Category Archives: Friday Flashback

Friday Flashback #143

Years ago, the Bridge Street Bridge was renamed to honor William F. Cribari.

“Crobar” spent many years as the ever-smiling, often-dancing, always-vigilant traffic cop at the intersection of Bridge Street and Riverside Avenue.

But that was not his only post.

He was equally effective — though with less choreography — at the heavily trafficked Post Road/Main Street crossing.

This was a typical scene around 1985. Ships restaurant (now Tiffany) drew a steady crowd. So did the rest of downtown.

But Crobar was clearly in charge.

(Photo/Al Bravin)

Friday Flashback #142

The Westport Farmers Market opens next Thursday (May 23). The Imperial Avenue parking lot will be filled with vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, honey, ice cream, even pet food.

Musicians will play. Food trucks will serve pizza and tacos. It’s a wonderful part of Westport — organic, sustainable, (mostly) healthy and fun.

We have Paul Newman (in part) to thank. Back in 2006, he and chef Michel Nischan created the first Westport Farmers Market, at the Westport Country Playhouse parking lot.

But that was not the actor/automobile racer/lemonade, popcorn and salad dressing king/philanthropist’s first farm stand experience.

For years, he was a customer at Rippe’s. Westporters pretended to be cool as cucumbers as they saw Newman — then “only” an actor — and his wife Joanne Woodward casually checking out ears of corn, or putting apples in a bag.

Rippe’s Farm Stand, in its early years. It later grew into a more substantial building. (Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann, via Mrs. George Rippe Collection)

Rippe’s was one of several farm stands in Westport. Produce came from orchards behind it — stretching eastward, from Turkey Hill North to behind Long Lots Junior High — and fields on North Avenue, behind Burr Farms Elementary School.

The North Avenue farm is gone (so is Burr Farms School). In its place is a private road — the strangely named Greystone Farm Lane. In a nod to the past, a few of the homes include silo-like architecture.

The Post Road orchards and stand are gone too. They’ve been replaced by what — at the time — were Westport’s first and only condos.

In another nod to the past, they’re called Harvest Commons.

Friday Flashback #141

Generations of Westporters have swum in, skated on or otherwise enjoyed Nash’s Pond.

The “modern” pond was formed in 1879, when the Nash family erected a dam and 3 icehouses. Workers harvested ice each winter. It was stored through summer, sawed into blocks, then sent to New York for sale.

In 1937 — after the ice business, but before most homes were built along “Nash’s Woods and Pond” — it looked like this:

(Postcard courtesy of Seth Schachter)

What are your memories of Nash’s Pond? Click “Comments” below.

Friday Flashback #140

As the Westport Country Playhouse opens its 89th season, “06880” shines a spotlight on its famed posters.

For decades, they hung on the walls of its cramped lobby. After the renovation more than a decade ago, a few dozen found spots in the new lobby. All told, there are 400 in posters in the Playhouse collection.

Pat Blaufuss sent along a sampling. Each has a story behind it. Text comes from An American Theatre: The Story of Westport Country Playhouse by Richard Somerset-Ward.

It was 1940 and the Playhouse was doing Green Grow the Lilacs. John Ford had agreed to direct the show but was detained by film commitments, and never showed up (though his name was on the poster). Actual direction was handled by John Haggott who followed ideas he and Ford put together earlier in Hollywood.

Teresa Helburn, a Theatre Guild colleague of Lawrence Langner, Playhouse founder, came backstage on opening night and said: “This play would make a good musical.” They invited Fairfield resident Richard Rodgers. He was inspired to turn the play into the musical Oklahoma! with Oscar Hammerstein.

In 1941 Tyrone Power was the crown prince of Hollywood, dashingly handsome, married to a beautiful French woman named Annabella.

Tyrone was born in Connecticut; his earliest acting jobs had been in summer stock in Massachusetts. He was immersed in film roles, under contract to 20th Century Fox, but longed to get back to the stage. He couldn’t take extended runs because of his movie contract, but he might find time to do summer stock.

Darryl Zanuck, his boss, thwarted his first attempts, but in 1941 Tyrone and Annabella successfully escaped to Westport to star in Liliom, which became the source for the musical Carousel. It was directed by Lee Strasberg.

Power said: “Here in Westport there’s nothing of the huge, inhuman machine atmosphere that dominates Hollywood.” On opening night the Powerses took a dozen-and-a-half curtain calls.

But there almost wasn’t an opening night. A few days before opening, Zanuck sent a cable demanding that Power fly back to Hollywood for urgent re-shoots on the film he had recently made with Betty Grable, A Yank in the RAF.

It seemed that Tyrone had no option – his contract made it clear that the studio owned him. But Playhouse lawyer J. Kenneth Bradley came up with an old Connecticut blue law which enabled the local authorities to prevent a person from leaving the state if he tried to do so before fulfilling a contract with a Connecticut business.

Zanuck was informed that Connecticut stood ready to enforce its law. He caved, and Power stayed for the sold-out run.

Olivia de Havilland, so popular from the film Gone with the Wind, was in the Playhouse production of What Every Woman Knows in 1946.

On the same day she opened the show, she got married to novelist and journalist Marcus Goodrich. The wedding ceremony took place at the Weston home of Playhouse founder Lawrence Langner.

Henry Fonda and daughter Jane both appeared on the Playhouse stage, though not at the same time. With a film career still in the future, Jane Fonda starred in No Concern of Mine in 1960. Her father appeared in The Virginian at the Playhouse in 1937 — the same year Jane was born.

In 1964, 18-year-old Liza Minnelli came to the Westport Country Playhouse to get her Equity card. She played The Girl in The Fantasticks, with Elliott Gould as her co-star. On opening night, in the words of the Playhouse’s 50th anniversary brochure, “the rather gawky teenage…received a standing ovation.”

In 1987, Weston playwright David Wiltse’s Doubles was a Playhouse attraction. His newest play will be featured at a Script in Hand reading next Monday (May 6).

Friday Flashback #139

The Westport Weston Family Y moved from downtown a few years ago.

Actually, it’s been gone so long it’s ready for an expansion at its “new” Mahackeno digs.

The iconic original building (at the corner of Post Road and Main Street) and the gruesome 1970s addition (on Church Lane) have been transformed into handsome Bedford Square.

We’ve all adjusted to the changes. But every year around this time, longtime Westporters remember the very best part of having the Y downtown:

Friday Flashback #138

One of my earliest childhood memories — I  was just 3 or 4 — is from a grocery store on Main Street.

My mother leaned down, pointed to a woman standing nearby and said, “Danny, remember this. That’s Helen Keller.”

Helen Keller

It’s an urban (suburban) myth that Helen Keller lived in Westport. Her house — “Arcan Ridge” — was actually on Redding Road in Easton, near the corner of Route 136.

But 136 is called also called Westport Road in Easton. And when the remarkable deaf-blind author, political activist and lecturer died in 1968, at 87, the New York Times datelined the story “Westport, Conn.” — and said she died “in her home here.” (Click here to see.)

That error was picked up by publications around the world. It persists today.

Helen Keller moved to Easton in 1936. But she had a Westport post office box. And — as my long-ago memory attests, and those of other longtime residents affirm — she and her companions did much of their shopping here.

Staples High School Class of 1965 member Jack Backiel has a special connection. His aunt relative Agnes Pazdan took care of Helen Keller.

And in 1944, she signed her autobiography The World I Live In to her this way:

(Do you have a Helen Keller memory? Click “Comments” below.)

Friday Flashback #137

I’m not sure what year this was.

I don’t know what “Projectoscope” means.

But — even if it didn’t live up to its promise as “the best program ever given here” — it must have been pretty cool.

(Courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

I do know one thing: the Opera House where D.W. Robertson presented his famous, marvelous Projectoscope is still around.

Today though, we call it Toquet Hall.

Friday Flashback #136

A few years ago, Patrick Laffaye remodeled his bathroom.

Behind the shower wall — stuffed behind a soap dish, next to empty cans of Reingold beer — he found this:

Big Top drew everyone from doctors and lawyers to teenagers and motorcyclists. They sat together at a long table, or outside when the weather was good, enjoying some of the best burgers in Westport history.

Big Top is now McDonald’s. If that doesn’t say something about the decline of America, nothing does.

Patrick’s house was built in 1964 — in the midst of Big Top’s heyday.

He doesn’t live there anymore. But, he notes, his new house is closer to Big Top.

Friday Flashback #135

Hey, kids: Your parents are not that old.

Still, they grew up in a different world than yours.

Their video games did not come on a phone.

They were big. Really big. Like, not-even-fit-in-your-room big.

Check this out:

That was the scene at Arnie’s Place. It was a “video arcade” — have your parents used that term? — located where Ulta Beauty (formerly Anthropologie) is now, next to Balducci’s.

Maybe your mom or dad is in the photo above. He or she might even be that kid in the stroller. (Love that low-tech stroller. Yet the tot survived!)

As you can see, back in the day people played video games in groups. They also had to pay every single time! Here’s how:

That’s called an Arnie’s Place token. You bought them, then put them in the machines. Crazy, huh?

Just like today, some adults didn’t like video games. They tried to shut Arnie’s Place down. But the kids fought back:

Here’s the really funny part: Some of those kids from the 1970s and ’80s are your parents today.

Don’t let them tell you not to spend so much time on your games.

PS: In 2050, you’ll be telling your kids to stop playing games on their stupid microchipettes!

Friday Flashback #134

As Westport debates what’s needed to make Main Street lively again, we hear one chorus a lot: live music!

It’s been only a few years since Bobby Q’s rooftop concerts ended. But before that, there was Mark’s Place.

Located on the left side of Main Street — on the 2nd floor of what was, most recently, Acqua and Boca restaurants — Mark’s Place was a late ’60s/early ’70s club/bar/disco.

It was not the only venue for live music in Westport — there was the Nines Club at the old skating rink on Post Road East (owned, improbably, by orchestra leader Lester Lanin; Mitch Ryder, the Youngbloods and ? and the Mysterians played there); the Players Tavern, and a spot underneath the Ice Cream Parlor where I saw the Shangri-Las.

I’ve tried to find photos, with no success. Recently though, these images of Mark’s Place surfaced on Facebook, thanks to Rufus Eakin.

(Photos courtesy of Rufus Eakin)

Close your eyes. Remember the scene. Then click “Comments,” to share any groovy memories of Mark’s — and all those other music — places.