Street Spotlight: Vani Court

This is the 5th story in “06880”‘s series highlighting Westport’s roads.

In 1948 a small road was built as temporary veterans housing. Named Vani Court in honor of Michael Vani — killed in the line of duty during World War II — it was expected that when Westport’s housing supply caught up with postwar demand, the small homes would be torn down.

Though basically just shells — 2 bedrooms, kitchen, living room, with kerosene space heaters, supported by 6 concrete piers, and with topsoil provided in piles for anyone desiring a lawn — they proved popular.

An early renter, in front of a Vani Court home.

A couple of years later, Westport’s Housing Authority reversed course. They offered to sell the homes to tenants.

The 20 homes were quickly snapped up. Three more were soon built.

Vani Court, from 1,000 feet. The Compo Road South entrance is not shown; it would be on the left side. (Aerial photo/Carl Hamann)

The original owners’ names include a who’s who of Westport: Romano, Van Zandt, Benos, Feeney, Bowes, Dorta, Baker, Verina, Giunta.

Nine of the original World War II veterans who lived on Vani Court.

Seven decades later, Vani Court — nestled next to the railroad tracks off South Compo Road, on the right just past the bridge as you head to the beach — remains.

Nearly every home is an original. Only a couple have been torn down. (Longtime residents were nervous when that happened. But, one says, “the newcomers roll with Vani Court.”)

The road is one of Westport’s last old-fashioned true neighborhoods. It’s not just a place where kids ride bikes and play games up and down the cul-de-sac, and wander freely in and out of friends’ homes.

It’s a place where families stay, and put down roots. Children move into parents’ homes, and raise their own children there.

Many residents like their roads. Vani Court residents love theirs. And they are intensely proud of it.

Vani Court, via Google Earth View.

Elaine Daignault grew up in Greens Farms. She and her husband Jesse moved to Vani Court in 1997. Their children grew up there, and — like Elaine — graduated from Staples High School.

Jackson Daignault wrote his college application essay about Vani Court. He said that on the close-knit street he “learned how to comfortably interact with all kinds of people, to observe without judging, and to go with the flow in a community where so many strive to appear perfect.”

Playing basketball in the street, riding out a hurricane with several families in one house, and growing up knowing every neighbor’s name gave him “an understanding I never could have reached living in my own wing of a mansion.”

In fact, Jackson said, “the sound of the commuter train, just steps from my kitchen window, has been the soundtrack that shaped who I am today.”

Kids of all ages play together on Vani Court.

Elaine — who is Westport’s director of human services — appreciates from a mother’s perspective the comfort of knowing neighbors looked out for her kids, just as she did for theirs.

“Anyone who needs helps can knock on any door,” she says — and that goes for any age. “Literally, if someone needs a cup of milk, we’ll bring it over. And if someone takes a tree down, everyone comes over, chops wood and brings it home.”

Jonathan Greenfield lives near — but not on — Vani Court. When his dog Buddy was lost, neighbors rallied around to find him. Here they are together again, on the road.

Vani Court is located a few steps from one of Westport’s true hidden gems: the  Saugatuck River railroad bridge pedestrian walkway. Linking South Compo with the train station, it’s a great amenity for residents who commute — or want to walk to Saugatuck. (It’s also a wonderful place to watch the fireworks.)

Just as great, Elaine says, is that kids can ride their bikes from Vani Court to the beach without ever crossing South Compo.

She is amazed — but not surprised — that families raised several children in the small homes. On the street’s private Facebook group, she sees photos of kids waiting for school buses in the 1950s. The images are similar to those of her own kids — and now, the younger families moving in.

Easter on Vani Court. This photo could have been taken years ago — or this year.

Elaine mentions the Boone family. Jon Boone’s in-laws — the Kappuses — moved to Vani Court decades ago.

Jon — a noted youth coach — bought that house. After he died suddenly last year, neighbors rallied round. They celebrated his life together by erecting a large screen and sitting outside, in the rain, watching football.

Though most owners (and even renters) stay for years, their ties don’t break when they move. The other day, the entire street headed to Fairfield for the birthday party of a 10-year-old girl whose family has relocated.

Over the years, owners have remodeled, renovated — and enlarged — their homes. This one is at the end of the cul-de-sac.

A number of Vani Court residents worked, or still work, for the town. Rick Giunta — whose parents were original owners — is a longtime Parks and Recreation Department employee. His sons work there too.

For a while, 3 generations of Giuntas — Rick’s dad, he and his wife, and their boys — lived together on Vani Court. He calls it “a blessing” to have watched his kids go to the same schools he did, play the same kickball and whiffleball games on the street, and enjoy the comfort and security only an “extended family” like the road could provide.

“It’s the best place in the world,” Rick says.

14 responses to “Street Spotlight: Vani Court

  1. Great story Dan , it’s the kind of story that makes people feel safe , in this sometimes Crazy world . You feel safe in your town and become proud your part of it . I’am Putting together a letter to Trump I’ll share with you . Best wishes to a great Westport guy Who brings us great stories and inspirational thoughts . Best Steve

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  2. Willy Maliszewski

    We lived there for a year in 1957, having immigrated from Scotland.

  3. I remember that my good friends at Saugatuck Elementary, Brice Melillo and Chuck Decker lived there. If I remember correctly, Bruce’s Dad was the Gym teacher at Saugatuck.

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

      You may be thinking of Hale’s Court. I’m quite sure that’s where the Deckers lived.

  4. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    I wonder if anyone remembers that Jay Van Zant who was one of my teachers at BJHS was originally a Boys Work Director and the first camp director at Mahackeno. A buddy of mine, Kurt Kappus, I remember lived there but never knew his parents were original owners. I love these old stories.

  5. Elizabeth Thibault

    We couldn’t ask for better neighbors, and have gotten lucky that everyone who moves here shares the same friendly and welcoming spirit that have been a hallmark of the the residents over the decades. What we moved into as our starter home has now become our forever home, because of the convenience of the location, the camaraderie of the neighborhood, and our love of the town. Our plans to renovate what we call “the smallest house in Westport,” now center around our hopes to age in our home after our kids grow up and spread their wings.
    Going outside in the morning to get the mail often includes a lovely chat with our street matriarch and everyone’s grandmother, Betty. Today I got to help a neighbor’s nanny figure out how to drive their SUV to swim lessons. I plan on sneaking a pint of cherry tomatoes from my overabundant plants across the street to share. I work from home, and I love my office, we certainly got lucky those 16 years ago when a developer bought another house from under us!

  6. nice story, nice local street. Your knowledge of the history of 06880 is amazing and interesting. Thanks

  7. Great story about a wonderful neighborhood. I’m proud to say that I knew every one of those men in the photos as well as their children.

  8. Karen Bulakites Gibbens

    The house at the end of the St is the one my father George Bulakites rented before they moved to No Compo rd, I remember that st, We spent alot of weekends there. The back yard was large and fenced in and on the other side of the fence was woods.

  9. Kathryn Coster

    I had a friend and classmate during the early seventies at Staples…Vicki Reitano, who lived on Vani Court…that b&w picture of Joseph Reitano looks so much like her…thanks for the memories!!

  10. Michael Calise

    Great story Dan. Vani court is one of Westport’s real neighborhoods and, there are many more like it throughout town. This is especially poignant in light of the major attempt by Summit Properties to totally destroy the character and benefit of the Hiawatha Lane Neighborhood.

  11. Really enjoyed this heartfelt endearing tribute to this neighborhood!

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