Category Archives: Places

Storywalk: The Sequel

The wooden walkway behind the Riverside Avenue medical complex is beautiful any time of year. It’s especially lovely in October.

Village Pediatrics takes full advantage. They’ve created a story walk there. They  laminate pages of a popular children’s story, then mount them on pylons behind their office.

Children and parents love it. So do random walkers and joggers of all ages.

Unfortunately — as “06880” reported last month — someone stole a story walk. Hard to believe why anyone would want to do that — or even think of it — but it happened.

Fortunately, the pediatricians were not deterred. They found a great story — The Hallo-Wiener — that’s perfect for the upcoming Halloween holiday kids love. (And dentists hate.)

It’s fully laminated, mounted on pylons, and ready for everyone to enjoy.

Except, hopefully, the Grinch who stole the last one.

Coleytown Middle School 7th grader Sophia Lomnitz enjoys the new story walk.

Camilla’s Neighborhood

Camilla Moe Røisland spent more than 20 years as a news presenter, reporter and producer for TV and radio, in her native Norway. She worked in communications for the oil, gas and shipping industry, and for unions and organizations.

Camilla Moe Roisland

Last year, she, her husband and 3 children moved to Westport (he works in wind farms). Camilla found an outlet for her creativity: chronicling the ups, downs, ins and outs of life in her new country.

And her new town.

Camilla Blogg” describes the beauty many of us take for granted — the beach, for example, and Saugatuck Island. She also sees jarring sights many of us never think of — like the “Private Property” signs that keep so many others from enjoying much of our beautiful shoreline.

A recent entry explored her neighborhood. She saw it through fresh eyes. Now let’s look at our town through hers.

When we moved to Westport a year ago, an area known for its prosperity and many “stay-at-home wives,” several people wondered if our new neighborhood would be similar to the 1990s’ “Desperate Housewives” series. I was excited myself, and a little anxious about what I would experience.

Various factors made us choose to settle in this affluent city of Westport in Connecticut, a beautiful place on the eastern coast of the United States. The neighborhood we ended up in was more random.

Camilla’s neighborhood.

The only advice before we tried to find a place to live came from Aunt Tove. She is married to our American Uncle Pat. Her whole family lives in Minnesota. “Just keep away from the areas where the most wealthy people live. These people, in their huge houses and gardens, have usually enough with themselves,” she told us.

The other day, a Spanish friend and expat told me, “Many people in Westport do not have neighborhoods, at least no knowledge or ties to their immediate surroundings. They hardly know their closest neighbor. We only know one neighbor because we have children at the same age.”

I usually describe the big houses of Westport as “castles ” and “mansions.” Several of these homes are amazingly beautiful, but when some of them are hidden behind tall fences or hedges, or are far from the road, it is not easy to create the unpretentious, random and often good contact with neighbors. Many of these large homes are on busy roads without pedestrian areas too. It is difficult to meet neighbors while driving back and forth to your garage, which is part of your main house.

An English girlfriend knows only 2 of her closest neighbors. They had to introduce themselves because there were trees they wanted to chop between the gardens. “We have been invited to a party once,” she said. “That was nice. Despite that, we never see any of our neighbors.”

There are some close neighborhood in Westport: those living near the sea, places with little traffic and where the distance between the houses is not too big. It also means a lot if homes have a common meeting point, such as a beach, playground, etc. If you can walk along the road in the neighborhood, you are also more able to chat with others. I often talk to other dog owners when I go for a walk in our neighborhood. My English girlfriend, on the other hand, cannot walk in her neighborhood because there are no sidewalks. She must play with the dog in her own garden, or drive elsewhere.

Camilla’s friends and neighbors.

The neighborhood we ended up living in was picked by coincidence. The house seemed nice, the rental price was within our budget, it had enough room for a family of 5, and seemed to be in a quiet, beautiful area with hiking opportunities not far from the sea. The meeting with an older woman on a bike, originally from the Netherlands, also meant a lot.

This Dutch woman had lived in Westport for 20 years. When I explained that we had the choice of moving to Darien or Westport, she gave a very convincing answer: “Westport is the best place, no doubt about it. It is lovely with all kinds of people, from artists to people working in investment banks. It is a very diverse community with a lot of nice, open minded people.

Now, one year after moving to this little neighborhood on the coast of Long Island Sound, I admit we have been very lucky with both the choice of Westport and our neighborhood. Even if the houses and gardens are smaller here near the sea (much more expensive per square meter due to the location) and there are fewer pools and tennis courts (sounds wild and maybe a bit disgusting, but I am not complaining about it!), it is wonderfully cozy.

A cozy neighborhood.

Neighbors gather on the beaches or at each other’s house. There are barbecues, we share some wine, people invite you for coffee and we all enjoy a more relaxing life, especially during the summer. The kids cycle or run between the houses, play basketball in the driveways, kayak, paddle board, and go out boating. It all reminds me a little of the life we ​​lived back in Norway.

I like to chat with someone jogging or passing by, and with the mothers who each day follow their children to the school bus. Some nice neighbors invited us for lunch, and we`ve been drinking wine and coffee at someone else’s house. My husband has been taught how to play paddle tennis by one, and we have made some of our best American friends not far from here. We do not have family here, so these people are important for our well-being in our new country.

What I like about Westport in general, and our neighborhood in particular, is that people of all ages with different backgrounds live here. There is a stand-up comedian, a talented musician and producer, a wonderful lawyer couple, and many “stay-at-home moms” like myself. Even Olaf lives here. He is a charming Norwegian who started to work here several years ago, married a beautiful American woman and never returns to Norway except on holidays.

More friends.

For creating a good neighborhood and communities, you need engaged and enthusiastic people. We find them all over the world, including here. These are people who take initiative to create and maintain traditions to meet. They care about the community and their neighbors.

In our neighborhood people open their houses so all – old and young, veterans and newcomers – can meet for a Christmas party, etc. Everybody brings something. We also meet on our little local beach to greet the summer, and were recently at our very first clambake, with whole lobsters, corn and other delicious food. We also saw photo albums that showed how our little “Association” has developed over the years. Fun!

It was a real nice clambake.

Aunt Tove was right that it is easier if you move to an area where people live closer to each other, and not high fences between the gardens. Whether people are rich or not has nothing to do with their kindness as neighbors, unless they choose to hide in their own home and garden.

What makes a good neighborhood is the people. Here, the people are accommodating and kind. I have so far not found any intrigues like in “Desperate Housewives” (in Norway called “Frustrated Housewives”). I have not seen a handsome “pool guy” like the one in this series either. Unfortunately, some would say. But without a pool, how can you have a pool guy?

Of course, I have to admit I am often frustrated –- whether because of the political debate and governance of this country, or being a stay-at-home mum with all those duties, and what that life lacks at times.

It is natural to be frustrated sometimes – both for you back in Norway, and for us here in Westport and in the rest of the US. On the other hand, I do not think most of us are desperate, as the English title of the series indicates. At least not that I am aware of, and at least not for now.

(Click here to read and subscribe to CamillaBlogg.com) 

Beachside Actors Take Their Show On The Road

Beachside Common is one of Westport’s hidden gems.

The 18 homes — 33 adults, 24 children — nestle up against Burying Hill Beach and Sherwood Island, off Beachside Avenue. With no through traffic, it’s tight-knit and neighborly.

Shortly after Nico and Robin Eisenberger moved in 5 years ago, she had a minor operation that limited her mobility. The couple had not said a word — but they found warm dinners delivered by neighbors to their doorsteps, 11 days in a row.

Beachside Common also throws an annual block party. Kids play, everyone eats, adults drink, and someone brings out a guitar.

This year, the Eisenbergers decided to add something new. For years, Nico has wanted to act — for fun. As he learned of and seen Westport’s rich arts history, the urge grew.

He remembered his childhood in Bernardsville, New Jersey, when neighbors staged a yearly play. The lightbulb lit up: Let’s do it here!

The Beachside play …

The Eisenbergers’ next door neighbor, Alli DiVincenzo, is a popular logo, brand and website designer for businesses and organizations.

She’d also just written a short book, poking gentle fun at affluent communities. It’s funny, ironic, and ends with a splash of redemption. Why not turn her book into a play?

Laura Pendergast — a common friend, fellow Greens Farms Elementary School parent and owner of TheaterCamp 4 Kids (who also teaches adults to act) — quickly adapted Alli’s story. Then she offered to direct it.

Actors — young and old — were recruited from the neighborhood. After just a few rehearsals, Laura whipped everyone into shape. (A little wine helped.)

Last Saturday, Beachside Common held its annual block party. And its first-ever play.

… and the Beachside Players.

“There’s nothing particularly momentous about this story,” Nico says. “The cast were rank amateurs. The staging — in the middle of the street — was basic. The performance was barely passable.

“But it was memorable for both our small audience and the performers. We stepped out of the uber-busy, uber-online, world-in-turmoil, everyone-for-themselves environment. We did something in-person and creative together.

“It was super fun. And it was definitely inspired at every turn by the history and best traditions of Westport.”

Will the Beachside Players return?

We’ll drink to that.

Art From Big Pink

Arlene Skutch was an important part of Westport’s arts community.

A classically trained professional singer, she performed in Broadway musicals like “Finian’s Rainbow” and “Of Thee I Sing.”

She married, had 2 children, and bought an 1876 saltbox Colonial at 244 Wilton Road. On her honeymoon in Cuba she’d loved the bright, colorful houses. So she painted her new house pink.

Arlene Skutch’s former house, 244 Wilton Road.

The property had an artist’s studio in the back, designed by celebrated architect Eliot Noyes. When her children started school, Arlene took painting classes at Silvermine.

In 1972 she opened her Wilton Road studio to students. A 4-decade career as a professional artist, art teacher and mentor followed.

She developed a devoted following of students. They called themselves “The Pink House Painters.”

Arlene died in 2012. Her life lives on though, in Martin West’s documentary “Years in the Making: A Journey Into Late Life Creativity.” (Notice she’s wearing pink!)

Her pink house lives on too.

At least, it has until now.

Word on the street — Wilton Road — is that the pink house is being painted.

Will the well-known, historic color survive? Or will it suffer the same fates as Westport’s other famed pink structure, Remarkable Book Shop?

Stay tuned.

Saugatuck Island: A Bridge To Somewhere

Alert “06880” reader, native Westporter — and active Saugatuck Island resident — William Adler writes:

In recent days, the Saugatuck Island bridge project has been given the final touches. Traffic is once again busy to and from this neighborhood on Westport’s westerly shores.

The Saugatuck Island Special Taxing District arranged for whitewashing of the bridge railings, and has restored landscaping that had been disrupted by heavy construction equipment.

The new bridge replaces a quaint timber structure of wooden pilings and rustic railings originally built in the 1920s.

The old bridge …

The old bridge was well past its intended lifespan in 2012, when it suffered structural damage in Superstorm Sandy.

The total cost of $2.1 million includes a $1.3 million FEMA grant. The town and SISTD split the remainder 50-50. Construction began last year.

The new bridge retains the feel of its predecessor, while providing greater safety, practicality and rock-solid durability. The single span of concrete deck sits on steel girders, with an asphalt surface. It is secured on 50-foot deep sheet pile abutments clad in concrete.

96 feet long and 20 feet wide, the bridge can hold 20 tons – more than sufficient to accommodate heavy emergency equipment, unlike its wooden predecessor. The bridge’s anticipated life span is 75 years.

… and the new.

The bridge completion comes as Saugatuck Island has been experiencing a housing boom. During the past 5 years, about 1/3 of the approximately 100 properties on the island have changed hands. Prices range from $700,000 to $9.8 million.

Others have been expanded, elevated or otherwise enhanced. New construction has increased the number of larger, higher-end luxury residences.

In addition to 400 Westport residents, the island is home to Cedar Point Yacht Club, established in 1887, and the Saugatuck Shores Club (1946).

SISTD was established in 1984 to tax island property owners for local community costs — mainly road maintenance.

The Saugatuck Island bridge, as seen from Canal Road.

As for Saugatuck Island itself: Near the end of the 19th century, the Army Corps of Engineers cut a canal between what is now Canal Road and Spriteview Avenue, to provide a faster, safer route for onion farmers to transport their goods to Norwalk.

The newly formed island was called “Greater Marsh Shores at Saugatuck.”

P&Z Decision Likely On Medical Marijuana and Daybreak Property; No Public Testimony Tonight

Planning and Zoning director Mary Young wants “06880” readers to know: Decisions will likely be rendered by the Planning and Zoning Commission tonight at Town Hall, on applications to locate medical marijuana dispensary facilities in town.

Public hearings have been closed, so no more public testimony will be heard.

However, tonight’s meeting is public. It will be televised on Channel 79 (Cablevision) and Channel 6020 (Frontier). It will also be livestreamed at www.westportct.gov tomorrow, beginning at 7 p.m.

Five applicants have proposed medical marijuana dispensaries in Westport.  Zoning regulations adopted in 2017 authorize the P&Z to approve up to 2 locations. However, the Commission is not required to approve any.

A decision on 500 Main Street (former Daybreak Nurseries) is also anticipated at tonight’s meeting. Peter Greenberg of Able Construction returned this  spring with a new application for consideration by the P&Z to construct 9 housing units: 2 two-family dwellings and 4 one-family dwelling units, on the 2.18-acre site. All are age-restricted (55 and over).

The project was reduced in scale, compared to an application denied earlier this year by the Commission. That public hearing has also been closed, so no testimony may be received.

The former Daybreak Nurseries, at 500 Main Street.

Back To Bohemia On Hidden Garden Tour

Day by day, bit by bit, wrecking ball by wrecker ball, Westport’s artistic and “bohemian” past is disappearing.

Fortunately, pockets remain. You just have to know where to look.

This Sunday (June 10, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.), a secret gem takes the spotlight. The Blau Home and Gardens is one of 4 properties featured in the Westport Historical Society’s 27th annual Hidden Garden Tour.

One view of the Blau garden …

Designed by Broadway theater designer Ralph Alswang, the home is rustic and glamorous. From salvaged exposed heavy barn timber beams — uncommon in modern homes of the mid-20th century — to a Romeo and Juliet bedroom balcony window opening to the living room, and a dramatic main staircase, the house off Bayberry Lane was owned by advertising mogul Barry Blau.

Both he and Alswang journeyed from poor, urban roots to the then-freewheeling arts colony of Westport.

The garden — like its owner and designer — is informal and unconventional. It features massive rhododendron groves, towering oaks, antique sculptures, paths, benches, ornamental gates and stunning stone walls.

Blau’s widow is almost 90. The WHS says she and her family want to preserve the home and property. Welcoming Hidden Garden Tour visitors is one way to see it.

… and another.

The tour also includes an English rose garden with Italian fountain; a meticulously restored 1820s onion barn with post-and-beam construction, original stone foundations and antique farm equipment, surrounded by woodland gardens, and a 225-year-old colonial farmhouse in Weston, with 30 varieties of peonies and exotic specimen trees.

In addition to Sunday’s tour, unique items for gardeners and garden lovers from local artisans and businesses are available for sale on the Historical Society’s front lawn (25 Avery Place, 9 a.m.  to 4 p.m.).

That front lawn is well-known, and very visible. To see those 4 hidden gardens though, you need a ticket.

(Click here for tickets: $50 for Westport Historical Society members, $60 for non-members, $75 the day of the tour. Click here for more information.) 

Historic Designation For Bridge Street Neighborhood

Werner Liepolt lives on Bridge Street.

Around the corner is the William F. Cribari Bridge. In 1987 — the first time the century-old span was slated to be replaced by a modern one — Westporters succeeded in gaining National Historic Structure designation for it.

The William Cribari (Bridge Street) Bridge is the gateway to Bridge Street. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

In November 2015 — with plans once again afoot to renovate or replace the Cribari Bridge, and spillover impacts likely for Bridge Street and beyond — Liepolt began a quest to get National Historic District status for his entire neighborhood.

The longtime Westporter knew that many of the houses on his road had contributed to Westport history. Over the years, he’d heard stories from older residents about who grew up where, which families were related, and how beautifully the forsythia had bloomed.

He saw historical plaques affixed to many homes. But to submit a Historic District application, he needed to learn more.

Morley Boyd — Westport’s historic preservation expert — directed Liepolt to a history of the town, and an 1869 document in which Chloe Allen “dedicated to the public” the road between her house (still standing on the corner of Bridge Street and South Compo) and the Saugatuck River.

Chloe Allen lived in the Delancy Allen House at 192 Compo Road South. It was built in 1809.

That half-mile stretch now boasts more than 20 historical resources. Thirty-one properties are eligible for Connecticut State Historic Preservation plaques.

Wendy Crowther noted that a New Yorker cover by Edna Eicke shows a little girl celebrating July 4th on the porch of her 1880 home, on the corner of Imperial Avenue and Bridge Street.

That’s the same house where John Dolan — keeper of the manually operated swing bridge — lived until the 1940s.

The New Yorker cover of June 30, 1956 shows this 1880  home, at the corner of  Bridge Street and Imperial Avenue.

Liepolt also researched what it means to be a National Register District. Benefits, he found, are modest — and obligations non-existent.

A homeowner can do anything to and with a house that any other owner can. An owner who makes restorational repairs may enjoy a tax benefit.

Liepolt learned too that if any federal funding, licensing or permitting is involved in development in a National Register District, that agency must take into account the effects of that action on historic properties, and consult with stakeholders.

Liepolt says this means that a possible Connecticut Department of Transportation plan to use federal funds to widen Route 136 — Bridge Street — as it feeds the bridge over the Saugatuck would require the Federal Highway Authority to consider the effect, and consult with property owners there.

The 1884 Rufus Wakeman House, at 18 Bridge Street.

The goal of this consultation is to mitigate “adverse effects,” Liepolt explains. These can be direct or indirect, and include physical destruction and damage; alteration inconsistent with standards for the treatment of historic properties; relocation of the property; change in the character of the property’s use; introduction of incompatible elements; neglect and deterioration, and more.

In February 2016, Liepolt asked Westport’s Historic District Commission to make a formal request for designation of the Bridge Street neighborhood. It was approved unanimously.

Liepolt worked with HDC coordinator Carol Leahy and an architectural historian to complete the research, take photographs, compile materials and write the final application to the National Parks Service.

The 1886 Orlando Allen House, at 24 Bridge Street.

This past April, the application was approved. Bridge Street is now added to the list of Nationally Registered Districts.

There was no big announcement. I’m not sure if anyone in town really noticed.

But we sure would notice if — without this designation — the look and character of the Bridge Street neighborhood ever changed.

Friday Flashback Follow-Up: Where The Hill Is It?

When I first saw last Friday’s flashback — a shot of an almost-empty Westport road, circa 1930 — I was pretty sure it was taken on State Street (now the Post Road), looking east past what is now Compo Shopping Center, toward where the Humane Society sits today.

But I wasn’t positive. So I asked readers what they thought.

Over 60 comments poured in. Many agreed with my guess. But others ranged up and down the Post Road, and across town to places like Nyala Farm.

Someone even thought I was right, but looking in the wrong direction (the old IHOP would be on the left, with the fire station and then — yes — the Humane Society on the right).

Alert “06880” reader Tom Ryan took out his camera. He offers these 3 images, and some thoughts.

This (above) was his original guess — the same as mine. However, he says, “you can’t see the road bend left (at the top) in the current photo. I think that rules it out.”

Picky, picky.

Here’s his second shot:

It shows Post Road West looking east, with Kings Highway Elementary School just out of the frame on the right.

Tom writes: “This one looks good as well. But notice the angle of the right side of the road. Seems dead straight in the original photo but more angled in today’s photo.”

Finally — looking east on Post Road West, just past Whole Foods — there’s this:

Tom says:

“I think this is a match, mostly because of the angle of the right side of the road in both past and current photos. You can also see the curve left in the distance, and the slope of the road seems to be the same.

“Lastly, the stone wall on the left is still there, and about the same distance from the road as in the original photo (although you can’t see it here because of the trees).”

The mystery continues. There’s only one thing we know for sure.

There was a lot less traffic back in 1930.

The ABCs of “06880”

Last summer, Shelly Welfeld’s mother passed away.

She sought solace in morning prayers at Beit Chaverim synagogue. Then she’d walk down the Post Road, along Riverside Avenue and downtown.

Along the way, Shelly noticed various objects that looked like letters. She took photos — and soon had enough to complete the alphabet.

Out of Shelly’s mourning came a creative and gorgeous collage:

(Photo collage by Shelly Welfeld)

It’s so beautiful, I asked Shelly to share it here.

And so much fun, we came up with a great contest idea.

“06880” readers: Identify the locations for all 26 “letters.” The first correct answer wins a $50 gift certificate, generously donated by The ‘Port restaurant. (HINT: One of the images above comes from the National Hall building.)

Email your entries to dwoog@optonline.net. Deadline is noon on Wednesday, May 23. If no one gets all 26, the person with the most correct answers wins. The decision of the judges (Shelly and I) is final.

Get to work, “06880” readers. The answers are right there, under — and above — your noses.