Category Archives: Friday Flashback

Friday Flashback #133

As the Library races toward the June 23 grand opening of its Transformation Project — a full-throated, very cool reimagining of the space — this is a good time to remind Westporters that the current location between the Levitt Pavilion and Taylor Place is not its original home.

It was built in 1908, on the corner of the Post Road (then called State Street) and Main Street. Its original name was the Morris K. Jesup Memorial Library. He died just 4 months before its dedication, after donating both the land and $5,000 for construction.

The original library still stands, though an addition built just to the west hides its grandeur.

It included a very quiet reading room.

An addition in the 1950s — around the time Parker Harding Plaza was built — accommodated the booming demands of post-war Westport.

(Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

The “new” library may not have worked particularly well at its current site — the former town dump — where it moved in 1986.

But the third time’s the charm. The “new new” one will blow you away.

Morris Jesup would be very proud.

Friday Flashback #132

Last week, I posted a story about the day Marian Anderson visited Bedford Elementary School. Buried in the piece was a quick line noting that the building now serves as Town Hall.

Sure, our Myrtle Avenue seat of government looks like a school. But although generations of graduates think about their alma mater every time they drive by or see a reference to it on “06880,” I wonder how many Westporters who moved here since the 1979 conversion realize its history.

Bedfprd Elementary School (Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

In 1917, the town voted to build a new school to serve children from “East and West Saugatuck, Cross Highway, Poplar Plains and Coleytown.” Major funding came from noted philanthropist (and Beachside Avenue resident) Edward T. Bedford.

Eight years later he helped fund Greens Farms Elementary School, much closer to his estate.

So if Town Hall is now at the old Bedford El, where was it originally?

The Post Road. For decades, our town operated out of the handsome stone building next to what is today Restoration Hardware.

The old Town Hall has been repurposed. Westporters know it now for 2 great restaurants: Jesup Hall, and Rothbard Ale + Larder.

There’s not much to remind you that it was once the center of government. Although the next time you’re in Rothbard, take a close look around.

The basement once served as the police lockup.

Friday Flashback #131

When Tommy Ghianuly died last month, Westport lost more than a great barber and good friend.

We lost a man who loved local history — and made his Compo Shopping Center business a shrine to it.

The walls of Tommy’s barber shop are filled with vintage photos. Most customers see them in the mirror as they get their hair cut. Sometimes, someone glances a bit more closely at one or two.

Each of them has a story. Tommy knew them all.

He never wrote them down. Fortunately, in 2001 Staples High School video production teacher Jim Honeycutt teamed up with Phil Woodruff, a retired SHS social studies instructor who was then serving as Westport Historical Society director of oral history.

One morning, Jim filmed Tommy with his photos. They were joined by illustrious artist and longtime Westporter Howard Munce, and town native Jim Feeney.

(From left) Tommy Ghianuly, Jim Feeney and Howard Munce chat about Tommy’s barber shop photos.

These are not talking heads. They’re great conversationalists, sharing stories about the Westport of long ago. They chat about buildings, people, trolleys, downtown, holidays, daily life, and the notorious Compo Inn. At the end, Woodruff makes a cameo appearance.

Tommy, Jim Feeney and Phil are all gone now. But Jim Honeycutt is still very much alive.

After Tommy died, he dug out the 40-minute video. Then he sent it to “06880.”

It’s a way to keep these great Westporters with us.

It’s a way too to remind ourselves why they loved this town. And why we love it — and them.

(To see the video, click below.)

Friday Flashback #130

Westporters love Nyala Farm.

We admire its vast, open meadows. We marvel at its ever-changing beauty. We take almost as many photos of its iconic well as we do of the cannons at Compo.

We don’t even mind that the enormous expanse of land tucked between Greens Farms Road, the Sherwood Island Connector and I-95 is an office park — one of 2 Westport headquarters for hedge fund titan Bridgewater.

We don’t mind, because we don’t see it.

What many people may not know is that Nyala Farm is not a cute, throwback name. Back in the day, it was an actual, working dairy farm.

(Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

Generations of Westporters took field trips there. They learned that all 52 acres were bought in 1910 by E.T. Bedford.

His son, Frederick T. Bedford, named the farm in honor of the beautiful nyala (antelope) he’d seen on an African safari.

In 1970, Stauffer Chemical developed their world headquarters there. It was Westport’s first corporate office park.

That put an end to scenes like this:

(Robert Vickrey painting, courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

The cows and sleds are gone. But the well — and the memories — remain.

Friday Flashback #129

Last week’s Friday Flashback — showing a snowy Post Road sidewalk from 1993, with the Fine Arts Theatre prominently featured — sent alert “06880” reader/ amateur historian Fred Cantor scurrying down the internet wormhole.

He found Cinema Treasures, a website devoted to 51,000 movie theaters from around the world. (“Because you’re tired of watching movies on your laptop,” the tagline says.)

There’s a page devoted to “Fine Arts 1 and 2” — though the photos show only the original theatre (now Restoration Hardware), long before it was subdivided into a pair of cinemas. (Later offspring included Fine Arts 3 in the back — now Matsu Sushi restaurant — and Fine Arts 4 down the block, across Bay Street from Design Within Reach.)

One image is from 1939. It shows the theatre entrance, flanked by an unnamed restaurant and Vogel Electrical Service.

Other photos show Fine Arts after a major 1940 renovation. Here’s the exterior. It looks like the neighboring businesses are gone.

Here’s the new, modern interior:

But the money shots are these 2. They show the Art Deco lounge.

Cinema Treasures is right. The Fine Arts was definitely better than watching movies on your laptop.

Friday Flashback #128

It’s been an almost snowless winter thus far.

I hope I don’t jinx us. But this is what Westport once looked like, this time of year:

(Photo/Kevin Slater)

Photographer Kevin Slater says he took the Post Road East photo in February or March of 1993.

His clues: A movie on the Fine Arts marquee (now Restoration Hardware) is “The Crying Game.” It premiered on February 19 that year.

And the window of Max’s — the late, much-loved art supplies store — was being decorated for Red Cross Month (which is March).

As for “No Man’s Land”: The snow eventually melted.

It always does.

Friday Flashback #127

Mary Gai is a native Westporter. She’s fascinated with local history. In her spare time, she searches the internet for long-ago news references to our town.

These reports all appeared in the 1800s, in papers across the country. There’s little context to any of them. But that’s okay. Readers are free to make up their own back stories — and imagine what Westport life was like, way back when.

Friday Flashback #126

I’m never sure when it will happen. But certain “06880” posts elicit dozens of comments. Naturally, some of them wander far from the original topic.

A recent post on commuter train etiquette is a great example. One reader cited a 1975 New York Times story about a private railroad car “serving about 65 top NY business executives on daily trips from Southport, Conn, to Grand Central.” The price was quite a bit higher than the regular commuter fare.

In 1949, Life magazine showed Westport commuters enjoying a card game, in an elite railroad club car.

That brought a reaction from another reader. He said:

The New Haven/Penn Central provided several club cars for private membership-only groups who leased them. They featured more spacious seating and had a private attendant serving food and drinks. The cars were discontinued when the state took over in the early 70’s and bought new equipment that was incompatible with the existing club cars and declined to configure new equipment for new club cars, though the Southport Club members offered to pay “any price” for a new car.

And that brought an email from Bonnie Bradley. The Westport native and longtime resident now lives upstate. But she recalls the Southport Car well.

Many Westporters rode it — including her grandfather, James P. Bradley.

He started as a clerk at the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Fifty years later, he retired as secretary of the entire firm. Bonnie writes:

“Every workday from the early 1930s through the early ’50s he rode the Southport Club Car (which stopped in Westport). He and his cronies, including Fred Bedford, played poker every day in the Southport Club Car.

Bonnie sends 2 photos. Here, her grandfather is the handsome man in the center:

Here are the cards he held on December 3, 1956, when he won a hand with a once-in-a-lifetime event. His poker mates took the cards, signed their names, and had them framed for him.

Does anyone play cards on the train anymore?

Does anyone talk to anyone else, in fact — beyond someone Very Important on the other end of a cell phone?

Why should they? We’ve got podcasts, Spotify, laptops and tablets. There’s work to be done, or so many ways to entertain ourselves.

We’ve come a long way since 1956.

Or have we?

Friday Flashback #125

You may or may not miss the lack of snow so far this winter. (This weekend may change that.)

Odds are much better that you definitely miss the Red Barn.

The longtime, much-loved restaurant on Wilton Road near Merritt Parkway Exit 41 closed 3 1/2 years ago.

The Westport Weston Family Y now owns it. They have yet to decide what to do with the valuable building and property.

Whatever they do though, you won’t ever again see a scene like this:

(Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Friday Flashback #124

Saugatuck Shores has been in the news recently.

A new bridge turned out nicely. New guardrails nearby did not.

For months, a boat has been beached just off Harbor Road.

And whenever there’s an astronomical high tide or just a bigger-than-usual weather event, the area floods.

Saugatuck Shores is one of Westport’s most coveted neighborhoods — with real estate prices to match.

That status has come recently. For decades it was a just funky, quirky beachside community.

And — as this 1963 aerial photo shows — there was plenty of room to build.