Category Archives: Real estate

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.

Historic Westport Home Hits The Auction Block

Not many people realize the connection between Kodak and George Gershwin.

Fewer still know that both are connected to Westport

Leopold and Frankie Godowsky. (Photo/Zillow)

Leopold and Frankie Godowsky. (Photo/Zillow)

But Leopold Godowsky Jr. — a concert violinist with a passion for photography — moved here in the 1930s.  He set up a lab, and for several decades in town helped develop Kodacolor and Ektachrome.  Today he is considered a major contributor to the field of color photography.  He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2005, 22 years after his death.

Godowsky’s wife, Frankie Gershwin — George and Ira’s younger sister — was a painter of oils and acrylics, and later a singer.  She too was a prominent Westporter.

In 2009 the Godowskys’ former home — a 7,000-square foot, low-slung compound at the end of Stony Point overlooking the confluence of the Saugatuck River and Long Island Sound, featuring pools, a waterfall, tennis court and dock — became one of the most expensive teardowns in Westport history.

Now the Godowskys’ previous house here — at 157 Easton Road — is on the market.

The 7-bedroom, 10-bath, 6-car garage property sits on 2.75 acres. There’s a boathouse, indoor pool, 2 bars, a wine-tasting room, guest quarters, tennis court, waterfalls, walking paths, and stone bridges. The Saugatuck Aspetuck River flows through the back yard.

157 Easton Road

157 Easton Road

The Godowskys moved to Easton Road from New York in 1938. Four children grew up there, before moving to Stony Point in the early 1950s.

Her parents entertained guests like local residents Richard Rodgers, John Hersey, Maureen O’Sullivan and her daughter Mia Farrow.

The house will be auctioned off on September 30.

It is not the place Nadia Godowsky Natali — Leopold and Frankie’s daughter — remembers.

Back then, she tells Zillow, it was “a country house. Very simple…not pretentious.” That place, she says, is gone.

How does Natali — now a California-based psychotherapist, author of “Cooking Off the Grid” and Zen center founder — know? She’s seen photos of the former “bucolic compound.”

They were digital, Zillow notes.

Not Kodachrome.

(Hat tip: Wendy Crowther)

Owenoke Beauty Bites The Dust

For residents of Owenoke Park, the week starts off with a bang.

This morning, the gracious home at #17 will be bulldozed into oblivion.

For nearly 100 years it’s been a fixture on the private road that juts between the Compo Beach marina, Gray’s Creek and Longshore. It’s an important part of the Compo Owenoke Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its early 20th century resort and beachfront architecture.

Neighbors love the understated elegance of #17. Boaters on the water, and everyone enjoying Compo’s South Beach, have also appreciated its handsome Georgian Revival lines.

17 Owenoke Park. (Photo/Ian Warburg)

17 Owenoke Park. (Photo/Ian Warburg)

According to local legend, a woman knocked on the door in 2010. She said she loved the house, and had to have it. It was not for sale. But she offered $12 million — double the home’s market value — and that was that.

The woman — who reportedly worked for Enron until its demise — later joined a former colleague in setting up Centaurus Advisors. The energy-focused, Texas-based hedge fund allegedly provided a loan of $8 million, which the woman used to purchase the house.

In 2014 or ’15 Centaurus apparently foreclosed on the loan, and took possession of the property. It’s been on the market at decreasing prices.

Some buyers were interested in preserving the magnificent structure, and restore it to its past glory. Others wanted it to build their own dream house. None, however, would pay more than $5 million.

Given the declining condition of the property, and the expense of bringing it to FEMA compliance, the owners — listed as Centaurus Energy Market, which seems to be a subsidiary or related company of Centaurus Advisors, LLC — decided that the real remaining value is in the land.

Demolition begins at 8 a.m. today.

Old Barn Gets New, Progressive Life

Normally, I would not post a story about a political fundraiser — even one whose goals (helping Democrats regain the Senate) I agree with.

But this has a neat little back story that makes it “06880”-worthy. (And yes, I’d do the same if there’s a similar tie-in for a Republican fundraiser.)

Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston own one of the most visible properties in Westport. Their handsome home — with gorgeous gardens and a wide lawn — sits on the corner of Evergreen and Myrtle Avenues, kitty-corner from Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

A while ago, Steve and Rondi bought an 1870 barn. It belonged to their next door neighbor Estelle Margolis, and her late husband Manny. The new owners spent nearly 2 years restoring it, then repurposing it as an office for Steve.

It’s enjoying a wonderful new life, while honoring Westport’s historic roots.


Manny Margolis was similarly known for his devotion to America’s past and present. An attorney with a lifelong devotion to civil liberties and civil rights, he brought a draft refusal case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — and won.

As a member of Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission, Manny was a strong advocate for low and moderate housing regulations.

Manny Margolis was a World War II veteran.

Manny Margolis was a World War II veteran.

He and Estelle — his wife of 52 years — spent years at peace vigils in Westport.  They began during the Vietnam War.  For 6 years they stood together on the Post Road bridge, protesting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. (Estelle still does.)

Manny was a staunch Democrat. Estelle still is. So, Steve and Rondi say, they’re thrilled to host an event this Sunday (September 18, 4 p.m.) that would have been dear to Manny’s progressive heart.

The fundraiser is for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Senator Jon Tester of Montana — the organization’s chair — will attend; so will Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, and Emily’s List president Stephanie Schriock.

Manny Margolis will be there in spirit.

(For information on Sunday’s fundraiser, email

Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Robinson Strong: “63 Turkey Hill South Enriched Me”

Last month, “06880” examined the fate of 63 Turkey Hill Road South. The Mediterranean-style home — said to be one of only 4 in town — may soon fall to the wrecking ball.

Alert “06880” reader Robinson Strong feels a special attachment to the house. From 1916 to 1978, it belonged to her family. She writes:

The new owners want a new home, and to redesign the landscaping. Despite the unique and beautiful Italian design, they have applied for a demolition permit.

63 Turkey Hill Road South today...

63 Turkey Hill Road South.

Many neighbors are up in arms. I’m feeling a range of emotions. It was given a 180-day “stay of execution” by the Westport Historic District Commission, hoping that would allow a change of heart by the new owners.

Many who read this will wonder why, with so much going on in the world, I am expending so much energy and emotion on a house.

It is because it is important on many levels. It’s important to the town of Westport, the neighborhood of Greens Farms and to Turkey Hill neighbors.

The original 9 acres was subdivided and sold in 1978, after my grandmother died. The most recent owner lived in the house, on 3 acres, for over 30 years, but found it overwhelming as a senior citizen.

Part of the Turkey Hill garden.

Part of the Turkey Hill garden.

It was recently sold privately to a Westport couple. The house never went on the open market to find a potential buyer who was not intent on knocking it down, bulldozing the property and building a large new home. What a lost opportunity for a family!

My great-grandfather purchased the property in 1916. It had been an onion farm at the turn of the century.

Taking structural elements from the barn and keeping the original farmhouse, he built the elegant Italianate Tuscan-style house with the red clay roof. It’s nestled behind a stone wall and large wrought iron gate (which has been removed and sold).

The front yard is a courtyard with a fountain and landscaped terrace. Originally there were formal Japanese gardens with man-made streams and waterfalls, an English garden set in the barn’s foundation, a formal rose garden with a large arbor, an apple orchard, a grape “vineyard,” horse barn and open fields.

I was so blessed to live on this property, at 61 Clapboard Hill — the sister house — with my mother and brother. Our family treasured the Turkey Hill house. Everything surrounding it enriched my education.

My grandmother regaled me with stories about how the gardens were created by a master Japanese gardener, and why the Japanese so revere their serene space. My mother told me how during the Depression, she would have to kill a chicken on Sunday for dinner. One of the rooms in the basement held canned vegetables from the garden. My grandfather insisted on feeding any needy person who came to the door.

I learned how the property’s original status as an onion farm played a significant role in the Greens Farms and Southport economies.

My grandmother entertained often. I was expected to help. I learned manners, how to set a table and how to interact with adults. I also learned about flowers and landscaping.

Steps leading to the front courtyard at 63 Turkey Hill Road South. (Photo/Robinson Strong)

Steps leading to the front courtyard at 63 Turkey Hill Road South. (Photos/Robinson Strong)

I was proud of the uniqueness of my family’s home and property. Despite the grandeur of the exterior, the interior was painted as infrequently as possible. Re-decorating was considered frivolous. But my friends loved it, not because it was large (just under 4800 square feet) with 5 bedrooms and 4 full baths, but because it was different.

There does not seem to be any appreciation for historical architecture or history in general in Westport anymore. More and more houses are being demolished for large-scale popular designs. Such a shame.

It’s too late now for the Japanese gardens. They are “6 feet under.” But the house still has a chance to remain standing, and enrich a family and its children just like it did for me.

Over 100 Greens Farms residents who love the house and its architecture are wrestling with this impending loss, and the irreparable changes that will accompany it.

They do not want Turkey Hill to lose this house. They are avidly watching as its status moves through the various town bodies, hoping for clemency for 63 Turkey Hill South.

School’s Open. Be Careful Out There!

It took exactly one day from the opening of school for the first drivers to race by, totally ignoring a stopped bus and causing an accident.

A Greens Farms Elementary school bus pulled up to the Regents Park curb around 3:40 p.m. this afternoon. The stop sign was extended, yet cars in the opposite (westbound) direction roared past.

The driver honked. One car hit its brakes. But the 2 cars behind were going so fast, they could not stop. The result: a 3-car rear-end collision that sent one person to the hospital.

Police and fire trucks responded quickly. Still, it was quite an experience for at least one kindergartner, whose parents described the scene.

Two of the vehicles in this afternoon's Post Road East crash.

Two of the vehicles in this afternoon’s Post Road East crash.

There are 2 issues here. One is the law: When a school bus is stopped, all drivers must stop too. That’s a no-brainer. The safety of our kids trumps your need to get wherever you are late going.

The second issue is that this section of the Post Road — Regents Park, Balducci’s, and nearby areas — has become increasingly hazardous. Condo residents believe it’s just a matter of time before a tragedy occurs.

There are no stop signs, lights or crosswalks. But there are 2 active driveways and parking lots on opposite sides of the highly trafficked 4-lane street, with cars often exceeding 40 miles an hour.

Interestingly, a police car was parked this morning in the Zaniac parking lot, monitoring this situation during the school bus pickup.

Residents of Regents Park (right) worry constantly about this dangerous stretch of the Post Road. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

Residents of Regents Park (right) worry constantly about this dangerous stretch of the Post Road. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

Traffic will not get better. Last night, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved plans for a 4-story, 94-unit rental property not far away: on Post Road East, opposite Crate & Barrel.

On the other hand, the proposal includes affordable housing units that will help the town earn a 4-year moratorium on complying with the state’s 8-30g statute.

[OPINION]: Save Turkey Hill South!

The saga of 63 Turkey Hill Road South continues. Built in 1920, it’s one of 4 remaining Mediterranean-style houses in Westport.

Neighbors hope to save it from a proposed demolition. Right now, it’s under a 180-day stay. Lisa Fay appealed to the Historic District Commission. She wrote:

As a resident of the Greens Farms area, and a Turkey Hill Road South neighbor for 8 years, I have witnessed the demolition of many diverse homes in the area, and the subsequent building of new homes that share too many qualities of style, size and lot coverage. I feel strongly that buyers, our neighbors – and our town — need urgently to consider what we are losing by letting these demolitions happen.

Firstly, original homes – particularly antiques – reflect a town’s history, complexity and heritage. Just by driving down Turkey Hill Road, a tourist or resident witnesses the wonderful aesthetic and cultural history of Westport. With each demolition, we diminish our town’s unique character. To make matters worse, the new homes built on these lots share few variations in footprint, roof form, and materials.

63 Turkey Hill Road South. (Photo/Robinson Strong)

63 Turkey Hill Road South. (Photo/Robinson Strong)

Secondly, many antique homes – although some in need of repair and updating – could never be duplicated with today’s costs. Antique homes possess a certain solidity, built from wood from 100+ year-old trees, not particle board. These homes have withstood decades of human life and natural disasters, and are still standing. By definition, this makes them, in some senses, priceless.

Thirdly, neighbors lose yet another year of peace and neighborly culture while living in a major construction zone. My Turkey Hill neighbors and I have withstood countless trucks, dust, dirt, traffic, noise and loss of hundreds of trees from lots that have been clear cut.

Thirdly, these demolitions exact a cost to our environment. Most of these materials from demolished homes end up in a landfill. Can’t builders try to work with what they have to minimize the impact on our environment?

Steps leading to the front courtyard at 63 Turkey Hill Road South. (Photo/Robinson Strong)

Steps leading to the front courtyard at 63 Turkey Hill Road South. (Photo/Robinson Strong)

Lastly, demolishing this home reflects yet another lost opportunity to get our town antique preservation benefits right. While the demolition of any antique home upsets me for all the aforementioned reasons, I sympathize with any seller who is in a situation to sell urgently, without regard to the buyer’s intent. Giving antique owners – and potential buyers – incentive to keep antique homes could help stem the tide of demolitions.

Tax relief could provide such incentive. The Mills Act in San Diego provides an example of where tax relief has helped owners maintain the character of their neighborhoods by encouraging preservation. Owners of old homes sign a 10-year renewable contract to restore and maintain their antiques, and in turn receive a 50% discount in their taxes. If Westport intends to maintain its cultural heritage in part by protecting its old homes, it needs urgently to partner with owners in this respect.

Thank you for your leadership in helping to preserve our town’s heritage and character.

Big Change On Main Street

For years — perhaps decades — the Main Street streetscape has been marred by the dilapidated condition of #257.

Just beyond Kings Highway North, as you head out of town, the handsome home had fallen into disrepair. There was often someone puttering around, but paint peeled and the roof sagged.

Recently though, work has been done.

257 Main Street

The work is not finished. But already it looks so much brighter and better.

Even the moldings sparkle.

Elm Street Swap Would Change Downtown Streetscape

As reported in March on “06880,” 36 Elm Street is the final key to creating an entirely new downtown streetscape. That’s where the Villa del Sol restaurant intrudes into the sidewalk next to the new Bedford Square retail/residential complex. And where an adjacent parking lot — near the back entrance to the old Y and the former Klein’s — is a poorly configured, hard-to-navigate, chaotic mess.

David Waldman — the Bedford Square developer — has spent months pursuing a land swap. He hopes to buy 36 Elm Street, then trade it for a section of the town-owned Baldwin parking lot across the street. Waldman would build an 8,477-square foot building behind Lux Bond & Green.

Villa del Sol would reopen there, alongside 3 small retail stores. Small retail stores would open there. Above them would be 4 apartments — 1 of them rented under state “affordable” guidelines.

The town would demolish the Villa del Sol building, creating additional parking, walkways and greenery. Waldman says that despite taking Baldwin spots for the new building, the town would net a gain of 2 parking spaces in the new lot.

None of this is new news. But Waldman has just created a web site that shows  — visually — exactly what the move would look like. Here’s the view looking south, with the Brooks Corner shopping center at bottom center.

36 Elm Swap 1

Here’s another view. Brooks Corner — is at left, with Serena & Lily behind it:

36 Elm Swap 2

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.

Elm Street swap - 3

For more information on the proposed 36 Elm Street swap, click here.

Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!