printing – postcard collecting. Have a lovely summer Sunday!

        • PS: I just bought one of those postcards online yesterday of The Hawthorne Inn in Westport – which someone mentioned in a comment in this thread. It was opposite the Baron’s property. (The heavily wooded house where he lived up the long drive. Not the Asylum property he also owned… post it’s nursing home incarnation). I bought it to give to the Historical Society (if they want it… as it doesn’t take space).

        • Nancy Hunter

          Thanks Zoe, this really has been fun!

    • Nancy Hunter

      Morris Berman? Many Westport/Ct postcards.

  21. When I lived there, the man who owned it was called Chot and his daughter named Doris who ran it. Here is a link to a story written buy David Kyle that mentions it: https://archive.org/details/Live_from_the_Hole_Room_at_the_Kirby_Clinic-4187. I read a story about the history of the Pine Knoll Inn somewhere, but cannot find it. Maybe the Historical Society would have more info?

  22. The 1940 census lists Clarks Kemper (as head of household / age 49) & Ellen Kemper (age 49) & three lodgers – two men and a 22 two year old woman (all w/ different last names) at ‘Post Road’ (no street number) in Westport. (A general online search easily pulls this up on Ancestry – if anyone wants to see the other names & ages). Perhaps this is the landlord a poster here remembered from the early 70s? He would have been in his eighties then. There were no children listed in the census living in the house / inn. (Unless the 22 year old woman was a daughter w/ married name then? Only usually it would say ‘daughter’ and not ‘lodger’ in that case). Perhaps this 22 year old was the “fortune teller” in the 40s that another poster mentioned! There was no one named “Doris” listed. (A poster said this was the “daughter” of the landlord residing there in the early 70s).

    However (*spray of confetti & rattle of tambourines*) I also found (via a simple general online search of ‘Doris Kemper Westport CT’) a document belonging to our Westport Historical Society which lists taped interviews – where her name appears. It states the name Doris Bassett Kemper and the year of the interview as 1988 (and labeled #22). This looks like it could be a married name. Perhaps the landlady called the “daughter” by a poster who had lived there – was actually the daughter in law who had married a Kemper. There is also the possibility that the interview is w/ another Doris Kemper – not the landlady of this property. (That would be quite a coincidence but not impossible to believe – given there are roughly 30 thousand people in town). I would love to hear this interview (a bit obsessed w/ this Kemper family & house Saga now honestly!) or read a transcript. Regarding her having been an actress as various boarders described: There was a well known actress also named Doris Kemper who acted in many 20th century films & in television – but her obituary said she was not from here so I don’t think they are one & the same. (Unless she travelled back out west to the place of her birth – before passing on. There are multiple biographies & obituaries online. The filmography for this actress – Westport Doris Kemper or not – is interesting).

    I know some Westport Historical Society interviews have been posted online (I think newer – more recent ones) and I would love for this one to be posted online as well. Of course if it is an interview w/ the former landlady it would be great to have a link to that here.

  23. Wendy Crowther

    Ms. Odice’s “Live from the Hole Room” link proved to be a great link for me to go down a long rabbit hole to find out more about the Doris Kemper referred to in this post. Hours later, I’ve emerged with some answers, along with help from my former research on other members of the Kemper family. Here’s the quick summary:

    Doris Bassett Kemper was the daughter of Charles Morton Kemper (nickname Chot). Charles Morton Kemper, who I mentioned in my earlier post, was the owner of the Pine Knoll Hotel that was formerly the house owned by his grandfather Charles H. Kemper of tannery fame. Doris never married. She and her father (Chot), along with her brother, Charles H. Kemper (nickname “Bud”), listed themselves in the Westport Directories (circa 1954 and onward) as directors, treasurers and secretaries of Pine Hill Estates Inc. located on State St. (Post Rd) in the location of the Pine Knoll Inn. Doris and her father lived at this location too. Through this corporation, it appears that they created the shopping center, although there were fights over the zoning.

    In April of 1957 there was a law suit filed by contractors who were hired to remove topsoil from the Pine Hill Estates property “in the rear of the Dairy Queen stand” during the “relocation of the Pine Knoll Inn, which is owned by Pine Hill Estates.” Charles Kemper (Doris’ brother) was identified as the head of Pine Hill Estates. Therefore, this would represent the approximate date during which the Pine Knoll Inn was moved further into the rear.

    Doris, during her youth (1920s), performed in local Westport events as a singer, dancer and ballet dancer. In the CT Death Index, her occupation was listed as “Retired Dancer” and the industry in which she worked was listed as “Roxy Theater.” A quick Google on the Roxy indicates that they they had a ballet company and a famous line of precision dancers known at the “Roxyettes.”

    At the time of Doris’ death (June 27, 1991) she was living in Weston. She was 77 when she died. Her father, “Chat” died in 1977.

    The above facts, in addition to many I did not include here, cause me to be certain that the Doris mentioned in the various posts from those remembering Pine Knoll was the daughter of “Chat,” and was the former “ex-rockette.” Therefore, the Pine Knoll Hotel, then Inn remained in the Kemper family throughout most, if not all, of its existence. I didn’t look into its fate beyond this.

    What a fun piece of time-travel this has been – all due to the stories posted by Ms. Odice and Ms. Kassis…and, of course, Dan, who started it all. We’ve all learned something fascinating about a hi-style residence built by a king of Westport manufacturing that morphed over time into a quirky boarding house for actors, musicians and often the downtrodden.

    Dan…consider getting a copy of Doris’ 1988 interview (#22) from the WHS. What a great follow-up post this could make.

    • I found a postcard of the Hawthorne Inn last night online (that Ms.Crowther mentioned in an earlier comment) and purchased it for The Historical Society (if they want it…as it won’t take up too much space). Also in my comment from very early this morning – which I left after researching and finding that Miss Kemper had done the 1988 interview for WHS – I wondered wether this interview is already available online as WHS has done w/ more recent interviews. (I couldn’t find that posted from WHS… nor more recent ones which I had seen before. So it would be great if someone from WHS reading this could answer that). Lastly: when Miss Kemper told my brother she was “German” (probably because our mother is from Germany who she may have met briefly) she must have meant the earlier generations of the Kemper family immigrated from Germany. The region around Frankfurt had a huge leather tannery industry for centuries (which I believe supplied other parts of Europe as well) so this is another little puzzle piece that drops in nicely. (In Germany only the eldest son could inherit a business & land – which drove a lot of Germans to North America & Latin America in the 18th & 19th centuries).

      • Wendy Crowther

        According to my research, Charles H. Kemper (of Kemper Tannery fame) was in business with his father, Charles Morton Kemper (Chot’s great grandfather) who was born in NY. Charles H.Kemper’s grandfather (John Kemper) was born in NYC. John Kemper’s father (John Jacob Kemper) was born in Germany in the early 1700s and died in NYC.

        • 🙂 That’s lovely! Thank You for posting that (or rather: Vielen Dank!). I have empathy for those young men who were forced to travel to strange lands after their elder brothers got the property and they didn’t want to live in their brother’s household (w/ their own wives & children!). That’s also the reason many young German men came here as mercenaries in the 18th century – to fight on either side in our War of Independence.

          Does anyone know how to hear or read the 1988 interview w/ Ms.Kemper… Do we have to listen to it at the WHS (w/ permission / by appointment first)?

  24. Thank you Wendy for coming up with confirmation about what I remember 🙂 Many of my friends lived in the Pine Knoll Flophouse as we called it back then. Erik Russ from Open Line, Billy Keely, a lady named Peaches, Peter Funk. I wish I could find the article I read about the history of the place. It was really great. It told about all the actors from the Playhouse who lived there. I seem to remember Chot having an airplane? If I can find it I will post a link..maybe it is Doris’s interview. It had photos. I was there the day it got torn down and took a bunch of pictures. No clue where those are though after all the moves I have made since then…

    • Wendy Crowther

      If you find your old info or photos, I’d love to see them. Your comment about Chot having had an airplane is interesting. In my research on Doris Kemper today, I came upon a newspaper article regarding her involvement with some sort of flying association or pilot’s club. I didn’t make a note of it at the time because it didn’t seem relevant to anything in particular. However, now it would make sense if her father flew planes.

      It would be too time consuming to find that article again but it seems that your memory could be spot-on.