As plans to renovate the Westport Inn move through the application process — the 116-room hotel will be downsized and upgraded to 85 rooms, with more landscaping, a 3-story addition, demolition of the front building, a pool, rear dining terrace, and driveway and parking improvements — let’s look back, to its earlier incarnations.
The New Englander Motor Hotel was perfect for the 1960s. It welcomed weary Connecticut Turnpike travelers at Exits 18 and 19. Amenities included a pool (with, for a while, “memberships” offered to Westporters).
The postcard above is an accurate rendition of the rooms facing the rear (north), and the pool.
I’m not sure what the view in the front shows, though. That’s not exactly the Post Road, and the stores on the other side.
The Westport Inn/New Englander has been a hospitable spot for a century. Long before motels, it was the site of Mathewson’s Tourist Cabins. They were all the rage when motoring was new.
The Turnpike (now called I-95) was still in the future. The drive between New York and Boston could be long; driving on the Post Road was tedious. The “motor cabins” offered a welcome respite.
“Tourist cabins” eventually morphed into “motor courts,” then “motels.” A few still survive.
One is the Norwalk Westport Motel.
It’s in Norwalk; presumably “Westport” sneaks into the name because 1) it’s kind of near the border, and 2) in Norwalk, the Post Road is called “Westport Avenue.”
In 2022, the Norwalk Westport Motel has seen better days.
Some of those days can be seen in this postcard, courtesy of Carl Swanson:
I have no idea what the room rate was, back then.
But gas was probably 39 cents a gallon.
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The other day, Ronnie Presha posted some very interesting memories on Facebook.
They provide a fascinating look at Westport in the late 1960s and early ’70s, as seen through the eyes of a Black teenager in a neighboring town. Ronnie writes:
I was raised in Norwalk. But in my teens, I succumbed to the lure of Westport.
As a Black “spade” hippie, Westport had so much of what I believe contributed to my progressive liberal views that I still hold dear.
When I was 16 in 1966, my lifelong friend Rudy Costa would pick me up on Saturdays to stand with other progressive youth and adults along Route 1 in Westport, to protest the Viet Nam war at weekly peace vigils.
In addition to weekly peace vigils on the Post Road bridge, there were larger rallies against the Vietnam War. This is a portion of the crowd near the Fine Arts Theater (now Barnes & Noble). (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)
It was there that I met a group of kids who became my first Westport friends. They belonged to a social club called NEYO ( National Ethical Youth Organization). Their parents let them have weekly meetings in their homes. Rudy and I became popular members.
Westport had all sorts of activities for its youth. There was a coffee shop in a church, where local folk singers and poets performed. There were all manner of activities at Staples High School: concerts, films and sporting events.
Kids were given a wide berth by their very liberal parents. Sometimes, they were more liberal than I was accustomed to. Westport was the first place where I ever heard kids curse around or even at their parents with reckless abandon. I was 24 before my mother ever heard a curse roll off my lips, and that didn’t go over well.
These kids, predominantly white, all had long hair, and wore bell bottoms, paisley, moccasins and beads. Those who had religion belonged to the Unitarian Church.
Not far from the Post Road Bridge, teenagers hung out at the park by the Westport Library (now a concrete plaza at 1 Main Street).
One of my friends, Leigh Sobel, was friends with a local band that was looking for a singer and a sax player. Rudy played sax and I fancied myself a singer. I became one of 3 lead singers in this dynamite band.
The band included 15-year-old phenom Charlie Karp. He went on to play with Buddy Miles and Jimi Hendrix. Those were amazing days.
Managed by WICC program manager Mike Fass, the Soul Purpose played songs by James Brown, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding and other Black artists. They gained plenty of regional recognition. In Westport, they opened for the Rascals and Sly & the Family Stone. Sly was not yet well known, but through word of mouth the auditorium was packed.
Ronnie Presha posted this Woodstock-era photo on social media.
Ronnie wrote much more, about his later years in music. But for a while, he and his Norwalk friend Rudy provided Westport with a welcome beyond our borders — and a wonderful way to “dance to the music.”
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Ronnie Presha and his wife, in Norwalk’s Cranbury Park. They were not yet a couple. He was 19, she was 15. They eventually got together. Fifty years later, they remain happily married.
The new Burying Hill Beach jetty, and recent stories about the Compo Beach concession stand, have jogged a number of Westporters’ memories.
They remember summers at the small Greens Farms beach, which — unlike its much larger Compo cousin — was served only by an occasional Good Humor man.
But what a great Good Human guy Ray was.
I have forgotten his last name, if I ever knew it. But Ray was the man who kept Burying Hill beachgoers from starving — and whose Saturday morning route brought him to High Point Road, where kids like me bought toasted almonds for immediate joy, and (if we were lucky) our parents stocked up on other treats for the week.
Several years ago Jean Whitehead — a former High Point neighbor — sent this photo from Burying HIll. It shows herself, her sisters, and some random boy, with Ray.
It’s a classic image. All that’s missing is the jingle-jangle of Ray’s Good Humor bell.
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I have only a vague recollection of The Separate Shop. That’s okay — I was not the women’s clothing store’s target audience. Plus, it opened before I was born, and was in my early teens when it was sold.
I have better memories of The Ice Cream Parlor — a teeny bit in its first location (most recently, by Tavern on Main), much better after it moved to Post Road East (next to Colonial Green, opposite Salsa Fresca).
The Ice Cream Parlor, on the Post Road.
But those memories pale compared to Butzi Moffitt’s. She owned them both.
And at 94, she talks about them as if those 1950s and ’60s days were yesterday.
Butzi’s Southport home is filled with photos. (And — in the kitchen — an actual wrought-iron Ice Cream Parlor table.)
Those photos include Butzi with Marilyn Monroe. She was great friends with Milton Greene, the Weston photographer who helped make the actress famous.
“She was sweet, caring, gentle,” Butzi recalls. “Not a tough cookie at all.”
Marilyn Monroe (right) and Butzi Moffett (left), at a New York party. (Photo/Milton H. Greene)
Butzi became a store owner in 1952. She worked for a woman who owned an “unsuccessful” dress shop.
“I thought women’s sportswear would be more popular,” Butzi says. The Separate Shop opened in Sconset Square — then called Sherwood Square — and soon there were “lines out the door.”
At Christmas, customers filled out “want books.” They told their husbands just to go to The Separate Shop; Butzi and her staff would pick out what the wives wanted.
The store delivered too — via horse — within a 1 1/2-mile radius.
The Separate Shop, in Sherwood (not Sconset) Square.
The store’s name comes from her plan to sell items — skirts, blouses, etc. — “separately.” She had always found it difficult, as a “short-waisted woman,” to buy a one-piece dress without alterations. She realized that a wardrobe of separates could solve problems of those who were “too tall and long-waisted, the top-heavy, the large hipped, the too round and too thin,” a Westport Town Crier story said.
It added: “One of the first of the so-called ‘country stores’ to combine high style with more conventional items, the Separate Shop is often referred to in the garment business as ‘the grandmother of the trade.'”
An undated story in a retailing magazine noted, “The Separate Shop now does $200,000 woth of business a year and has achieved etailing fame as a major launching point for such now-established items as Shetland sweaters, Bermuda shorts, car coats and, more recently, the long ‘at home’ dinner skirt.”
Marilyn Monroe was a regular customer, Butzi says. She bought cashmere sweaters in 3 sizes — 32, 24 and 36 — to wear in different seasons.
The Ice Cream Parlor opened in 1953. She and her then-husband, Robert Beach, could not find good old-fashioned ice cream around here.
They learned of a country store going out of business in Saratoga Springs, New York. The bought what they needed, and brought it to Westport.
The concept was “nostalgia” — in the 1950s, for an earlier time. The old-fashioned ice cream parlor featured a marble soda fountain, wire-backed chairs, nickelodeon, penny candy and syrup in wax bottles.
Outside the Ice Cream Parlor …
It boasted that its “ice cream concoctions” were part of “the pomp and splendor, the gaudy, gay and garulous [sic] of an era past and a child’s wildest dreams come true.”
It was an instant hit, Butzi says.
… and inside. (This is from a 1955 Seventeen magazine photo shoot.)
The Separate Shop and Ice Cream Parlor were not Butzi’s only successes. She owned the Pack Roads men’s store, opposite Remarkable Book Shop at the Main Street entrance to Parker Harding Plaza (near where the Separate Shop relocated in the 1960s).
Pack Roads, near the second locatio nof the Separate Shop. (Photo/Peter Barlow)
Butzi also helped design costumes, and the scrim, for the Westport Country Playhouse.
She owned an apartment one block from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and spent 50 years as a docent.
Butzi married Peter Moffitt in 1962. She sold the Separate Shop 2 years later, when their twins were born.
Noting the closing, the Town Crier wrote: “While wishing the new owners of the Separate Shop all sorts of luck and Butsy [sic] Moffitt a happy retirement, we have a sneaking suspicion that her boundless energy will probably take her out of the house and back into the business world before long.”
Nearly 60 years later, the Separate Shop, Pack Roads and Ice Cream Parlor are part of Westport’s long-ago past.
Less than 6 years away from her 100th birthday, meanwhile, Butzi Moffitt, still has plenty of energy.
And many, many memories.
Butzi Moffett in her Southport home. She put the earrings on the portrait of Judy Garland. (Photo/Dan Woog)
With the recent barbs being thrown Hook’d’s way, let’s revisit the Compo Beach concession stand.
We’ve featured these in previous Friday Flashbacks. But with so many newcomers to town — and so many others who so fondly remember Hook’d’s ancestors — it’s a good time to check in with its predecessors.
Long before Joey’s by the Shore, there was this:
The photo is from 1933. The concession stand was located where the volleyball courts are now.
Later, at the same spot, came Chubby Lane’s:
(Photo courtesy of Liz Doyle Boyd)
Anyone could drive right up, order a really good burger, and eat outside — all without a beach sticker.
Like many teenagers, I worked at Chubby’s. It was a plum job: in the middle of all the action, with plenty of other kids, and free food. Sure, we wore dorky navy blue shorts and knee-length socks, but that was the price we paid.
Before my time, Chubby’s employees roamed the beach with walkie-talkies. They’d call in orders, and tie a balloon on a beach chair. A few minutes later, another employee hand-delivered the food.
Joey Romeo was the next well-organized, much-loved concessionaire. He was there for over 30 years. His customer service is legendary too.
Now we’ve got Hook’d. Years from now, will it be a nostalgic Friday Flashback — or just the answer to a trivia question?
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It’s been 10 years since Mark Krosse sent me this broadside, and I wrote this story.
But with July 4th approaching — and last night’s fireworks already a memory — it’s time to celebrate a long-ago Westport Independence Day tale again.
The broadside Mark found (above) invites Westporters to an “Exhibition of Fireworks!” — on the “Evening of the 4th of July, 1860.”
The site was “Compo House,” and the “programme” was extensive.
Signal Rockets will be fired from sun-down to 9 o’clock, when a brilliant display will commence with the splendid GREEK BENGOLA LIGHTS, illuming the whole entire area of the Fireworks Ground. This brilliant reflecting light was invented by the celebrated Indian Chieftain, TIPPOO SAIB, and is the most powerful known to the present age, eclipsing the Drummond Light for its brilliancy, &c. After which the following beautiful pieces will be fired in the order of the Programme.
Reading habits 2022-style not being what they were in 1860, I’ll note a few highlights:
Splendid Vertical Wheel
Chaplet of Flora
Glories of Mexico
Casting aside the question of why we were celebrating the “Glories of Mexico,” I’ll close with this description of the final Bomb Shells:
Commencing with a splendid wheel of Chinese, Egyptian and radiant fires, forming all the variegated and beautiful mutations of the Kaleidoscope, changing to the American Coat of Arms, displaying the shield with the Stars and Stripes on each side in the appropriate colors, Red, White and Blue.
A rare old photo of the July 4th, 1860 fireworks. Or not.
On an arc above will appear the motto, UNION.
The whole mutating to a grand Mosaic Battery, composed of Greek and Roman Candles, filling the air for several hundred feet with all the beautiful colors known in Pyrotechny.
Sounds like Fun!
In fact, the descriptions are so vivid I can just imagine the scene. Colors fill the air. The crowd applauds. Finally everyone heads home, creating a massive horse-and-carriage jam on the roads from Compo House.
So what was “Compo House”? That’s worth a story in itself.
Also known as the Winslow Mansion, it stood where Winslow Park is today: the corner of Post Road East and Compo Road North.
Between 1855 and 1860, alert “06880” reader and super historian Wendy Crowther notes, “Henry Richard Winslow and his 2nd wife, Mary Fitch Winslow, invited everyone in town to their extensive and lavish property to enjoy July 4th fireworks. Henry died in February 1861, so the 1860 fireworks extravaganza advertised in the poster (above) was his last.”
How extensive and lavish was his house?
A lot more than you may imagine.
Unbelievably alert “06880” reader Paul Greenberg found 2 prints at the George Glazer Gallery website. Here’s the back story to what they show.
Winslow — a state representative and senator — built Compo House in 1853. Six years later, former president Millard Fillmore was a guest. The property also included guest houses, servants’ and gardeners’ quarters, and gorgeous gardens.
The mansion no longer exists. It was torn down in the 1970s, after serving for many years as a sanitarium (and, in its final incarnation, a vacant party house for Westport teenagers). The outbuildings were demolished too.
The iron gate — alongside unpaved North Compo — still stands.
The Winslows also owned the land across Post Road East (then called State Street) from the park. Both properties were bought in the 1950s by Baron Walter von Langendorff, an Austrian-born chemist who founded Evyan Perfumes.
The town now owns the 2 parcels: Winslow Park and Baron’s South.
And how they have remained undeveloped is a tale for a non-holiday weekend.
For decades, Westport kids have marked the end of the school year by an event having nothing to do with teachers or books.
The Yankee Doodle Fair roars into town either days before, or days after, the final bell rings. It’s as reliable a start to summer as any tradition could be.
The last 2 years have been different. COVID canceled the event in 2020; last year, it was pushed from June to September.
But now the Yankee Doodle Fair is back. It opened last night; it continues tonight (Friday, 6 to 10 p.m.), tomorrow (Saturday, 1 to 10 p.m.), and Sunday (1 to 5 p.m.), on the Westport Woman Club’s Imperial Avenue grounds
As always, it’s a major fundraiser for the WWC.
And — as these photos from Yankee Doodle Fairs past show — it’s major fun.
A classic carousel, at the Yankee Doodle Fair.
This is noted writer Parke Cummings. He may have walked over from his home on the corner of South Compo and Bridge Street.
Marjorie Teuscher and her son Phil. Her husband — a doctor — owned real estate downtown, including the building that was most recently Tavern on Main. Phil — now all grown up — still lives in Westport.
Pam Blackburn — who sent these photos from her father, George — is shown here with her sister Perii and their mom, Jessica Patton Barkentin.
The Yankee Doodle Fair, as shown in the August 11, 1947 issue of Life Magazine.
Before the Westport Woman’s Club bought their Imperial Avenue clubhouse (and parking lot next door), the Yankee Doodle Fair was held on Jesup Green. This shows National Hall (then Fairfield Furniture) in the background, across the river.
BONUS RIDE:In the final season of “I Love Lucy” — after the Ricardos and Mertzes moved to Westport — Lucy and Ethel celebrated a fanciful “Yankee Doodle Day.” The poster about the Yankee Doodle celebration read: “Statue Dedication at Jessup (sic) Green.”
The end of the school year is near. It’s time for long-lived traditions, like proms and yearbooks. Some things never go out of style.
But some do.
Staples High School’s senior prom went off flawlessly last Saturday. Nearly 500 soon-to-be-graduates and friends had a great time at the Greenwich Hyatt.
They were not, however, given official gifts like those given 30 or some years ago: beer mugs, complete with the Staples seal. If I recall correctly, there was even a slogan: “Raise a stein, to the Class of ’89.”
And the 2022 Staples yearbook will definitely not contain a photo like this one, from 1975:
The caption about this supposed “club” reads: “The Trojans are most widely known for their desire to refresh themselves before, during and after competition ….The Trojans have always been an asset to Staples.”
Of course, the legal drinking age in Connecticut at the time was 18. (It was lowered from 21 in 1972, then raised to 19 in 1982, 20 in 1983, and back to 21 in 1985.)
But if that kid in the lower left was 18, then my name is Joseph Schlitz.
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