Category Archives: Real estate

Final Bell Tolls For 17 Soundview Drive

“06880” has chronicled the history of 17 Soundview Drive.

One of the most recognizable homes on the beach exit road, it played an important role in Westport’s musical history.

Today, the nearly 100-year-old house played its final chord. Paul Ehrismann was there. He took this photo, and posted it on Facebook:

17-soundview-drive-paul-ehrisman

(Photo/Copyright Paul Ehrismann)

I knew the old owners. They are good friends.

I know the new ones too. They are also friends. They respected the property — and its history. But they could not find a way to save it.

They’ll do right by the home that replaces it. It will fit in well with its neighbors, and the neighborhood.

In the 1920s the voices of Enrico Caruso, Maria Callas, Robert Merrill and others soared from the living room radio and onto the beach, thrilling neighbors and passersby.

Decades later, Meat Loaf played his next single on the roof deck. No one on the beach could see him there — but they heard him. At the end, everyone applauded.

The house is gone. But those musical memories — and countless others — will remain, long after the final notes have been played.

180 Cross Highway: Saved!

Our country is more polarized than at any time since the Civil War.

But in one corner of Westport, at least, folks negotiate in good faith.

They compromise. And everyone wins.

The Planning & Zoning Commission was all set last night for a contentious hearing on Mark Yurkiw and Wendy Van Wie’s plea to preserve their 1700s property on Cross Highway. The couple — who spent years restoring a home and barn — wanted a waiver to live in the barn, but sell the other structure. That way, they said, it could be loved, cared for and maintained in perpetuity.

One view of 188 Cross Highway.

One view of 188 Cross Highway.

A neighbor opposed the proposal.

Mark and Wendy had a number of supporters in the Town Hall crowd. An “06880” story — with 100 or so comments — was read into the record.

But before anything else happened, both sides huddled. Suddenly, the neighbor’s attorney announced he’d drop the objection — provided Mark and Wendy adhere to a few simple conditions.

Bingo!

The P&Z approved what they needed to. Because it contains historic homes, the property can now be subdivided. The homes will remain.

Everybody wins.

Perhaps we can send that crew down to Washington?

60 Roseville Road: Another Historic Arts Home For Sale

Hot on the heels of 157 Easton Road — the former home of concert violinist Leopold Godowsky Jr. and his wife Frankie Gershwin (George and Ira’s younger sister) — another Westport property with a wonderful arts pedigree is on the market.

60 Roseville Road is listed on a state database of homes owned by famed children’s book authors and illustrators. From 1946 until his death 30 years later, Hardie Gramatky lived — and worked — there.

His name still resonates. In 2006, Andrew Wyeth called him one of America’s 20 greatest watercolorists. Decades after he wrote and illustrated Little Tootit remains a beloved classic.

The other day, Linda Gramatky Smith — the artist’s daughter — and her husband Ken sat in the light-filled home. They’ve lived there since 1993. Now they’re moving to New Jersey, to be closer to their daughter. They hope they can sell it to someone who cherishes its creative bones.

60 Roseville Road

60 Roseville Road

The house has had only one other owner. Joe Chapin — a famed New York art director — built it as a weekend place. When he died, his wife Henrietta moved to Imperial Avenue (where she lived with Rose O’Neill, creator of the Kewpies comic characters).

The Roseville Road house was rented out. In the mid-1940s, tenants wanted to buy but could not afford the asking price. So they refused to let potential purchasers inside.

Gramatky peered into the windows. He loved it — and bought it for $22,000.

Hardie Gramatky, Dorothea Cooke and their daughter Linda, during their early days in Westport.

Hardie Gramatky, Dorothea Cooke and their daughter Linda, during their early days in Westport.

Moving day was set for December 26, 1946. A huge snowstorm roared in a few days earlier. The tenants — still enraged at not being able to buy — turned off the heat, and opened the windows.

Realtor Muriel Baldwin drove by, and saw what was happening. “She saved the house,” Linda says gratefully 70 years later.

Gramatky quickly became part of Westport’s lively arts community. With Stevan Dohanos, he started a watercolor group. Howard Munce, Ward Brackett and others met monthly to chat, critique each other’s work, and socialize.

Gramatky created a “Little Toot” poster for the Westport Red Cross. He drew caricatures at the Yankee Doodle Fair, was a frequent elementary school classroom guest, and played in the popular fundraising “artists vs. writers” basketball games.

Gramatky’s wife, Dorothea Cooke, was a noted artist herself. She drew covers for magazines like Jack and Jill, and lived in the home until her death in 2001.

“They adopted the community. And the community adopted them,” Linda says.

Hardie Gramatky: "Compo Beach Figures"

“Compo Beach Figures,” by Hardie Gramatky

His home inspired his work. Gramatky could see Long Island Sound from an upstairs window, and painted that scene. Another work shows a boy and his beagle walking down Roseville Road — then just a country lane.

He painted the 1867 house across the street — owned for years by the Fonetlieu family — from many angles. Linda hung some of those works in her living room, next to windows with a view of that home.

The Gramatky house was a neighborhood gathering place. Kids played in the big yard, and sledded in winter. If they wandered into his studio, the artist let them paint. (Dorothea baked cookies for them.)

When Gramatky was dying of cancer, he spent much of his time in the warm sun porch.

Fellow illustrator Munce said in his eulogy, “Some artists go to France for inspiration. Hardie just looked out his windows, and painted those scenes.”

"Green's Farms Station," by Hardie Gramatky.

“Green’s Farms Station,” by Hardie Gramatky.

Linda looks around the house that she and Ken are selling. It has a long, rich history, and holds memories.

“It’s such a livable home,” she says. “I hope someone buys it who understands what it means, and wants to preserve it.”

Westport artist Hardie Gramatky donated this "Little Toot" book cover to the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection.

Hardie Gramatky donated this “Little Toot” book cover to the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection.

The Einsels’ Very Artful Estate Sale

I don’t usually post stories about estate sales.

Then again, most Westport estate sales don’t attract interest from as far away as Canada.

Most estate sales also don’t feature items from an 1853 Victorian farmhouse that for over 60 years was the home of husband-and-wife artists, both of whom were inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame.

Walter and Naiad Einsel

Walter and Naiad Einsel

The couple — Walter and Naiad Einsel — were Westport icons. They worked together and independently on book and magazine illustrations, posters, ads and package designs.

They were the first married couple to create stamp designs for the US Postal Service. They also produced 55 figures — with intricate details and moving parts — for Epcot Center.

They were also important members of Westport’s arts community. Naiad designed our Bicentennial Quilt, sewn by 33 women and on display in Town Hall since 1976. She earned a Westport Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

In 2006 the Einsels received a Preservation Award for their South Morningside Drive home. Starting Friday, the entire contents of that house — including attic, basement and crawlspaces, plus their studios, the barn, outbuildings — are up for sale.

Folks will come from all over the East for thousands of pieces of folk art, antiques, paintings, prints, kinetic sculptures and advertising items. The list seems endless: a 1900 cast iron kitchen stove; an Edison standard phonograph with horn and records; 15 antique clocks, and on and on.

Tjhe Einsels' "Saver," made of copper, brass, polychrome and wood, 90 messages appear on tape in the megaphone as the flag is waved and the hat revolves.

The Einsels’ “Saver,” made of copper, brass, polychrome and wood, 90 messages appear on tape in the megaphone as the flag is waved and the hat revolves.

There’s also the usual stuff you’d find at any Westport estate sale, like sterling silver, crystal, cabinets, sofas, bookcases, blah blah blah.

I’m always amazed at the number of cars parked at “normal” estate sales. This one could be a record breaker.

There’s early buying on Friday (November 11, 4 to 9 p.m.). It costs $50 per person that night — but a portion of that fee will be donated to the Westport Historical Society.

That’s fitting. The Einsels had a lot to do with restoring the WHS’ 7-sided cobblestone building. There, Walter’s kinetic sculpture “Uncle Sam” tips his hat, and  his eyes light up. Naiad’s “Statue of Liberty” also moves: her torch shines, and her heart pulsates.

The estate sale continues Saturday (November 12, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Sunday (November 13, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

It will be packed. Items will go fast. But if you don’t find anything you like, you can still purchase something Einsel-related.

The historic house is up for sale too.

(For more details, click here.)

Walter and Naiad Einsel's South Morningside Drive house.

Walter and Naiad Einsel’s South Morningside Drive house.

UPDATE: 180 Cross Highway: Important Meeting Moved To November 17

Last month, “06880” highlighted the efforts of Mark Yurkiw and Wendy Van Wie to preserve their 1700s property on Cross Highway. The couple — who spent years restoring a home and barn — are asking the Planning & Zoning Commission for a waiver. It would allow them to live in the barn but sell the other structure, so it can be loved, cared for and maintained in perpetuity.

Nearly 100 people supported Mark and Wendy in the “Comments” section, or via personal emails and letters.

Part of the Cross Highway property.

Part of the Cross Highway property.

Now it’s time to put our money where our mouths are. Tonight (Thursday, November 3, On Thursday, November 17 (7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), the P&Z hears the waiver request. An attorney for one set of neighbors — who oppose the request — will argue against it.

Mark and Wendy have — very quietly, and with an eye toward history — enhanced their historic neighborhood. They don’t like speaking in public.

But they hope that their presence later this month — and that of other concerned Westporters — will speak volumes about the value of preservation.

Arnie’s Place

A few weeks ago, “06880” highlighted 157 Easton Road. The 7-bedroom, 10-bath, 6-car garage, 2.75-acre property on the Aspetuck River — with a boathouse, indoor pool, 2 bars, wine-tasting room, guest quarters, tennis court, waterfalls, walking paths and stone bridges — was on the market.

The story focused on the home’s history. It was the longtime residence of Leopold Godowsky Jr. (a concert violinist with a passion for photography who set up a lab there, and helped develop Kodacolor and Ektachrome) and his wife, Frankie Gershwin (who in addition to being a noted painter and singer was also George and Ira’s younger sister). The Godowskys hosted guests like Richard Rodgers, John Hersey, Maureen O’Sullivan and Mia Farrow there.

157 Easton Road

157 Easton Road

That was intriguing enough. But a number of commenters noted that the house later belonged to another famous Westporter. Arnie Kaye was the larger-than-life (literally and metaphorically) owner of Arnie’s Place, a pioneering and legendary 1970s/’80s video arcade. Arnie also owned an ice cream parlor and delicatessen, regularly battled town officials, paid his taxes in pennies, and killed an intruder on his land.

157 Easton Road has finally been sold. The figure is eye-popping — and not in a good way.

It was listed at $3,599,000. The price — at auction — was $1,800,000.

Someone got Arnie’s place for a song.

And I don’t mean a Gershwin tune.

(Click here for the full real estate listing of this property.)

Building Proposal Raises Affordable Housing, Traffic Questions

It’s a long-neglected property. A developer hopes to tear down the tired old building, clean up the land and build a new office/retail/food store complex, as well as residential retail units.

There are 16 or so affordable units there now. They’d be gone. They don’t count toward Westport’s state-mandated 8-30g affordable housing number, however, because they were built (long) before 1990.

The new plan includes 14 units. Only 3 would be “affordable” — but they would apply toward our total number.

Those are some of the issues surrounding a proposal heard by Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission recently for 785 Post Road East. It sits unobtrusively between Westport Wash & Wax and New Country Toyota — and it has for many years.

785 Post Road East, between Westport Wash & Wax and New Country Toyota.

785 Post Road East, between Westport Wash & Wax and New Country Toyota.

In recent years, the rear of the property has been used as a dumping ground. The house fronting the Post Road is not in dire shape, but it’s sure not distinguished either.

The new plan includes a 2-story building for office space, plus retail and that convenience or food store. The rental units would be part of 3 separate 2 1/2-story buildings. Ten would be 2-bedrooms; 4 would have 1 bedroom. There would be parking for 49 cars.

A “Notice of Intention to Demolish” sign already hangs on the existing building. Another one promises “Leasing Available.”

If the P&Z decides in an upcoming meeting to approve the project — or if they okay another development down the road — one thing is certain: Traffic on the Post Road will get even worse.

Right now mornings on that stretch — including the merge from Long Lots Road — are brutal. When there’s an accident on I-95, nothing moves.

So the next time you’re stuck there, take a look to your right. If you never noticed 785 Post Road East before, you will now.

A side view of 785 Post Road East.

A side view of 785 Post Road East.

This Old Boiler

All around Westport, homeowners proudly display plaques bearing the dates their houses were built: 1884. 1720. 1683.

(Others, of course, proudly display the many gables and great rooms of the homes they’ve built to replace those historic ones. But that’s a different story.)

There’s a lot going on inside old homes too. Yesterday, Gault honored Westport’s oldest boiler.

It’s fitting. The company — recently renamed Gault Energy & Home Solutions —  is the oldest business in Westport. By several decades.

Gault was already 57 years old — just a little younger than Mitchells of Westport is now — in 1920, when workers installed a coal-fueled heating unit for the Abbott family.

The 96-year-old boiler in the Salmonds' basement.

The 96-year-old boiler in the Salmonds’ basement.

The Dutch colonial on St. John Place has been renovated several times since Woodrow Wilson was president. But the boiler was the same.

This week, company president Sam Gault presented homeowners Willie and Anne Salmond — a retired couple — with a state-of-the-art new one. It’s quite a 45th wedding anniversary gift: The value is $11,000 (including installation).

(And it came not a moment too soon. Sleet fell yesterday, on the coldest day of the fall.)

Sam Gault (right), president of Gault Energy & Home Solutions, delivered a new state-of-the-art Energy Kinetics System 2000 boiler to Willie and Anne Salmond.

Sam Gault (right), president of Gault Energy & Home Solutions, delivered a new state-of-the-art Energy Kinetics System 2000 boiler to Anne and Willie Salmond yesterday.

The Salmonds — who moved here in 1984, when Gault was just 121 years young — have an interesting story themselves. They raised 3 children in Westport, but also traveled extensively for work. Among other things, he served in Uganda with an HIV/AIDS prevention program, while she did foundation work in India.

Both are members of the Saugatuck Congregational Church. He’s recently taken on preaching assignments there, and at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

Willie is from Scotland. Anne is from Northern Ireland. Both grew up in homes where heat was a luxury. In fact, coal was used in bedrooms only if someone was sick.

As a New England winter nears, the heat is welcome — especially since Anne has arthritis.

Gault's new logo (and name).

They thanked Gault for its generosity, noting that since retirement they wanted to spend their money on what Anne calls “things you can see. We ignored the old dinosaur in our basement.” Now, they’re inspired to take on other domestic  projects.

Here’s one final twist: The original owners of the Salmonds’ house — the Abbotts –are related to the Gaults through marriage.

How’s that for a heart-“warming” story?

Westporters Renovate 2 Historic Structures. Now Neighbors Want Them Torn Down.

Most Westport preservation battles follow the same pattern.

A historic house is sold. The new owner wants to tear it down. Outraged residents object. Others point out that preservationists could have bought the home, but did not — and the people who did, can now do whatever they want.

In rare cases — like 93 Cross Highway108 Cross Highway, or the one across the street at #113 — the home is saved. It’s a handsome stretch on an important main road.

Further down Cross Highway though, something bizarre is happening.

Near the Fairfield border sits 188 Cross Highway. The gorgeous 2.9-acre property includes a saltbox built in 1728,  a barn circa 1790-1810, and 2 legal pre-1959 cottage apartments.

When the British marched past in 1777 en route to Danbury — taking brothers Benjamin and Daniel Meeker prisoner, and sacking the house — it was already half a century old.

The "Meeker house" in the 1930s, as photographed for a WPA project. After the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Meeker built the barn in back. It -- and the house -- still stand today.

The “Meeker house” in the 1930s, as photographed for a WPA project. After the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Meeker built the barn in back. They still stand.

The Schilthuis-Meeker house — Sally Schilthuis was influential in preventing construction of Merritt Parkway Exit 43 in the area, resulting in the current “No Man’s Land” between Exits 42 and 44 — is one of 5 remaining nationwide of original medieval structure Colonial revival construction.

In 2003, Mark Yurkiw and Wendy Van Wie purchased the property. It was in foreclosure. The houses were in distress, ready to be plowed under. But the couple saved the historic homes.

For 2 decades, they have poured time and energy into their renovation project. The result is gorgeous.

The exterior of 188 Cross Highway.

The exterior of 188 Cross Highway.

But it’s been costly.

And one couple can’t live in 2 houses. They live in the barn, and rented out the saltbox. The tenants wanted to buy. Mark and  Wendy would love to sell to them — as a practical matter, and to make sure the historic structure is loved, cared for and maintained as it deserves.

They’re even willing to add covenants to keep — in perpetuity — the historic house as a single-family dwelling; forever maintain the facade, and do whatever else is necessary to maintain the house where it is. In other words, no future owner could move — or demolish — the structure.

Right now though, they can’t sell. Planning and Zoning regulations don’t permit 2 homes to exist on 1 piece of property.

Sounds like a win-win: for Mark and Wendy, and the neighborhood.

But a small cadre of Cross Highway neighbors object.

At a Planning and Zoning Commission hearing on Thursday, they (and their lawyer) cited traffic, safety, density, the fact that the house is currently unoccupied, and the sight of dandelions on the lawn as reasons to reject the application.

A recent, sun-dappled fall day.

A recent, sun-dappled fall day.

After 2 hours of heated testimony — during which Wendy and her supporters countered most of the objections, then offered even more covenants and encumbrances to save the historic building and properties — the real issue came through.

Robert Yules and a few other neighbors opposed the subdivision because it would save the historic houses.

He said essentially that the state of the property did not reflect his McMansion, and others nearby. The grounds — period gardens and stone walls, with cobblestone walkways — did not match his extremely well-kept lawn.

One more view of 188 Cross Highway.

One more view of 188 Cross Highway.

“Trash” and “eyesore” are usually not associated with painstaking historic rehab projects. But they were Thursday night.

It’s astonishing. Yet in this through-the-looking-glass tale, there’s something even more eye-popping.

In 2006, Robert and Susan Yules wrote to the P&Z supporting the efforts of their “friends and neighbors,” Wendy and Mark, on the “renovating and improving of the main house and free standing cottage/barn.”

The Yuleses added, “Their efforts have transformed the buildings significantly. Please permit them to continue to remodel the buildings as they will enhance the beauty of the neighborhood.”

An interior view of the bright, high-ceilinged renovated barn.

An interior view of the bright, high-ceilinged renovated barn.

They were not the only neighbors to appreciate Mark and Wendy’s work.

Others described how Mark and Wendy had “lovingly restore(d) these irreplaceable architectural treasures” to their “deserved place” in Westport and American history.

Now the Yuleses and a few neighbors have changed their tune. They believe a new, large construction better fits the neighborhood than a plan that would save 2 structures — lovingly restored, and paying homage to the days when history quite literally marched past the front door.

“Houses are only kept alive by their owners,” Mark says.

“This is very discouraging. We’re not trying to ‘win.’ We’re trying to give the town something.

This could be one of the most topsy-turvy tales I’ve ever told.

But don’t take my word for it. Drive by 188 Cross Highway. (That’s the official number. The mailboxes have always said 178 and 180). See for yourself. Then — if you want to contact the Planning & Zoning Commission — click here.

RTM Votes May Bring Changes To Town

Westport’s Representative Town Meeting made 2 important decisions last night.

In a 23-9 vote, the RTM denied a petition to overturn the Planning and Zoning Commission’s approval of a 4-story, 94-unit rental building on Post Road East, opposite Crate & Barrel.

The decision brings the property one step closer to construction — and the town closer to a 4-year moratorium on building additional “affordable housing” units under state 8-30g regulations.

Thirty of the units would be “affordable,” as defined by Connecticut law.

The newest design looks “more residential” than an earlier version, developer Philip Craft says. It includes 54 studio apartments, and 40 1-bedroom units.

The redesigned 4-story 1177 Post Road East rental property.

The redesigned 4-story 1177 Post Road East rental property.

The RTM also authorized $70,000 for design and engineering plans, for a walkway and restrooms at Compo’s South Beach. That vote was 24-2, with 1 abstention.