Over the years, I’ve written dozens of stories about teardowns. I’ve warned of the impending demolition of historic homes. I’ve lamented the loss of our classic streetscapes. Just this past Monday, I remembered a visit to a special house on Compo Cove.
But as much as I loved those houses, and mourned their passing, it was always about someone else’s property.
Today I’m writing about mine.
At least, it was mine from the time I was 3 years old, through college. It stayed “mine,” in the sense that my parents continued to own it, for decades after that. My sisters and I continued to visit, for holidays and special occasions (Sue’s wedding! My 50th birthday party!). And of course, to use the pool.
My mother died there — in the bedroom she’d lived in since 1956 — in 2016.
It was not a special house: 2,400 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a basement and patio. It was the 5th house built on High Point Road during the post-war baby boom. Although each home on Westport’s longest cul-de-sac was different, it was just another suburban home.
34 High Point Road
Except, of course, every house is special to those who grew up there.
Like any home, this one has stories. My parents told us their move in. A St. Patrick’s Day blizzard buried the driveway. So my mother and father spent their first night in Westport sleeping not in the bedroom of the first home they owned, but in the back of the moving van.
A neighbor down the street was Rod Serling. He’d been a friend of my father’s at Antioch College (and helped persuade my parents to move not just to Westport, but High Point specifically).
Whenever his in-laws showed up, Rod “escaped” to my parents’ house. Who knows which “Twilight Zone” or “Playhouse 90” shows were written downstairs?
When my youngest sister Laurie was born, my parents turned the attic into my room. It was big, and on its own floor. Years later my mother asked, “Did you feel bad you weren’t near the rest of us?”
“Are you kidding?” I said. “It was right by the front door. I could sneak out at night!”
“You snuck out once?” she wondered, surprised.
“Um — more than once,” I said.
High Point Road was a great place to grow up. Nearly all 70 houses were filled with kids around my age. We rode bikes, wandered into each other’s houses at will, and played soccer, touch football and baseball at Staples High School, which was in the backyards of the homes across the street.
Our house sat on an acre of hilly land. My mother had a hand in much of the gorgeous landscaping. (I never forgave her for taking down my favorite apple tree.)
Beautiful back yard landscaping.
Perhaps the most unique feature of the house was a large window. I’ve never seen a larger window in any home. It faced east, framing beautiful sunrises, spectacular autumn leaves in the dozens of trees filling the yard, and animal tracks in newly fallen snow.
The view from the large window in fall …
… and winter.
Several months after my mother’s death, my sisters and I sold the house. We thought it would be a teardown then. But the new owner decided to renovate it himself.
It was a good idea. The kitchen needed updating; removing a few walls would create the open floor plan craved by owners today.
For whatever reason, it didn’t work. For 4 years, the house was in a constant state of disrepair. He took down dozens of trees; the lumber sat on the ground.
I drove by every so often, just to look. One day, a former neighbor flagged me down.
“What’s your mother doing to her house?” she asked.
“Well, she died,” I said. “It’s not hers anymore.”
“Oh, thank god,” the woman said. “It looks awful.”
Last spring, the house was sold again. The new owner — only the 3rd in its history — is a builder.
He had no intention of finishing the renovation. He would build a new house on the property.
After watching our old home “ruined,” I was ready for the decision.
I knew that teardowns are part of the Westport real estate lifecycle. I’ve heard about so many, and written about plenty.
But I wasn’t quite ready for my house to be demolished.
I hadn’t realized how many machines would be involved.
I hadn’t thought about how quickly they would reduce wood, concrete and plaster — or, more personally, a roof, walls, floors, rooms, and (more romantically) memories — to (literally) dust.
I hadn’t imagined seeing only the foundation remaining. Then the next day, it too was gone.
After the first day, only the foundation remained.
I did not know that the swimming pool would be filled with detritus. Or that even more trees would be pulverized, exposing the home behind that had been shielded for so long. Or that the topography would be altered so much, so quickly, that I could barely recognize the land.
The front yard.
I did not think that things would change so dramatically — in less than a week — that the only thing left was the mailbox, and an outside light fixture.
(All photos/Dan Woog)
Yet that’s what happened. It’s the same thing that’s happened to countless Westporters. This time though, it happened to me.
34 High Point Road has joined the long list of local teardowns. Soon — within weeks, maybe — a new home will rise somewhere on the newly leveled land.
It will be bigger than “my” house. In many ways, it may be “nicer.”
I’ll try to refrain from making a value judgment. I probably won’t succeed.
I am sure of this: I hope the new residents will love it, like my family did. I hope they live there — like my mother did — for 60 wonderful years.
On the one hand, it was just another in Westport Journal’s continuing coverage of teardown homes. Last week, they reported that 70 Compo Mill Cove will soon be demolished.
The website noted the facts: “Built in 1922, the 2-story cape has 1,000-square-feet of living space, four bedrooms, one and a half baths, piers, a deck and a finished upper story.”
It’s just one more loss of an old house — though more visible than most, to anyone gazing across Old Mill Beach, while walking on Hillspoint Road.
70 Compo Mill Cove (Photo courtesy of Westport Journal)
But this is a particularly historic house. It belonged to longtime town historian — and beloved civic volunteer — Allen Raymond.
It also was the scene of one of my most memorable moments as publisher of “06880.” In the early spring of 2014 I was privileged to be with Allen, as he made his last visit to the home that had belonged to his family since 1922.
He was 91, and dying. But as we sat in a sun-filled room by the water, his eyes shone.
It was both a difficult piece to write, and an easy one. The words flowed, but I knew they had to be right.
The unique, beautiful spit of land drew his parents to Westport nearly a century ago, and kept Allen here ever since. (He added a house on King’s Highway, which is perfectly fitting. It’s the most historic part of town, and no one knows Westport’s history better than Allen Raymond.)
Allen is 91 years old now, and his heart is failing. This afternoon — the first sparkling day of spring — he visited his beloved Old Mill home. It’s rented out, but he sat on the porch, gazed at the rippling high tide and spectacular views of Compo Hill, and reminisced.
Allen Raymond this afternoon, in the Compo Cove home he has loved for 91 years. (Photo/Scott Smith)
Allen spoke about his childhood days on the water, his summers growing up, and the life he’s lived here — and loved — ever since.
What a remarkable 9 decades Allen has spent in town.
A group of neighbors on the road, off Saugatuck Avenue near I-95 Exit 17, has filed suit in Bridgeport Superior Court.
The plaintiffs ask the court for a “temporary and permanent injunction enjoining the Defendant from constructing greater than a one-family house on any of the lots owned by the Defendant in the Subdivision in violation of the One-Family House Restriction.”
The neighbors claim that a covenant on the property restricts all development on land owned by the defendant — Summit Saugatuck — to one-family houses only.
The plaintiffs also cite health and safety concerns related to increased traffic, along with runoff and flood issues.
The redevelopment plan for Hiawatha Lane. Click to enlarge.
The Westport Inn has always been a weird part of Westport.
Built as a motel in the early 1960s to serve travelers on nearby I-95, it morphed into a slightly more upscale place — though hardly an “inn” — in recent years.
It was a place for guests to go when we didn’t want them in our homes, and where high school reunion-goers stayed. But there we never thought about the ballroom for banquets. We did not patronize its succession of restaurants, which opened and closed in dizzying fashion. It was in Westport, but it was never really of it.
If a longtime Westporter has his way, all that may change.
Jim Randel has practiced law here for 40 years. He’s also president of Rand Real Estate Services, which invests in underutilized properties in Connecticut and Florida.
His initial venture was the abandoned Factory Store by the East Norwalk train station. He turned it into the Factory Outlet Center, the first such urban development in the US. Rand real estate has done 40 or so projects since.
The 117-room Westport Inn is one of those properties.
Its most recent owner was Bridgewater. When Randel asked the hedge fund’s facilities manager if they’d sell, the answer was yes. The deal closed last November.
He’s now the lead partner in WI Associates. The other investors are also Westport residents. They were not sure what they’d do with the 3.8-acre property. But it’s a great location, and they knew they could be both creative and constructive with it.
After conversations with hospitality and housing experts, and neighbors, they had an idea. It’s not yet complete. But the outline is intriguing.
Working with the Greenwich Hospitality Group — owners of the Delamar hotels in Southport and Greenwich, and operators now of the Inn at Longshore and La Plage restaurant — they plan to take down the original, front building.
The 42 rooms in the rear building — built 25 or so years ago — would be upgraded. The ballroom would become a restaurant and conference areas. There would be outdoor seating and gardens. But 1 1/2 acres behind — a dedicated conservation area — would not be touched.
In addition, 16 to 18 units would be built, nearest the Willows Pediatric building. They would be unlike anything in Fairfield County: “condo-tels,” or condos with access to all hotel services, including concierge, housekeeping, room service, security, and the pool and fitness center.
At 1,700 to 1,900 square feet, Randel says they would appeal to empty nesters, Florida snowbirds, and people their older parents living nearby, among others.
To help meet Connecticut’s 8-30g housing regulation, the developers are targeting 20% of the condo units as “affordable.” They’ll do that by building 3 or 4 of them off-site. They’re looking at several potential options.
All of this is subject to zoning approval.
It’s also not a slam dunk economically. As Randel notes, COVID has rocked the hotel industry. But, he says, “if we provide quality hospitality, housing and a restaurant — at prices comparable to the Delamar, which has been successful even during the pandemic — we are very optimistic.”
The next step, says engineer Rick Redniss, is filing a text change application with Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission, and conversations with neighbors.
Westport’s real estate market continues to sizzle.
According to Brown Harris Stevens, though the 189 homes that closed in Westport in the 3rd quarter of 2021 represented a 29% decrease from the same period last year, that’s still the 2nd highest number of closings for the quarter in 20 years.
The average house closing price rose 5o $1.86 million, a 9% year-over-year increase and the highest for any quarter in Westport in the past decade.
Homes on average sold for 101.4% of the list price — the 2nd straight quarter it’s been over 100%.
Closed houses in the 3rd quarter spent an average of 58 days on the market — a record low. (Hat tip: Roe Colletti)
This house at 5 Hedley Farms Road in the Greens Farms neighborhood is on the market at $12.6 million.
Westport’s 25th annual Mental Health Breakfast is set for October 26 (8 a.m., Westport Library). Residents can attend in person, and join virtually.
The event will address the intersection of youth mental health and substance abuse. Dr. Aaron Wiener will offer insights about youth drug trends and the potential impact of recent marijuana legalization, followed by audience questions and further opportunities for discussion and networking among providers.
The town has just received a big gift. Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs in New York donated 23 prints, created in the 1970s by noted artist Richard Hunt (b. 1936) to the Westport Public Art Collections.
The gift helps realize the Westport Arts Advisory Committeee’s initiative to “contemporize and diversify the public art collection,” says town arts curatoro Kathie Bennewitz.
The works will be featured in a 2022 exhibition at MoCA, showcasing WestPAC’s recent accessions and rich holdings.
1st Selectman Jim Marpe and town arts curator Kathie Bennewitz flank Noah Dorsky,. They admire the Dorsky Gallery’s gift of 23 prints.
There’s no end to the wonders of “Westport … Naturally.”
Yesterday it was termites. Today we feature a mushroom. Matt Murray spotted this beauty in the small park on Compo Beach Road by Gray’s Creek — not far from the graves of men who died at the Battle of Compo Hill.
According to Brown Harris Stevens, while the total number of closed homes declined from 96 to 69 from last year’s frothy July numbers — still the 2nd-highest number of closings for the month since 2001 — the average closing price rose 19%, from $1,627,253 to $1,929, 908. That’s the highest for July since 2008.
Houses sold, on average, for 101% of the list price. That’s the 5th straight month the figure has surpassed 100%.
As of July 31, there were also 103 pending sales. Another 178 were listed as “active inventory.”
As for condos: 31 closed in July 2021, up from 22 the previous July. The average closing price for condos in the first 7 months of 2021 was $628,002, a rise of 34$ since the comparable period a year ago.
The total volume of house house and condo closings since January 1 is $644,692,685. That’s up a whopping 45% since the first 7 months of 2020. (Hat tip: Chuck Greenlee)
This 4-acre property on Beachside Avenue — once part of the JC Penney estate — is listed for $6,495,000. One drawback: It is not actually on the water.
But the Westporter’s stewardship of the earth extends to the water. He writes:
“A recent walk along Burying Hill Beach yielded an astronomical amount of garbage. The bag on the right was what my wife and I picked up. The garbage on the left was left by a generous donor or donors.
“As I’m sure you can guess, there were plenty of single-use plastic bottles, bottle caps, aluminum cans, balloons, fishing line, food wrappers, etc. On this walk, we even saw a used diaper and the leftovers from somebody’s lunches.
“What one can do: The Burying Hill lifeguards gave us the bag. Perhaps others who are taking a stroll along the beach and beyond could bring their own bags, or get one from the guards. Any effort to bag the garbage may result in one less piece of plastic ingested by wildlife, and a cleaner environment. Nature deserves better.”
Several years ago, the Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club ordered a historical plaque, commemorating its Westport Historic District Commission Preservation Award of 2018 for the heritage of its building.
Delivery problems delayed the ceremony until this week. Westport Museum of History & Culture house historian Bob Weingarten — who made the presentation to former commodore Paul Rosenblatt — provides the backstory:
The SHYC clubhouse was originally a stable. It was built circa 1887 by Henry C. Eno, as part of his Queen Ann seaside summer estate.
The SHYC was established 1959 by J. Anthony Probst. He remodeled the stable into a clubhouse, with the help of landscape architect Evan Harding. During the 2018 presentation, the HDC noted that underwater marsh land was dredged to create a harbor. It was the first of its kind on the eastern seaboard to feature an underwater bubble system, allowing boats to remain moored year-round.
Former commodore Paul Rosenblatt, the Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club plaque, and the historic clubhouse.
In 2017, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey broke a story about Westporter Harvey Weinstein in The New York Times. The smoldering #MeToo movement suddenly caught fire.
The 2 journalists will speak at the Westport Library’s inaugural fundraising event, “The Exchange: Conversations About The Issues of Our Time.” The October 5 (10 a.m.) event will be moderated by Westport corporate executive Joan Gillman,
Main Street should be 100% leased by the holidays.
That’s the confident assessment of Skip Lane. A director of Cushman & Wakefield’s Leasing Services Group, he’s helped find tenants for a number of long-vacant spaces.
Among the most recent: #69. American Eagle Outfitters has leased 3,000 square feet in the former Lululemon storefront.
It’s not just downtown. The Eno Foundation Building on Saugatuck Avenue — a handsome 1938 office near the Norwalk line where William Phelps Eno (the little-heralded Westporter and “Father of Traffic Safety”) devised the stop sign, pedestrian crosswalk, traffic circle, 1-way street, taxi stand and pedestrian safety island — has been leased to High Ridge Brands.
After completely restoring the structure to its original beauty, they’ll move into its 10,000 square feet.
The Eno Foundation building on Saugatuck Avenue.
Not far away, Tanner White Architects will occupy 180 Saugatuck Avenue, in front of Gault.
Virtual Procurement Service will move into 315 Post Road West.
And — though officials will not comment — word on the street is that AIG has rented all of National Hall, as office space for its top executives.
National Hall is rumored to be the new home for AIG’s top executives.
More than 20 men from the Bridgeport faith-based residential recovery program for drug and alcohol addictions added their spirit and inspiration, offering renewal and strength amid life’s challenges.
Two Sunday services remain: August 22 and 29 (8:30 a.m.). All are invited. Bring your own chair or towel, or sit on the stone wall, benches and tables. Beach stickers are not required; tell the gate attendant you’re there for worship. You can stay until 10 a.m.
Pivot Ministries at this morning’s Compo Beach Sunday service. (Photo/Gloria Smithson)
“06880” is not a real estate agency. But from time to time, a property deserves a shout-out.
This is one.
Designed by theatrical stage set designer Ralph Alswang, it’s set between towering great oaks. The gardens — by advertising executive Barry Blau — were created in response to the house. They incorporate native plants interspersed with a blend of exotics.
A group — Friends of Blau House and Gardens — hopes to retain the property, so it can become a community asset and resource for small non-profit organizations. They’re looking for ideas, interested people and organizations that can benefit and/or help.
If interested, click here or email R@RobertCohenArchitect.com. (Hat tip: Peter Gold)
One of Westport’s top community events — the annual Catch a Lift fundraiser — has just announced a new date and location.
Originally scheduled for September 13, the special ceremony honoring the 20th anniversary of 9/11 — will now be held at Compo Beach on Friday, September 10.
Starting at 5 p.m., there’s 3 hours of food and drink trucks, music, and words from Catch a Lift veterans. The national nonprofit organization helps post-9/11 combat-wounded servicemen and women recover and rehabilitate, physically and mentally, through physical fitness, motivation and support. So that 9/11 Eve date is both appropriate and poignant.
Beach stickers are not needed to attend.
The Compo event will kick off an action-packed weekend. There’s a Saturday workout (September 11, Westport police station, 1 p.m.) and Sunday family bike ride (September 12, Ridgefield).
Click here for details and information, including how to help with auction items, and more.
If you found a card with $500 on the ground, what would you do?
Most Westporters (I hope) would try to find the owner. Some would look to see if anyone was watching, and slip it into their pocket.
Few would probably go as far as Gabrielle Perry to return it to whoever lost it.
As reported by News12 Connecticut, the 2016 Staples High School graduate spotted the card in the Maritime Aquarium parking lot last month.
The envelope read “Reverend Dennis … thank you for marrying us.” Inside was a “really sweet, heartfelt note” to the minister. It was signed “Christina and Dave” — no last names.
Gabrielle enlisted a friend’s mother, who is good at Google searches. She found a registry for Christina Ulreich and David Kean. That led to Ulreich on LinkedIn.
The weeding was marred only by the fact that the gift to the reverend was lost the night before, at the rehearsal dinner. She and her new husband were stunned — and thrilled — at Gabrielle’s perseverance.
Congratulations to the new couple — and to Gabrielle, of course. Click here for the full News12 report.
But Jesse Terry had an opening act Friday. Clueless — a local band that’s been together for several years — warmed up the crowd with a powerful performance.
The band includes 20-year-old Westport guitarists Jake Greenwald and Zach Rogers, drummer Witt Landau (a rising Staples High School junior), and keyboardist/vocalist Ethan Walmark (a rising Staples sophomore).
Ethan Walmark (Photo/JC Martin)
Witt Landau (Photo/JC Martin)
Looking for entertainment this week?
The Levitt schedule includes:
Tonight (Sunday, August 15): Dan Levinson’s Palomar Jazz Band
Tuesday, August 17: Treehouse comedy
Wednesday, August 18: The Pop-Ups (Children’s Series; special needs celebration)
Thursday, August 19: Buffalo Rose (modern folk)
Friday, August 20: Lizzie No (singer/harpist/guitarist)
Sunday, August 22: Nellie McKay (American songbook)
Click here for (free!) tickets, times and more information.
Around the corner, the Remarkable Theater shows the animated classic “Coco” tomorrow (Monday, August 16, 7:45 p.m.) and “Get Out” on Wednesday (August 18, 9:15 p.m.). Click here for tickets and more information.
The Town of Westport, Westport Housing Authority and Homes With Hope issue this statement:
Tomorrow (Wednesday, August 18, 2021, 2 p.m., Jesup Green) we invite residents to join legislators, local providers and advocates in a call-to-action rally to address Fairfield County’s growing housing crisis, in the aftermath of and ongoing concerns related to the pandemic.
The goal of the rally is to raise public awareness of the housing crisis and remind State legislators of the urgency to act. We encourage the public to attend as a personal action to combat homelessness. Public participation sends a message to legislators that the community supports the allocation of resources to Fairfield County’s most vulnerable residents.
Housing insecurity affects thousands of Fairfield County families and individuals seeking permanent housing every day. Affordability has become the most significant barrier for moderate and lower-income households to maintain stable housing in Fairfield County. The pandemic has increased the demand for affordable housing, resulting in a lack of available inventory, and dramatically increased rents, leaving many residents without access to safe housing options.
Rally attendees will hear from a range of funders, advocates, and community providers who offer direct services to friends and neighbors experiencing housing insecurity. Research shows that the most effective strategy for solving homelessness is the Housing First approach, connecting households to stable and affordable housing through a combination of supportive services and financial assistance.
Dredging the Saugatuck River has been a complex (and expensive) topic.
It’s still a long way from happening. But earlier this month, Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal ensured funding for several Connecticut projects in the Fiscal Year 2022 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill. Included is $2.81 for Saugatuck River dredging.
The funding can help “kick start” projects that are stalled, Murphy said. (Hat tip: Robbie Guimond)
Dredging could enable more river traffic at places like Rive Bistro restaurant.
Westport author/illustrator Sivan Hong — whose “Super Fun Day” book series focus on neuro-diverse children who overcome challenges with perseverance and bravery — will read her new book — “Emily D. and the Fearful First Day” outside the popular used book shop, on Jesup Green. She’ll read others, too.
The event is this Saturday (August 14, 11 a.m. Kids and parents should bring a blanket or beach chair. Snacks are courtesy of The Porch @ Christie’s, and Sweet P Bakery.
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