The Little Red House Lives!

It’s a constant Westport discussion: empty Main Street storefronts, the perceived loss of community character, the fate of downtown.

Recently, David Waldman — developer of Bedford Square on Church Lane, and the new retail/residential complex at the old Save the Children site on Wilton Road — cautioned in an “06880” post that pessimism can be self-fulfilling. He pointed out many positive occurrences downtown.

Local preservationists/alert “06880” readers Wendy Crowther and Morley Boyd agree that good things are happening by the banks of the Saugatuck. They offer this story as proof.

In December 2016, the “Little Red House” faced demolition. A new mixed retail and residential project was planned for 201 Main Street/15 Belden Place — the spot opposite Le Rouge by Aarti and Ron’s Barber Shop, occupied by an aging storefront and some riverfront residences.

The Little Red House in 2016. (Westport Historic Resources Inventory, courtesy of Wendy Crowther)

Immediately, “06880” readers expressed strong opinions about the loss of a familiar part of the downtown landscape. Perched on the edge of the Saugatuck River, the circa 1920 Colonial Revival style structure could never be mistaken for distinguished architecture.

But that wasn’t the point. It was a picturesque little house which, despite flooding and development pressures, had endured. With the passage of time, the structure simply became a small part of what so many felt made Westport special.

Westporter Peter Nisenson, of PEN Builders, saw the many comments on “06880.” As the property’s new owner, he quickly reconsidered his company’s plans to demolish the antique waterside structure.

Nisenson realized that the house could actually become an attractive, valuable part of his larger redevelopment project.

After obtaining a record-setting 15 variances (thank you, Zoning Board of Appeals!), the Little Red House has been flood-proofed and refurbished.

Today, it’s almost near completion.

The Little Red House today. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Now divided into 2 light-filled apartments – each with its own porch and astonishing 180 degree views of the Saugatuck River – the structure retains all its beautiful wooden beams.

As a special nod to its place in the hearts of Westporters, the house’s original red paint has been color matched.

So here’s our takeaway: Whether it’s a quirky iron bridge, a beloved local bar or simply a picturesque waterfront dwelling, residents need to speak up when our non-renewable resources become endangered.

In this case, a savvy local developer responded to community input. He harnessed the peculiar power that authentic and familiar things seem to have over us.

As a result, his project is enhanced. And the public has the satisfaction of knowing that the Little Red House will contribute to the aesthetic value of Westport’s riverfront for generations to come.

How’s that for a positive downtown story?!

Morley Boyd and Peter Nisenson, in the refurbished house. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

21 responses to “The Little Red House Lives!

  1. The town should deeply appreciate Mr. Nisenson’s gesture toward preservation….a MOST unusual decision to put history before profit by responding to public concern….Thank you, Mr Nisenson!

  2. Westport at its finest. Kudos to Peter, Morley & Wendy.

  3. Werner Liepolt

    Great accomplishment and a great story. It’s as great as a glowing fireplace on a wintry day.

  4. Sharon Cribari-Saccary

    Great job, love that this beautiful little home was not demolished.

  5. Many thanks to Morley, Wendy and Peter for saving this classic gem of a house. It’s like a little ruby on the necklace of the river. Town character is preserved one decision at a time. You showed how everyone could win with the right decision.

  6. Tremendous and commendable on the part of Mr. Nisenson, Wendy Crowther and Morley Boyd. It shows that preservation can be done respectfully and appropriately while complementing the entire project. Additionally, David Waldman should be commended for his major contribution to preservations downtown with Bedford Square, The Spotted Horse (Sherwood) and Kemper Gunn. Thanks to all of you for your dedication to preserving the character of Westport that makes our town so unique and special.

  7. Kathryn Coster

    Love it !!!!

  8. Mary Cookman Schmerker Staples '58

    What a perfect way to start the day, knowing that this wonderful piece of Westport History has been saved to live on and inspire future residents. Thank you Mr. Nisenson, Wendy and Morley. Well done!

  9. Yes, this is a great story – hopefully an example for others to follow. If our town’s problem is to be fixed, it will be, as Mr. McCrea said above, “one decision at a time”.

  10. Lets see some more pictures!

  11. Bravo to everyone who helped make this happen.

    And, on a related note, while a couple of us nominated Dan for the Champion of the Arts award presented by the WAAC, I don’t know what local awards exist (if any) for being a champion of historic preservation in Westport but, if there is one, I think Dan would also be a worthy honoree for all he does in publicizing local historic preservation efforts.

  12. Valerie Seiling Jacobs

    What a great result! The town owes a debt of gratitude to Mr. Nisenson, Wendy Crowther, and Morley Boyd. And thanks to Dan Woog for spreading the news–perhaps more people will appreciate the importance of preserving our town’s historic structures.

  13. Thank you Peter Nisenson, Wendy Crowther, and Morley Boyd. Westport owes you a debt of gratitude. I echo John Karrel’s statement: “Westport at its finest.” Indeed!

  14. Michelle Benner

    Thank you Dan, this is a wonderful piece of news! A heart warming and inspiring story which fills me with hope for more of this kind of preservation and thoughfulness. Can they do this for the house across from Greens Farms Elementary? 🙂

  15. Dear Dan, yes this is a WONDERFUL act of preservation, of which there are many in Westport, but developers who act because of $, abound. Residents on Gorham Avenue fought a few years ago against 30 condos being built on land behind Main St. and behind the 3 first houses on Gorham and Main which was, until things changed, an arboretum of some sort with rare trees,a bird friendly place and lush greenery. One morning a neighbor saw a back hoe digging at that 1 1/2 acre natural site, (I gather that 1 1/2 acres is the land size that will allow such a development) and checked with Town Hall only to find out that a developer did not have to report to neighbors until plans were available. That developer had plans to construct 30 condos using the ‘excuse that a % of them would be ‘low cost’. It came to many town meetings, with residents hiring a young lawyer to represent us, against the developer’s 6 lawyers. Some of the meetings at Town Hall lasted until well into the morning hours because their lawyers did what amounted to filibusters thinking the residents would tire waiting for our lawyer to speak. But we waited. Eventually it went to a court somewhere in CT. who had the lawyers settle the dispute between themselves because the judge wouldn’t read the PILE of information from both sides. And the compromise was that this developer was allowed to build 5 HUGE houses instead of the 30 condos on that site with HARDLY any green space included. The next street over, Wild Rose Road, experienced water problems because of the removal of the natural land.

    This story I think has been a similar story several town areas, with residents having to spend many hours at Town Hall acting to preserve areas of Westport. We are constantly fighting developers. thankful to our Zoning boards for helping preserve what’s left before we see more awful complexes like ‘Green Farms’ on the Post Road.

    I wrote earlier to say that both opinions a bout Main Street are valid, the good and the bad, but it appears that only the good has been defended. If David Waldman really cared about what residents think. he would address the comments that talked about the problems and not just the good things.

  16. Lisa Podurgiel

    So great to see this actually come to fruition, and what a wonderful example for other developers. My sincere thanks and congratulations to Mr. Nisenson and all who worked so tirelessly to save this historic house.

  17. Suzanne L. Wilson

    I don’t see a mention of it here, but am pretty sure The Little Red House was once home to Caywood Studios. Artist Sondra Schreiber worked there and I had the fascinating collaboration of painting the portrait heads on the “primitive” art she produced in the style of early American itinerant painters. Some great parties there! Once I passed by in my rowboat and she was in the backyard and invited me to dinner! It’s most heartening to learn that a little piece of Westport’s art heritage will be preserved.

  18. What a uplifting story! Ken and I no longer live in Westport (but visit at least monthly) and this story made my heart sing! Thank you to Mr. Nisenson, and Wendy and Morley and Dan (for publicizing the plight of the little red house) for all they did! “Bravo!” from Linda & Ken Smith in North Jersey

  19. Bill Boyd... Staples 66

    Thanks to all involved….Great job!

  20. I would be curious to know what these units will be going for …