I’ve always been fascinated by what Westport looked like before I-95 (known then as the Connecticut Turnpike or “the thruway”) came through in the mid-1950s.
Now I’ve seen some tantalizing glimpses.
Cliff Cuseo posted a 7 1/2-minute video on Facebook. It’s a digitized (in color!) version of home movies, taken at various points during construction.
The opening shots look vaguely familiar, but I can’t place them. Perhaps they’re part of Saugatuck — near Exit 17? — that has since been demolished, to make way for the road.
Where was this taken?
But — in addition to showing work on the Saugatuck River bridge and the road itself — there are glimpses of Riverside Avenue (including the long-gone Gault oil tanks), and the Hales Road/Greens Farms area.
Riverside Avenue, and the Gault tanks. The Bridge Street (now Cribari) Bridge is at top left.
Construction near Greens Farms Road, and the new Hales Road bridge.
There’s also the aftermath of a scary truck accident, on what seems like a lunar landscape.
The movie captures scenes we take for granted today, in a unique way. But I’d still love to see film of Saugatuck — that thriving, compact and close-knit village — before the earth-movers arrived.
Everyone remembers their first job. Staples High School Class of 1963 graduate David Grant — now a California resident — remembers his.
As far back as I can remember, my parents loved playing tennis.
My father and his regulars played doubles from 9 to 11 every Saturday and Sunday morning. My mother played singles with her friends. Now and then my folks played mixed doubles, but that was usually only for a tournament.
My mother, the clothing designer, wore her Midge Grant tennis dresses. My father wore a white t-shirt and sharkskin shorts.
They played at the Doubleday courts next to what was then Staples High School on Riverside Avenue (now Saugatuck Elementary School). The pro was Freeman Marshall; everyone called him Doc. I started taking lessons from him when I was 10, and continued for several years. Doc Marshall was also my high school tennis coach.
The Doubleday tennis courts are behind PJ Romano Field (formerly Doubleday Field) at Saugatuck Elementary School. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)
The Doubleday courts were made of clay. They take much more maintenance then asphalt or concrete. They have to be watered regularly and get a weekly dose of calcium chloride so they don’t dry out. They needed to be rolled often, brushed daily, and lines had to be painted on as needed.
Doc Marshall hired me when I was 14 to help maintain the courts. I rode my bike 3 or 4 miles to the courts, arriving (if I was on time) by 7:30 to get the courts ready for each day’s play. At first my lines were a little squiggly, and needed to be straightened. After a while, perfect.
In 1957 — several years before David Grant entered Staples — the tennis team posed with Coach Doc Marshall (standing, far right).
There was a tennis shack at Doubleday. We took reservations, set up tournament pairings, sold tennis balls and soft drinks, and strung racquets. Eventually I took over most of these chores while Doc was on the courts teaching. I kept my job for 8 summers, earning $80 a week — a king’s ransom to me.
As I got older I was also allowed to teach, from 12 to 1 each day and 6 to 8 in the evenings. For that I charged $6 per half hour.
After I’d been working at the courts for several years, Doc hired my best friend Jerry Keneally to help with the work of the courts and shack. It was so great for us to work together and play tennis into the dark after everyone went home. I had the greatest job and the most fun imaginable.
David Grant’s 1963 Staples High School tennis team.
When there was little to do I would pick up trash, or hit balls against a practice wall. Quite often someone would need someone to play with or fill in a fourth for doubles, and there I was.
There was an artist named David Levine, best known for his caricatures. You could see his works regularly in the New York Review of Books. David spent summers in Westport. One day he asked me to hit with him, then on to a set of tennis. I played right-handed, David Levine left-handed. We played, I won.
David challenged me to switch hands, so in our second set I played left-handed and won again. My reward was a trip to his studio in Brooklyn to pick out one of his artworks called “Spies.” Almost 55 years later, I still have it.
“Gatsby in Connecticut” is garnering plenty of attention. The New Yorker called the film about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Westport sojourn “one of the best of 2020.” Thanks to Amazon Prime, plenty of folks have seen — and enjoyed — it.
F. Scott and Zelda arrived here in the early days of Prohibition. From all indications, Westporters paid about as much attention to the booze ban as my generation did to weed laws.
Apparently, our town had a long history with drink. Seth Schachter found this postcard from 1912. Liquor was legal. But it looks like Westport went way beyond a drink or two.
And no, this is not just any “West Port.” The message on the other side is postmarked here.
This could be one of my favorite “old Westport” photos ever. And not just because it shows the spot where I live today.
Westport Country Playhouse public relations manager Pat Blaufuss found it in the archives. There is no photographer’s credit, but it’s dated 1969.
There’s the Playhouse, midway up the right side of the photo. (Click on or hover over to enlarge). It’s been modernized, but looks pretty much the same.
Saugatuck Congregational Church on the left has not changed much. Neither have the gas stations: the one that is now Quality just east of the church, and the (now) Mobil across the Post Road. The buildings with (among others) Winslow Park Animal Hospital were there then too (lower right).
But the rest of the area is unrecognizable.
The big Victorian at the top was the Pine Knoll Inn. It was demolished in the early 1980s, making way for Playhouse Square and the Playhouse Condominiums behind it.
The long rectangular building with a white facade directly opposite the gas pumps was a car wash. I’m not sure what the white building set back from the Post Road in the entrance to Pine Knoll was, though I dimly recall the original Viva Zapata’s restaurant being somewhere around there.
And the smaller white structure to the immediate right of the Quality (then Tydol, later Getty) gas station, on the Post Road?
Originally a Dairy Queen, in the 1960’s it became the Crest Drive-In. It was a classic hangout for Staples students, a place for guys to show off their cars and girls to get guys to pay for their burgers.
Eventually the Crest gave way to Sam Goody, Alphagraphics and Qdoba. Today it sits as empty as the lot behind it was, that day in 1969 when an unknown photographer took this time capsule shot.
This month, Anthropologie is decorated for the holidays. Even — especially? — in these COVID times, the old Tudor building looks inviting and warm.
But for most of its life, the handsome structure at Westport’s major downtown intersection was the YMCA.
Built by E.T. Bedford in 1923 to replace the Westport Hotel, the new Y featured reading and writing rooms, pool tables and bowling alleys.
A year later — during what seems to be late fall or early spring — this is what the YMCA looked like.
(Photo courtesy of Seth Schachter)
There was plenty of parking. A small sign at the top of the photo warned trolley conductors to go slowly.
The Y did not occupy the entire building. The far eastern portion — the section closest to Church Lane — housed Westport’s downtown fire department. If you click on or hover over the image to enlarge it, you can see the bay doors.
Judging by this photo, fire trucks had no problem roaring through downtown traffic en route to calls.
Last Sunday’s Photo Challenge showed the eagle on the front of Brandy Melville, on Main Street. Tons of readers responded with memories of what that building has been in years past — among others, a jewelry store, ice cream shop, crystal store, salon and travel agency. It was connected on the 2nd floor to Chez Pierre, a popular French restaurant next door.
But only Jill Turner Odice sent an illustration.
Judging from the car, it’s 1964. Judging from the view, it’s timeless.
“Westport … A Special Place” is the gift that keeps on giving.
Written and compiled by Eve Potts, and designed by Howard Munce, the Westport Historical Society project is filled with amazing local photos from a time long gone.
Speaking of gifts: Here’s an image from the book. It’s Christmas 1888, “at the seaside estate that became Longshore.”
I have no idea who any of these people are. But all have stories.
What are their relationships with each other? Why is the plump guy at the lower left not looking at the camera? Is there an infant in the carriage? How come they all seem so solemn? (Even the “Merry Christmas” sign looks stern.) Are the kids on the top step planning something? Is the boy at the far left slyly pointing to the statute? Whose dog is it? Who knew that people in 1888 even had pets?
This is a wonderful look back at a Westport Christmas, 132 years ago. In 2152, when our descendants see an image of Christmas 2020, what will they think?
I know the first question: “Why did they all wear masks?!”
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