Category Archives: Saugatuck

Saugatuck Night Lights

Lynn U. Miller had dinner last night at Parker Mansion.

If you or I were there, we would have eaten, chatted, maybe glanced out the window of the former Mansion Clam House.

Not Lynn. The wonderfully talented photographer — who knows Westport better than just about anyone — snapped this shot:

(Photo copyright Lynn U. Miller)

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo copyright Lynn U. Miller)

She calls it “Saugatuck Night Life.”

I call it beautiful.

Photo Challenge #112

“06880” readers really know their onions.

Well, their coal, anyway.

Last week’s photo challenge showed an old coal bin, on a couple of yards of rail track.

It’s right on the Saugatuck River, behind Saugatuck Sweets. Gault Energy put it there when Saugatuck Center was being redeveloped (in part by their company) several years ago. It pays homage to the long-ago days when boats brought coal up the river to Gault’s headquarters. The coal made part of its journey by rail, before being delivered to Westport customers. Click here for the photo.

Seth Schachter answered correctly, within 4 minutes of the posting. He was followed quickly by William Adler, Daniel Cummings, Virginia Tienken, Robert Mitchell, Peter Flatow, Jamie Roth, Linda Amos, Seth Goltzer, Josh Moritz and Brandon Malin. Congratulations to all (and thanks to Saugatuck Sweets, whose treats are the reason so many folks are down by the river in the first place).

This week’s photo challenge comes courtesy of John Videler. Coincidentally, he grew up right across the river from where the Gault coal bin now sits.

But his image shows a different place entirely. If you know where it is, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/John Videler)

(Photo/John Videler)

 

Coming Round The Bend? High-Speed Rail Line May Slice Through Saugatuck

It pays to read what the government puts out.

Lawmakers are fond of sticking something on page 1218 of proposed bills that turn out to be a windfall for one constituent who runs a casino, owns a farm or wants to sell something in China.

Department officials, meanwhile, put out studies about future projects. Take this recent one from the Federal Railroad Administration, about high-speed transportation from Boston to Washington.

Speeds of 200 miles an hour sound great!

Of course, we’d need new rail lines.

Whoooosh!

Whoooosh!

According to “NEC Future” — NEC meaning Northeast Corridor — a new 2-track infrastructure would begin in New Rochelle. It would run through coastal Fairfield County.

And it would terminate in Westport, west of the Greens Farms station.

This “preferred alternative” would be constructed “parallel to I-95, typically on embankment or aerial structure.”

According to Matthew Mandell — RTM representative, Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce director and Slice of Saugatuck founder — “we could be talking about a train running right along 95, above and over Tarry Lodge, Tutti’s, the Duck and out over the river.”

Or, he says, “maybe a bit more north through who knows what.”

A map in the "NEC Future" report, showing a possible high-speed rail line route. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

A map in the “NEC Future” report, showing a possible high-speed rail line route. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

First Selectman Jim Marpe is on the case. He wrote a letter to the Railroad Administration, noting “extreme concern” — at minimum — in Westport about the possible route.

Marpe cited impacts on coastal resources, property owners and the Saugatuck neighborhood.

Mandell says, “While this may be decades away, so was 95 at some point — and look what it did.”

(Click here for the entire “NEC Future” report. For the appendix only — with maps — click here. Hat tip: Scott Smith)

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.

It’s A Wonderful Bridge

Alert — and historic-minded — “06880” reader Wendy Crowther sent along this perfect holiday/Westport piece. She writes:

A few days ago, my TV remote dropped me into the last half of the 1946 holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. I entered the story just as George Bailey ran onto the Bedford Falls Bridge and contemplated suicide. Luckily George’s guardian angel, Clarence, showed up just in time to help George see the value of his life, and its impact on his town and loved ones.

Though I’ve seen the movie a bazillion times, this time I noticed something I hadn’t seen before. George Bailey’s bridge was very similar to our own Saugatuck swing bridge (the William F. Cribari Bridge).

George Bailey on the Bedford Falls bridge (1946).

George Bailey on the Bedford Falls bridge (1946).

Due to my involvement over the last year and a half in efforts to not only document the history of our 132-year old span, but also save it from the impending doom of the state Department of Transportation’s scrap heap, I’ve become  sensitized to old bridges in general — particularly truss bridges like ours (and George’s).

Seeing the movie from this new perspective, I became intrigued by the film’s use of the bridge as a symbol. Sixty years ago, when It’s a Wonderful Life was first released, plenty of small truss bridges still existed. Clearly, it was one of many elements used by the filmmakers to convey the quaint, homey feel of a small, American town — towns like Westport, and thousands of others across the country.

George Bailey’s bridge, set in fictional Bedford Falls, plays a pivotal role in the story. The 2 most transformative moments occur as George stands upon it:  the first as he prepares to jump from it, the second when he returns to the bridge and desperately pleads, “I want to live.”

It’s believed that the town of Seneca Falls, New York was director Frank Capra’s inspiration for It’s a Wonderful Life. He supposedly visited Seneca Falls during the time the screenplay was being developed. Seneca Falls has a real bridge that looks much like the one depicted in the movie.

It also looks a lot like our Saugatuck swing bridge.

George Bailey on the Bedford Falls bridge (left); the actual Seneca Falls bridge (right). (Photos/Ottawarewind.com)

George Bailey on the Bedford Falls bridge (left); the actual Seneca Falls bridge (right). (Photos/Ottawarewind.com)

Though the Seneca Falls bridge and Westport’s are similar in many ways, Seneca’s can’t hold a candle to our own.

Our bridge, built in 1884, is 132 years old — the oldest active bridge of its type in the nation.  Seneca’s, built in 1915, is a mere 101. Both are truss bridges, though ours is longer and made of iron; theirs is made of steel. Our bridge swings open for boat traffic; theirs doesn’t. The roads over both bridges are known as Bridge Street — but ours has the additional honor of being designated a State Scenic Road.

Our bridge crosses the Saugatuck River; theirs crosses the Seneca. Both bridges are still in use and open to traffic. Neither is tall enough to allow semi-tractor trailers to cross.

But here’s where Seneca’s bridge has it over ours. It was rehabilitated in 1997.  Ours may meet the wrecking ball within the next few years — if the State has its druthers. DOT wants to make room for big rigs.

Original plans for the 1884 Saugatuck River bridge. (Image courtesy of Westport Historical Society)

Original plans for the 1884 Saugatuck River bridge. (Image courtesy of Westport Historical Society)

In the fictional town of Bedford Falls, and in the real-life towns of Seneca Falls and Westport, bridges are iconic symbols that tell a story, provide a sense of place, and teach us about our history. They span rivers and time. They connect what separates us, and they can deter what we prefer to fend off.

In It’s a Wonderful Life, the critical moment occurs as George stands for the 2nd time on the Bedford Falls Bridge and begs to have his old life back again. Suddenly, snow begins to fall. He is transported from his alternate reality and returned to the present. His gratitude sends him jubilantly running through the streets of Bedford Falls, shouting greetings to all the buildings and friends he cherishes.

As the film ends, all is well in Bedford Falls. Goodness triumphs over selfishness and greed, bells ring and the angel Clarence gets his wings.

The William Cribari (Saugatuck River) Bridge, Christmas Eve 2015. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The William Cribari (Saugatuck River) Bridge, Christmas Eve 2015. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Having newly seen It’s a Wonderful Life from the bridge’s perspective, I realize that it offers Westporters valuable insights and inspiration.

Will we fight hard to keep what many of us cherish — our Saugatuck swing bridge? What powerful forces will try to overcome valiant efforts to keep it just the way it is? What changes to the bridge could transform (or devastate) portions of our community forever? If we lose it, will we wish we had better understood the wisdom of its ways?

The film ends with 4 important words. The entire cast sings “Auld Lang Syne.”  Loosely translated from Scottish, the phrase means “for the sake of old times.”  Let’s remember those words.

(Wendy is a founding member of the Westport Preservation Alliance. For more information about the history of the Saugatuck Swing Bridge and the efforts to save it, click here.)

“X” Marks The Spot

We never get tired of the holiday lights on the William  Cribari/Bridge Street Bridge. Thanks, Al’s Angels!

cribari-bridge-christmas-2016-peter-tulupman

(Photo/Peter Tulupman)

Heading the other direction, the same lights make this ordinary scene of an I-95 sunset seem almost magical.

(Photo/Patricia McMahon)

(Photo/Patricia McMahon)

 

Nothing Says Christmas In Westport Like…

…the Minute Man Monument, decked out in a Santa cap …

minuteman-monument-lynn-u-miller

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

… and the William Cribari/Bridge Street bridge, decked out in Al’s Angels lights:

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Boathouse Restaurant: Saugatuck Secret Slips Out

It’s one of those enduring urban — okay, suburban — myths: The restaurant at Saugatuck Rowing Club is private. It’s for members only, but if you go there they’ll (wink, wink) serve you.

Once upon a time, that was semi-true. The restaurant was private, but signing in made you a member for the day.

Now it’s totally false. The Boathouse at Saugatuck is a full-fledged, legit, open-to-the-public restaurant.

And a great one.

With indoor and outside (enclosed in winter) seating, and a spectacular setting — overlooking the Saugatuck River — the Boathouse is one more in a long list of excellent dining options in the neighborhood that has become Westport’s dining hotbed.

Plenty of windows offer a view of the Saugatuck River -- including rowers from the club.

Plenty of windows offer views of the Saugatuck River — including rowers.

Several months ago, says manager and event planner Nancy Burke, the Boathouse added needed parking spots and changed their liquor license, to become an actual restaurant. They can now advertise, and market themselves to the public.

Word is getting out. Executive chef Paul Scoran — formerly of Paci in Fairfield — focuses on innovative American cuisine. There’s plenty of local fish, with other selections too. (I had a really interesting pasta dish, with lobster, shrimp and crab.) The menu changes seasonally. Full catering services are also available.

Westporters may still be confused by the relationship between the restaurant and rowing club. They share a building — and from the dining room you can watch rowers work out in the gym — but they’re 2 separate entities. Both, however, are owned by the same man: Howard Winklevoss, a Greenwich businessman perhaps better known as the father of Tyler and Cameron, twin Olympic rowers/litigants who claim Mark Zuckerberg stole their idea to create Facebook.

There's indoor dining on the 2nd floor (left), and outdoor dining on the deck (enclosed in winter). The bottom floor -- and part of the 2nd -- is devoted to rowing.

There’s indoor dining on the 2nd floor (left), and outdoor dining on the deck (enclosed in winter). The bottom floor — and the right side of the 2nd — is devoted to rowing.

Winklevoss’ Saugatuck Rowing Club helped jump start the revitalization of Saugatuck. Now his restaurant will draw even more folks to the neighborhood.

But although the Boathouse is relatively new — at least as a public venue — it is in some ways part of the “old” Saugatuck.

One of the waiters is Frank DeMace. His grandfather — Tiger DeMace — was the longtime owner of a restaurant that for decades had quite a name of its own: Mario’s.

boathouse-logo

 

Not Time To Make The Donuts?

Donut Crazy was supposed to open on the eastbound side of the Westport train station on October 1.

The small chain — with locations already in Shelton, Stratford and Bridgeport — will replace Steam, the former coffee shop concessionaire.

So far though, nothing.

Maybe they couldn’t raise the dough?

This is what you'll see when Donut Crazy finally opens.

This is what you’ll see when Donut Crazy finally opens.

 

Bar ‘Bucha: Not Just Any New Business

A new store opened Saturday in Saugatuck. Bar ‘Bucha — next to Tutti’s — fits right into the revitalized neighborhood. Offbeat, funky and fun, it introduces kombucha — a fermented drink made with a black tea base — to Westporters, who always seek the next healthful thing.

But that’s only half the story.

Here’s the kicker. Bar ‘Bucha is owned by Aishah Avdiu. It’s her 1st commercial venture. That makes sense: She’s still just a senior at Staples High School.

You wouldn’t know it to talk to her. With a family background in business — her father is a real estate developer, her mom works in the fashion industry — and her intense, no-nonsense manner, she’s ready to make her mark.

And she’s doing it her way.

Aishah Avdiu

Aishah Avdiu

Aishah’s family has enjoyed kombucha for years. Probiotic, low in sugars and calories, it’s used to treat intestinal issues and clean up skin.

Kombucha is “a delicious drink with a super kick,” Aishah says. With a 1 to 2 % less than 0.5% alcohol content — not enough to qualify as an alcoholic drink — it comes in a variety of flavors. Bar ‘Bucha will serve ginger, mixed berry, lavender chamomile, citrus hops and others, in bottles and from taps. There will be healthy snacks too, but no other food or drink.

If that does not sound like an ordinary business venture, you’re right. And if it does not sound like a business a teenage girl would start, you’re even more right.

Aishah Avdiu, with her kombucha taps. (Photo/Quincy Cuthbertson for Inklings)

Aishah Avdiu, with her kombucha taps. (Photo/Quincy Cuthbertson for Inklings)

Aishah is no ordinary teenage girl. As a sophomore, she took accounting on a whim. Inspired by teacher Lenny Klein — and realizing she had good business sense — she signed up for every business course Staples offers.

Advanced Placement Economics with Jon Shepro, and 2 semesters of Personal Finance with Sarah White, stoked her interest and creativity.

Last May, Aishah looked at the notes she’d kept on possible businesses. A kombucha bar stood out. It was an unfilled niche, in a fitness-conscious town.

She researched sources, traveling to other states to sample the best products.

She found empty space next to Tutti’s, then sold the landlord on her plan. She got an investor, and secured loans. She even joined the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce.

With advice from her parents — and knowledge gained in her classes — Aishah dove headfirst into the work of zoning, building and health permits.

She hoped to open in October. HVAC issues pushed that back to last Saturday. It was one lesson in the reality of retail.

Another reality: You can’t personally staff a store on weekdays, when you’re still in school.

Aishah’s arranged for coverage when she’s not there. But when the bell rings, she’ll head to Riverside Avenue.

Bar ‘Bucha is not her after-school job. It’s her fulltime business.

We’ll drink to that.

Some of Bar 'Bucha's selections. (Photo/Quincy Cuthbertson for Inklings)

Some of Bar ‘Bucha’s selections. (Photo/Quincy Cuthbertson for Inklings)