Category Archives: Looking back

29 North Avenue: Big Story Behind Small House Rehab

Westport is known for big — okay, gargantuan — homes.

But one of the smallest is also one of our most beloved.

#29 North Avenue — the tiny saltbox just south of Staples High School, which juts almost into the sidewalk — has long been an object of admiration (and curiosity).

29 North Avenue, in 2014.

There’s some dispute about its history. It dates, in some form, to the 1770s.

Jacques Voris — a descendant of the area’s famous Mills family — says it was built by Revolutionary War veteran John Mills (1760-1829) for his daughter Charity and her new husband Hezekiah Mills (a cousin).

Charity Mills — who lived to be over 100 — had 13 children, “all born in that Mills homestead” on what was then called Eleven O’clock Highway.

Jacques’ research shows it was constructed in the right of way — without title to land. In fact, John seemed to have no claim to the spot whatsoever. Nevertheless, he set up a blacksmith shop for his daughter and son-in-law.

In 1950, a local newspaper described it as built before the Revolutionary War. It featured a huge chimney; “Indians” sometimes seated themselves before the fireplace.

Other sources say the house was built in the 1830s, using beams from the original kitchen of a previous dwelling on the site.

At any rate: It’s old. And in recent years it was vacant, mouse-infested and deteriorating.

An investment group bought it, in foreclosure. When they listed it for sale (at the lowest price of any property in town), potential buyers lined up. All wanted to tear it down and build a new home — just like the ones behind it on Greystone Farms Road, which in the 1990s replaced the orchards and fields behind it.

Never mind that #29 North Avenue stood on a small, awkward piece of land that would make rebuilding difficult and costly (and require numerous zoning variances).

The barn at 29 North Avenue. (Photo/Michelle Perillie)

Annette Norton — who’d grown up in Fairfield, always loved Main Street, and after opening the funky, eclectic Savvy + Grace helped revitalize downtown — had other ideas.

She saw promise in the 930-square foot house. Despite dark rooms, a cramped kitchen and ugly 1970s tiles, she loved its charm.

And she knew it had potential.

As the pandemic raged — and her store remained closed — Annette bought the house.

Most contractors were slammed with work, on much bigger projects. She found Javier Pasato, who shared her passion.

“It was disgusting,” Annette says of the condition of the house. Mice feces dropped from the ceiling. There was termite damage throughout. Even the insulation was gone.

Together, they embarked on a year-long, top-to-bottom renovation/ rehabilitation project.

29 North Avenue, today.

They’re not architects or interior designers — but you wouldn’t know it from their work.

They refinished the floors, retiled the kitchen, opened up a skylight to the second floor, combined 2 closets to make a new bathroom, and used lighter paint (and new windows on the door) to brighten the interior.

The 2 bathrooms blend old and new.

They removed sheetrock, exposing original beams. Annette found a historic fireplace mantel in Bozrah. She and her daughter Chloe drove there; Javier then installed it, replacing bricks installed by a previous owner.

Fireplace before (left) and after. Note the narrow staircase, and refinished floors.

They repaired the cedar roof, replaced the siding, fixed the pipes, added central air conditioning, and installed energy-efficient windows.

The kitchen is small. But with restored tiles, a skylight and a serving island, it works well.

Every inch of the small house makes sense. A reading nook hides the air conditioning unit; hooks on the wall work in place of a coat closet.

From hooks to storage under drawers, Annette Norton takes advantage of every available inch. Original beams and white paint give the small, historic space a bright look.

Outside, the stone wall dating back to the original Mills masons was rebuilt. (Annette constructed a new one nearby too — herself — using leftover stones.) There are new entertainment areas outside in back and front, with heat lamps.

Everyone driving by — and that means everyone in Westport — notices all the changes. That’s because the exterior is painted a welcoming white, and Annette removed the imposing, deteriorating fence that half-hid the house.

She moved in in August. “I understand why people like tiny homes,” she says. “My life is so much easier. When I lived in a 3,000-square foot Colonial, I spent every weekend cleaning. Now it’s just an hour.”

The barn is Annette Norton’s next renovation project.

She’s not the only one who loves her house. A constant stream of passersby — drivers, joggers, walkers — thank her.

“Great colors!” one person said. “It looks so bright!”

“It’s beautiful. Such charm!” another added.

Some people even knock on her door. That’s a bit intrusive.

New front door, with entertainment area.

Annette has given everyone who lives or drives on North Avenue a gift. But it hasn’t been easy. Along the way, she doubted what she was doing.

Annette had similar thoughts when she opened Savvy + Grace. That space too had needed plenty of work.

One day, a sparrow flew into the store. It took a while to shoo it out. Someone who watched it happen told Annette that sparrows — though tiny — have survived a long time, against larger birds of prey.

“When you see one, it reminds you that even if you feel small, you’ll make it,” the woman said.

In the midst of both COVID and renovation, a sparrow flew into #29 North Avenue. That was a sign, Annette thought, that eventually everything would be okay.

Soon, she found a small wooden sparrow. Javier installed it at the top of her bannister. Every day, it reminds Annette that despite whatever else is happening — with both her store and her home — her life will work out fine.

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The sparrow, at the top of the stairs. (All photos courtesy of Annette Norton)


Edward T. Bedford’s Legacy: Westport Y Turns 100

In 1864, Edward T. Bedford was 15 years old. He stood outside the Westport Hotel — a wooden building on the corner of State Street (the Post Road) and Main Street — watching men play pool. He could not go inside, “on account of the saloon.”

Edward T. Bedford.

Decades later, Bedford was a wealthy man. He had become a broker of lubricating oils for railroads, and helped chemist Robert Chesebrough sell his new product, Vaseline. He was a director of Standard Oil, and associated with many other very successful companies.

He still lived in Greens Farms, where he was born. Recalling his years outside the Westport Hotel — and knowing the town needed “some place for boys and young men to congregate” — he announced in 1919 plans for a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).

He had a perfect place, too: The Westport Hotel. It was the same spot, in the heart of town, where half a century earlier he’d been denied entrance.

Bedford spent $150,000 on the Tudor-style building. It would be a place to exercise one’s body, and mind. It included reading and writing rooms, bowling alleys, a gymnasium — and of course, pool tables. (Bedford also financed a new firehouse next door on Church Lane, designed in the same Tudor style.)

The Westport YMCA.

The Westporter-Herald called the YMCA dedication on September 5, 1923 “second to none in the history of the town. Not since the day of the official opening of Westport’s new bridge over the Saugatuck River has there been anywhere near as great a gathering as notables, both local and out of town.”

The Bedford building lobby.

Connecticut Governor Charles E. Templeton was there. He pointed to Bedford, noting that while he did not have “the opportunities the young men of today … he didn’t smoke or wile his hours away; he didn’t stay up until midnight, not at all, but instead went to bed early and then was fresh for the tasks of the day to follow.”

Much has happened in the 100 years since. Several years after it opened, Bedford donated a pool. During World War II, boys walked the short distance from Staples High School on Riverside Avenue (now Saugatuck Elementary School) to learn how to jump off flaming ships into the sea.

An early YMCA youth basketball team.

In 1944, Y leaders searching for space for a day camp for boys found 30 acres of woods and fields along the Saugatuck River, near the new Merritt Parkway’s Exit 41.

Frederick T. Bedford — Edward’s son — said that his Bedford Fund would pay half the purchase price, if the town raised the other half. Within a few weeks Y leaders had collected $10,000. The Bedford Fund matched it.

Camp Bedford opened. At Frederick Bedford’s request in 1946, the name was changed to Mahackeno.

In 1953, Westport artist Stevan Dohanos used Camp Mahackeno for this Saturday Evening Post cover.

As Westport grew in the post-war years, so did the YMCA. The downtown building became an unofficial teen center, hosting everything from the Downshifters hot rod club to Mrs. Comer’s ballroom dance classes. (Y membership was eventually open to girls, too — as well as families, and senior citizens.)

In the 1970s and ’80s the Y added a new pool. Lucie Bedford Cunningham Warren and Ruth Bedford — granddaughters of the founder — provided $200,000 through the Bedford Fund to acquire the fire station, and convert it into a 2-story fitness center. (The brass pole stayed.)

There were squash courts, and other games upstairs. (Paul Newman was an avid badminton player.)

But the downtown quarters grew cramped. Y directors looked for new space, in places like the Baron’s South property. A protracted battle — legal, political, even involving the character of downtown and the Y’s responsibility to it — eventually ended.

The YMCA built a 54,000-square foot full-service facility — “The Bedford Family Center” — on a portion of its Mahackeno property. It opened in 2014, thanks in part to financial support from Lucie McKinney and Briggs Cunningham III — Edward T. Bedford’s great-grandchildren.

The Bedford Family Center, 2014.

Helping guide the construction process as members of the Y’s governing boards were 2 of Lucie’s children, John McKinney and Libby McKinney Tritschler. They’re the 5th generation Bedford’s involved with the organization.

Since then, the Y has added a gymnastics center, and more fitness rooms. They’ve upgraded nearby Camp Mahackeno. And they were stunned to receive a $40 million endowment from the estate of Ruth Bedford.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA — today’s official name — used a portion of the bequest to establish the Bedford Family Social Responsibility Fund, to continue developing youth, promoting healthy living and fostering social responsibility.

All of which is a long way of saying: Happy 100th anniversary, Westport Y!

Officials have planned a year of celebrations. Highlights include:

Share Your Stories: Members and the community are invited to share Y stories, memories and photos. They’ll be featured on the anniversary web page.

100 Faces of My Y”: a project for youth to create self-portraits in the medium of their choice, for display in and around the facilities.

Healthy Kids Day (April 29): a free initiative celebrated at Ys across the country. with fun activities, healthy snack demos, food trucks, sports lessons, games, art, and free t-shirts for the first 200 children.

The 7th Annual Golf Tournament (May 22, Aspetuck Valley Country Club, Weston): A fundraiser for the Y’s financial assistance program.

100-Year Anniversary Gala (“Sneaker Ball,” October 6, Mahackeno Outdoor Center): Donations and sponsors will fund financial assistance to under-resourced families and those in need. In 2022, $746,000 was awarded to over 400 families.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA is no longer limited to young Christian men.

The world has changed since Edward T. Bedford stood outside a hotel — and then bought it, to build both a building and a legacy.

If the next 100 years are anything like the last, our Y will continue to grow, evolve — and impact countless lives.

A relic from the Y’s downtown days. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Michael Friedman’s Rock Photos: “Exposed”

Michael Friedman has done a lot in his 78 years.

The Staples High School Class of 1961 graduate produced “Hello, It’s Me.” He managed Todd Rundgren and Kris Kristofferson — as well as (with Albert Grossman) the careers of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, The Band, Odetta, and Peter Paul & Mary. He did publicity for the Dave Clark 5 and Herman’s Hermits.

He sold Americana and folk art. He owned the Ash Creek Saloons in Fairfield and Norwalk, along with Darien’s Goose restaurant.

With such varied careers — and so much going on — he could be forgiven for losing the negatives of photos he took half a century ago.

They were not random snapshots of the Friedman family at the beach, or their naked newborn in a bathtub.

These were up close, personal — and superb — shots of some of the biggest names in the music world.

Mick Jagger (Photo copyright Michael Friedman)

The Stones. Janis Joplin. The Band. Johnny Winter. Gordon Lightfoot. James Cotton. Ian and Sylvia. All are artists Friedman worked with in the 1960s.

In 2016, his wife Donna stumbled upon them. They’re remarkable — not just for their power and professionalism, but because they’re atypical musician images.

They’re much more human. Freidman took his photos as a friend, not a “photographer.”

But he was a damn good one, for sure.

Friedman spent several months printing, restoring and mounting the photos.

He displayed them at a pop-up gallery the next year, in Bedford Square. Developer David Waldman offered him the space, after seeing one photo and hearing his stories.

Janis Joplin (Photo copyright Michael Friedman)

The show was well received. The photos were shipped to the California Heritage Museum, then to a year-long exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Attendees in LA and Cleveland repeated what Westport gallery-goers said: Michael should compile them into a book.

More than 5 years later, that daunting project is almost complete.

“Exposed: The Lost Negatives and Untold Stories of Michael Friedman” is in the Kickstarter phase — almost ready to print. Many of the 100 photos have never been seen — not even in the photographer’s shows. They’re accompanied by essays and explanatory text.

It was a long process. One of the hardest parts was figuring out exactly where each photo was taken, and when.

Donna spent many of hours researching. For example, a shot of an outdoor concert with Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge looked like a college — but there were no records they performed outside, on a campus.

Finally, Donna saw a photo online of a building that matched one in the background. The site: Columbia University.

Friedman also had no idea where he took a well-composed image showing a mother, child, VW bus and police officers.

Eventually, he and his wife realized the police officers were not Americans. They followed that rabbit hole all the way to the 1970 Festival Express in Toronto. They found a documentary film from 2003, which showed the same scaffolding behind the bus.

Friedman’s essays complement the photos. They are short but insightful portraits of nearly everyone he’s met in the music industry, from mega-stars to mighta-beens.

The essays also provide context for his life — including his introduction to rock music, as a Westport boy growing up in the 1950s.

He describes Mike Borchetta, the Staples High School student who brought Bo Diddley and Harvey & the Moonglows to town (and who asked 15-year-old Friedman to take over as drummer, when the Moonglows’ percussionist passed out drunk).

Harvey & the Moonglows gave Michael Friedman a signed photo. Leader Harvey Fuqua told their stand-in drummer: “Mike, you count to 4 good for a white boy.”

Friedman writes about his time with Westport’s first rock band, the Schemers (with lead singer Barry Tashian, later of the Remains).

Prodded by Donna, he brings the reader into the photos. “People want to know what it was like to be 25 years old in 1968 — in the middle of the music business,” he says. “I want them to take the journey with me.”

But it’s the photos that take center stage. The Stones on stage. Janis Joplin chatting in a hallway. Todd Rundgren in the studio. Levon Helm being Levon.

Michael Friedman with a photo of Levon Helm, legendary drummer for The Band.

Those images fill the 233 pages of “Exposed.”

Michael gives his wife — who found the negatives in the first place — credit as “curator, director, producer, editor, consultant and psychiatrist” for the project. “She had a clear picture in her mind, of how to put it all together.”

Unwilling to cede creative control to an agent or publisher, the Friedmans are self-publishing.

It’s a risky — and costly — venture. But it’s in fitting with Michael’s multi-varied career.

And his personal philosophy, honed in the music business and articulated by his longtime friend Kris Kristofferson: “By not having to live up to other people’s expectations, I was somehow free.”

(To see the Kickstarter page for “Exposed,” click here.)

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Roundup: Oka Mural, Ukraine Coats, Joggers Club Jr.,

The other day, alert reader Peter Gold noticed that the mural of long-ago Westporters that once hung behind the Banana Republic register — and before that, Klein’s Department store and, way earlier, the Townly restaurant — is gone.

I guessed that Oka — the British furniture and home accessories retailer that moved in right before Christmas — had no idea of its provenance. I also guessed that an email to their headquarters would yield no response.

Surprise! I got this quick reply:

Thanks for reaching out! The beautiful, historic mural has been well-preserved behind a purposely constructed wall that is papered in grasscloth. If you ever stop by the showroom, the manager, Susan Benedetti, would be happy to show you where it is. Hope this helps!

I emailed back, wondering why it no longer hangs where the public can see it.

So far: crickets.

Judging from the video below, there’s no room amid the “timeless” décor for this perhaps time-worn artifact of history.


For the past 2 week, the Westport Winter Farmers’ Market has collected coats, mittens and more for Ukrainian relief.

Shoppers donated generously. In fact, co-organizer Mark Yurkiw says, “Thanks to everyone, we need a bigger truck!”

With donations at the Westport Farmers’ Market, at Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center (from left): Farmers’ Market director Lori Cochran-Dougall, organizer Mark Yurkiw, 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Wynne Vaast, who brought many bags from L.L. Bean and his employer, Ring’s End.


Sure, it was chilly at Compo Beach yesterday.

But more than 160 employees of Synchrony, the Stamford financial services company — including CEO Brian Doubles — plunged into the 39-degree water.

It was a charity event, for the benefit of Westport-based global community of 30 camps and programs for children living with serious illnesses, and their families. Synchrony employees raised and matched more than $180,000 to the non-profit.

Synchrony says: Everyone into (and out of) the water!


The Joggers Club Jr. returns this spring.

Once again, kindergarteners through 8th graders will learn the basics of running from experts — and have fun, with friends.

Instructors include Coach Alex, who just ran his personal record marathon (2:55). He’s a founding coach at Central Park Running Club, the fastest-growing run club in New York.

Coach Brenn is a collegiate cross country and track athlete.  His post-college PRs include a 4:49 mile, 1:22 half marathon and 3:08 marathon.  He previously trained with the elite Central Park Track Club.

Coach Dave has competed in 13 Half Ironmans,12 Olympic triathlons, 4 marathons and 1 Ironman. He is a cycle instructor at Equinox Fitness in New York, and runs competitively for Central Park Running Club.

Coach Skye is a graduate of The Joggers Club Jr. She placed second in her age group in the 2022 Minute Man 10k, and has competed in every Turkey Trot since she was 9.

The camp takes places Sundays from 2 to 3:15 p.m., from April 23 to June 11 at the Staples High School track. It is limited to 40 runners.

Before March 1, the fee is $49 for Joggers Club members, $99 for non-members. Venmo @CPRCandTJC (include name, age and shirt size of participant). Then go to, and complete the waiver under the “Members” tab.


Laurie Sorensen got her ducks in a row recently at Compo Beach’s South Beach, for today’s “Westport … Naturally” image.

(Photo/Laurie Sorensen)


And finally … the legendary Burt Bacharach died Wednesday, in Los Angeles. He was 94.

The New York Times calls him “the debonair pop composer, arranger, conductor, record producer and occasional singer whose hit songs in the 1960s distilled that decade’s mood of romantic optimism….

“A die-hard romantic whose mature style might be described as Wagnerian lounge music, Mr. Bacharach fused the chromatic harmonies and long, angular melodies of late-19th-century symphonic music with modern, bubbly pop orchestration, and embellished the resulting mixture with a staccato rhythmic drive. His effervescent compositions epitomized sophisticated hedonism to a generation of young adults only a few years older than the Beatles.

“Because of the high gloss and apolitical stance of the songs Mr. Bacharach wrote with his most frequent collaborator, the lyricist Hal David, during an era of confrontation and social upheaval, they were often dismissed as little more than background music by listeners who preferred the hard edge of rock or the intimacy of the singer-songwriter genre. But in hindsight, the Bacharach-David team ranks high in the pantheon of pop songwriting.” (Click here for a full obituary.)

His most famous songs may be “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” and “That’s What Friends Are For.”

Here are a few of my favorites. What are yours? Click “Comments” below.

(Speaking of “That’s What Friends Are For”: Please consider a donation to “06880,” your hyper-local blog. Click here — and thank you!)

COVID Claims Another Victim: State Cleaners

State Cleaners opened in 1954. It’s older than Mitchells or Gold’s — 2 of Westport’s most famous family-owned businesses.*

But COVID dealt a ferocious blow to dry cleaners everywhere. Yesterday — buffeted by declining business, and under pressure from his landlord — owner Arnold Raclyn closed State Cleaners as a brick-and-mortar store. He’ll concentrate now entirely on pickup and delivery.

It’s the end of an era.

Raclyn’s grandfather, Abraham Zavidow, opened State Cleaners on the corner of Imperial Avenue and the Post Road (then called State Street — thus the name) during Dwight Eisenhower’s first full year as president.

He already owned 30 dry cleaners in Manhattan, all served from a plant in Yonkers. When the industry developed smaller machines, so cleaning could be done right inside stores, Zavidow branched out.

He, his son and son-in-law opened dry cleaners in Westchester, Long Island and Connecticut. Westport was beginning its post-war boom; the location near downtown (at the site of a former grocery store) was perfect.

State Cleaners in 2019. (Photo/Dave Matlow for WestportNow)

Zavidow’s father ran the Westport store. He died at 48 in 1967, of a heart attack on his way home from work. His brother Herb — Raclyn’s uncle — took over, and ran it for 20 years.

State Cleaners flourished. Mitchells was next door, in Colonial Green. Herb and Ed Mitchell became friends. The cleaners’ tailor took care of the men’s store overflow work.

Arnold Raclyn was at the University of Cincinnati when his father died. He went into menswear sales, but wanted his own business. In 1992 he bought the Westport store.

Business was good for many years. But the 2009 recession was difficult; so was competition for new dry cleaners.

In the fall of 2019, a rent increase forced Raclyn to move. He found a smaller space a block away, in the back of 180 Post Road East (next to De Tapas).

Lacking an in-store plant, Raclyn partnered with a friend in White Plains to handle the actual cleaning.

A few months after the move, COVID struck. Immediately, business plummeted by 85%.

“Most of my customers were commuters — business executives, financial people, lawyers. They dressed up all the time,” Raclyn says.

“Now they were working at home. If they had to wash something, they did it there.”

In addition, Westporters also stopped going out for entertainment.

Slowly, people are now going back to the office — part time. Often though, they don’t wear traditional “office clothes.”

And though they go out more, they’re not dressing up as much for that either.

For the past year or so, business has been just half what it was pre-pandemic. Across the nation, many dry cleaners have gone out of business, or downsized.

When COVID hit, Raclyn’s landlord gave him a break. That — plus PPP money, and a Small Business Administration loan — allowed him to pay his employees, and cover the reduced rent.

This fall, the landlord asked for full rent. Raclyn requested an extension of the verbal agreement through February, to see if business picked up.

The landlord said no. Raclyn had to leave by January 31 — and take everything with him.

Raclyn says the electric conveyor and rail system is attached to the floor, ceiling and walls. A specialized technician is needed to remove it. The earliest he could come, with his crew of 4, was the weekend of February 11-12.

The landlord then demanded full rent through February — plus back rent. Raclyn scraped together money to cover October through January. That wiped him out he says.

On Tuesday — January 31 — Raclyn removed everything except the conveyor system. He left State Cleaners broom clean, and locked the door.

State Cleaners, yesterday.

Still, he says, the landlord wants February rent — and all other back rent, from all those COVID months. The matter is now being handled by attorneys.

The few customers who heard the news of the closing are glad Raclyn will still be there for them, via pickup and delivery. He’ll start next week.

It’s a new chapter, after 31 years for Raclyn in Westport — and nearly 70 for the cleaners.

“I’m sorry this happened,” he says. “I grew up as a kid in that store, and I’ve been there so long.

“I love the people here. My biggest regret is losing that personal contact. That hurts more than anything.

“But I’ll do some of the van driving, so I hope I can still see some of them.”

State Cleaners’ prices for pickup and delivery will be the same as in-store. All work is still guaranteed.

To arrange for dry cleaning, call 203-227-7765. For many customers, that’s a familiar number.

For Raclyn, it means even more. It’s the same phone number (though “227” was originally “CApital 7”) that State Cleaners has had since it opened, on State Street East — back when Eisenhower was president, the Dodgers were in Brooklyn, and in-store dry cleaning was a hot new thing.

PS: What’s going in at the former State Cleaners, at 180 Post Road East? You guessed it: a nail salon.

*Gault — dating back to 1863 — is in a stratosphere of its own.  And Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center was founded in 1922.

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Westport’s Private Benjamin

Westport has long been proud of World War II veterans like Leonard Everett Fisher and Joe Schachter, and the late Ted Diamond and Howard Munce.

We honor them on Memorial Day. We listen to and read recollections of their service. We thank them often (though probably not enough).

We’ve done none of that for Ben Pepper.

He was a paratrooper. He earned a Purple Heart at the Battle of the Bulge. He’s lived in Westport since 1958.

Yet we’ve never seen him on Memorial Day. Most of us have never heard his name.

That’s his decision. He has chosen never to march or ride in the May parade. He still has his medals, his dog tag, his photos — and his Army jacket — but he has always been low-key about them.

Ben Pepper, yesterday. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Perhaps this Memorial Day — less than 2 months before his 100th birthday — that will change.

Westport would be honored to honor him. He lives in his longtime home — alone, after his wife Frances died — and has nearly a century of stories to tell.

Yesterday — sitting in his son David and daughter-in-law Gail’s Wilton Road house — he told some of them.

Pepper’s parents came from Austria-Hungary. His father had a window cleaning route.

Pepper was born on July 5, 1923 in the Bronx. He grew up near the Grand Concourse.

Ben Pepper, on his bar mitzvah day.

After graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School, he headed to aeronautical school at La Guardia Airport.

But World War II was underway. He was soon drafted, and ordered to report to Grand Central Terminal on New Year’s Day, 1943.

(His younger brother Armand enlisted — without his parents’ permission. His mother brought him home. When he was old enough he joined the Army Air Forces, and served in the South Pacific. He is 97, and lives in Naples, Florida.)

Pepper was sent first to Fort Dix, then to a new tank training center at Camp Hood in Texas. He felt unsuited to tank operations, and asked for a transfer.

He got one: to paratrooper school at Fort Benning, Georgia.

“I was 19. I didn’t know what I was getting into,” Pepper says.

Ben Pepper: in the Army.

After stops in North Carolina and Maryland, his 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment was sent to Northern Ireland, then Sherwood Forest in England.

Pepper would have been part of D-Day. But he had broken his back on an earlier jump, and was in a near-full body cast.

Many of his fellow paratroopers never made it home that June day.

He recuperated in time for another important, gruesome battle: The Bulge. But on Christmas Day, 1945, his flight to France crashed on takeoff. Everyone survived.

Instead he was driven to the Ardennes forest, between Belgium and Luxembourg.

“There was a lot of shooting,” he remembers.

A German shell hit the edge of his foxhole, but did not explode. Ten minutes later, a fellow soldier stood up in the same foxhole. A bullet killed him instantly.

Pepper got frostbite in the brutal cold — his rifle was frozen too — and earned a Purple Heart for it.

Ben Pepper’s Purple Heart, dog tag and other mementoes. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Soon, he was assigned to guard a former German schnapps factory. “We were 20-year-old kids, with all the booze you’d want,” he laughs.

After Pepper’s discharge in October 1945, he answered an ad to be a photographer. “Why not?” he figured.

That started a long career. In 1953 he opened his own studio — Allyn — on Atlantic Street in Stamford. By then he’d met and married Frances; their son David was 5.

Ben Pepper (center left) and fellow members of his photography school class.

Pepper also opened liquor stores, in Stamford and Norwalk. Frances started her own Kitty Closet shops on Westport Avenue in Norwalk.

In 1958 they bought property on what was then Blue Ribbon Farm, on North Avenue just past Cross Highway. They built a home on what is now Blue Ribbon Lane. He’s lived there ever since.

Ben Pepper, back in the day.

In 1960 the Peppers helped build Temple Israel on Coleytown Road. They spent the rest of their married life raising David (a Staples Class of 1966 graduate), traveling (including China before it opened to the West, the USSR, Africa and Asia), and working.

David and Gail have 2 children, both Staples graduates. They’ve given Pepper 3 great-grandchildren.

All would be proud to see “Private Benjamin” Pepper be honored at Westport’s Memorial Day parade.

He’s not so sure.

“My jacket wouldn’t fit,” he protests.

It would. Pepper is in great shape.

And Westporters of all ages would be inspired to salute him in it.

(Hat tip: Arlene Yolles)

Compo Shopping Center: Behind The Reveal

Rick Hoag has always liked the “quirky, ’50s-’60s feel” of Compo Shopping Center.

So when his Frederick William Hoag Architects firm got the chance to redesign the façade of one of Westport’s first strip malls, he was eager to help.

The west (CVS, Planet Pizza) side was built in 1957. The east (Gold’s, Little Kitchen) portion followed shortly after.

Compo Shopping Center’s west (top) and east sides, before renovation.

It’s really, really long. It’s home to a diverse array of different-sized tenants. And regulatory challenges constricted the type of changes Hoag could do.

But he’s nothing if not resourceful.

“The existing architecture exudes a playful mid-century vibe with sweeping fascias and inclined façades, retro forms, and language to be celebrated within a contemporary architectural skin,” he says.

“The existing sloped cornice seems to put the whole building façade in motion, emulating the automobiles traveling the Post Road.”

That reminded him of “Norman Rockwell-like images of happy American families shopping. before whisking off in their Chris-Craft on Long Island Sound.”

Mid-20th century Chris-Craft.

That classic speedboat concept inspired his design.

The new west side …

By applying finishes as a rain screen, he and his firm maintained the existing weather tightness of the building.

… and the east.

LED lights are a 21st-century thing. But Hoag designed them in a way that, he says, embraces both the spirit of the retro façade, and the feel of today.

The result — with help from Bill Achilles, earlier in the process — is emerging now. A.V. Tuchy — the Norwalk builders doing the renovation — should be finished in March.

Then, the scaffolds will come down. The “new” Compo Shopping Center will sparkle by day, and shine by night.

Dusk view.

That may attract more shoppers and restaurant-goers than ever.

Drive safely!

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Remembering Pele

Everyone with any connection to soccer over the past 65 years has a Pele story.

I have several.

The Brazilian legend — remembered for his unparalleled athletic talent, grace under pressure, radiant smile and eternal humanity — died Thursday at 82. World leaders, players past and present, and billions of ordinary folks mourned his passing.

Pele transcended time and place. He grew older, but never lost his youthful wonder. He played, lived and traveled around the globe, yet he always held Brazil close to his heart.

Of course — this being Westport — we had a few special connections to The King.

My first encounter came a year after I graduated from Staples High School. My friend and former teammate Neil Brickley heard that Pele’s Santos team was playing an exhibition match in Boston.

We took a road trip to Nickerson Field. In the early 1970s, chances to see high-level matches were rare.

The program from the Santos-Astros game. (Courtesy of Neil Brickley)

It was a meaningless friendly, against an unworthy opponent: the minor league Boston Astros. But we were mesmerized, by Pele and the entire Santos squad.

The crowd was small. (The Boston Globe reported that Santos “awed 1,000 people … 1,000 spectators, and the 11 Astros”).

As we left, we saw the team bus idling on the street. We decided to wait.

Impulsively, we said we’d follow the bus wherever it went. It ended up at the Parker House.

The team filed into the dining room downstairs. Neil and I figured, Why not? 

We sat a few feet away. Food was brought to the team. We ordered our own.

We nervously asked Pele for autographs. I carried his in my wallet for years.

A hotel band played background music. Midway through, the leader stopped. “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re honored tonight to have with us the greatest soccer player in the world. Let’s have a big hand for … Paulie.”

Two years after my “dinner with Pele,” he was back in the US. He had retired from soccer, but dogged negotiations by Warner Communications had paid off.

The New York Cosmos — a virtually unknown team in the struggling North American Soccer League — signed the legend to a 3-year contract. The idea was that he would jump-start interest in the sport in this country. (And make Warner Communications a ton of money.)

Many of the contract details were handled by Warner vice president Jay Emmett. He lived on Prospect Road here. And though he dealt regularly with the top entertainers in the world, he knew that Pele was bigger than them all.

His first game in the US was on Sunday, June 15, 1975. I had graduated from Brown University 3 weeks before. I was doing some soccer writing, and wangled a press pass.

The Cosmos played at Randall’s Island. The place was a trash-filled dump. Workers feverishly painted the brown dirt green. After all, the match — an exhibition against the Dallas Tornado — was televised by CBS, an enormous coup.

I have been in a few electrifying moments in my life (several others involving Pele). But nothing compares to being on that field, that day, when he appeared in a Cosmos uniform for the first time.

The sound and the emotion made it seem as if the world was shifting. I was 22, and thought I’d seen and felt everything.

But Pele’s impact on American soccer was just beginning.

Mark Brickley — Neil’s older brother, and a former Staples soccer player who graduated in 1970, a year before me — became the Cosmos’ very young director of communications.

Pele and Mark Brickley

He had an incredible workload. The Cosmos acquired a stable of world-renowned players to complement Pele — Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Giorgio Chinaglia. And as the team became a worldwide sensation, their visibility in New York skyrocketed.

Henry Kissinger, Mick Jagger — and everyone in between — wanted to see and be seen with the team (especially Pele). I had a front-row seat to it all. Mark hooked me up with press and field passes.

The press box was a madhouse. The field was the place to be. Watching from a few feet away — as a complete hanger-on — the adulation showered on Pele, by ordinary fans and the biggest names in the world, was astonishing.

The locker room was also a madhouse. Reporters who had seen everything jostled for a chance to ask Pele the same questions he’d faced a million times. Without fail he looked journalists in the eye, smiled, and answered in his imperfect, but lilting and lyrical, English.

Yes, that’s me (front row, right, striped shirt) with Pele in the mid-1970s. Also in the photo (from left): Bill Smith’s grandson and Westport Police Lieutenant Detective Bill Smith; Jay Emmett, Warner Communications vice president; Stuart McCarthy, Westport Soccer Association youth player and later Westport’s Parks & Recreation department director.

But there was more.

Mark Brickley also arranged for Westport Soccer Association youth teams that I was coaching to play several preliminary games, before the Cosmos took the field.

The summer of 1977 was one New York will never forget. The Son of Sam killer stalked the streets. A major blackout led to looting and violence.

But across the Hudson River at Giants Stadium, the Cosmos were magic.

Crowds grew steadily: 35,000, 50,000, then 75,000-seat sellouts. My 12-year-old team took the field before those packed stands, vibrating with energy and anticipation.

One of those matches took place in a downpour. Still, the stadium was packed. As we left the field, and the Cosmos massed in the tunnel ready to run on, I looked up. The bright lights magnified the raindrops; every seat was filled.

“Look at this!” I said to the players. “Don’t ever forget it.”

They did not. (One of them — Mark Noonan — went on to a long career in the sport. He is now commissioner of the Canadian Premier League.)

The NASL included other Westport connections. A league rule mandated that at least 3 North Americans be on the field for every team. The star-studded Cosmos’ lineup included defender Paul Hunter. A 1973 Staples graduate (and recent University of Connecticut alum), he did the dirty work so that Pele, Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and others could shine.

Paul Hunter (front row, far right), one player away from Pele in a 1977 Cosmos pre-game photo. The top row includes Franz Beckenbauer (2nd from left), Giorgio Chinaglia (4th from left) and Werner Roth (6th from left). (Photo courtesy of Fred Cantor)

Pele played against other Westporters, including Hunter’s brother Tim (Staples ’71, UConn ’75) of the Connecticut Bicentennials, and Steve Baumann (Staples ’70, University of Pennsylvania ’74) of the Miami Toros.

Steve Baumann and Pele.

Like so many opponents, Baumann was both excited and awed by the chance to play against Pele.

Today — retired, after a long career as a college and high school coach, and museum director — Baumann ruefully recalls the day in 1976 Pele scored on a bicycle kick over his head, at Yankee Stadium.

That moment was immortalized on film. It lives today on YouTube, below.

But my Westport Soccer Association connections with Pele were not over.

On October 1, 1977 he was set to play his final match ever. The tribute game would include his first half in a Cosmos jersey. Then he’d switch to his beloved Santos club.

Thanks again to Mark Brickley, our WSA club was invited to participate in the on-field ceremony. Eight teams would ring the field, demonstrating soccer skills and then honoring Pele.

That morning was a whirlwind of activity. We “rehearsed” on a practice field adjacent to Giants Stadium, then were escorted into the tunnel.

A gaggle of celebrities were driven in golf carts past us. Our 12-year-olds did not care about Frank Gifford or President Carter’s son Chip. But when Muhammad Ali stopped by us — that was something.

The Greatest had come to pay tribute to The King.

Out on the field, our team had the premier spot among all 8: directly in front of the podium. (Thanks again, Mark!).

Speeches were made. Tributes were offered. Then came the time for each team’s captain to walk to midfield, and hand Pele a bouquet of flowers.

I told our captain, Peter Scala, to stay after he gave the flowers. After all, he’d be the first one there. Who knew what might happen?

Peter gave the bouquet. Pele pulled him close, and whispered something in his ear. Massed behind us, held back by dozens of security people, 700 photographers clicked their cameras. Across the globe, people in 42 countries watched.

Youth players give Pele flowers at his last match. (Westport captain Peter Scala cannot be seen.) Looking on are (from left) Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Muhammad Ali. (Photo courtesy of Mark Bieler)

Peter walked back to me, grinning from ear to ear.

“What did he say?” I asked.

Peter looked stricken. “I forget!” he said.

The ceremony moved quickly. Pele’s graceful speech was all about children, and how important they were.

Love was important too, he noted. “Join with me 3 times: Love! Love! Love!” he said.

Click below for that video clip. (And note another local connection: It’s narrated by Jim McKay. The “ABC Wide World of Sports” host was a longtime Westport resident.)

We headed to our seats in the stands. The game ended. As Pele was hoisted on the shoulders of Cosmos and Santos teammates, it began to rain. A Brazilian newspaper said, “Even the sky was crying.”

Pele in the rain, after his last game.

I had a few more encounters with Pele after that. In 1988 — then a longtime writer for Soccer America Magazine — I was invited to Brazil, to cover the first-ever Pele Cup Youth Tournament.

It was a memorable 2 weeks, for many reasons. (Including the 48-hour, trip-from-hell route there: New York to Orlando, Miami, Jamaica, Manaus and, finally, São Paulo).

There were plenty of highlights, including a trip to Belo Horizonte — the site of a spectacular World Cup upset in 1950, when the US beat England 1-0 (we traveled there with players from both teams).

But the crowning moment was a trip to Pele’s home in Santos. Seeing his trophies, his birds, his pool — his life — was a day I have always treasured.

My path crossed with Pele a couple of times afterward. He was a guest at conventions of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, our professional organization.

As always, he was generous with his time, and graceful with whomever he was with.

And he never stopped smiling.

Pele at a National Soccer Coaches Association of America reception. (Photo/Dan Woog)

One year, our convention was in Cincinnati. President Bush stayed at the same hotel. His handlers wanted him to meet Pele.

Pele’s people said he had no time. He needed to meet with the players and coaches.

They were not kidding. The All-American banquet is a long affair. There are many honorees — NCAA Division I, II and III; NAIA; junior college; high school. All have men’s and women’s teams.

The celebrity each year poses with each group. But Pele made each team seem like it was the only one in the world. And that meeting them was the most exciting day of his life.

One more presidential story. In the mid-’80s, one man’s introduction went this way: “I’m Ronald Reagan. I’m President of the United States. But you don’t need to introduce yourself. Everyone knows Pele.”

I did not know Pele. He certainly did not know me.

But ever since I was a young soccer player at Staples High School, my life was enriched by sharing space with him.

(I can’t resist two final Pele stories — neither of which I could fit in above. On a road trip to Toronto with the Cosmos, I was in the hotel lobby as the team was getting ready for their bus. An older couple approached Pele, and asked for a picture.

(The man posed with him. His wife nervously fumbled with the camera. Pele stopped, and walked over to her. Very gently, he said, “You must first remove the lens cap.”

(And this, as told to me by a reporter friend who was there. A crew filmed Pele with a Special Olympics team. He got in goal; a young girl took a penalty kick. She stubbed it; the ball rolled slowly toward the line. Pele dove high; it skittered in underneath him.

(“I scored on Pele! I scored on Pele!” the girl yelled with joy. “There was not a dry eye anywhere,” the reporter said.)

Roundup: Long Lots Preserve, Lyman Video, Marigny Chocolate …

Long Lots Preserve — the perimeter around the the Westport Community Gardens adjacent to the elementary school — is halfway to its 4-phase, 2-year goal of ecologically restoring the once-neglected town property.

Results are spectacular. Invasive plants are being removed; native trees, shrubs, wildflowers and grasses are planted in their place.

Needed next: dead tree trunks, to cover the forest floor.

Decomposing tree trunks promote the growth of bug populations. They in turn supply local and migrating bird populations with an important source of food, especially in the spring when they feed their young.

Long Lots Preserve team director Lou Weinberg asks for donations of anyone with tree trunks they want to get rid of. Any condition is fine. Tree services or individuals can drop off tree truck logs at the site.

For details, email . You can also click here for the website, or follow on Instagram: @longlotspreserve. (Hat tip: Dick Lowenstein)

Earlier work at the Long Lots Preserve.


Westport’s drive to raise $250,000 to help our new Ukrainian sister city of Lyman has neared the $200,000 mark. To be exact: $196,200.

That’s a remarkable outpouring of support from Westport residents (and their friends and relatives elsewhere, and former Westporters scattered around the world).

Whether you’ve already contributed, or just thought about it: Take a few minutes to check out this video.

Brian Mayer (the Westporter who co-founded Ukraine Aid International) and Liz Olegov (co-founder of the Alex21 aid group) filmed conditions on the ground in Lyman. It describes better than words ever could the harrowing situation in our sister city, and the need for help.

(Video editing by Clyde and Katya Wauchope)

Meanwhile, our friends in our other sister city — Marigny, France — are ready to join Westport in our efforts to help Lyman.

Next month — in his New Year’s address to the town — Marigny’s mayor will announce our partnership, and ask residents there to pitch in.

Meanwhile, the Christmas Day delivery of 400 fresh holiday meals, and gifts to 491 children — thanks in part to Westporters’ donations, and our partners on the ground, Ukraine Aid International and Alex21 — jogged the memories of some long-time Marigny citizens.

In 1966, 2 Westporters — David Salfati and his wife — were interviewed by Ouest-France News.

They described how in 1947, a Westport chocolate maker sent 400 kilograms of chocolate — about 800 pounds — of chocolate to Marigny. Residents in the Normandy town were still recovering from World War II.

The chocolatier — whose name has been lost to history — chose that amount because there were 400 children living in Marigny.

Right now, 491 youngsters remain in Lyman.

Seventy-five years later, almost the exact number of children need help, in another war-torn nation. Westport and Marigny are proud to work together, as 2 sister cities aiding a third.

To help, click here for a credit card “Donate” button. Click “I want to support”; then select “Support for the City of Lyman.” You can also scroll down on that page for other donation options (mail, wire transfer and Venmo.) Or you can donate directly, via Stripe (click here). 

The 1966 news story about Westport’s aid to Marigny — including 400 kg of chocolate.


The last Jazz at the Post show of the year features Kenny Wessel on guitar.

Known for his “adventurous solo voice, unrelenting swing and sensitive accompaniment skills,” and his “rare blend of tradition and fiery innovation,” he’s a Westport favorite.

Wessel has played with saxophonist Greg “The Jazz Rabbi” Wall since the early 1990s.

Dave Richards joins on bass, with Steve Johns on drums.

There are 2 shows this Thursday (December 29): 7:30 and 8:45 p.m. Dinner service begins at 7. There’s a $15 cover. Reservations are strongly recommended:


Morton Silverberg died Christmas day, from heart disease. He was 92.

After graduating from MIT in 1953, he worked as an engineer at Remington Rand, RCA, Xerox and Pitney Bowes. He has over 100 patents in his name, ranging from copier technology to “the perfect paper clip.”

When he and his wife Phyllis moved to Westport in 1985, they began “the best years of their lives.” He sailed, played tennis and became an active participant in the Y’s Men of Westport and Weston. He said he “never had so many friends” in his life.

Mort is survived by his daughters, Judy Ross and Lynn McDonald, and  grandchildren Ben and Tyler Ross, and Amy McDonald. His wife Phyllis died last month.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Y’s Men of Westport and Weston.

Mort Silverberg


“Do they know it’s Christmas?”

“Nobody here but us chickens.”

What’s your caption for today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo?

(If you’re wondering: This coop is on Hillspoint Road, just south of I-95.)

(Photo/Matt Murray)


And finally … you knew this was coming, right?

(Don’t be chicken! Please click here to support “06880.” Thank you!)

Remember Your 2nd Grade Teacher? Coleytown El Grads Sure Do!

Some of us remember key teachers in our lives.

Usually they’re from high school. Occasionally, middle high.

Elementary school teachers seldom get the love and respect they deserve. We were too young to appreciate them. Often, we forget their names.

Nancy Saipe is not one of those people.

This summer — just before her Staples High School Class of 1971 held its 50th (plus COVID 1) reunion —  she hosted a lunch honoring her 2nd grade teacher, Nicky Bleifeld.

Nancy and several other Coleytown Elementary School classmates from 1960-61 — still friends, half a century later — reminisced about Mrs. Bleifeld’s impact on them.

She was there too — in good health and great spirits. It was a wonderful afternoon, for the former teacher and her (now almost-contemporary) former pupils.

Coleytown Elementary School.

But that’s only part of this story

To honor Mrs. Bleifeld, the women made a donation to the current 2nd grade classrooms at Coletown El. The funds will purchase books for the students.

But that’s still not the end.

On Tuesday, Nancy Saipe — and Nicky Bleifeld — visited CES, the current 2nd graders and their teachers.

Nicky Bleifeld with current Coleytown Elementary School 2nd grade teachers (from left): Melanie Tribe, Abby Miraballes, Caitlin Spisso and Alyssa Carroll. On the wall behind are welcome notes, written by the children.

Principal Janna Sirowich began by reading “Things I Learned in Second Grade” to the students. Then came questions.

The youngsters wanted to know what Coleytown was like, back before some of their grandparents were even born. For example:

  • Did you have a Smartboard in your classroom? (No. They didn’t even have computers! This really surprised the children.)
  • How many students were in your second-grade class?  (30 — wow!)
  • How many recesses did you have each day? (2 — the same same as now.)
  • What subjects did you teach?  (Math, Reading, Current Events, Science)
  • Did you have Field Day? (Yes)


The rear view of Coleytown Elementary School, before expansion and modernization.

Principal Janna Sirowich says, “The students and staff were enthralled as they listened to Mrs. Bleifeld and Mrs. Saipe talk about Coleytown. They had such detailed and positive memories to share.

“Mrs. Saipe also encouraged the students to treasure their friendships and their teachers. She spoke about the lasting impact that Mrs. Bleifeld had on her as a student, reader, and friend, and how she remembers these lessons today.”

A photo for the ages: Coleytown Elementary School 2nd graders with former teacher Nicky Bleifeld (right). Current teachers are in the back; Nancy Saipe is seated, far right.

The CES staff presented Mrs. Bleifeld with a Coleytown bag, t-shirt and stuffed animal — and an open invitation to visit Coleytown anytime.

“It was a heartwarming experience,” Ms. Sirowich adds. “We are so grateful to Mrs. Bleifeld and Mrs. Saipe for visiting our community.”