Category Archives: Looking back

New Coffee Spot Brewing At Old Bertucci’s

Westport is blessed with many things.

We have art and artists. We have pizzerias and coffee shops up the wazoo.

But we don’t have a “coffee bar” — a place that serves ultra-premium, USDA organic-certified roasts.

That changes soon.

Shearwater Organic Coffee Roasters — currently killing it in Fairfield — will open its 2nd location. The site is the long-empty Bertucci’s building, on Post Road East by Long Lots Road.

Shearwater will share the space with (of course) One River School of Art + Design, and Ignazio’s Pizza.

Owner Ed Freedman’s company started 6 years ago in Trumbull, as a small batch roaster. They supply stores like Whole Foods and Fresh Market, and restaurants including Jesup Hall, The Whelk and Kawa Ni.

Two years ago they opened in the Brick Walk. Freedman says that customers — many from Westport, attracted by the bright space, knowledgeable baristas and (of course) great coffee — urged him to open here.

As in Fairfield, the new Shearwater will feature drinks like espresso and cold brew, along with small plates and salads.

“It will be warm, inviting and friendly — a place for everyone from millennials to retirees to enjoy great coffee,” Freedman promises.

A rendering of the interior of Westport’s Shearwater, by architect Amber Freedman.

He is proud of his “top-notch” customer service. In Fairfield, he says, baristas “really welcome people. They engage them, and help them select the right drink.”

Freedman believes that many people “tolerate” Starbucks coffee. “They add all kinds of flavors and sugars. That’s not us.”

Floor to ceiling windows and high ceilings will help make Shearwater a “real destination.” Freedman’s daughter Amber — an architect in Boston — designed both his coffee bars.

The Westport spot will be a destination in part because of its location near the Sherwood Island Connector, Freedman says.

He hopes to open in July. Ignazio’s hopes to open next month. River One’s grand opening is June 15-16.

There is still space for one tenant in the building.

Maybe a bank or nail spa?

Memorial Day Parades: We Remember

Last year around this time, I posted a fascinating video of Westport’s 1981 Memorial Day parade.

Tom Leyden had just bought a new-fangled video camera. Standing on Riverside Avenue near Assumption Church, he captured 21 minutes of the annual event:

Former Governor John D. Lodge and all the town bigwigs; the Staples High School, and Long Lots, Coleytown and Bedford Junior High bands; WWPT sports broadcasters, Little Leaguers, Scouts, Indian Guides, the Westport Historical Society — even Big Bird (and traffic cop/drum major Bill Cribari).

The video was so popular, I’m posting it again.

But Tom uploaded another parade to YouTube. This one is from 1969.

It’s grainier than ’81. There is no sound. It’s just as fascinating though — especially the final shot.

In those days, the post-parade ceremony was held at Jesup Green. On the left, you can see the town dump. (Today it’s the site of the Westport Library.)

That’s one of the few things that have changed, however. As Tom’s twin videos prove, Westport’s Memorial Day parade is timeless.

See you on Monday!

(PS: The ceremony is now at Veterans Green, starting around 10:30 a.m. It’s part of the event that should not be missed.)

Temple Israel Celebrates 70 Years

Before World War II, most American Jews lived in cities.

Other places did not always feel comfortable. So in Fairfield County, Judaism was centered in Stamford, Norwalk and Bridgeport.

After the war, suburbs boomed. By 1948, enough Jewish families lived here that leaders like Leo Nevas formed one of the first Reform congregations in the area: Temple Israel.

Members came from Westport, and newly suburban areas of Norwalk. They sought fellowship, community, and the chance to educate their children in the Jewish tradition.

For years they had no permanent synagogue. They purchased land near the current Whole Foods, but it proved not a good place to build.

Coleytown Road was much better. The cornerstone was laid in 1959. Just 5 years later, Martin Luther King preached on the bimah.

Temple Israel under construction, 1959.

This year, as Temple Israel celebrates its 70th anniversary, congregants look both back and forward.

Dorothy “Dood” Freedman remembers much of that 7-decade history. The niece of Leo Nevas, she joined Temple Israel in 1962. There were only a couple of hundred members. Both the sanctuary and religious school were small.

Temple Israel grew gradually but steadily through the early 1980s. The congregation included Conservative as well as Orthodox Jews. It was the only synagogue in Westport.

“But it was quite Reform,” Freedman recalls. “I loved it.”

Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein was a longtime activist in the cause. In June of 1964 — a month after Martin Luther King preached at the temple — the rabbi joined him at a protest in St. Augustine, Florida. Both were arrested.

Rev. Martin Luther King, before speaking at Temple Israel. He’s flanked by Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein (left) and congregation president Dan Rodgers.

The Vietnam era was a testy — and testing — time. The congregation was divided politically. But — led by Rubenstein — they were united in their support for civil rights.

In the ’80s, ’90s and early ’00s, Westport’s Jewish population grew rapidly. Temple Israel did too. At one point, there were 900 family units (single individuals, and families of any size).

Today, there are about 750. Members still represent a variety of leanings. But there are now 3 other Jewish congregations in Westport too: the Conservative Synagogue, Beit Chaverim (modern Orthodox) and Chabad Lubavitch.

Freedman served as Temple Israel’s first female president, from 1980 to ’82. A lot was going on. The congregation was building a major addition to the sanctuary, and searching for a replacement for the legendary and long-serving Rabbi Rubenstein.

“The building campaign was a literal — and actual — symbol of the growth of the congregation,” Freedman says. So was a subsequent building project: expandiing the school wing in 2003.

Rubenstein’s legacy was “kindness, teaching and civil rights justice,” Freedman notes. His successor — Rabbi Robert Orkand — presided over great growth in numbers. The education and nursery school programs expanded greatly too.

Rabbi Robert Orkand, surrounded by young congregants.

Orkand was also one of 3 founders of the Westport-Weston Interfaith Clergy group.

He was very active on a national level too, Freedman says.

Orkand retired in 2014. He was succeeded by Rabbi Michael Friedman. It was a time of transition for the temple, as the longtime cantor and senior staff members also left.

The new chapter is “an opportunity to redefine the temple,” Friedman — only the 3rd permanent rabbi in the congregation’s history — says.

“It’s a period of creativity, growth and renewal,” Dood Freedman adds. “There’s a great feeling of the congregation being a family, working and worshiping together. There are lots of people in the pews on Friday nights.”

Temple Israel’s current clergy (from left): Rabbi Cantor Dan Sklar, Senior Rabbi Michael Friedman, Assistant Rabbi Danny Moss.

The 70th anniversary is marked by several events. Orkand came back to Westport for a scholar-in-residence weekend. He, Freedman and others shared stories, and re-examined the history of the congregation.

Volunteers are conducting video interviews with some long-time congregants — including Freda Easton, the longest-tenured member.

“We have not always done a good job of memorializing our past,” Freedman admits. “Now we’re creating a documentary and digital archive.”

Hebrew school students are involved too. They’re studying Jewish life through the years — including the fight for Soviet Jewry and the integration of women into worship — including a focus on Westport.

Of course, there’s a party. It’s this Saturday (May 18, 7 p.m.), and includes honors for all 12 living presidents.

Dood Freedman looks back with satisfaction on 7 decades of Jewish life here.

“I think we’ve got quite a presence in Westport,” she says. “When I joined, it was something just to have a temple here.”

Mazel tov! L’chaim!

Temple Israel today.

River Of Names Mural: Artist, Project Chairs Respond

Yesterday, the Westport Library responded to criticism of its decision to replace the River of Names mural — the massive artwork filled with 1,162 tiles depicting Westport history and residents — with a digitized version.

Part of the reason, officials said, was the objection of 3 of the original organizers of the 1997 fundraising project to hang the artwork on 2 adjacent walls, rather than as one long piece.

This morning, the 3 — Dorothy Curran, co-chair of the River of Names capital campaign, and author of a book accompanying the project; Betty Lou Cummings, chair of the same campaign, and Marion Grebow, the artist who created every individual tile — respond to the library’s response, and the “06880” comments that followed.

Much has changed in the 22 years since our project began.

The important parts have not. The much-celebrated artistic and financial success of our Westport Public Library Community Capital Campaign project, the creation of a 6’2’-by-26’4” oblong bas-relief ceramic tile donor mural, with 1,927 donor surfaces on 1,162 separate interlocking tiles, loosely arranged in 50 columns and 29 rows, bounded by bookshelves with 10 book spines each, endures.

At one level the work was a timeline, running from 1637 to 1998, showcasing 80 colorful, randomly placed historical tiles and 4 historical theme tiles at the corners.

993 gleaming white ceramic river tiles, contoured as bas-relief waves, and bearing donor names or messages in blue calligraphy, were the dominant visual pattern.

The River of Names was hung in the lower level of the Westport Library.

Each donor’s process of selecting a location and parsing a message was highly personal.

Names marked with a star symbol flagged Westport-area authors.

Names marked with a heart symbol conveyed love.

If one stood close to the finished wall and peered across the 26’4”-long mural surface, truly, to the eye, the ceramic tiles became a shimmering river.

For the moment, however, the mural endures only as a memory.

The River of Names includes tiles for the original Westport Library, built in 1908 on the Post Road (now next to Freshii) …

To accommodate its exciting “Transformation” project, the Westport Library had the mural removed in sections by fine arts professionals and placed in storage. The 8’8”-wide hallway where it resided no longer exists.

We all want the 6’2”-by-26’4” mural back.

But where? And how?

The Westport Library is proposing to “bend” it, sideways, outside the Children’s Library, so that one part of the mural would face west and one part would face north.

Artist Marion Grebow went back to her design to be sure, but the 6’2” high x 26’ 4” long mural, an interlocking design, has no vertical seam. The thick ceramic tiles cannot simply be folded in a straight line to “bend around a corner.”

So which donor tiles should be cut in half? And – given the fragility of the medium—would cutting shatter the divided tiles? And what happens to the jagged edges at child level?

And would the result still be beautiful? And honor the pride that each donor had in each tile? And honor the artist who conceived and wrought a different, unified work on a single vertical plane?

We welcome the opportunity to review the new, detailed, tile-specific, mural schematic that the Westport Library envisions. To date, we have not seen it.

(From left): Betty Lou Cummings, Marion Grebow and Dorothy Curran, at Monday’s meeting with Westport Library officials. The women were told of plans to digitize the River of Names mural.

Separately, we applaud the library’s planned interactive digital display of the mural tiles, with separate online access. It’s is a great idea for teaching, reference and entertainment. But it’s no substitute for the sheer beauty, the interplay of light, volume, form, color, texture and meaning, that one experiences when viewing the original work of ceramic bas-relief mural art.

Also, a “tile-by-tile” digital view of the mural falls short of the work’s larger purpose and metaphor: a visual river of donor names, overlooking the actual Saugatuck River.

For some, standing by the old McManus Room entry and looking back across the gleaming ceramic bas-relief mural tiles, imparted an unforgettable visual experience of strong sun or moonlight shining on the river waves, and all donor tiles merging like water to become one donor community.

Note that an outdoor installation is not a feasible alternative. The clay and grout used require a climate-controlled indoor location.

Yes, the mural is heavy. It was built to last in a ground-floor location. For re-installation, this is a routine engineering issue that architects are trained to accommodate.

Westport Library, we know you’re big on flexible space. Railroad cars move on wheels. So could the heavy mural. It also could be a multi-purpose wall. For example, when needed for a performance, a multi-media screen could descend in front of it.

Bottom line, this is Westport! We believe that the library and its architect can resolve the River of Names mural re-installation in a way that will satisfy everyone. The simple answer:

  • Find or build a flat plane interior wall, illuminated by natural light, in the WPL
  • Mount the mural on it
  • Open champagne.

Finally, Town Honors F. Scott Fitzgerald

On May 14, 1920, a young couple signed a 5-month lease for a modest gray cottage on Compo Road South.

It was not big news. In fact, it took the Westporter-Herald — the local newspaper that chronicled every visitor, gathering and event in town — until the next month to run this small item:

“F. Scott Fitzgerald, a writer, has leased the Wakeman Cottage near Compo Beach.”

The iconic shot of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, in front of their Westport home.

But the honeymoon home of Fitzgerald and his new bride Zelda — they’d gotten married on April 3 –had a profound impact on both. It appears in more of their collective works than any other place they lived.

With good reason. The couple drank and partied all summer long.

On May 14, 2019 — 99 years to the day after that now-legendary lease-signing — Westport will officially recognize that event.

The cottage that once abutted larger-than-life multimillionaire Frederick E. Lewis’ property (now Longshore Club Park) still stands. Today it’s a handsome home. First Selectman Jim Marpe will stand there, and declare “Great Gatsby Day” in town.

The official proclamation — a combination of legalese and whimsy — begins:

“Whereas, it was an age of miracles. It was an age of art. It was an age of excess and it was an age of satire….”

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald slept — and partied — here, on South Compo Road.

But that’s not the only Fitzgerald-Westport connection this month.

On Saturday and Sunday, May 18 and 19, the Westport Community Theater presents a costumed stage reading of The Vegetable.

If you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry.

Richard “Deej” Webb — the Westport historian who collaborated with Robert Steven Williams on a film and book that describe the Fitzgeralds’ Westport sojourn, and make the strong case that it heavily influenced The Great Gatsby — calls it “his worst work.”

The Vegetable is Fitzgerald’s only full-length play. It was his lone attempt to establish himself as a successful playwright, and his sole foray into political satire.

The plot involves an accidental president who undergoes impeachment. Coming during the corrupt administration of Warren Harding — who died the year it was published — it was “ahead of its time,” Webb says.

To call it forgotten today is an understatement. According to Webb, it was last performed in the 1990s.

The WCT has modified it a bit. What Webb calls “a racist scene” has been edited out.

That may have been a product of its time. But nearly a century later, impeachment is back in the news.

And — at least in Westport — F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald are too.

(The staged reading of The Vegetable is Saturday, May 18 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, May 19 at 2 p.m. For tickets, call 203-226-1983.)

Library’s “River Of Names”: 21st-Century Update

The Westport Library’s Transformation Project is exciting and dynamic. When the official opening takes place June 23, users will enjoy an entirely new experience. Space, usage, programs — all have been reimagined.

But the 2-year renovation has brought changes to some old favorites. More than 150 works of art were removed, reappraised, cleaned, photographed and stored professionally. Some will be back on the “new” library walls.

Others found homes in various town buildings. For example, Robert Lambdin’s 1935 WPA mural “Pageant of History” was relocated to Staples High School.

But what about the River of Names?

That was the 26-foot long, 6-foot high tile work that hung on the lower level, just outside the McManus meeting room.

The River of Names, in the lower level of the Westport Library.

Conceived by Betty Lou Cummings, shepherded along by Dorothy Curran, and commissioned in 1997 as part of a capital campaign, it raised $300,000. All 1,162 tiles were individually created and drawn by artist Marion Grebow.

Some portray historical events, like the founding of Westport, onion farming and the arrival of the railroad.

Others feature favorite places around town: the Compo Beach cannons, Minute Man monument and Staples High School. Some cite local organizations and businesses.

Most show the names of nearly 1,000 families. They honor parents, children and pets. They note when the families came to town, and where they lived.

One of the tiles shows Stevan Dohanos’ Saturday Evening Post cover of the World War II memorial outside the old Town Hall.

Tile donors were promised the River of Names would exist in perpetuity.

Yet finding a new home in the transformed library was difficult.

Fortunately, the library has a 21st-century solution.

An interactive River of Names will be an innovative feature of the new building.

A 43-inch touch-screen digital mural will be on view — and very accessible — on the upper level.

The new River of Names will link historic depictions in the mural to additional information about Westport’s 350-year past.

Another tile shows the YMCA’s Bedford building, constructed in 1923. It’s now the site of Bedford Square.

Iain Bruce — president of the library’s board of trustees — acknowledges the challenge of finding an appropriate location for the mural in the renovated space.

However, he says, the mural — and the entire Transformation Project — has forced the library to reassess how to make its collections and materials more accessible and engaging for everyone.

The new digital mural offers “maximum accessibility, interactivity, and continuity for our community today and for generations to come.” It includes descriptions, narratives, maps and photos. Audio and video clips will be added in the future.

Before the original mural was taken down, Miggs Burroughs photographed and documented each tile. It was removed and stored by a specialized company.

The River of Names includes tiles for the original Westport Library, built in 1908 on the Post Road (now next to Freshii) …

Ann Sheffer — chair of the River of Names Task Force Committee — says she is “thrilled that all this will be available to many more generations of Westport.” She calls digitization “a truly 21st-century demonstration of the role of libraries in preserving our heritage while charting our future.”

The River of Names will be accessible not only to library patrons, teachers and students, but everyone  around the globe, adds Kathleen Motes Bennewitz, Westport’s arts curator who consulted on this project.

Like the original mural River of Names, the digital version is ultimately a home-town product.

Square Squared — a Westport company — was the developer. The firm provides creative solutions for print and digital designs, and audio and video production.

Michael Bud — a Square Squared partner — was introduced to the Westport Library years ago, by his mother, a Coleytown Elementary School teacher. He enjoyed story hour and picture books; later, he researched science fair and other projects there.

He was in high school when the River of Names project was installed, and remembers the buzz. Now his 2 children are frequent library visitors.

Soon — thank to Dad — they’ll be able to access the River of Names, digitally.

Along with the rest of Westport.

And the world.

… as well the current library, opened in 1986, and soon to be “transformed.” (Tile photos courtesy of Fotki.com)

Andrew Colabella Turns 30

Andrew Colabella is still the youngest RTM member in town.

But he’s no longer in his 20s.

The lifelong Westporter just celebrated his 30th birthday. As he reached that milestone, the 2007 Staples High School graduate reflected on 3 decades in his home town. He writes (and shares some favorite photos he’s taken):

For the last 15 years, I’ve spent my birthday on the bench of “Myrna Wexler” at Compo with my family. I reminisce about my years on earth, waiting for 9:35 a.m.

While I reflect on my personal experiences and stories, I can’t help but reflect on my memories with Westport too.

Growing up, this was not only my home but my play pen. From riding my bike and then my scooter to driving a car, I passed the same buildings, and drove on these roads a thousand times. It never got old for me.

Westport’s roads are very familiar. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

My first time meeting a police officer was when I was 3. I stubbed my toe outside of the Old Mill market. Dave Eason pulled over and gave me a Band-Aid.

I watched Sam Arciola, Foti Koskinas, Dale Call, Ryan Paulsson, Eric Woods, Craig Bergamo, Kevin Smith, Howard Simpson and the great Bobby Myer climb through the ranks, as they watched me grow up.

I remember standing on the train platform. Everyone spoke to each other with their newspapers clenched between their arm and chest. Now, we’re buried in our phones.

Restaurants like Mario’s, DeRosa’s, Mansion Clam House, Doc’s Cafe, Oscar’s, Onion Alley, Bogey’s, National Hall, Swanky Frank’s, Tacos or What? and many more are now distant memories. My taste buds tingle, wishing for them all to come back.

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)

Going to Longshore on Fridays when Rec-ing Crew was in session during the summer, riding a GoPed to expose myself to hypothermia from the pool on hot days to be with my friends and meet kids from the rival Coleytown Middle School.

Going to Joey’s to hang out with Billy Hess and eat Toasted Almonds out of the old food trailer, then go home and watch Top 10 music videos on VH1 and MTV.

The last few years I’ve been to the movies once or twice. When I was younger, I went to the theaters in Westport to see “Free Willy,” “Leave It To Beaver” and “The Lion King.” Now they’re Restoration Hardware, and the former Pier 1 Imports.

Going to Arnie’s, playing games with my mom and sister, meeting Arnie who had a pool in his living room with a parrot on his shoulder and big Great Dane dogs. Arnie’s turned into Hay Day, where we would run into Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Martha Stewart, Linda Fiorentino, Jason Robards and Christopher Walken.

After the first warm day of the year, my family was at the beach every day by the cannons. What was once my recreational heaven became summer jobs. I worked with Parks & Recreation in high school and throughout college until I graduated from UConn.

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)

Who would’ve thought that when I turned 16, free to drive the roads of Westport I once biked up and down a thousand times, that I would get stuck next to a Volvo station wagon at a traffic light with Ferrari emblems. All 4 tires spun, as Paul Newman pulled out. (Never underestimate custom work and a Volvo station wagon).

Speaking of cars, who remembers the man at Compo Beach who drove a Chrysler LeBaron with leopard seats? He wore a boat captain’s hat, with a scarf around his neck. I never knew his name.

I also never knew the name of the woman who would come to Compo at night in her sweatshirt and sweatpants in the dead of summer, and jam out to her Walkman, dancing in the sand as people strolled by.

Compo sunsets never get old. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

These recurring events and people I took for granted. I thought they would never stop and no matter where I was, they would play out naturally.

Now I think about the last 3 years. They say your late 20s are your most difficult and loneliest ever. Mine were definitely difficult. I lost friends to car accidents, suicide, drug overdose. I’ve watched friends move away, get married, have kids and land the job opportunities of a lifetime. Buying homes, living in high rises or just traveling the world not knowing what to expect the minute they woke up.

As much as I would love to leave, explore with no home address and be on the move, I would feel empty.

The Italian Festival brings back memories. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

Yet going to work every day from 7 to 3:30, I also felt empty. I had all this time I could fill. I wanted to do more.

It wasn’t until I read an article on LinkedIn that I relaxed about my age and success, and stopped comparing myself to others. It said:

  • At age 23, Oprah was fired from her first reporting job.
  • At 24, Stephen King worked as a janitor and lived in a trailer.
  • At 27, Vincent Van Gogh failed as a missionary and decided to go to art school.
  • At 28, J.K. Rowling was a suicidal single parent living on welfare.
  • At 28, Wayne Coyne (from The Flaming Lips) was a fry cook.
  • At 30, Harrison Ford was a carpenter.
  • At 30, Martha Stewart was a stockbroker.
  • At 37, Ang Lee was a stay-at-home-dad working odd jobs.
  • Julia Child released her first cookbook at 39, and got her own cooking show at 51.
  • Vera Wang failed to make the Olympic figure skating team, didn’t get the editor-in-chief position at Vogue, and designed her first dress at 40.
  • Stan Lee didn’t release his first big comic book until he was 40.
  • Alan Rickman gave up his graphic design career to pursue acting at 42.
  • Samuel L. Jackson didn’t get his first movie role until he was 46.
  • Morgan Freeman landed his first major movie role at 52.
  • Kathryn Bigelow only reached international success when she made The Hurt Locker at 57.
  • Grandma Moses didn’t begin her painting career until 76.
  • Louise Bourgeois didn’t become a famous artist until she was 78.

Now when I’m not working, I devote my time and energy to the RTM. I go to schools and educate students about town politics, single-use plastics and composting. I find myself most at ease in Board of Finance meetings listening to Gary Conrad and members talk about line items. I go to every meeting to keep myself up to speed, even committees I’m not on. It’s relaxing, and I want to learn everything about the town I grew up in.

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)

I’m sitting on this bench as I write down memories, and reminisce about how I got where I am today. I hope to do it next year. The year after. The decade after that. And continue it with my kids and grandkids.

Here’s to 30. Here’s to Westport. The town where everyone holds history and legendary stories that make this town our home. To the RTM (my family away from home), and my family: Frank, Jann, Sara and Roxie.

Andrew Colabella, in his traditional fireworks attire.

The Compo Beach Playground Is 30 Years Old. Let’s Party!

If you moved to Westport after 1989, you’ve enjoyed the Compo Beach playground without a second thought.

It’s fun, creative, intricate — everything parents want for their kids.

Plus the water, Joey’s and bathrooms are all a few steps away.

There’s no place like the Compo Beach playground for kids (and their parents.)

If you were here that fateful year though, you know that the playground did not just magically appear.

It was designed by children (with help from famed playground architect Robert Leathers).

It was built by 1,500 volunteers, of all ages. They hauled wheelbarrows, cut wood, hammered nails and poured cement. It was a true town undertaking.

Yet none of it would have happened without a huge legal battle.

(Of course whether you moved to Westport in 1959, 1989 or 2019, you know this is a litigious town.)

Playground opponents — no, that’s not an oxymoron — feared a ruined beach vista. They worried the swings and ladders would be a magnet for out-of-towners, or taken over by beer-drinking, pot-smoking, sex-having teenagers.

The playground controversy brought the first — and only — death threat of 1st selectman Marty Hauhuth’s tenure.

Anti-playground activists obtained a court injunction. (They were not playing around.)

As soon as it was lifted, construction began. It was a magical weekend.

The playground quickly became one of Westport’s prime attractions. It did not ruin the view; it enhanced it. And the only problem now is that on beautiful days, too many people use it.

The Compo Beach playground is popular many months of the year.

It also became apparent that the playground not only did not ruin property values; it enhanced them.

Opponents changed their views. I know, because a year or two after it was built, I saw one of the most vocal critics romping there with what I assumed were his grandchildren. (If they weren’t, that’s a whole other issue.)

Which brings us to this Friday (April 26). The 30th anniversary of construction of the Compo Beach playground will take place just to the right of the cannons. (Not the playground? Hmmmm…)

It starts at 6:30 p.m. All Westporters are invited to this BYO picnic. If you were there in 1989, you’ve got a special invitation: Haul out an old t-shirt. Bring a commemorative hammer.

And everyone: Don’t forget beer and wine.

Which is why — now that I think about it — the party is just to the right of the cannons, not the playground.

(Pass the word far and wide. Remember: Bring your own food and drink. Questions? Email ben3rb@aol.com.)

Beatles Came Out And Played With Young Westporter

The Beatles may or may not have visited famed disc jockey Murray the K at his Westport home in the 1960s. No evidence exists that they did, though several folks who grew up here then insist it’s true.

But — 50 years after the release of the ground-breaking “White Album” — one fact is not in dispute: One of the songs was written about a Westporter.

In 1963, 15-year-old Prudence Farrow was living in Los Angeles. Her father — director John Farrow — died suddenly.

So Prudence’s mother, Maureen O’Sullivan — an actress, then starring in a Broadway show — brought Prudence, her older sister Mia and other siblings to New York.

Maureen O’Sullivan and John Farrow with their children in 1950. From left: Mia, Patrick, Maureen, John holding Stephanie, Prudence and Johnny. Michael is in front.

But Maureen thought it would be best for Prudence and the other kids to live outside the city. She rented a house in Westport, with a cook/caretaker.

The 157 Easton Road house was well known: It was owned by Leopold Godowsky Jr. — a concert violinist and photographer who helped develop Kodacolor and Ektachrome — and his wife Frankie Gershwin, George and Ira’s younger sister who was a noted painter and singer.

It was a beautiful house: 7 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms on 2.75 acres, with a boathouse, indoor pool, 2 bars, a wine-tasting room, guest quarters, tennis court, waterfalls, walking paths, and stone bridges. The Aspetuck River flows through the back yard.

There was a lot of room to play. In her memoir, Prudence describes hiking in the woods, canoeing and skating on the pond, and playing with neighborhood kids.

157 Easton Road

But apparently the caretaker did little taking care of her charges. “We briefly saw Sue for a few minutes daily” when she drove them to the bus stop, Prudence writes. But when her brother Johnny got his license — and a Porsche convertible — she rode with him the short distance up North Avenue to Staples.

Prudence calls the school “impersonal and empty.” She told a guidance counselor she was not interested in college, so he put her in classes like “typing, homemaking, art, sewing, home economics and general math.”

However, she adds, “School was irrelevant. I couldn’t figure out the purpose of going. I thought I knew everything.”

She quickly learned Staples’ social structure, which include “creeps” (now called nerds), “High Y’s” (today’s jocks) and “greasers.” She was a “beatnik.”

Prudence writes: “They seemed so much more interesting than the others. They loved good music, art and philosophy, and I learned a lot about these disciplines from them. But overall, they were self-destructive, spoiled, and using way too many drugs.”

Prudence’s house — with the caretaker not taking much care — became the hangout. It was the place to go, on weekends, evenings, even during school. People helped themselves to food and sofas. There was always plenty of alcohol and drugs.

It was in Westport that Prudence was first exposed to Eastern thought. Her friend Tom — “a quiet soul, very sensitive” — inspired her to read Siddhartha. She thought that Buddhist principles encompassed “the most beautiful, simple, universal and most profound philosophy of life.”

She no longer drank, but continued using drugs and taking pills. The parties continued. Finally, in late spring of 1964, the police told her mother that “we could no longer remain in Connecticut unattended.” Maureen took her brood back to New York.

But the actress soon departed on a national tour. Prudence and her siblings were once again left with a caretaker — this time in a Manhattan apartment. She dropped out of a private school, and got even more deeply into drugs.

Finally — after a bad experience with LSD — Prudence found Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and his Rishikesh ashram in the Himalayan foothills. She studied transcendental meditation.

In early 1968, the Beatles were there too. John Lennon and George Harrison were assigned to be her “team buddies.” They too had experimented with acid before learning about TM.

2 images of Prudence Farrow — including in India, with Ringo Starr.

Deep in meditation, Farrow refused to leave her bungalow. The 2 Beatles tried to coax her out.

And while they were at it, Lennon wrote a song. It began:

Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?
Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day
The sun is up, the sky is blue
It’s beautiful and so are you
Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?

Though Harrison told her about the song, she did not think much of it. And she did not hear it until the “White Album” came out.

When she did, she was “flattered.” She was also glad it was not a negative song about Rishikesh, like Lennon’s “Sexy Sadie” and “Bungalow Bill.”

Prudence had another brush with fame. In 1981 she was near the end of a 3-year affair with New York real estate heir Robert Durst, when suddenly his wife went missing.

Prudence taught TM for several decades. One of her pupils was comedian Andy Kaufman.

She went on to earn a BA, MA and Ph.D. from the University of California, majoring in Asian studies.

She worked in theater and film — including as a production assistant on The Muppets Take Manhattan. 

Using her married name — Prudence Bruns — she has written magazine stories on Asia, world religions and healthy living. She published her memoir (Dear Prudence: The Story Behind the Song) in 2015.

Prudence Bruns today.

And in 2012 she established the non-profit Dear Prudence Foundation. It raised funds for a documentary film about an Indian festival.

There is no record that the Beatles ever visited Westport. And there’s no reason to believe Prudence Farrow ever returned here, after moving in 1964.

But the song imploring her to open up her eyes and smile — well, that’s one more great example of where Westport meets the world.

FUN FACT: Mia Farrow has her own claim to fame: In 1966, when she was 21 and Frank Sinatra was 50, they spent time on his yacht, anchored off Compo Beach. Their marriage lasted 2 years.

(Click here for more information on Prudence Farrow’s memoir, Dear Prudence: The Story Behind The Song. Hat tip: Fred Cantor.)

Hiawatha Lane: 150 Years Of History

This Thursday (April 11, 7 p.m., Town Hall), the Planning & Zoning Commission holds another hearing on the long-running, often-amended, quite-controversial proposal to build a 5-building, 187-unit housing complex on Hiawatha Lane. The application is made as an 8-30g, meaning some of the units will be “affordable,” as defined by state regulations.

But the road — wedged between I-95 Exit 17 and the railroad tracks — has long been where owners and renters find some of Westport’s least expensive prices.

Homes on Hiawatha Lane.

Hiawatha Lane has a very intriguing history. Here’s a look at how the neighborhood developed — and a little-known fact about its deeds.

In the late 1800s, train tracks for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Rail Road tracks sliced through what today would be considered prime property.

Laying those tracks was a back-breaking effort. The physical power was provided by thousands of men, who immigrated to America from all parts of Italy.

When their work was done, some of those laborers settled close to the tracks in Saugatuck. They built a tight-knit community — as well as churches, stores, a vital small business economy, and their own homes. Some still remain.

Families with names like Vento, Stroffolino, Cribari, Nistico, Anastasia, Luciano, Sarno, Caruso, Fabbraio, Pascarella, Penna, Giunta, Valiante — and many more — settled in Saugatuck, and helped it grow.

They built all of Westport, as barbers, stone masons, restaurateurs, store owners, carpenters, police officers, firefighters, town employees, lawyers, teachers, and in many other professions.

In the 1920s — when Italian immigrants made Saugatuck a thriving community — Esposito’s gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it’s Tarry Lodge.

Three and four generations later, many of their namesakes still live in Saugatuck, or elsewhere in town.

In the mid-1950s, another transportation revolution plowed through town: I-95 (known then as the Connecticut Turnpike).

Many of the same families who had forged the railway built the new highway system. It was a source of national pride — but also a massive disruption to the lives of those living in its path.

Churches, stores, meeting places, roads and many homes were demolished.  Westport’s Italian community was bisected. Roads like Indian Hill and Hiawatha Lane were cut in half by the highway. Longtime neighbors were suddenly displaced.

I-95 under construction. The photo — looking east — shows the toll booth near Exit 17, with Hiawatha Lane on the right. The Saugatuck River bridge is in the distance.

But some Westport philanthropists saw what was happening. The area between the rail tracks and I-95 — today known as Hiawatha Lane and Extension, Davenport Avenue and Indian Hill Road — was subdivided into parcels. They were then deeded to many of the displaced Saugatuck families, for as little as $1.

Julia Bradley deeded most of those properties, which still stand today. The Bradley family put a specific restriction on each deed. It stated that each house should remain in perpetuity, as one single-family house on each plot.

Ever since, the neighborhood has remained a unique place, providing affordable, low-cost home ownership.

Of the 187 units proposed by Summit Saugatuck LLC, only 30 percent are deemed “affordable” by state Department of Housing standards. They will be small 1- and 2-bedroom rentals — replacing the homes that are there today.

Sixty years after the turnpike came through, many longtime families and close neighbors who have lived next to it may again be displaced.