Category Archives: Real estate

15 Belden Place: Little Red House Saved!

In early December, “06880” broke the story about the proposed demolition of #7 and #15 Belden Place — the tiny, seldom-noticed piece of Main Street property just past Avery Place, opposite Veterans Green and Town Hall.

Not many people cared about the 1st building. But boy, did they howl about the 2nd.

#15 is listed in the Westport Historic District Commission inventory. It sits on the bank of the Saugatuck River (with quite a view!). Readers flooded the comments section of that story — and one with 3 other photos — decrying the proposal.

15 Belden Place (Westport Historic Resources Inventory, courtesy of Wendy Crowther)

15 Belden Place (Westport Historic Resources Inventory, courtesy of Wendy Crowther)

We haven’t heard much about Belden Place since then. But today alert “06880” reader — and preservation activist — Morley Boyd writes:

Here’s a testament to the 06880 community and its passion for all things Westport.

At a Historic District Commission hearing Tuesday night — just in time for Valentine’s Day — representatives for the new owner of the iconic red house by the Saugatuck River revealed plans to fully restore the beloved local landmark.

“06880” readers were quite vocal when plans to demolish the iconic early 20th century dwelling surfaced late last year. Westporter Peter Nisenson — the property’s contract purchaser, and principal of Westport-based PEN Building Company — took those concerns to heart. He said, “We heard the public and we took  its advice. In many ways this is now a much more interesting project.”

A 2000 view of 15 Belden Place, taken from Parker Harding Plaza. (Photo/Andrea Fine)

A 2000 view of 15 Belden Place, taken from Parker Harding Plaza. (Photo/Andrea Fine)

On the same property, as part of its plan for retail and residential development, PEN intends to also save the large antique building that fronts Main Street which once housed Nappa Sales.

PEN officials noted the uniquely picturesque setting of 15 Belden Place, a building they refer to even on their official site plan as “The Red House.” Provided they can secure the needed zoning variances, the modest structure will remain in its original setting — though slightly raised to prevent further flood damage.

PEN intends to then make repairs as needed to return the house to residential use — but with an eye to preserving its vintage appearance. While the windows will be replaced in kind, the location of the original openings will be kept as they were.

Although the structure will also receive new systems, one thing about Westport’s most famous little house that Pen representatives will  not change: the color.

Robert Storm, the project’s architect, stated: “We peeled off a chip of the red paint. We’re going to match it.”

15 Belden Place, as seen from the parking lot off Main Street.

15 Belden Place, as seen from the parking lot off Main Street.

Villa Del Sol Sequel: Land Swap Still Alive

This morning’s “06880,” on the travails of Villa Del Sol during the construction phase of Bedford Square, noted that “a proposed land swap — exchanging the restaurant and adjacent parking lot for a parcel across the street — has been scuttled.”

However, despite reports in local media, that land swap is still very much alive.

Second Selectman Avi Kaner said this afternoon that the town has continued negotiations with David Waldman, developer of Bedford Square. That retail/residential project — on the site of the former YMCA — stretches along Church Street, with an entrance on Elm Street.

Kaner says the town and Waldman are close to an agreement on a deal. Details are unavailable. However, the original plan would have traded 36 Elm Street — the site of Villa del Sol — for a section of the town-owned Baldwin parking lot across the street. Waldman hoped to build an 8,477-square foot building behind Lux Bond & Green, with small retail stores and 4 apartments.

Under the original plan the town would demolish the Villa del Sol building, creating additional parking, walkways and greenery.

A view looking south, with the Brooks Corner shopping center at bottom center.

A view of the original land swap looking south. Villa del Sol is the building outlined in yellow at the top. Brooks Corner shopping center is at bottom center. A new building would be built in the outlined lower yellow section.

Kaner presented a status report at a Board of Finance executive session last week, and solicited negotiating advice.

Based on that discussion, he says, it is likely that the Elm Street/Baldwin lot land exchange will be discussed and voted on in an open public session, at the finance board’s April meeting.

Any decision would be subject to approval by other town bodies. The Planning & Zoning Commission has already given the swap a positive 8-24 review.

In this artist's rendering, Here’s an artist’s rendering. The new parking lot (old 36 Elm Street) is at left; across Elm Street is the new building (white), with Serena & Lily next to it.

In this artist’s rendering, the new parking lot (old 36 Elm Street) is at left. Across Elm Street is the new building (white), with Serena & Lily next to it.

 

 

 

Coalition For Westport: Study Saugatuck Carefully!

Recently, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe appointed a Saugatuck Transit Oriented Development Steering Committee. The group is charged with developing a master plan for that ever-changing retail/restaurant/residential area.

The Coalition for Westport — a non-partisan group originally formed to seek election to the Planning & Zoning Commission — commended Marpe for establishing the committee, then sent this note to co-chair Mary Young:

The time is right for the Saugatuck area to be carefully studied. It is attractive to residents, visitors and developers for a variety of reasons: It is the historical root of Westport; it provides attractive access to the river; it is a destination for foodies and perhaps most importantly, it is a primary transit hub.

What is more, many of the buildings in the area defined as Saugatuck in the Town Plan of Conservation and Development retain features of their original design and construction, despite having been repurposed.

In the 1920s, Esposito's gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it's Tarry Lodge.

In the 1920s, Esposito’s gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it’s Tarry Lodge.

The challenge for land use agencies and planners is a classic balancing act: What shall be saved and what replaced? Do we envision the area as a 2nd downtown? Or, as seems lost likely and most prudent, do we encourage/require a mix of controlled residential (including multi-family and affordable housing within walking distance to the train station) and commercial development which respects the scale and character of the neighborhood?

The Coalition believes that Saugatuck should retain its historical heritage and small town character. Therefore we support an expanded and enhanced neighborhood concept rather than the idea of a 2nd downtown. We come down squarely in favor of a mixed-use plan favoring residential expansion and enhanced essential services — local businesses, to cater to the requirements of the residential population that will need a pharmacy, hardware store, market and other essential services not now present in the area, which can be provided in a “mom and pop” form without competing with Main Street retail. We also foresee new retail and dining services that would attract additional visitors.

One area that can and should be developed for those types of commercial uses is Railroad Place. This can be done without sacrificing the architectural features or facades at the easterly end of the street which are deemed worth preserving. A drop-off lane could also be created for the station.

The Coalition recommends that the remainder of the square block (with the possible exception of the office building) be devoted to a mix of housing types — 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments and townhouses, both rental and condos — with adequate parking and passive open space. An appropriate percentage should be truly affordable.

Land Tech has already developed plans for a mixed-use development at a new Railroad Place. Mario's is, of course, now Harvest restaurant.

LandTech has already developed plans for a mixed-use development at a new Railroad Place. Mario’s is, of course, now Harvest restaurant.

To address the ever-present need for additional railroad parking, we urge adoption of a “Transit District” zoning regulation that provides an incentive to private developers to create parking to be administered by the town, in exchange for increased (but controlled) development density calculated in accordance with a regulatory formula.

Saugatuck residents will need relief from additional vehicular traffic. Therefore both additional visitor and commuter parking should be created — most efficiently at, above or below grade in the ordinary course of construction.

The Coalition would also support traffic flow rerouting plans that would alleviate congestion without any major construction or disruption for residents.

We encourage the new Saugatuck Steering Committee and P&Z to adopt a plan that implements these thoughts, and to coordinate efforts to arrive at a consensus to be formalized in the 2017 Town Plan of Conservation and Development.

86 Cross Highway: Another Preservation Success Story

There’s something about Cross Highway. For some reason, it’s become the epicenter of preservation in Westport.

“06880” has chronicled the stories of #93, the former home of noted artist George Hand Wright; #108, an 1805 dwelling that may have been built by a free black man; #113, where several outbuildings included one of the first gas stations in Westport, and — most recently — #180, a 2.9-acre property with a 1728 saltbox and 1790s-era barn.

All were saved from almost certain destruction by owners who loved the history, charm and livability of those homes — and found ways to save them.

Meet the latest addition to the Cross Highway saga: #86.

Eight years ago, Bill and Sarah Dransfield moved to Westport. They left Manhattan for the usual reasons: schools. Their 1st child was entering kindergarten. The couple are both teachers — he’s at The Allen-Stevenson School on the Upper East Side, she’s a fitness instructor (now with Total Training & Endurance) — they could not afford New York’s astronomical tuitions.

They rented on Long Lots Lane. They painted, cleaned up the yard — and watched as nearly every home nearby turned into a teardown.

Sarah and Bill Dransfield, on the property they now own.

Sarah and Bill Dransfield, on the property they now own.

This past spring, they learned their own rental home would soon be torn down too. They began looking for one to buy.

It was not easy. They had a limited budget. They wanted to stay in the Bedford/ Long Lots district, where their 2 kids were in school.

And they really wanted an older house. “One with character and charm,” Sarah explains.

They were outbid on a Roseville Road farmhouse. November 1 — the day they had to be out of their rental — loomed.

While Sarah was looking at a place on Main Street — she was literally inside the house — a friend who lives on Victoria Lane sent a text. Her neighbor’s house had just come on the market. “It’s a gem,” the friend said.

Sarah’s realtor quickly replied: “It’s out of your price range.”

But she agreed to show it to Sarah. The moment she walked in the door, Sarah says, “I knew this was it. It’s exactly what we wanted. I cried!”

A springtime view of 86 Cross Highway, as seen from the road.

A springtime view of 86 Cross Highway, as seen from the long driveway. The house is set back from the road.

She particularly loved the 2 fireplaces, and the office overflowing with books and papers. “I realized how much the owner had enjoyed being there,” Sarah says.

The house was built in 1910. Since 1962, it was owned by Sarah and Steve Herz. She too was an educator — a longtime and much-loved English teacher at Bedford and Staples, who died 2 years ago — while he earned renown in a 2nd career as a poet.

When Bill saw the home, he noted a problem with the ceiling: The house had a flat roof. But the couple saw plenty of potential. “The inside just needs to be loved again,” Sarah says.

They wrote a letter to the Herz children, who were selling the home. The Dransfields said they were both teachers, and wanted to raise their children in a home that had so obviously meant so much to Sarah and Steve Herz’s children, Mark and Kate.

“They got it,” Sarah Dransfield says. “They know it’s hard for teachers to live in Westport.”

They agreed on a price. The buyers’ landlord allowed them to stay in their rental property until mid-December.

On December 19, the new owners moved in. Bill cut down a small fir in the yard, for their Christmas tree.

A rear view of 86 Cross Highway.

A rear view of 86 Cross Highway.

There’s a lot of work to be done. The Dransfields will put in a sloped roof. They hope to expose some of the old beams in the kitchen. They’ve found some old photos, and plan to bring back the landscaping as it was when the Herzes bought the house.

Sarah and Bill are thrilled to own their first home. They’re even happier that it’s the type they always coveted: an older one, with character and charm.

Sitting in their new kitchen, they talk about the home next door. It’s a teardown — and it looms over that stretch of Cross Highway, which has managed nonetheless to maintain several older properties.

“Not everyone can move into a ready-made home,” Sarah says. “And not everyone wants to.”

For now, the streetscape of Cross Highway remains less changed than many others in Westport.

Those who care about preservation can thank Ed Gerber (#93), Jeff Porter and Rachel Ember (#108), the Ronemus family (#113) and Mark Yurkiw and Wendy Van Wie (#180) for that.

And — though #86 sits back a bit from the road — we can now add Bill and Sarah Dransfield to the list.

With, of course, an assist from Steve and Sarah Herz, and their kids.

Boathouse Beached

Yesterday’s “Friday Flashback” featured the Godillot property — several buildings located on Jesup Road, near the police station.

One of the properties shown in the painting is no longer there. A red boathouse on the banks of Deadman’s Brook was relocated in the 1950s.

Turns out it’s been hiding in plain sight ever since. In the back yard of a house at 244 Greens Farms Road, it’s easily visible from the street.

244-greens-farms-road-boathouse-moved-from-godillot-property

(Photo/Peggy Lehn)

I have no idea how or why a boathouse ended up on dry land like this. But I’m sure at least one of our history-minded “06880” readers does.

The Greens Farms Road home is up for sale. I’m guessing the boathouse goes with it.

The boathouse -- then painted red -- is in the lower right corner of this painting.

The boathouse — then painted red — is in the lower right corner of this painting.

(Hat tip: Seth Goltzer)

15 Belden Place: 3 Different Views

A photo with this morning’s post about the upcoming demolition of 15 Belden Place — the charming red house on the Saugatuck River, in the midst of downtown — did not show that storied property in the best light.

I took it yesterday, from the dirt parking lot leading down from Main Street.

From that vantage point, many Westporters would not recognize the house that for years has been home to artists, teachers and other less-than-McMansion-type tenants.

But anyone who ever stood at the edge of Gorham Island, and gazed at the soothing marshland just a few feet from Parker Harding Plaza, will recognize this view from 2000, by Andrea Fine:

EPSON MFP image

And this one:

(Westport Historic Resources Inventory, courtesy of Wendy Crowther)

(Westport Historic Resources Inventory, courtesy of Wendy Crowther)

Here’s a more distant shot, by Jaime Bairaktaris:

15-belden-place-2-jaime-bairaktaris

Now you know what the loss of this house will mean to Westport, right?

(Hat tip: Morley Boyd)

Downtown Affordable Housing To Be Demolished Soon

Westport is about to lose 14 more very affordable housing units.

And downtown is set to lose 2 more pieces of its history.

Applications have been filed to demolish 2 buildings: #7 and #15 Belden Place. That’s the tiny, seldom-noticed piece of Main Street property just past Avery Place, opposite Veterans Green and Town Hall.

Supposedly, a developer plans to expand 201 Main Street — the former Nappa screen repair shop — and level the Belden Place rentals behind it, to create the required parking spots.

15 Belden place sits right on the Saugatuck River.

15 Belden place sits right on the Saugatuck River.

#15 is listed in the Westport Historic District Commission inventory. It sits on the bank of the Saugatuck River (with quite a view!).

Though the HDC says #15 was built around 1930, that may be the date it arrived here. It might have been moved from New Hampshire in pieces in the ’30s by Alfred G. Violet. It has long been said that the houses on Violet Lane — not far away, off Myrtle Avenue — which he built in 1928 also came from New Hampshire.

#7 was built in 1920.

Both Belden Place buildings are in disrepair. For years, however, they provided hidden-in-plain-sight, much-needed rental units for local restaurateurs, artists, teachers, hippies and whatnot.

7 Belden Place is behind 201 Main Street (formerly Nappa Doors and Windows), and in front of 15 Belden Place.

7 Belden Place is behind 201 Main Street (formerly Nappa Doors and Windows), and in front of 15 Belden Place.

As Westport prepares to lose more affordable housing units, it should be noted that because these 14 were built before 1990, they do not count toward our 8-30g requirements. So losing them will not hurt us as we try to comply with the state affordable housing mandate.

But losing them will certainly hurt the Westporters who lived there, up until recently when they were told to go.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Hat tips: Morley Boyd and Wendy Crowther)

 

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.