The Compo Beach Playground Is 30 Years Old. Let’s Party!

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.

There’s no place like the Compo Beach playground for kids (and their parents.)

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.

The Compo Beach playground is popular many months of the year.

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 ben3rb@aol.com.)

22 responses to “The Compo Beach Playground Is 30 Years Old. Let’s Party!

  1. Jack Backiel

    Dan, Are you trying to tell me that there was actually a LOSER living in town that was so upset about a frigg’in playground that they’d risk 30 or so years in jail to stop It? This person has to be the biggest JERK and LOSER who ever lived in Westport!! Do a story on this pathetic idiot, if you have any idea who the LOSER was! (Did I get my point across?) Death threats over a playground in affluent Westport. Now I’ve heard it all.

  2. I helped to build it and only moved to Westport in 1991. I think the current playground was not built until sometime between 1995 and 1999. There was another playground that had fallen into disrepair. I also helped to build a playground at Kings Highway School that was constructed around 1993 (I recall that Leathers was involved in that one as well), and I am quite sure that was before the Compo one was done.

    • Sorry, Ed. All those other people who are organizing this are not wrong. You may have helped in a later repair/reconstruction/renovation project for the playground that was built in 1989. Trust me on this one.

      • The original playground was in a state of such disrepair with rotting, splintering wood that it was deemed dangerous. It was totally demolished – calling it a repair/reconstruction/renovation project is misleading – in order to build the new, current playground using safer and longer lasting composite materials. Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the construction of the original playground is interesting, because without the effort to bring it into being, the new and improved playground may never have been built. Just don’t conflate them. Newcomers might be confused.

  3. It was 1989. It was a wonderful community project — we worked together with strangers who soon became friends. I helped build a table with three other women. The people who were vehemently against it were convinced that busloads of kids would be brought in from — gasp– BRIDGEPORT!

    • I just checked, and there in the back of a drawer is a commemorative 6-inch nail stating, “Help us Build a Playground — Westport Rotary Club.” Does anyone else have one? (I never throw anything away.)

  4. Larry Weisman

    At the very last minute, on the morning when the materials had already been delivered and the volunteers were assembled at the site, I was in court in Bridgeport before judge Eugene Spear, trying to have the request for injunction denied. I will always remember the cheers in the background when I called Jim Bennett to give him the good news.p that the judge had ruled in our favor. It was a great day for Westport and for community effort.

    • Jack ( playground boy) Backiel

      aHa.. So there’s a paper trail with the names of these LOSERS who filed for an injunction!! Do these LOSERS still live in Westport, or did they move to a “playground free zone?” I hear there are no playgrounds on the east side of the Republic of Mali in west Africa!

  5. Bart Shuldman

    Dan-more than a few years back, the playground needed much repair. The residents of Westport stepped up and donated. It was a great turnout and statement about our town.

    Bart Shuldman.

  6. David J. Loffredo

    Wasn’t it completely wiped clean and built from scratch again in the early 2000’s? I remember spending several days there sawing and drilling, and we didn’t move back until 12/2000.

    So while it may be the 30 year anniversary celebrating that site as a playground, all of the structures there are less than 20 years old.

  7. Joanne Heller

    The original playground was built back in the spring of 1989 with a major grant from the Westport Young Woman’s League. The wood did not hold up well and, in December of 2004 I attended a meeting, as president of WYWL, where we were asked to spearhead a new build for the playground. After MONTHS of organizing, planning, and fundraising the two chairpeople of the event, WYWL members Suzanne Dodge and Rebecca Ellsley, led the playground build week April 25-30, 2006. This time a composite material was used instead of wood. The playground would ultimately take much longer than a week to finish. Many, many Westporters, and some from outside Westport too, came out to support the project. We had many tradespeople who donated hours of their time to make sure that this new playground would give the children of our town many years of enjoyment.

  8. Nathalie Fonteyne

    IN 1989, the Westport Young Woman’s League (WYWL) donated 1/2 the funding as well as many volunteer hours to help build this playground. They donated not only the time, money but organized the effort providing food to the volunteer builders in a festive atmosphere. Over the years, the WYWL committed time and resources to the playground on-going maintenance. This culminated into the making a final donation to the town of Westport to restore the Playground after Sandy. The picture of the blue equipment in your article was purchased with the league’s funding at that time. After this last renovation, the WYWL passed the baton to the town fo rate playground’s maintenance. Sad the WYWL is not mentioned in this article as their efforts were instrumental in building and maintaining the playgrounds for many children in the town for so many years.
    Incidentally proceeds form the Minute Man race (happening this WE) helped raise money for the project.

  9. Richard Fogel

    very nice. Lets build an outdoor fitness center for all to use.

  10. The dispute over the playground (as well as a couple of other local legal actions at that time) generated a story in The NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/1989/03/27/nyregion/the-talk-of-westport-in-a-town-that-grew-up-a-tempest-over-jungle-gyms.html

  11. I echo Joanne Heller and Nathalie Fonteyne’s sentiments and comments. I am proud that the Westport Young Woman’s League helped to fund and to build both the 1989 and 2006 playgrounds. I was here for the 2006 build, but sadly couldn’t use any of the power tools because I was pregnant (I ended up on snack duty). But, in the following years I was able to help with the yearly playground clean-ups and maintenance done in April. Sadly, It’s been a long time since that has been done. Those clean up efforts were organized and motivated mainly by the WYWL chairs, Suzanne Dodge & Rebecca Ellsley. Since this is the playground’s 30th anniversary, I hope that the town can put more time and resources into maintaining and cleaning up the playground. After each winter it should be dug out and a lot of the structures could use some TLC. If they bring the backhoe, I’ll bring a shovel!

  12. Our boys, Nick & Jake Krosse, spent hundreds of hours crawling all over the playground structures. Our grandnanny, Edna Garth, would stroller them to & from twice a day along Hillspoint & Soundview to the playground. We rented a locker at Compo for necessities. Sweet memories!

    Thanks to Suzanne Dodge & Rebecca Ellsley who organized the Spring 2006 refurbishing project. I still have the volunteer sticker on my car window.

  13. Audrey Rosenberg

    As another hard-working member of the Westport Young woman’s league, I feel passed over as our involvement made this great landmark a reality. My young son and I dug the foundation, Cris DePinto was in charge of the management of the tools and making sure the design was correctly executed. Without the diligence of our of the WYWL members this replacement playground, this beautiful destination would not exist. WYWL was also in charge of sanding and shoveling sand to maintain the old structure. Perhaps if the town asked us for the direction we could organize a town event and make sure the structure is safe and clear the sand drifts. The renovation was supported by selling pickets which surround the playground with our friends and family’s names engraved. Yes, it became a town project, but without JoAnne and the fabulous woman of the WYWL, this destination would not exist!

    • Karen Abramson

      Fun post Dan! It most definitely was 30 years ago because I’m in the picture, 8 months pregnant with our daughter who is about to turn 30. Maybe it did have to be rebuilt, but the town spirit that went into that original construction will always be remembered by the people who spent the weekend building it!

      • I, too, recall working on the original playground 30 years ago. I also remember the battle for its existence which was successful! It was a great community project with PTA’s involved too. And, It was fun.