Friday Flashback #224

When Fred Cantor graduated from Yale University in May of 1975, his parents gave him a 35mm Nikkormat camera. He’d always enjoyed taking photos, with an inexpensive Kodak.

In December he returned to Westport for break, from the University of Connecticut School of Law.

There was a beautiful snowfall. On Christmas Day, Fred knew that downtown would be empty. He’d always enjoyed the “Norman Rockwell-esque” feeling there. He hoped to capture it, without interference.

After 45 years — to the day — parts of downtown look very different. Parts look much the same.

After 45 years too, the photos have faded.

But the memories have not.

Gorham Island. The Victorian house has been replaced by a large office building.

Main Street, without any holiday decorations. Gene Hallowell’s Mobil station is now the site of Vineyard Vines.

The Remarkable Book Shop. For over a decade, it’s been the “vacant Talbots store.”

Westport Bank & Trust is now Patagonia.

Ice on the Saugatuck River still looks the same.

Fairfield Furniture has been transformed into National Hall — the original name for the 1800s building.

The Corner Spirit Shop at the Post Road West/Wilton Road intersection is now the rebuilt home to an architectural firm.

32 responses to “Friday Flashback #224

  1. Betsy Smirnoff Hoos

    These are just how I remember Westport. Wonderful.

  2. Great pics. Similar memories of places and things from that bygone era. Happy holidays everyone and best wishes for a safe and healthy 2021.

  3. Robert M. Gerrity

    My home town.

  4. Whoa! I had no idea Fred was a genius!!!

  5. Great images, Fred. 1975 doesn’t really seem that long ago, chronologically speaking. But it might as well be a century ago in some other ways. The well preserved 18th and 19th century streetscapes that Westport was once known for have been mostly obliterated. And beloved buildings that would have been easy to conserve – such as the old Corner Spirit Shop and the Remarkable Book Store, fell into the hands of people who did not understand what they were. A notable counterpoint is the successful repurposing of the Charles Cutler designed Westport Bank & Trust building (Patagonia) and National Hall.

    • We have an Architectural Review Board that reviews plans for things such as the renovation of Corner Spirit Shop – and how I wish they would give more attention to maintaining the character of the [historic] building when they conduct their reviews.

      The P&Z also has a Special Permit / Site Plan Standard at 44-5.7 where they are supposed to ensure “That the location, size and design of any proposed building structure or use, as well as the nature and intensity of operations involved in or conducted in connection therewith, will be compatible and harmonious with the character and appearance of the surrounding neighborhood” but the P&Z has not [historically] given this very much attention – every time I questioned whether a design was “compatible and harmonious with the surrounding neighborhood” with developers and architects you would have thought I had insulted their [usually out of place modern] artistic vision.

      As for the Corner Spirit Shop – at least the P&Z worked hard to keep that building intact.

      • We also have a Demolition Delay ordinance, Jack, which is supposed to trigger a public hearing before the Historic District Commission. But that didn’t happen, initially, in the instance of the poor Corner Spirit Shop – which now looks like the runner up in a Popular Mechanics design contest, circa 1957.

        Nope, the property owner proceeded to remove so much the building’s weather envelop that it was, in the opinion of the Building Official, in danger of collapsing onto Wilton Road. But it wasn’t he that first ran that flag up the pole. It was astonished residents who couldn’t believe what they were seeing. And, with the help of Dan and 06880, they forced red faced town officials to take (belated) action.

        But what good did that really do?

        The property owner was subsequently frog marched to the Historic District Commission for a public hearing. It was, of course, the perfect opportunity to get the owner’s mind right about restoring the house, etc, etc.

        Yeah, that didn’t happen.

        The Commission’s famously feckless chair looked like he was in a hostage video. Another member of the Commission mistook an artist’s rendering of the hot, wet mess that the owner was proposing to turn the little building into for an ACTUAL image of the building as it then appeared. She loudly exclaimed: “What can we do? – he’s already done it!”

        For real.

        Suffice to say, the owner got away with it as the Commission squandered its authority and asked for exactly nothing. Later that night the owner and his supporters had a celebratory party at National Hall. I don’t blame them; they were probably thinking they could have just skipped the hearing and gone right to the drinking.

        Of course the problems with our demo delay ordinance – including vague language – are no secret. After the Corner Spirit Shop debacle, the Historic District Commission set up a special committee to address the issue.

        The committee never met. Not even once.

        • You and I know the HDC ultimately has no teeth other than alerting the public, and then the builder needs to care about what people think. These guys should be named and remembered for what they’ve done, just as those who demolished the house on Gotham Island, etc. should be named and remembered and blackballed by the public

      • Richard Anzalone

        I guess you don’t always agree with the P&Z.
        But This isn’t as mean spirited as we have witnessed.

  6. 1975 was the year I moved to Westport. Loved it then, still love it … though the gradual changes have added up, not only on Main St but on the Post Rd and on my road where most of the original houses were torn down, replaced with mega ones. That year I bought a black leather jacket at a women’s clothing store in the Compo shopping center with the owner’s name (I think- who was it?) Good purchase-I’m still wearing it!

  7. great pics, more please

  8. Gwenyth Dwyer Lechnar

    Very bittersweet. Lovely memories!

  9. Great pictures!

  10. Remarkable Books space gone way longer than a decade ago. Does anyone know exactly how long the property has been vacant? Disgraceful.

  11. Linda Pomerantz Novis

    Beautiful photos…thanks for the memories..

  12. Thank You so much Dan and Fred for sharing Fred’s photos. This is the Westport I loved and remember so well!

  13. Rosemary Milligan

    wonderful pictures – just as I remembered it, so sad it’s all gone.

  14. That is the way I remember Westport when I lived there in 1967 and 68, as an au pair from Denmark. I moved to New York City in 1969, but over the next few years I would visit Westport several times a year, especially in the summer. I still had friends there, and always enjoyed visiting.

    Merry Christmas and happy and healthy 2021

  15. Such good memories and pictures. Merry Christmas everyone and especially Dan who keeps us all in touch with “out town”.

  16. I’ve told Dan, one day a year, on his birthday, Westport should be referred to as Woogport.

  17. I hear you. But it was a public hearing regarding a defacto demolition. The power to delay same is accorded to the HDC via state statute. That hearing had been teed up on account of strong public outcry. And you know what that means. The fact remains that the Commission had the statutory power to put 180 days of hurt on the property owner. Thus, the outlines of an understanding which would have prevented to worst of the damage seemed to me to be there for the taking. Not mentioned in all this was the fact that we forever lost the opportunity to move the building back a bit to permit a turning lane from Wilton Road onto the Post Road. Just a conga line of cowardice and incompetence.

  18. What’s in the National Furniture Building now?

    • Bottom floor is vacant, after the demise of the Meatball Shop and ‘Port restaurants (among others). The Inn at National Hall is long gone too; it’s office space now. Still a very handsome building.

  19. I remember all these places so well. It seems like yesterday. Where did the time go? Thanks for sharing.

  20. Thank you for the memory. I grew up there in the 50s 60s and 70s a wonderful place to grow up ❤️

  21. I too grew up in Westport Saugatuck Shores from 1954 till the mid 70’s, then lived in the area back and forth till the mid 90’s. I have some amazing memories of the shores and downtown Westport. I also lived in downtown behind the “Ships” for a time in the late 70’s. I loved my town and the shores but no going back now.

  22. Beautiful westport that i walked down the streets as a child while my dad Joe Mioli made pizza and my mother waitressed at Westport Pizzeria. So sad to see all the mom and pop stores pushed out by mega rents. Now its a ghost town. Sad 😞.

  23. Rae, At one time, if you walked downtown at Christmas, you’d think you were in a Hallmark Christmas movie.

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