If you moved to Westport after 1989, you’ve enjoyed the Compo Beach playground without a second thought.
It’s fun, creative, intricate — everything parents want for their kids.
Plus the water, Joey’s and bathrooms are all a few steps away.
If you were here that fateful year though, you know that the playground did not just magically appear.
It was designed by children (with help from famed playground architect Robert Leathers).
It was built by 1,500 volunteers, of all ages. They hauled wheelbarrows, cut wood, hammered nails and poured cement. It was a true town undertaking.
Yet none of it would have happened without a huge legal battle.
(Of course whether you moved to Westport in 1959, 1989 or 2019, you know this is a litigious town.)
Playground opponents — no, that’s not an oxymoron — feared a ruined beach vista. They worried the swings and ladders would be a magnet for out-of-towners, or taken over by beer-drinking, pot-smoking, sex-having teenagers.
The playground controversy brought the first — and only — death threat of 1st selectman Marty Hauhuth’s tenure.
Anti-playground activists obtained a court injunction. (They were not playing around.)
As soon as it was lifted, construction began. It was a magical weekend.
The playground quickly became one of Westport’s prime attractions. It did not ruin the view; it enhanced it. And the only problem now is that on beautiful days, too many people use it.
It also became apparent that the playground not only did not ruin property values; it enhanced them.
Opponents changed their views. I know, because a year or two after it was built, I saw one of the most vocal critics romping there with what I assumed were his grandchildren. (If they weren’t, that’s a whole other issue.)
Which brings us to this Friday (April 26). The 30th anniversary of construction of the Compo Beach playground will take place just to the right of the cannons. (Not the playground? Hmmmm…)
It starts at 6:30 p.m. All Westporters are invited to this BYO picnic. If you were there in 1989, you’ve got a special invitation: Haul out an old t-shirt. Bring a commemorative hammer.
And everyone: Don’t forget beer and wine.
Which is why — now that I think about it — the party is just to the right of the cannons, not the playground.
(Pass the word far and wide. Remember: Bring your own food and drink. Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.)