Category Archives: Looking back

Remembering Arpi Ermoyan

Arpi Ermoyan — a longtime Westporter, and a major name in the world of commercial illustration — died last week. She was 99 years old.

Arpi Ermoyan

Ermoyan was an illustrator, editor at Cosmopolitan in the 1950s and ’60s, worked at Doyle Dane Bernbach ad agency, wrote an important book called “Famous American Illustrators,” curated gallery exhibitions of illustration art, and for many years directed the Society of Illustrators. She was one of very few women to break through in that male-dominated field.

In 1953, she and her husband Suren — also a noted illustrator, who served as art director at Good Housekeeping — moved to Tanglewood Lane, off Stony Brook.

She became part of the vaunted Westport Illustrators group — again, one of the few female members.

According to the Illustration Art website:

Illustrators in Westport during this era used each other for models all the time, and Arpi was a favorite….Neighboring illustrators would stop by the house on Tanglewood Lane and before you know it, Arpi had to “put aside her drawing board and start modeling.” Several great illustrators of the era were inspired by her striking good looks and painted her into their illustrations.

In 1961, the Ermoyans moved from Westport. They sold their house to another, younger illustrator.

Perhaps you’ve heard of him: Bernie Fuchs.

Arpi Ermoyan, by Bernie Fuchs

(Hat tip: Kevin McConnell)

Mystery Object #12

Westport leads the nation in nail salons per capita.*

But our obsession with nails is not new.

Back in the 1890s, Westporters may not have had 27,915 salons to choose from. But they did have Victorian Nail Buffers.

The wooden blocks were finished with felt, covered with leather chamois, then topped with a sterling silver filigreed handle. They gave nails pleasing shines.

Victorian nail buffer

I didn’t know any of this. Neither did you (I’m sure).

But Laura Mozier knew what a Victorian Nail Buffer was. That’s why she’s the winner in the most recent Westport Historical Society Mystery Object contest.

It’s part of their ongoing “Westport in 100 Objects” exhibit. Every 2 weeks, the WHS displays something new. If you stop in and identify it, you — like Laura — can win something from the gift shop.

There are plenty of good items to choose from. Though they don’t carry gift certificates to nail salons.

*#FakeNews. But close.

Christie’s Closes Soon. Another Westport Institution Is Gone.

In 1926, Christie Masiello opened a fruit and vegetable stand on Cross Highway. For nearly 7 decades she and her nephew Don were staples of that northern Westport neighborhood: a place to buy food (and gas). And — just as important — to meet.

The place went through some changes — it was briefly a dry cleaner — but when John and Renee Hooper bought it in 2009, Christie’s regained its rightful place as a neighborhood store. And community center.

John added burritos, prepared foods and more to the menu. He rented space to Frosty Bear ice cream. There was a farmers’ market on Sunday mornings.

Nearby Staples High and Bedford Middle School students flocked there after class (sometimes during). Neighbors stopped in a couple of times a day, for whatever they needed. (Including cumin for a Christmakkah meal — click here for that great story.)

It was the only place around for builders, construction workers, tradesmen and delivery people too. They packed the parking lot at lunchtime.

Christie’s was also the go-to place during weather disasters. When hurricanes howled or blizzards blew, the store was the neighborhood port in a storm. John offered ice, water, food, cell charging — whatever anyone needed.

If his power was out too, it was still the place to gather, swap stories, and get energized for the cleanup ahead.

(Photo/Katherine Hooper)

But all those will soon be memories. With sadness, John has announced that Christie’s is closing next month.

Rent and taxes are high, relative to sales and income that can be generated in his out-of-the-way place.

The lease was up in June. But John and Renee stayed on, to see if they could create a plan to make things work.

Christie’s is a non-conforming use, in a residential neighborhood. Zoned as a retail food establishment, it can operate as a takeout deli, with limited tables and chairs to seat approximately 9 patrons indoors.

The Hoopers wanted to offer brunch in the winter — in front of the fireplace — and on the porch in summer.

Christie’s handsome front porch.

They hoped for limited dinner too, in the form of Friday Family Fun Nights  (Saturdays too).

But before they could get approval from Planning & Zoning, they needed an okay from the Health Department.

Health officials said the septic system could not handle the additional stress. And — according to state regulations — the surrounding soils made expansion of the current system unfeasible. John and Renee had to operate as they currently do.

“Local officials were great,” John says. “They tried to work with us. But state laws prohibit expanding the septic system.”

So Christie’s will close soon after their last catering event: a Staples PTA holiday lunch for teachers.

That’s fitting. John has always been a huge supporter of Westport (and Fairfield) schools. He’s provided great food as cheaply as he can — sometimes at cost.

Four middle schoolers hung out the other day at Christie’s — near a menorah, moose and reindeer.

“Renee and I are thankful for all the great friends and supporters we’ve met,” John says. “I’ve watched a lot of kids grow up. It’s been amazing, and what I’ll miss the most.”

“Closing Christie’s is sad for me. But Renee is comforted that I will be able to devote more time to her growing food company.” White Oak Farm & Table sells non-GMO and organic shelf-stable food to stores nationwide.

Everyone who made Christie’s their home away from home is sad too.

Really, everyone in Westport should be.

A little bit of what made our town special will soon be gone.

Thanks, John and Renee, for 9 great years.

And Christie’s, for 92 of them.

Back In The News: Coaching Kudos For Paul Lane, Albie Loeffler

Paul Lane and Albie Loeffler retired decades ago.

But both men — longtime Staples High School coaches, physical education instructors and friends — are back in the news again.

Lane — one of Staples’ legendary football coaches — was honored at last week’s game against Norwalk.

Between 1962 and 1987, Lane led the Wreckers to 4 FCIAC Eastern Division championships, 2 FCIAC crowns, and 122 victories. His 11-0 1975 squad was the last single state champion — determined by sportswriters — before the current playoff system began.

In the 1967 FCIAC title game, Staples snapped Stamford Catholic’s 30-game win streak, 8-0. The Crusaders — ranked #1 in Connecticut – had outscored their opponents 333-66. The Wreckers stopped them twice on the goal line, in the last quarter.

Paul Lane (center) at last week’s Staples High School football game. He’s flanked by his sons Peter (left) and Skip. Both played for him.

Lane started coaching football in the Army in 1950. He then served as an assistant to Frank Dornfeld for 8 years, before taking over the top job.

At Staples, Lane also won state championships coaching indoor and outdoor track — and girls golf.

He grew up in Bethel, but his family has long ties to Westport. He’s been a Compo Beach resident nearly all his adult life. Former players — and of course his sons Skip and Peter, both of whom played for him — often drop by to chat with their former coach.

Last week on the football field, Lane was introduced with a video produced by Justin Nadal and Staples’ media lab. Then he shook hands with coaches and players, stood beside the team for the national anthem, and headed to the 50-yard line for the coin toss.

This week also saw the announcement that Loeffler — who, with Lane, co-owned a summer sports camp for Westport youngsters in the 1950s and ’60s — has been selected for the United Soccer Coaches Hall of Fame. He’ll be inducted at the organization’s annual convention in Chicago this January.

Loeffler joins 62 other major contributors to the game. The Hall of Fame already includes legends like former men’s national team and University of Virginia coach Bruce Arena, women’s national team and University of North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance, and University of Connecticut coach Joe Morrone (with whom Loeffler co-founded the Connecticut Junior Soccer Association).

Albie Loeffler

Loeffler — who died the day before his 94th birthday in 2009 — was a goalkeeper at the University of Connecticut. He began his coaching career in South Windsor (1942-52), where he won 2 state championships.

He came to Staples in 1952, teaching phys. ed. and coaching basketball, baseball and track. In 1957 he formed a club soccer team. The next year it earned varsity status.

His Staples record includes 12 FCIAC titles and 7 state championships — 5 of them in a row. His teams recorded 25 consecutive shutouts (including post-season tournament games), won or tied 43 straight matches, and lost just 2 home games between 1966 and 1974. When he retired in 1978, his 314 career wins was a national record.

Loeffler was a 2-time National Coach of the Year. More than 175 athletes went on to play college soccer; 11 became All-Americans.

Albie Loeffler (left), coaching a Staples High School soccer team in the early 1960s.

In 1998, the soccer field at Staples was named in his honor. Earlier this month, it was the site of the program’s 60th anniversary celebration.

Loeffler’s daughter and grandson will accept his posthumous award in Chicago.

I’ll be there too. Albie Loeffler was my mentor. I played for him. He got me involved in coaching — and in the United Soccer Coaches organization. He was an original member when it was formed (as the National Soccer Coaches Association of America) in 1941.

I am honored to have known Albie Loeffler. I’m glad I’ve continued my long friendship with Paul Lane.

And I’m proud that both men are back in the headlines, in the town where they influenced countless lives.

Famous Westport Building Bites The Dust

First it was world headquarters for the Famous Artists School. Joined later by Famous Writers and Famous Photographers Schools, it made Westport known all over the globe — on matchbox covers and magazine ads — as the place to send your artwork, writing and photos to become, well, famous.

Not.

Later it served as world headquarters for Save the Children.

Today, alert “06880” reader (and locally famous photographer) Chip Stephens was across the Saugatuck River, when the 60-year-old Wilton Road building was demolished.

The long view …

The site is being developed by David Waldman into a retail, restaurant and residential complex.

… and a closeup. (Photos/Chip Stephens)

Soups (And More) On In Georgetown

Westporters of a certain age remember Soup’s On with love.

Much about the small Main Street restaurant with the big heart can’t be recaptured: its casual, homey atmosphere and before-its-time emphasis on healthful food, for example.

But more than 30 years after it closed, Soup’s On lives — in  Georgetown.

The country kitchen opened in 1978. Peter Fine — owner Sue Fine’s son — grew up in a house that was “all about food.” He watched proudly as his mother “moved heaven and earth” to serve grateful customers wonderful dishes, made with fresh, local ingredients.

Sue Fine (center) had a great relationship with her loyal employees.

Though Fine spent most of his professional life in real estate, the Soup’s On experience lingered. And because he focused on the restaurant and  hospitality sector, he always dreamed of recreating Soup’s On essence.

He tried to find a spot in Westport that would work. But when he heard the Lumberyard Pub sports bar had closed in Georgetown, he realized that neighborhood — where Weston, Wilton, Redding and Ridgefield meet — was perfect.

The result is Milestone. Since opening in late summer, it’s earned raves from diners far beyond the tiny — but funky — Georgetown neighborhood.

Peter Fine and his mother Sue, outside his new restaurant.

Fine installed a Forza Forni brick oven. Reaching 700 degrees, it produces superb, made-from-scratch pizzas and succulent fish.

There’s a great meatball dish, excellent salads, crispy chicken, skirt steak — “something for everyone,” Fine says. “Delicious, simple, without fussy flavorings.”

That made Soup’s On special too. And though he can’t recreate its magic, Fine has resurrected a couple of his mom’s recipes — exactly as they were.

He served her gazpacho. As the weather turns colder, he’s adding her onion soup and chili to the menu.

Peter Fine’s restaurant may be called Milestone. But in Georgetown — as it was in Westport — Sue Fine’s soup’s on.

Westport Pizzeria Parties Like It’s 1968

In October 1968, Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey battled it out for the presidency. Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave glove-and-fist black power salutes on the medal stand at the Mexico City Olympics. “Hey Jude” sat atop the record charts.

And on October 12, 1968 — its opening day of business — Westport Pizzeria sold a slice for 25 cents.

Joe and Mel Mioli, with a wai tress and customers in the early days.

In October 2018, we all know what happened after Nixon became president. We’ve seen how far our country’s race relations have progressed — and how much further we have to go. “Hey Jude” is still a great song.

It costs quite a bit more than a quarter to buy a slice these days. Westport Pizzeria is no longer an anchor on Main Street.

Westport Pizzera on Main Street. This photo could have been taken in 1968, or 2008.

But it hasn’t gone far — just around the corner, on Post Road East. And the special, basic-but-so-good recipe has never changed.

This Friday (October 12) the pizza place celebrates its 50th anniversary with a special deal: They’ll sell slices for 25 cents. Sodas are even cheaper: 15 cents.

In 1968, Westport Pizzeria was the only game in town. Now there’s competition everywhere, from thick-crust Planet and gourmet Tarry Lodge to train station Romanacci.

But the Mioli family — the founders and still the only owners of Westport Pizzeria — must be doing something right. A restaurant doesn’t last 50 years here on luck alone.

Some don’t even last 50 days.

Some things never change.

Preserving — And Honoring — Westport’s Past

Homeowners who put time, money, energy and love into preserving old homes don’t do it for a prize, or even praise.

They do it because they love Westport’s past. They want to honor and keep it.

But it doesn’t hurt to say “thanks.”

Next Monday (October 15, 7 p.m., town Hall auditorium), 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Historic District Commission chair Francis Henkels and members of his committee will present the 2018 Historic Preservation Awards.

The properties can be found all over town. They represent a variety of architectural styles. We should all be grateful, for all of them.

17 Canal Street

Street Keeler House, c. 1830
Federal Style
Rehabilitation
Jocelyn and Addison Armstrong

When the Braxton Armstrongs purchased 17 Canal Street in 2002, they wanted to “honor the past while making the home comfortable for the future.” They kept all original windows, including the elaborate lunette windows on the gable ends, doors and clapboard visible from the street.

They replaced all aluminum gutters with copper, and reinstalled a wooden shingle roof. They used antique knives to cut trim to match existing and lost trim on the façade, reused doors restored by soda blasting them, and reused hardware miraculously found in the basement.

Throughout the project, they remained committed to the original architectural elements.  While the property is not a locally designated landmark, the owners consistently demonstrated their sensitivity to historic preservation and maintaining the integrity of this significant structure.

27 Long Lots Road

Site Rehabilitation
William Nash House, c.1812
Federal
Susan and Stuart Adam

This house was built in 1812, after William Nash bought the property from Daniel C. Banks. It remained in the Nash family until the death of Polly Nash, when the property was sold to Samuel Elwood. James Godfrey and Albert Fresenius owned the house in the 1920s. 

It has retained many of its original historic features, and evolved with sympathetic and modest side additions. The current owners, who have lived in the house for just over a year, restored portions and carefully rehabilitated the front area of the house by removing obstructing vegetation and trees, and building a stone wall. Now the beauty of the original Federal style house can once again be admired.

75 Kings Highway North

Helen Muller Preservation Award
Francis Converse House, c. 1922
Colonial Revival
Kathryn and Brian McGarvey

This award is given in recognition of a significant contribution to the maintenance, preservation and conservation of the Kings Highway North Local Historic District in honor of one of Westport’s most prominent preservation advocates, Helen Muller.

When the McGarveys purchased this prominent house in 2015, it came with an impressive history.  It is thought to have been designed by one of Westport’s most important local architects, Charles Cutler. Barbara and Allan Raymond whose tireless devotion to the history of Westport is well known, lived in the house for 50 years.

The McGarveys wanted to reconfigure the front yard and driveway to make it safer for their young family. They installed a white wooden picket fence and circular drive with gates on either side. A 2-story addition complemented the original structure, with original materials, a matching cedar shingle roof and 6- over-6 wooden windows. The Raymonds would be pleased to know the McGarveys are now stewards of this treasured homestead.

6 Great Marsh Road

Adaptive Re-use
Queen Anne Style, c. 1887
Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club

In 1690 William and Mary, reigning monarchs of England, bestowed a royal grant for a tidal basin known as Great Marsh. The decree allowed for private ownership of the land under the water located at the mouth of the Saugatuck River.

To whom this grant was bestowed, remains a mystery. Not until 1893 did state records recognize a land transfer of the Great Marsh to Henry C. Eno, owner of a grand Queen Anne manor house on the abutting property. In 1887 he added a richly detailed stable situated alongside the tidal basin land grant.

The picturesque board-and-batten sided stable is massed with a projecting gable pavilion, and double-leaf paneled loft doors on the 2nd level. A copper-roofed cupola accents the ridge of the gable roof. The original horse stalls and their accouterments remain, as does the distinctive herringbone patterned brick flooring where guests of J. Anthony and Frances Probst, third owners of “Great Marsh,” danced summer nights away.

A reversal of fortune caused the family to sell the 100-acre estate. A marina was included in subdivision plans. Landscape architect Evan Harding designed what became Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club. In keeping with the original aesthetics, the stable was converted to a clubhouse, with an addition and balcony added to the south end. The underwater marsh land was dredged to create a harbor, the first of its kind on the Eastern Seaboard to feature an underwater bubble system allowing boats to remain moored year-round.

79 Newtown Turnpike

Rehabilitation
Lewis Burr Fillow House, c. 1800/1925
Chabad Lubavitch of Westport

This spring, Chabad Lubavitch of Westport celebrated the grand opening of its space in the old Three Bears restaurant. The rehabilitation of this historic building was sensitive and creative.

Exterior and interior architectural elements were preserved and restored. The renovation — designed by Robert Storm and carried out by Able Construction — encompassed over 9,000 square feet of the original property, and 10,000 square feet of complementary new construction.

The project blends New England vernacular-fieldstone and shingle features with the historic core structure. The site that has served as a stagecoach stop, inn, restaurant is now a new Jewish center for prayer services, educational programs and meetings.

15 Bridge Street

Bridge Street National Register District
Mary Dolan House, c. 1880 / David Bulkley House, c. 1880
Veronica and Tom Hofstetter

This Italianate-style c. 1880 house was built on land sold in 1879 by Isaac Allen to David Bulkley. The carpenter built a gable-ended, side hall plan, 2-story original home. Current owners Veronica and Tom Hofstetter purchased the house in 2004. They made their first addition the next year, incorporating a new master bedroom, kitchen and enlarged basement.

In 2017, the Hofstetters continued a 137-year-long tradition of stewardship by working with Vita Design Group. Their commitment is a good example of expansion to an existing historic structure in a manner that reflects appropriate design details. The house is a contributing resource in the Bridge Street National Register Historic District, established earlier this year.

36 Evergreen Parkway

Excellence in Care and Maintenance
Cape Cod, c. 1937
Cynthia Wallace

Cynthia Wallace acquired the property in 1960, and has been its faithful steward ever since. This home is a circa 1937 1 1/2-story Cape Cod, a loosely based Colonial Revival style with origins in the simple wooden folk houses of New England.

It is a rectangular plan building with a symmetrical façade and center entrance.  A brick chimney interrupts the asphalt shingle sheathed roof. The exterior is clad in wood shingles. The attached 2-bay garage, presumed to be a later addition, has carriage doors and an entry door. A rear dormer has been added.

The award acknowledges the contribution an architectural archetype of the mid-20th century has made to our present suburban landscape. The HDC cites this as an example of how, with sensitive modifications — including expansion, care and maintenance — a house of a different era, though not that long ago, can represent what a good neighbor can be.

Ultimately, 50 Years

2018 marks the 60th anniversary of some legendary Westport institutions:

Mitchells. Earthplace. Staples Orphenians. And the Staples High School boys soccer program (click here for details on this Saturday’s Wreckers event!).

Checking in at a mere 50 years old is Ultimate Frisbee. But — like those other local icons — it too has a special Westport connection.

Ultimate began in 1968 at Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey. A 1960 alum was teaching math at Staples. When Al Jolley heard of the game — non-contact, free-flowing, like a traditional “goal” sport but with a unique culture — he vowed to bring it to Westport.

The group played on an unkempt field behind the old 9 Building, at the east end of Staples. (Field hockey players chased them away, with sticks.) With no other teams in the area, they scrimmaged themselves.

An early Ultimate team. Alan Jolley is at far left.

They encouraged Weston High to form a team, and played them on April 5, 1973. Staples won 24-9, in the 1st interscholastic Frisbee game in Connecticut. It was also the 1st known coed interscholastic sports event. 

On April 14, Staples hosted Columbia High, in the 1st known interstate coed match. Staples beat the sport’s inventors, 18-8. (To be fair, the guests were missing several players.)

But Staples — in fun — declared themselves “National Champions.” The  National Observer sent a reporter from Washington to write about the team.

The Ultimate Frisbee Hall of Fame has honored 29″Johnny Appleseeds” of the sport. Four — Jolley and 1974 graduates Ed Davis, Ron Kaufman and Dan Buckley — are among them.

Dan Buckley, Alan Jolley and Ed Davis, at a Staples Ultimate Frisbee reunion several years ago.

From October 18-21, a grand celebration of Ultimate will be held in San Diego. Kaufman will fly in from Singapore.

The following month, Columbia High honors Jolley as a “Hometown Ultimate Hero.” For the 49th year in a row, the school will play a Thanksgiving reunion game, at the site of that very first one.

Unfortunately, they can’t get revenge for that loss to Staples, all those years ago. Jolley disbanded his team in the late 1970s, after issues with school administrators over things like insurance.

What an untimely, Ultimate end.

Mystery Object #10

If there’s one thing Westport has plenty of*, it’s women’s shoe stores.

Back in the day though, we** made our own shoes.

To do so, we needed a leather punch.

This tool was used to punch leather to make shoes. Made of cast iron, its beveled edge at the base cut through the leather when a hammer struck the top of the handle. A cobbler then used those pieces of leather — along with those of other shapes — to construct shoes.

The leather punch was part of the Westport Historical Society’s ongoing “Westport in 100 Objects” exhibit. Every 2 weeks there’s a new mystery object. If you stop in and identify it, you can win something from the gift shop.

There was no winner this time.

besides banks and nail spas.

**okay, our ancestors