Historic Building Few Westporters Know About Is Saved

It’s ironic: Though no one in Westport stops at stop signs, they were invented by a Westporter.

So were pedestrian crosswalks, traffic circles, 1-way streets, taxi stands and pedestrian safety islands.

All were the brainchild of William Phelps Eno. And for many years, his worldwide traffic institute was headquartered on Saugatuck Avenue.

We pass by the handsome, 11,000-square foot brick and stone 1938 building near the Norwalk line without knowing its history.

That history came quite close to being obliterated — much like pedestrians were, before Eno came along.

The Eno Foundation building on Saugatuck Avenue.

The building and land were on the market. LandTech — Pete Romano’s engineering and design firm situated 2 minutes away (without traffic) on Riverside Avenue — designed a standard suburban use of the land. Their plan knocked down the Eno building, and subdivided the 4+ acres of land into 4 contorted 1-acre lots, with less than half an acre of open space.

But then they applied the open space subdivision regulations. That gave them 3 lots of 1/2 acre each — perfect for homes of 3,000 square feet, designed for empty nesters.

Using a section of the Planning & Zoning regulations for historic structures — offering relief from coverage, setbacks and non-conformities — LandTech preserved the Eno building on a full acre lot, with nearly 1.5 acres of open space.

On Thursday night, the P&Z considered the plan. After hearing comments from commissioners, approval seems likely.

Let’s hope they give it the green light.

LandTech’s plans for the Eno property. The foundation building is on the right, with a circular driveway in front. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

 

12 responses to “Historic Building Few Westporters Know About Is Saved

  1. TOO BAD THE ENO FOUNDATION’S TRAFFIC INSTITUTE ISN’T AVAILABLE TO US NOW. OUR TRAFFIC PROBLEMS INDEED NEED SOLUTIONS

  2. Nancy Powers Conklin

    I remember passing by this building often when I was a kid when we would drive the “shore road” to Norwalk. It always intrigued me and I never knew what was inside.

    • “Shore road.” I like that. Being a Westonite, SONO of course, is a ‘destination!’ I always prefer driving down that way in order, of course, to enjoy ‘the full effect!”

    • I also remember taking the “shore road” to south Norwalk with my parents. Didn’t see much water or even shore – too many estates. What has been in the Eno building in recent years? Or now?

      • I’m not sure what’s there now. But one of the large estates across the street has been demolished, providing a rare (and beautiful) glimpse of the water to anyone driving back. Until, of course, an even larger estate is built in its place.

  3. Major kudos to Pete Romano, the owners of the property, and the Planning and Zoning Department for creating such a thoughtful plan that accomplishes open space, historic preservation, and diversity in housing all at the same time. Brilliant!

  4. Everybody wins. Nice tradecraft, Pete.

  5. Nice to hear. I remember when his home, on the water not far from the train station, was up for sale. ‘$1 if you move it’. Sadly no one did and it was knocked down. Glad that this was preserved.

    • The plan to move the Eno mansion by barge to Sherwood Island fell through due in part to opposition from, well, anyway, it didn’t happen. However, under the terms of Plan B, some of the house’s elaborate interior was salvaged by volunteers. Those materials did hard time in a trailer upstate. But the last I knew, they were being woven into the restoration of another structure by the same architect.

  6. Glad to see this, Dan! My very first move to Westport was 1988 as a single working woman early in my career and I lived in the original Eno mansion at Charmers Landing. I was working then for Chesebrough Ponds and also living in NYC and took a room in what I believe was originally the servants quarters with 2 other roommates. By then, the place was in pretty rough shape with the grand ballroom floor coming apart and many, many other issues. As newly working single people, however, we had the luxury of living on the water and having many parties on the lawn, diving off the rocks and taking a boat out waterskiing from the decaying dock area. I remember a couple used to rent a room in the main house for weekends and would come out from NYC and sit on the falling down porch sipping coffee, eating scones and reading the NYTimes. We would also walk to DeRosa’s for Italian and to Dunvilles for drinks. The owner who lived there at the time was a true character and from my NYC perspective at the time, it was a bit surreal – very great expectations meets artistic, upscale suburb. But it was such a beautiful shoreline and the mansion was stately and grand even in its neglected state and we had so much fun there. Most importantly, this is how I fell in love with Westport! Ironically, now 30 years later, Frederic and I are living in a house even older (1806) trying to preserve its place in town and a dear friend of ours lives on the exact spot in a stunningly beautiful home, where I enjoyed all those parties years ago.

  7. Alert “06880” reader Luisa Francoeur notes that a former neighbor on Nutmeg Lane also has 2 patents related to traffic signals:

    http://www.google.ch/patents/US2761120

    https://www.google.ch/patents/US2834001

    Click on the links, particularly if you are engineering-inclined.

  8. I worked in this building for Trailside, a documentary style ‘make your own adventure’ tv show, for about a year when I was learning how to do documentaries, and the building itself became a fascination for just about everyone who worked there. Given what Trailside researchers, on their own time, discovered about the building and property, it makes sense that it would be spared the wrecking ball and preserved. I’m letting Trailside alum know about it right now in fact, that’s how important this building and it’s history are. Susan Farley

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