Category Archives: Real estate

End Of An Old Mill Era

Emma Morano died on Saturday, in Italy. The world’s oldest woman — and the last person on earth known to have lived in the 1800s — she was 117 years old.

Here in Westport, a demolition permit has been issued for 233 Hillspoint Road. The notice affixed to the side of the building puts its age at 117 years.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

It too has a link to Italy: Most recently, it was the site of Positano. That restaurant closed at the end of 2014. It reopened several months later at its present location, next to the Westport Country Playhouse.

Positano restaurant.

Positano was the last in a storied line of restaurants at 233 Hillspoint. Perhaps its most popular predecessor was Cafe de la Plage.

In between, it was (briefly) the Beach House:

“Beach House,” by Tony Marino.

In the mid-1900s, Westporters knew it as Leo Williams’ Old Mill Restaurant:

Leo Williams’ Old Mill Restaurant, in 1954. (Photo/Bridgeport Post)

Before that, it was both the Beach Food Mart, and Joe’s:

In its 117 years, #233 Hillspoint has seen a lot. The neighborhood has changed — many times. Old Mill Beach has thrived, eroded, and come back to life.

Of course, there were floods, like Hurricane Carol in 1954 …

… and SuperStorm Sandy 59 years later:

(Photo/Matt Murray)

From these photos, it’s likely the property started out as a private home.

Once demolition as complete, that’s probably what it will become again.

But this is 2017. Not 1899.

Odds are good it will not look the same.

How The FAA Learned To Love Ryan Felner

Ryan Felner has many interests.

Ryan Felner

The Staples High School sophomore is on the tennis team. He’s taking AP courses. He loves photography, and making and editing videos. For the past 2 years, he’s developed websites for family and friends.

A year and a half ago — when the price of drones dropped and the market soared — Ryan started researching options. His parents agreed to fund half a DJI drone. He agreed to work, and pay back his half.

He followed Federal Aviation Administration rules, registering his drone as a Small Unmanned Aircraft System. He agreed to fly below 400 feet; not fly within a 5-mile radius of any airport, and always keep his drone in sight.

Ryan started taking beautiful photos and creating gorgeous videos, including the beach and — during family sailing trips — the New England coast. (Click here to see his website.)

His photos of his own house — with Compo Beach and the Sound in the background — were fantastic. That gave him the idea to reach out to real estate brokers, offering to shoot for them (free at first).

Word got out. He spent most of last summer taking real estate photos.

Owenoke Park, from Ryan Felner’s drone.

The Norwalk Hour ran a big story — “Student’s Drone Photography Business Takes Off” — last October. He was thrilled…

…until later that night, when he saw the comments. The story had been picked up by drone enthusiast sites. People posted harsh messages, saying what Ryan did was illegal.

Apparently, the FAA had released new regulations a few weeks earlier. To “Fly for Work,” a drone operator had to possess a Remote Pilot Certificate, and be 16 years old.

There were a few supportive comments. Some people noted that — like many operators — Ryan probably did not know about the new rules.

But he was horrified. He woke his parents, who were upset they’d allowed the situation to happen.

The next day, things got worse.

Richard Aarons — a volunteer counselor with the FAA’s safety team — emailed him. He told Ryan to contact him ASAP — and warned him he could face huge fines.

Ryan panicked. He was scared about the money. He worried his reputation was ruined for life. He feared for college, and beyond.

His parents helped him respond. Ryan said he was devastated to be out of compliance with regulations. He promised to cease all commercial operations immediately, and said he’d wait until his 16th birthday to take his pilot’s exam and apply for a proper license.

SAarons’ response was fantastic. He told Ryan he completely understood what happened, and said he was now doing exactly the right thing.

Aarons forwarded the emails to Marilyn Pearson, an aviation safety inspector with the FAA Unmanned Aircraft System division. She’d been working hard to educate drone enthusiasts, while implementing the new regs. She too commended Ryan for the way he’d communicated with the authorities.

Ryan Felner with his drone, on Martha’s Vineyard.

As Ryan’s 16th birthday approached, he contacted Pearson and Aarons. Both offered to help, if there was something he didn’t understand as he studied for his FAA exam.

On Tuesday at Sikorsky Airport, Ryan passed his FAA Remote Pilot Knowledge test with a very high score of 87.

Two days later — yesterday — he turned 16.

And tomorrow at 12 noon, in the Westport Library’s McManus Room, Ryan will give a talk at the Maker Faire. His subject: “Adventures of a 16-Year-Old Drone Pilot.”

But wait! There’s more!

When Pearson heard about Ryan’s speech, she was so excited, she said she’d come down from Hartford for it.

So before his talk — at the 9:45 a.m. Maker Faire opening ceremony, in the Taylor parking lot — she will present him with his Remote Pilot Airman Certificate.

Ryan’s spirits are sure to be sky high.

Right up there with his drone. And the possibilities for his great, professional — and now completely legal — business.

The Future Of Saugatuck Might Be In Your Hands

Don’t say they didn’t ask.

As part of the “redevelopment of Saugatuck” — which you may or may not realize is being discussed — a 9-month process guided by the Saugatuck Transit Oriented Design Master Plan Steering Committee will “engage community members and a team of planners, engineers, economic planners and historic preservation experts to establish design standards and a master plan to enhance this important gateway for the Town of Westport.”

They’ve hired consultants.

And that firm — Barton & Partners — has created a survey.

The committee wants to make sure that every Westporter’s voice is heard. You can weigh in (and rank) your priorities, in areas like shopping, dining, neighborhood charm, waterfront access, historic significance, green space, transportation and walkability.

So here’s your chance. Click here to take the survey.

And click here for more information on the master plan process.

Westport artist Robert Lambdin’s “Saugatuck in the 19th Century” (1969) prominently featured the swing bridge. What’s next for the neighborhood?

Tesla To Town?

Tesla is not yet allowed to sell its cars directly to Connecticut consumers.

But if it can — and the electric car manufacturer is pushing the state legislature hard to do so — one of its first dealerships may be at 20 Saugatuck Avenue, right here in Westport.

The site is currently occupied by a large, recently renovated and completely vacant shopping center. It once housed a quick mart, fitness center and AAA.

20 Saugatuck Avenue

Last night, the landlord and Tesla hosted a small event. They told neighbors they plan to ask the town to amend zoning regulations to allow a Tesla service center there.

The language is broad enough that — should Tesla get permission from Connecticut to sell vehicles directly to consumers — they could convert the center to a dealership. Company reps last night did not rule out the possibility.

It’s a 10-year lease. You do the math.

Despite not being allowed to sell directly in the state, there are about 1,300 Teslas registered in Connecticut. Electrek says that represents 62% of the electric vehicles in the state.

Sconset Square/Post Road Redevelopment: The Sequel

Sunday’s post described a new vision of downtown Westport.

It explained that David Waldman — the Westport-based developer who conceived of and completed Bedford Square — is under contract to buy both Sconset Square and 155 Post Road East. They’re contiguous properties: Sconset is the small shopping center off Myrtle Avenue with stores like Bungalow and Le Penguin restaurant, while 155 Post Road is the cement building across from Design Within Reach (the old post office).

(Though the Westport Pizzeria building may at some point be part of some deal in some way, don’t worry: It’s open, and will be for the foreseeable future.)

If Waldman buys #155 and Sconset Square, parking areas behind them could be utilized more efficiently. And #155 could potentially house organizations like the Westport Arts Center and Westport Cinema Initiative

155 Post Road East, across from Design Within Reach (the old post office).

That story generated a decent number of comments. But because Sunday was Easter — and the most beautiful day of the year — it may not have reached every “06880” reader.

And not everyone with an opinion might have responded.

A few town officials asked if I thought the comments posted — generally positive, some not — reflect the feeling of most Westporters.

I have no idea.

So here’s another opportunity to respond. Click “Comments” below.

This is far from the final word, of course. But on a matter like this, the more voices, the merrier.

Sconset Square. Redevelopment of the area could open the backs of the existing stores to shoppers too.

High Point Road, One Brick At A Time

My parents moved to Westport in March of 1956. A blizzard prevented the truck from going up the driveway. The movers hauled just one bed inside, so my parents spent their first night in a barren bedroom.

My mother died in that same room almost a year ago.

This winter, my sisters and I sold her house. That ended 60 years of the Woog family on High Point Road.

It was quite a run.

I guess that qualified me for an email the other day from current High Point residents. The Westport Historical Society is building a Brickwalk, and my old street is going all in.

A special stone will say “High Point — The Best Road in Town,” with residents adding their own bricks engraved with the year they moved in.

I was honored to be asked. When she died, my mother had lived on High Point longer than anyone else.

The Woog brick will say “1956-2016.” But there’s no way that small rectangle can encompass 6 decades of life there.

High Point is the longest cul-de-sac road in town. Call me biased, but it’s also the best.

I was so fortunate to have grown up where and when I did. My parents — both in their early 30s — had no idea what High Point would become when they moved out of my grandparents’ house in New Rochelle, and up to this much smaller town.

Rod Serling and his family celebrating Christmas, at their High Point Road home.

They had a few friends here — including my father’s Antioch College pal, an already famous writer named Rod Serling. He and his wife Carol had just moved to High Point. There were plenty of building lots available, so my parents bought one.

The price — for an acre of land, and a new house — was $27,000.

As I grew up, so did High Point. My parents were among the first dozen or so families. Today there are 70.

I watched woods and fields turn into homes. Nearly each was unique, with its own design.

And nearly each had a kid my age.

My childhood — at least, my memory of it — was filled with endless days of bike riding, “hacking around,” and kickball at the cul-de-sac (we called it “the turnaround”).

At dinnertime in spring and summer, we’d wander into someone’s house. Someone’s mother would feed us. Then it was back outside, for more games.

When my parents chose High Point, they were only vaguely aware that the new high school being built on North Avenue was, basically, in the back yard of our neighbors across the street.

Having Staples so near was a formative experience. My friends and I played baseball, touch football and other sports on the high school fields. We watched as many football, basketball and baseball games as we could, in awe of the guys just a few years older. Once, we snuck into a dance in the cafeteria. (We did not last long.)

This aerial view from 1965 shows the separate buildings of Staples High School. Behind the athletic fields is High Point Road. My parents’ house is shown with an arrow.

There were enough kids on High Point to have an entire bus to ourselves (with, it should be noted, only 3 or 4 bus stops on the entire road).

But by 5th grade, my friends and I were independent enough to walk through Staples, across North Avenue and past Rippe’s farm, on our way to Burr Farms Elementary School.

We talked about nothing, and everything, on our way there and back. It was a suburban version of “Stand By Me,” and to this day I cherish those times.

The young families on our street grew up together. There were block parties every fall, carol sings at Christmas.

Every summer Saturday, Ray the Good Humor man made his rounds. High Point Road probably put his kids through college.

Spring and summer were also when — every Monday — one family opened their pool to the entire street. With 40 boys cannonballing, racing around the slippery deck and throwing balls at 40 girls’ heads, I’m amazed we all lived to tell the tale. I can’t imagine any family doing that today.

From the front, it was an average home on a wonderful road …

But that was High Point Road, back in the day. It was not all perfect, of course. Some of the older kids were a bit “Lord of the Flies”-ish (and the amount of misinformation they taught us about sex was staggering).

Behind closed doors, there was the same bad stuff that goes on anywhere (and everywhere).

But I would not have traded growing up on High Point Road for any place. As much as any street could, it formed me and made me who I am today.

… but the back yard was beautiful.

High Point Road has changed, of course. Many original houses are gone, replaced by much larger ones that could be on any Westport street. There are plenty of kids there now, but each has his or her personal bus stop. And I don’t think I’ve seen any gang of kids riding bikes since, well, we did it.

Still, it’s a wonderful road. The “new” residents have kept that neighborhood feel. There are social events. And they always welcomed — and looked out for — my mother.

Of course, you can’t put any of that on a brick.

So ours will just proudly say: “The Woog Family. Jim, Jo, Dan, Sue, Laurie. 1956-2016.”

And that says it all.

(Westport Historical Society bricks are available in sizes 4×8 and 8×8. They can include a custom logo, with a family row of 5 bricks for the price of 4. For more information, click here.)

Bedford Square Is Complete. Another Intriguing Project May Come Next.

Since it opened 2 weeks ago, Bedford Square has become Westport’s newest destination. Folks flock there to shop, eat, and hang out in the courtyard.

David Waldman’s project — which took many years to conceive and sell to town boards, and another 2 years to construct — seems like the end of a long process.

But it may be only the beginning.

Numerous sources say that the Westport-based developer is under contract to buy both Sconset Square and 155 Post Road East. They’re contiguous properties: Sconset is the small shopping center off Myrtle Avenue with stores like Bungalow and Le Penguin restaurant, while 155 Post Road is the cement building across from Design Within Reach (the old post office). Eyeglasses.com is a current tenant; it used to house the Tack Room and Christian Science reading room.

155 Post Road East is a tired-looking building across from Design Within Reach (the old post office).

With Bedford Square, Waldman re-imagined the way we use Elm Street/Church Lane/Main Street. If he acquires those nearby properties — and, rumor has it, the Westport Pizzeria building too — he could redesign that section of downtown as well.

And tie it together with Bedford Square, which is much closer physically to Sconset Square than most of us now realize.

Sconset Square has been in Westport for years. Originally called Sherwood Square, it was the site of the original Sport Mart.

Word on the downtown street is that Waldman could reorient Sconset Square, opening up the backs of those stores to anyone using a redesigned walkway from the Post Road to Church Lane.

Removing the Westport Pizzeria building could create a pedestrian walkway to Church Lane — and enable merchants to utilize the backs of their stores, as well as the fronts.

He could also consolidate several of the parking lots on Church Lane — like the one behind SoNo Baking (soon to be Aux Delices) — making them more accessible and practical.

Right now there’s a hodgepodge of small parking areas off Church Lane, and behind Sconset Square. It’s tough to walk there from the Post Road.

Other rumors are flying, including the possibility of the Westport Arts Center and/or Westport Film Initiative moving into 155 Post Road East. That could give those organizations great visibility — and bring more people downtown.

The synergy between arts, retail, restaurants (and the new Bedford Square rental units) sounds exciting.

Of course, Bedford Square did not happen overnight.

It took many long nights of meetings.

Followed by 2 years of construction.

Westporters have so far voted with their feet. They’ve poured into Bedford Square.

There are sure to be many votes ahead for this next phase of downtown development.

Jim Hammond, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Famous Writers And The Westport History Rabbit Hole

Jim Hammond grew up in Westport. He graduated from Staples High School in 1979, but has not been back for a long time.

Jim Hammond

A few weeks ago, he heard about the controversy surrounding TEAM Westport’s “white privilege” essay contest.

That led him down the “06880” rabbit hole — and a story on fellow Staples alum Deej Webb’s documentary about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s time in town.

That spurred him to write and post an essay on his philosophy-and-literature website — 2 of his passions, since he was a teenager.

And THAT led him to send these thoughts to “06880”:

Fitzgerald lived on South Compo Road, near what is now Longshore, in the summer of 1920. J. D. Salinger also lived on South Compo, from about 1950 to 1952.

I read a Salinger short story, and asked my mother, Nancy Hammond, about old Westport. She lived there from 1957 to 1997, and was involved in local politics.

When she arrived, Westport was home to the Famous Artists School, which purported to turn people into artists. Prominent artists like Norman Rockwell lent their names to the scam.

Norman Rockwell (center, bow tie), with some of the Famous Artists School’s faculty.

You would send in a sample of your work. They would write back, saying you had great potential, and should enroll in their school. Salesmen combed the country, recruiting gullible students. Ads filled the newspapers, Money rolled in.

It was so profitable that a Famous Writers School was also established in Westport, using the same template. Bennett Cerf of Random House was a founder. Prominent writers like Clifton Fadiman, Bruce Catton and Mignon Eberhart lent their names. By 1969 the stock price had risen from $5 to $40.

The next year, Jessica Mitford published an exposé, called “Let Us Now Appraise Famous Writers,” in the Atlantic Monthly. An investigation was launched, the stock price fell, and in 1972 the Famous Writers School went bankrupt.

JD Salinger

When J.D. Salinger moved to Westport, Famous Artists School had been going for 2 years. It’s likely that he heard about the school. In 1952 he published a short story about an art correspondence school, called “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period.”

When I was growing up in Westport, the phrase “Famous Artists” rang in my ears. The school rented space from Eddie Nash on Riverside Avenue. Since money was rolling in, they decided to build a new headquarters.

They chose my neighborhood as the site. Specifically, they selected an area we called the Gravel Pit. Now known as Partrick Wetlands, it’s between Partrick Road, Wilton Road, the Merritt Parkway and Newtown Turnpike.

According to rumor — spread by my mother, in countless phone conversations — Famous Artists School planned to build a large office, with a parking lot for 1,000 cars.

My mother banded together with other neighbors, and formed a group called Families for a Residential Westport.

A pond near the Partrick Wetlands. (Photo/Scott Smith)

They referred to their opponents as the Boyd Group (or The Boyds). John Boyd was a prominent Westport lawyer, who favored business and development. One of his allies, Lu Villalon, ran the local newspaper, the Town Crier.

My parents were Republicans. So were the Boyds. The battle over Famous Artists wasn’t a Republican-Democratic battle, or a conservative-liberal one. It was a development battle, similar to those fought in thousands of American towns.

My mother’s group won the battle. Famous Artists never moved to my neighborhood. They built their new headquarters on Wilton Road, along the river.

Cockenoe Island, off Compo Beach. In 1967, it almost became the site of a nuclear power plant.

The next development battle in Westport was over Cockenoe Island, where Northeast Utilities proposed building a power plant. Anti-development forces used the fledgling newspaper, the Westport News, to help rally support. The anti-development forces won, and the paper became the dominant one in town.

A third battle was fought over a dairy farm, Nyala, where Stauffer Chemical proposed building their headquarters. They won that fight.

Fortunately, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s house is still standing. I plan to take a look on my next visit to Westport.

And maybe I’ll visit Partrick Wetlands too.

Nash’s Pond: The (Way) Back Story

Like most Westporters, you’ve probably admired the blue house set back from Kings Highway North, near the busy Post Road intersection.

You may know that behind it is Nash’s Pond.

You may or may not know that the pond — probably big enough to be a lake — was named for the Nash family. In 1835 Daniel Nash was one of the men who helped incorporate Westport, as a town separate from Norwalk, Fairfield and Weston.

You probably do not know that a Nash descendant — also named Daniel — still resides in Westport. In fact, he and his family live in that blue house.

The former Nash ice house -- now Daniel Nash's home. (Photo/Frank Rosen)

The former Nash ice house — now Daniel Nash’s home. (Photo/Frank Rosen)

You almost surely do not know that it was originally an ice house. Or that Daniel and his wife Nicole have spent the past decade restoring it, so that future generations of Nashes can remain there too.

The next generation — his 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son — will be the 14th in Westport. The Nashes arrived around 1650, from southern colonies — more than 2 centuries before the ice house was built.

“We’re trying to spruce it up,” Nash says modestly. (He’s doing the same for several other buildings nearby, called “the compound.”)

He’s cleaned the foundation, brought the inside up to code, redone the vents, reshingled the roof and added molding. It now looks like a home, not a business.

But what a history it had.

The Nash family erected a dam in 1879, and built 3 identical ice houses the following year. Workers harvested the ice from the pond, and stored it through the summer. After being sawed into blocks, the ice was sent to New York City for sale.

“It was a booming business, until electrical refrigeration came along,” Nash says.

Nash’s Pond is magical in every season. (Photo/Peter Tulupman)

The family has had a number of different occupations. Nashes have worked as farmers, hat makers, cider makers, and of course ice merchants.

Daniel’s great-grandfather was the last Nash businessman. Daniel’s grandfather and father managed the property. He’s spent much of his time doing the same.

Growing up, he loved the area — the big rock outcropping, stone foundation and waterfall. Every winter, he skated on the pond named for his family.

He and Nicole were married on the pond.They moved into the ice house, fulfilling his childhood dream. As the couple had children, they “carved out” rooms inside for them.

“It’s a work in progress,” Nash says. “We want to make it look fresh for the town. It’s on a major corner, and everyone sees it.”

Daniel Nash is taking his time. He wants to make sure the renovation of the ice house into a home for future generations is done right.

After more than 360 years here, the Nash family continues to care about their town.

And take care of it.

(Hat tip: Frank Rosen)

The O’Kane Family’s “Life On Mar’s”

For the first 10 years after moving to Kings Highway North, Yvonne and Neil O’Kane did not do much in the way of renovations.

They were busy with their careers. They were raising 3 kids. Besides, they liked the 1908 house in one of Westport’s most historic neighborhoods.

The small rooms were cozy. The Mexican tile in the kitchen reminded them of their years in Arizona. The house was home.

But 4 years ago they put in a pool. They terraced their yard. That added a grade, which didn’t look right. They started thinking about other changes.

The year before, Yvonne had met Mar Jennings. Now, as she visited his home during the Westport Historical Society’s Holiday House Tour, she asked the designer/stager/lifestyle expert/author/TV host for the name of a project manager to help plan a few renovations to her exterior, kitchen and bathroom. Mar said he’d take a look himself.

He stayed for 6 hours.

Mar Jennings at the O’Kanes’ house.

Yvonne — who is trained as an architect — felt something click. When Mar suggested doing the renovation as a makeover TV show, she got even more excited.

Neil agreed. But, he said, we won’t use our names. And though the house could appear on air, the family wouldn’t.

The next 18 months were, Yvonne says, “a magical fit of parts and pieces.”

The O’Kanes lived in their house throughout the renovation project.

The outside, kitchen and one bathroom were done. Then came beams, new doors and windows, insulation, new clapboard and a cedar roof.

The family room needed work, so that was next.

They added a deck off the master bedroom, then redid the bedroom itself.

After that were the kids’ bathrooms, and their son Teddy’s bedroom.

Dormers and library work opened up more space.

Dormer work added space in the bedrooms.

They turned an unused downstairs room into Yvonne’s studio. They added a laundry room.

When they were done, the only part of the house that remained untouched was the dining room.

It was as long and involved a project as it sounds. The O’Kanes were without a kitchen for 6 months, and a bedroom for 9. For a while they all lived together downstairs.

They loved it.

Neil, Caroline, Alexandra, Teddy and Yvonne O’Kane. (Photo/Carolinei O’Kane/Mercilie Chiarelli)

“It was a great experience,” Yvonne says, sitting in the sun-splashed living room, surrounded by furniture she and Mar found everywhere from Lillian August to Goodwill. (They shopped locally for nearly every item, and repurposed much of what was already in the house.)

The family grew closer during the adventure. As part of the TV show they went on a trapeze and to Six Flags. (It did not take long for Neil’s desire for anonymity to go out the newly designed window.)

“Mar was amazing overseeing the project,” Yvonne says. “He kept it running brilliantly.”

She was no slouch herself. And during it she even got her real estate license.

The exterior, at the end of a long driveway on Kings Highway North.

You might expect that in a project like this, everything that could go wrong, would.

Nope. There were very few surprises. And expect for a bit of structural work, all the surprises they encountered were good ones.

For example, workers discovered a hidden staircase. Mar and Yvonne promptly included it in their plans.

“We were a great fit,” she says. They named themselves “MY Team.” For Mar and Yvonne — get it?!

“I love every inch of this home,” Yvonne says. “The space works really, really well. We live in every room. The insulation is great. The kitchen is fantastic. Everyone has space, but we’re still together.”

Yvonne O’Kane loves her new kitchen. The family congregates there, she says.

Teddy — a Staples freshman — is still at home. Caroline — who lived through the renovation — is now a Fordham University freshman. Alexandra is a senior at Georgetown.

The TV show — said to be the first complete home makeover series filmed in Connecticut — took place while the house was still being renovated. Crews filmed Mar and Yvonne collaborating, shopping, and laughing together.

The first episode aired on ABC’s WTNH in New Haven. Twelve more followed, through last June. Despite competition from football and baseball games, the show earned excellent ratings.

Now it’s ready for prime time — that is, Amazon Prime.

You won’t forget the name. It’s called “Life on Mar’s.”