Popular Compo Playground Needs A Little Love

The playground is one of the most popular parts of very popular Compo Beach.

It’s big. It’s fun. I’ve even heard from realtors it’s been the deciding factor when homebuyers are deciding between Westport and neighboring towns.

So it’s hard to imagine that the Compo playground was once a source of great controversy.*

But in the 1980s — when plans were announced to create a playground next to the lifeguard station, designed by renowned architect Robert Leathers based on input from kids — there was a strong backlash.

“It will ruin the vista!” people cried. “It will attract out-of-towners!” “Teenagers will hang out there, smoking pot and having sex!”

I am not making any of this up.

I am also not making up that then-1st Selectwoman Marty Hauhuth received a death threat, after she supported the playground advocates in court. (Yes, there was a lawsuit leading to an injunction to stop the project.)

The kids (well, their parents) prevailed. During one spring weekend, dozens of volunteers built the playground.

It was a wonderful community project. Almost as soon as it was done, and kids swarmed all over the swings, ropes and whatnot, opposition melted away.

Parents lead children through the Compo playground.

Several of the most vocal opponents were soon spotted at the site, watching their children and grandchildren having (of all things) fun.

A couple of decades later, the Compo Beach playground showed its age. Once again, the community — families, individuals, civic organizations — came together to make repairs.

The playground is now almost 30 years old. Kids who once played there (and did not hang out smoking pot and having sex) bring their own children.

And once again, it needs work.

Alert “06880” reader/avid playground-goer Travis Rew-Porter sent a few photos.

One of 2 missing tire swings …

… and 2 missing seat swings …

… and some broken equipment. (Photo/Travis Rew-Porter)

Fortunately, this does not need a town-wide effort.

Just a little TLC from Parks & Rec.

If repairs are not in the budget, I’m sure we can rustle up donations from the public.

But now is the time to get started.

Spring is here. The playground is already drawing crowds.

And no one complains about the vista.

*Then again, this is Westport. Everything here is a source of great controversy.

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15 responses to “Popular Compo Playground Needs A Little Love

  1. My only issue with today’s post is what must be disinformation that it was 30 years ago we built the current playground! That was so much fun and I happily brag about building the triangular cap shown in the second picture. A first for me.

  2. Thanks for bringing us this story. I bet, and hope, your story will bring out a lot of volunteers to help, if not Town employees. It is surprising how generous Westport citizens are with their time when it comes to doing things for The Town!

  3. In 2005 the head of P&R and PAL asked WYWL (Westport Young Woman’s League) to spearhead the building of a new playground at Compo Beach. I was the president of WYWL at the time. I wasn’t sure how the League would be able to manage such a massive project. There were nearly 200 women in the League but we didn’t possess all the skills needed to build a huge playground. Nonetheless we took on the massive job of planning the design, fundraising, getting volunteers and organizing all aspects of the build. Suzanne Dodge and Rebecca Ellsley headed up a massive team of volunteers, not only from the League but also many people in town with some knowledge of how to build things (a number of builders, including Rick Bensen) where involved on the weekend of the build. It would have been wonderful if it could have been completed in one weekend, but it wasn’t. A small group of very dedicated volunteers stuck with the project for weeks. Once the project was completed the women of the League did a yearly clean up and managed the repairs. This became too much for us so the Board and membership of the League voted to give the rest of our fundraising money to the town for the maintenance of the playground. I was at the playground with my grandchildren two days ago and noticed the missing swings. It would seem that those wouldn’t be too expensive to replace. This playground is one of the crown jewels of our town. Parks & Rec should maintain it as such.

  4. I remember going to the playground shortly after it opened with my two oldest kids so I thought it was before 2005, Joanne, as I thought it was before my 3rd was born in 1998. I went in the fall as we were “out of towners”, back then. We continued to go when my youngest was born and we were living in Weston from 2001-2012 then we moved to Westport. This is an amazing gem for the town and I plan on bringing my first grandchild there to play after he is born. He is due in late August 2023. Can’t wait until he is old enough to enjoy it too.

    • Beth, the first playground was built back in 1991 with wood. It needed to be completely replaced because the wood was deteroirating. The rebuild used a composite material that has held up well against the elements.

    • Beth, as the story notes, the “first” playground was built in the 1980s. Joanne is referring to the renovation in 2005.

  5. I am proud to say that I worked on the original playground, even though my children were grown and I had no grandkids yet. I had so much fun! I had recently moved to Westport, and it helped me meet a lot of people. One argument against building the playground was that the wood was treated with arsenic, and kids would be poisoned. Another was that busloads full of kids from BRIDGEPORT would come charging in.


    I represented the Playground Committee in the ill-conceived NIMBY law suit filed by neighbors. On the morning of the injunction hearing with the committee already mobilized at the site, prepared to begin work, the judge announced his decision from the bench and I called to say that the injunction had been denied. I was treated to a great, happy roar of relief as work did begin.
    Building the playground was a model community effort, not unlike an old-fashioned barn raising, with many participants who had never so much as wielded a hammer learning that they could do things they never thought possible and food for the workers contributed by local kitchens.
    I wonder whether such an effort would be possible today given the fractures in our body politic.

  7. The Porio’s remember this well. At the building of the very first playground we and others brought our own tools. Some of us had already built a similar playground at Hillspoint School. The Beach Playground is still part of the lovely part of the Crown Jewels of Westport. Get it done!!!

    • Please let me suggest a fundraising effort. Readers. Is the term, ‘Crown Jewel’ over used? Should Dan start a bracket of Westport’s Crown Jewels? We all vote?

      Pat, please lead us. The winner gets to wear the ‘Crown Jewel’ Crown of Westport in the Memorial Day parade.

      Eric, you in?

  8. Carl Addison Swanson, Wrecker, '66.

    Does everything have to be perfect, pristine and of the highest quality to be part of Westport? How about keeping our school kids safe on NASCAR North Avenue? Kids at the beach have an entire Long Island Sound to play.

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

      CAS, does the recreation department still have a groundskeeper/maintenance division? What’s wrong with the antiquated idea that when somebody gives you a gift and you accept it, that you fix it when it becomes in need of repair. I think the answer’s obvious. Who does the recreation director report to? Get it done. Put in a work order.

  9. Wayne B. Becker, SHS '76

    I feel it is worth reiterating what a battle it was to get the playground built in the first place. I was a wet behind the ears junior attorney working in Larry’s office and as someone who had basically grown up at Compo, I was horrified by the vitriol coming from those opposed to the playground’s construction. I am quite sure that the members of the Playground committee, many from the wave of young parents that came to Westport in the mid-to-late ’80’s, had no idea as to what they were walking themselves into. Thankfully, bolstered by Larry compelling advocacy before the court, the committee was able to beat back the NIMBYs and for the last 30 plus years, our community has been able to enjoy Compo’s wonderful play space. As someone waiting at the beach with hammer in hand, I will tell you that Larry was not exaggerating when he writes that a roar went up when he called from the courthouse! In honoring that history, I do encourage the people of Westport and the town fathers not to allow the playground to lose its luster. For the sake of the children who currently enjoy the swings and the slides and for those yet to come, let’s find the means to keep it vital.

  10. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    What is with the recreation department? Are they seeking outside crowdfunding to replenish the toilet paper in the south beach restrooms? Do your job or find a job Madame Chairperson.

  11. Tammy Pincavage

    For the record, Jim Bennett was the inspirational Chairman of the Playground Committee. I was President of the Westport Young Woman’s League 1988-1989. During that time we voted to donate the first matching grant of $30,000 for the building of the playground.

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