Category Archives: Downtown

Welcome To Westport!

The Weston Road/Easton Road/Main Street rotary — the first real bit of Westport people see as they get off Merritt Parkway exit 42 — has been spruced up nicely.

Thanks, Tony Palmer, Dan and Maureen Aron, and an anonymous helper!

But — as an alert “06880” reader points out — the view a few yards south is not exactly welcoming.

daybreak-nursery-4

The reader asks:

Do you know when when the Daybreak Nursery lot will be improved? The buildings are falling down, the weeds are overgrown, there is garbage in the driveway. It’s been this way for almost 2 years. What an eyesore. Do the owners have to at least maintain it in any way?

daybreak-nursery-1

Meanwhile, drivers who get past that sight — and want a pumpkin latte at Starbucks, quinoa salad at Freshii or a new outfit at one of our 27,284 Main Street women’s clothing stores — are grossed out by this view of the Parker Harding dumpster:

parker-harding-dumpster

That’s been an eyesore a lot longer than the Daybreak property.

It’s time — the “06880” reader says — for Westport to clean up its act.

Who wants to take charge?

Friday Flashback #7

Earlier this week, I wrote about the exciting transformation plan for the Westport Library. If all goes well, the newest iteration of the library will be finished in 2019.

The Jesup Green building opened in 1986 (on the site of the former town landfill). A bit more than a decade later, it underwent its first renovation.

Westporters of a certain age think they remember the original library. Most of the stacks — and the famous art collection, and children’s section — were housed in the sterile Parker Harder building that now includes Starbucks, Freshii and HSBC Bank:

library-old

But the real first library — built in 1908, called the Jesup Library in honor of its benefactor Morris Jesup, and then in the 1950s incorporated as part of the “new” library — was located just east of that building. It sat on the corner of the Post Road and Main Street:

library-original

But our Friday Flashback digs even deeper than that.

Here’s what that 1908 “Jesup Library” replaced:

(Photo/Seth Schachter)

(Photo/Seth Schachter via Bill Scheffler)

This view looks west, at the corner of the Post Road (left) and Main Street (right). You can see the outlines of the buildings that are there today, lining the left side of Main Street.

If you’ve got any Westport Library memories, we’d love to hear them. Click “Comments” below.

“Lost Film” Resurfaces

In the 3 days since it was posted on YouTube, a “Lost Film” has rocketed around the internet.

Well, at least on Facebook groups filled with folks who grew up in Westport in the 1960s and ’70s.

The 4:30 color video — grainy and jerky, with scenes of teenagers, Weston center, downtown (including the old YMCA and Mobil station, now Vineyard Vines), a 1-light cop car and the 9-building, 1-story Staples High School — is made much more compelling by dream-like music. For those who lived here then, it’s almost like stepping into a time warp.

A scene from "Lost Film." The Main Street building on the left -- now the Gap -- was then a furniture store.

A scene from “Lost Film.” The Main Street building on the left — now the Gap — was then a furniture store.

It’s safe to assume that “Lost Film” — the YouTube title — means that whoever shot it finally found it, decades later.

The story is stranger than that.

It turns out that in 1970 or so, Staples Class of ’72 member John S. Johnson and 2 friends — Wayne Vosburgh and John Fisher — found the 16mm film on campus.

Because home projectors then were 8mm, they asked the librarian for help. She set them up in a room. They did not think much of what they saw.

For the past 46 years, the spool remained in Johnson’s dresser drawer. He sometimes thought about transferring the film to video.

Walking downtown, by Westport Taxi. It was located a few doors down from what is now Tiffany.

Walking downtown, by Westport Taxi. It was located a few doors down from what is now Tiffany.

Last week — before leaving on a trip to Westport — he dropped it off at a local shop to get it done.

After viewing the digitized version, his perspective changed. Johnson realized each scene went by too quickly to dissect and reminisce.

He slowed it down about 50%. Then he added the ethereal music.

The video says “circa 1967.” Johnson now believes it was made around 1969.

It shows teenagers in Westport in a very specific point in time.

But it’s also timeless.

(Hat tips: Bill Scheffler and Mary Gai)


Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Friday Flashback #6

We think of the Post Road (Ruth Steinkraus Cohen) Bridge as having been there forever.

It has been — at least since colonial times.

But it hasn’t always been the same bridge.

Here’s what it looked like in 1946.

post-road-swing-bridge-before-widening-and-parker-harding-8-3-46

It was narrower than the present span. There was a guardhouse-type structure — perhaps a remnant of when it actually was a toll bridge, centuries earlier.

But the most intriguing aspect of this photo — taken from the Taylor parking lot near what is now the library Riverwalk, looking upriver — is the water on the right.

This shot was taken several years before Parker Harding Plaza was created. That’s now the parking lot behind Main Street stores. In 1946, the Saugatuck River ran right up to the backs of those shops.

And the sewer pumps from some of them emptied directly into the river.

Blues, Views, BBQ — And Tattoos

Once a year, white, suburban Westport turns into the blues capital of the world.

Also, the barbecue center of the universe.

Go figure.

It’s great publicity — and branding — for Westport. But it’s not a Westport crowd.

They come from across Connecticut. And Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and beyond.

They come for fantastic music. Great (and decidedly non-vegan) food.

And — for their kids — face painting, bounce houses and the chance to run around and around and around.

And come they do. Crowds formed long before the library parking lot and Levitt Pavilion opened at 11 a.m. They’ll be there today, too — smiling and enjoying the hell out of the day, just like everyone did yesterday.

Here’s what they saw and did:

I got there just as the barbecue contest was ending. This is all that was left.

I got there just as the barbecue contest was ending. This is all that was left.

But I was right on time for Anders Osborne, on the Levitt Pavilion mainstage.

But I was right on time for Anders Osborne, on the Levitt Pavilion mainstage.

This guy went from the BBQ contest to the music...

This guy went from the BBQ contest to the music…

...while this guy was getting all the attention.

…while this guy was getting all the attention.

If you didn't -- or couldn't -- buy a pass for the sold-out Levitt acts, there was plenty more music in the library parking lot tent.

If you didn’t — or couldn’t — buy a pass for the sold-out Levitt acts, there was lots more music in the library parking lot tent.

There was art -- like this from Dante Tilghman (left) -- for the adults...

There was art — like this from Dante Tilghman (left) — for the adults…

...face painting for kids like Zachary O'Dell...

…face painting for kids like Zachary O’Dell…

...while others found a way to hear the music for free. This group probably was from Westport.

…while others found a way to hear the music for free. This group probably WAS from Westport.

Let There Be Lights!

Bedford Square streetlights

The Bedford Square project continues.

And the renaissance of downtown takes another big step forward.

Parking Job Demands A Close Look

From one angle, this looks like a very bad (and aggressive) parking job by the Jaguar. After all, why would the Nissan come so close — particularly on the driver’s side — to a car that was already there?

Brooks Corner parking - Sandy Rothenberg

But take a look at this 2nd photo:

Brooks Corner parking 2 - Sandy Rothenberg

(Photos/Sandy Rothenberg)

Maybe the Nissan driver pulled in after the Jaguar — and tried to send a message about parking in a crosswalk space.

If you’re the driver of either vehicle, click “Comments” to explain.

Though I won’t hold my breath.

Westport’s Charter Oak Connections

If you’re new to Connecticut, you may not know about our charter oak. They don’t teach state history in school — I don’t think so, anyway — and most of the state quarters that were minted nearly 20 years ago are out of circulation.

But longtime residents know the charter oak. And one of its descendants may still live in Westport.

The story involves a large white oak tree that dates back to the 12th or 13th century.  Apparently our royal charter — given by King Charles in 1662, to the Connecticut colony — was hidden in a hollow in 1687, to prevent the governor-general from revoking it.

Connecticut's charter oak.

Connecticut’s charter oak.

The tree was destroyed in 1856, during a strong storm. But its legend remains.

So, supposedly, do many of its seedlings.

In 1965, a “Committee for the location and care of the Charter Oak Tree” was formed. Its purpose was to “accept the seedling  descendant of the Charter Oak from Mr. John Davis Lodge, care for it during the winter, select a location in which it can be planted in the Spring, and organize a planting ceremony.”

Lodge — a former governor of Connecticut and ambassador to Spain, and future ambassador to Argentina and Switzerland — lived in Westport.

Minutes of a November 20, 1965 meeting show that a seedling was intended to be donated to Staples High School in the spring.

Legend has it that the seedling was planted in the school courtyard on North Avenue. No one today knows authoritatively if that was done, or exactly where. If it ever existed, it was bulldozed away during construction of the new building more than a decade ago.

Connecticut state quarterThe committee also discussed the best location for another seedling, downtown. Members — including representatives of the RTM, Westport Garden Club, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and Daughters of the American Revolution — agreed that Jesup Green was the best area. It could be “the first step in setting a centrally located civic center.”

Discussion then turned to the erection of a plaque, commemorating the gift to the town by Lodge.

“It was agreed that watering and care after the planting should be delegated to a Town employee who would be responsible for its care,” meeting notes read.

Arbor Day in April was suggested as a good time for the planting, and that school children should be involved.

The committee then went outdoors to study possible locations. They agreed to store the 2 seedling oaks in the “cold barn cellar” of Parsell’s Nursery. Garden center owner and civic volunteer Alan U. Parsell was a committee member.

And that’s the last bit of information I dug up about Westport’s charter oak.

Friday Flashback #4

Today — dwarfed by a 40,000-square-foot office building — it’s hard to imagine that Gorham Island even is an island.

But the spit of land now joined to Parker Harding Plaza was once home to a gorgeous Victorian home. (Though — like many other structures in Westport — it apparently was built elsewhere, then moved.)

Gorham Island house

In addition to being a favorite subject for artists, the Gorham Island home was known for something else.

Early on July 4th morning of 1961, Brendan McLaughlin — a former Marine working as a New York advertising executive — shot and killed his father during a family argument inside the house.

McLaughlin fled.  An hour before dawn he burst into the police station on Jesup Road.  He pulled out a semi-automatic pistol and fired at 2 policemen behind the front desk, wounding Donald Bennette.

Officers chased him into the parking lot, where he shot officer Andrew Chapo.  A shootout ensued; McLaughlin was wounded.

Chapo and Bennette recovered.  McLaughlin died several weeks later.

Stumping For Kindness

I often identify contributors to “06880” as “alert readers.”

One guy gets special notice.

The other day, hyper-alert “06880” reader Steve Lunt was walking his dog on the Riverwalk — the lovely path winding around the Levitt Pavilion. (If you’ve never been, you’re missing a true Westport jewel.)

Suddenly, a rotting tree stump caught Steve’s eye.

Levitt Riverwalk - Steve Lunt 2 (2)

 

 

Looking closely, he saw this:

Levitt Riverwalk - Steve Lunt 2

We may never know who put that message there — or when, or why.

Which makes this little story even better.