Category Archives: Friday Flashback

Friday Flashback #123

The other day, town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz moved a Westport Public Art Collection painting from the Parks & Recreation office to Town Hall.

“Up by Daybreak Nursery” — done by noted Westport artist Howard Munce in 1989 — showed the weird Weston Road/Easton Road/Main Street intersection, near Merritt Parkway Exit 42.

On the back, Kathie noticed a few interesting things:


The note on the left — written by Howard in December of 1999 — said:

In 1989 I came upon this scene and quickly went home for my camera.

The locale is at the convergence of Rt. 136 and Rt. 57 — just opposite the Daybreak Nursery.

When former 1st Selectman Bill Seiden saw it he said “Worst traffic situation in town.” Many agree.

Since this painting was done, the nursery has built and planted a mound on the small island that separate the two roads. Also, the Merritt Parkway entrance has been redesigned, causing greater complication at the corner.

Happy motoring. Howard Munce.

Equally fascinating were these “Street Beat” interviews from the December 2, 1999 Minuteman newspaper. The question was: “Which is the most dangerous intersection in Westport?”

On the left, Jim Izzo — owner of Crossroads Ace Hardware — described nearby Main Street and Canal Road. “There is an accident every 2 weeks or so, some kind of fender-bender or something,” he said.

Sid Goldstein nominated Wilton Road and Kings Highway North, because of its narrow turning lane onto Wilton (since improved), and “drivers stop too close to the yellow line on Route 33 heading south” (still an issue).

Nancy Roberts of Wilton said it was the very intersection that Munce had painted: “The merge is laid out so that it confuses people, and not everyone stops properly.”

Todd Woodard — a Tacos or What? employee — thought it was Post Road East, where Roseville and Hillspoint Roads were not aligned properly. Plus, he said, the “big dip” on Roseville makes it hard for visibility. Also the two restaurants’ driveways are poorly placed within the intersection.”

Finally, Chris Cullen — who worked in marketing — pointed to North Compo and the Post Road. “They should make a right turn lane” on North Compo, he said, “because traffic gets backed up very easily.”

Those comments were made 20 years ago. Many are still relevant today.

And probably will be in 2039, too.

Friday Flashback #122

Steve Baldwin took this picture in 1964, and posted it on Facebook:

He thinks it was for the Staples High School yearbook. But he doesn’t remember much else about it.

He has no idea why the “John F. Kennedy Library Hdqs.” sign hangs on Main Street, between Country Gal and the side entrance to the YMCA.

Perhaps, he thinks, it was to raise funds or interest in the library for the president, who had been killed a few months earlier. However, he’s not sure.

If you remember why this sign was there, click “Comments” below. Right now, it’s a Main Street mystery.

Friday Flashback #121

On Christmas Eve, Westporters flock to many different churches.

Methodists will worship on Weston Road. The building is 50 years old, but it still looks beautiful and new.

It’s the successor to several Methodist churches.

The first was built on Poplar Plains, in 1790. It’s near the site of the longtime Three Bears restaurant. Today it’s once more a home of worship — for Chabad.

In the 1850s the Methodists moved to the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Main Street. There’s a law office now, at the tip of what was then a much larger town green.

A new church was built on (appropriately) Church Lane in 1908. In 1966 — to help pay for the move to Weston Road — that building was sold to the church next door, Christ & Holy Trinity. The Episcopalians still own it; it’s been rechristened Seabury Center.

But look at this photo:

The caption says “Saugatuck.”

This is clearly not Seabury Center on Church Lane. But the Myrtle Avenue/Main Street intersection is not in Saugatuck — not by a couple of miles.

Of course, the original name of Westport was “Saugatuck.” We became our own town in 1835 — a couple of decades before the Myrtle Avenue church was built.

Is this that one, simply mislabeled? Was there another Methodist church somewhere in Saugatuck?

And if so, what other churches have we lost? Click “Comments” below.

And whichever you worship at: Merry Christmas!

Friday Flashback #120

Last week’s demolition of the old Positano’s restaurant — remembered by real old-time Westporters as its earlier incarnation, Café de la Plage — evoked a welter of emotions.

It also revived memories of Allen’s Clam House, the other waterfront restaurant in the otherwise residential  neighborhood.

Allen’s was right around the corner, on Sherwood Mill Pond. Built in 1890 by Captain Walter Allen, customers flocked there for seafood — and views — from as far as New York.

Allen’s Clam House, in the 1940s.

It was the go-to place for generations of celebrations — proms, anniversaries, holidays, you name it.

An aerial view of Allen’s Clam House, on the Sherwood Mill Pond. (Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

In 1999, the restaurant and surrounding .83-acre property was up for sale. To protect it from the developers, the town bought it for $1.2 million. Private donations — including $50,000 each from Paul Newman and Harvey Weinstein — defrayed part of the cost.

The restaurant was torn down a few years later. Today — thanks to efforts of Sherry Jagerson, and a group of dedicated volunteers — the land is known as the Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve.

It’s one of Westport’s hidden-in-plain-sight gems. Of course, you can’t buy clams there any more.

But you can bring your own, and have a very fine picnic indeed.

Captain Allen and his wife Lida, in front of the clam house.

Friday Flashback #119

The William F. Cribari Bridge has been in the headlines lately.

For one thing, its future — replace? repair? rehabilitate? — is very much up for debate.

For another, it’s the holiday season — when Al’s Angels’ lovely lights bring smiles to everyone who crosses the span. Even if they’re stuck in traffic on it.

Color photography had not yet been invented in 1910 — the year this “colorized” photo may have been taken.

But the bridge was already more than 20 years old.

And William F. Cribari — the cop who spent years directing traffic at the west end of the bridge, and for whom it was named after his death in 2007, age 88 — had not yet been born.

(Photo courtesy of Seth Schachter)

NOTE: The postcard calls it a “draw bridge.” The Cribari Bridge is, of course, a swing bridge.

Friday Flashback #118

If you grew up in 1950s, ’60s or early ’70s Westport, this photo means everything to you:

If you didn’t, it means nothing.

Vista is a town — or hamlet, I guess — in New York, just past New Canaan.

Vista Market was about 3 yards over the border.

It sold alcohol. So did plenty of places in Fairfield County, of course.*

But back in the day, the drinking age in Connecticut was 21. New York was 18.

You get the picture.

Generations of Westport teenagers spent untold hours racing to Vista, then roaring back.

The winding roads, the dark nights, the beer… it’s a wonder anyone lived to tell the tale.

From 1972 to ’82, Connecticut lowered its age to 18. The idea was to keep kids from making the risky trip to Vista (and Port Chester, an equally dangerous lure).

Another reason: to keep all those tax dollars here.

In 1984, Congress passed an act that effectively raised the national drinking age to 21. (It didn’t say so explicitly. But it punished any state that permitted alcohol purchases and possessions under that age, by reducing federal highway funds by 10%.)

When that happened, Westport teenagers found new, even closer places to buy beer and liquor.**

A generation of kids never knew about Vista Market. It’s been years since I’ve heard anyone mention a “Vista run.”

But somehow, the store survived.

Vista Market is still there.

* Except Wilton. 

** Including several places right here in town.

Friday Flashback #117

Today is Black Friday: the start of the holiday shopping season.

Merchants hope folks flock downtown, jamming Main Street to shop at the many chain stores and less numerous but very cool locally owned ones, then grab a bite at the few places left to eat.

If you want basics, you have to go elsewhere. But back in the day, Main Street was an actual “main street.” It was filled with grocery stores, drugstores, hardware stores: the lifeblood of any town.

Here are 2 photos, from years past.

3 Main Street, near the corner of the Post Road (then called State Street). The building looks the same today, though the tenant is long gone. (Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

Another long-ago business — though the building next door looks almost the same.

Friday Flashback #116

The other day, alert “06880” reader Alan Hamilton was checking out Westport’s Wikipedia page.

He noticed we have 3″sister cities”: Marigny-le-Lozon, France; St Petersburg, Russia, and Yangzhou, China.

I guess we’re one of those families where siblings don’t really communicate. It’s been ages since we’ve chatted with our French, Russian and Chinese sisters!

But Alan wanted a closer relationship. He took a virtual drive — aka Google Street View — through Marigny.

And there — smack in the center of town — he saw this:

“Pharmacie Westport”!

He wondered if there is a story to this.

Bien sûr!

Right after D-Day in 1944, Westporter Bob Loomis — a gun sergeant — ended up in Marigny. It’s just 25 miles from Utah Beach.

A couple of weeks later another Westporter — heavy machine gunner Clay Chalfant — moved through Marigny with his company on their way to Belgium.

Woody Klein’s history of Westport notes that after the war Charlotte MacLear — head of the French department at Staples High School — sparked a campaign to “officially adopt Marigny” and help its recovery.

Our town sent clothes, money and Christmas gifts, thanks to fundraising that included selling toys and buckets with designs painted by Westport artists.

In return, Marigny created the “Westport School Canteen,” and named the town’s largest square “Place Westport.”

In June 1994 — as part of the 50th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy — Marigny invited 3 Westport middle school students and 2 Westport veterans to stay in the homes of residents. They visited “Westport Gift Shop” and — of course — “Pharmacie Westport.”

The 2 veterans were, of course,  Loomis and Chalfant

Zut alors!

Marigny – c’est magnifique!

Friday Flashback #115

At first glance, Fred Cantor’s 1976 photo of downtown Westport seems timeless.

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

The facades on Post Road East look very familiar. More than 40 years later, little has changed.

But look closely. So much is different now.

Three spaces — all in a row — tell the story of downtown Westport, then and now.

Fine Arts Theaters I and II (and their companions, III on Jesup Road and IV a short way east) drew scores of people after dark. They came early for dinner. They had drinks afterward. They window-shopped. They made downtown a destination.

Next door, Fine Art Supplies — rechristened a few years later as Max’s — was much more than a place to pick up watercolors, easels and brushes. It was the center of Westport’s bustling, creative, supportive arts community. World-renowned artists shared stories and secrets. Aspiring painters and illustrators met mentors. Window displays proudly showed Westport’s talent to everyone passing by.

And next door to Max’s stood Schaefer’s Sporting Goods. It catered to an entirely different clientele: jocks. But high school students found a home here too. They bought soccer cleats, bats and skis, sure. But they also hung out. Tip and Charlie Schaefer told them stories, offered tips, and gave them their first jobs.

In short, there were reasons to go downtown. There were things to buy, places to feel comfortable in, people to meet.

All day long, and after dark.

If you’ve got memories of the Fine Arts Theater, Max’s, Schaefer’s — or any other place downtown — click “Comments” below.

Friday Flashback #114

Last weekend’s nor’easter brought flooding — again — to many parts of town. Main Street was spared this time.

Downtown was not so lucky last month, though. Torrential downpours on consecutive Tuesdays sent water pouring into stores on both side of the road.

Merchants and shoppers think these floods happen more frequently these days.

Perhaps.

But there’s no doubt that flooding on Main Street is not new.

Alert “06880” reader James Gray sent this photo. It was taken at 2 p.m. on August 31, 1954. Hurricane Carol had just roared through town. Packing winds of 110 miles an hour, it headed toward landfall in eastern Connecticut.

The sun was already out in Westport. But — in a ritual as unwelcome in 2018 as in 1954 — the cleanup had just begun.