Friday Flashback #116

The other day, alert “06880” reader Alan Hamilton was checking out Westport’s Wikipedia page.

He noticed we have 3″sister cities”: Marigny-le-Lozon, France; St Petersburg, Russia, and Yangzhou, China.

I guess we’re one of those families where siblings don’t really communicate. It’s been ages since we’ve chatted with our French, Russian and Chinese sisters!

But Alan wanted a closer relationship. He took a virtual drive — aka Google Street View — through Marigny.

And there — smack in the center of town — he saw this:

“Pharmacie Westport”!

He wondered if there is a story to this.

Bien sûr!

Right after D-Day in 1944, Westporter Bob Loomis — a gun sergeant — ended up in Marigny. It’s just 25 miles from Utah Beach.

A couple of weeks later another Westporter — heavy machine gunner Clay Chalfant — moved through Marigny with his company on their way to Belgium.

Woody Klein’s history of Westport notes that after the war Charlotte MacLear — head of the French department at Staples High School — sparked a campaign to “officially adopt Marigny” and help its recovery.

Our town sent clothes, money and Christmas gifts, thanks to fundraising that included selling toys and buckets with designs painted by Westport artists.

In return, Marigny created the “Westport School Canteen,” and named the town’s largest square “Place Westport.”

In June 1994 — as part of the 50th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy — Marigny invited 3 Westport middle school students and 2 Westport veterans to stay in the homes of residents. They visited “Westport Gift Shop” and — of course — “Pharmacie Westport.”

The 2 veterans were, of course,  Loomis and Chalfant

Zut alors!

Marigny – c’est magnifique!

Re-Opening Soon: Athena Diner

It’s not Christie’s Country Store.

But the Athena Diner — closed since June — will soon live again.

New owners are doing site work and renovations.

That’s good news for Westporters. Southporters. And drivers everywhere, looking for a quick stop off I-95 Exit 19.

Athena Diner (Photo/Andy Bangser)

Teen’s VFW Project Propels Community Effort

A year ago, “06880”‘s Veterans Day story highlighted Dylan Mace.

The Staples High School junior was raising funds for Westport’s VFW Post 399.  The Riverside Avenue building lacked a handicap-accessible bathroom. Dylan was appalled — “brave men and women who serve could lose limbs!” he said — and vowed to help.

Dylan Mace

Dylan — whose grandfather was a Korean War vet — went to work. Singlehandedly, he raised almost $8,000.

And then he got more help from the community.

Early in his fundraising, architect Lou Lefort and electrician Barry O’Reilly offered their services.

General contractor Scott Rochlin contacted Dylan too. Scott’s son Charley was a decorated Marine.

After Charley died in an automobile accident, Scott’s family set up a foundation to help veterans and their families. Scott volunteered to oversee the project — and said his organization would cover any extra costs.

Scott also brought in Dino Meloni, from Nicolia Marble and Tile. He installed the bathroom tile, gratis.

Bender donated a handicap sink and toilet. Lowe’s and The Tile Shop in Norwalk gave Dylan contractor discounts on supplies. Westport Glass chipped in too.

One of the specially created VFW tiles.

But Dylan wanted this to be extra-special for veterans. He found Custom-Tiles.com online, and asked if they could make special tiles with the emblems of the 5 US military branches. The owner worked with Dylan, creating amazing ones for the walls.

Dylan was so moved by the project, and the people he met through it, that when it came time to plan his service project for the National Honor Society, he asked to paint the inside of the VFW — and spruce up the outside.

Congratulations, Dylan, for all you do.

I’m sorry I couldn’t post this a few days ago, on Veterans Day.

But thanks to you — and all who helped — every great day at the VFW will now be even better.

Pic Of The Day #577

A cold evening at Longshore’s ER Strait Marina (Photo/Seth Goltzer)

[UPDATE] Be Careful Out There!

Alert — and cautious — “06880” reader Robin Gusick reports:

This is Post Road East by Compo Shopping Center, going up the hill near CVS.

Tons of cars are stuck with their hazard lights on, scattered all over the road. I have never seen anything like it.

Drive safely!

Robin added this PS a few minutes after I posted her story:

My husband Dave and son Sam rescued me by getting my “stuck” car into the bank parking lot. Now we have 2 cars in the Wells Fargo lot, and no way to get home.

We decided to make lemonade out of lemons.  We walked across the street to enjoy a meal and drinks at Little Kitchen. There are many other patrons here in the same boat.

This is one way to help Westport businesses! Now it’s back to my jalapeño margarita, and shrimp with garlic sauce!

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We’re Getting 1-3 Inches Of Snow, Followed By Rain. Here’s The Scene At Trader Joe’s.

2 For The Weekend

Looking for something to do this weekend?

A couple of great ideas just crossed my desk popped up in my inbox.

The first is a world premiere. Westport-based Connecticut Theater Dance kicks off its 2018-19 season with the original ballet “Drosselmeyer: The Toymaker’s Story” at Fairfield University’s Quick Center on Saturday (7 p.m.).

Artistic director Michelle Sperry wrote the fictional story of how the legendary toymaker created the magical nutcracker. Renowned choreographer Rodney Rivera — with 13 professional dancers, and supporting roles from CTD students (including young Westporters) — brings the ballet to life.

Writing and producing a totally new ballet is never easy. It’s especially tough when you’re a true non-profit, with a 100% volunteer board.

Sperry did it in just 2 months. But it could not have happened without plenty of help from Westporters.

Local businesses contributed funds. The company raised money by organizing a Halloween costumefest, renting a movie theater for a private showing, creating and selling calendars, and (of course) running a bake sale. Sperry even secured a private bank loan to make up the shortfall.

The young dancers augmenting the professionals in “Drosselmeyer” include Westporters.

The CTD’s mission of promoting diversity produced housing challenges. Sperry opened her home to a dancer from El Salvador for 5 weeks. Resident choreographer Alejandro Ulloa hosted a Nicaraguan dancer. Choreographer Rodney Rivera –from Puerto Rico — was welcomed in by another CTD family.

Most sets were made in Sperry’s garage — including a train big enough for cast members to ride on. Local residents offered rocking horses, dolls and beer steins.

CTD families donated food, helped sew (staying up until 3 a.m.!), and done much, much more. They’re honored to support dancers who commute up to 2 hours each way.

This is a labor of love for everyone. It should be an inspiring evening. And hey — how often do you get to see a world premiere?

Click here for tickets, or call 203-254-4010.

Meanwhile, Joan Nevin raves about the Westport Country Playhouse’s production of “Thousand Pines.”

The longtime Westporter — who has no connection with the theater, other than as a patron — calls the current play “groundbreaking and heartbreaking.”

It was developed in the Playhouse’s New Works Circle last year — the first to come out of the program with a full production. 

Playwright Matthew Greene explores how families and communities try to cope after a school shooting, in “an incredibly moving, intelligent way.”

Five characters — playing roles in different families affected by the tragedy — are “brilliantly nuanced.” Nevin won’t give away the ending, but calls it “brilliant. The play comes full circle with a powerful, heart-wrenching understanding among members of the community.”

She says it connects to devastating current events “without political implications or easy answers, but with  emotional depth and power.”

“Thousand Pines” runs through this Saturday (November 17). For more information and tickets, click here.

 

Staples Girls Soccer, Field Hockey Head To State Finals

For the 2nd year in a row, the Staples High School girls soccer team will play in the state final.

And for the 2nd straight year, they face Ridgefield.

Coach Barry Beattie’s 5th-seeded Wreckers earned the right to avenge last year’s 2-1 defeat by knocking off #1 Glastonbury 1-0 Monday night. Both teams completed the regular season undefeated. Staples was 13-0-3; the upstaters, 15-0-1.

The Wreckers’ route to the LL (largest division) title match included victories over 3 Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference opponents: Fairfield Warde (2-1), New Canaan (2-1) and Trumbull (3-0).

Staples and Ridgefield tied 0-0 earlier this season. The championship game is set for Saturday, 1 p.m. at Fairfield Warde High School.

The Staples girls soccer team celebrates after beating Glastonbury.

But soccer is not the only girls team contending for a Connecticut crown this weekend. The defending state champion field hockey team — ranked 2nd in the L (largest division) #1 Cheshire on Saturday. They face off at Wethersfield High School, at 10 a.m.

Coach Ian Tapsall’s squad — who posted a perfect 16-0-0 regular season mark — advanced to the final with 3 wins: 3-0 against Glastonbury, 1-0 over Norwalk, and 2-1 in an overtime, penalty shot semifinal against Darien.

The Staples High School field hockey team.

Good luck to both teams. Win or lose, you’ve already done us all proud!

The Little Red House Lives!

It’s a constant Westport discussion: empty Main Street storefronts, the perceived loss of community character, the fate of downtown.

Recently, David Waldman — developer of Bedford Square on Church Lane, and the new retail/residential complex at the old Save the Children site on Wilton Road — cautioned in an “06880” post that pessimism can be self-fulfilling. He pointed out many positive occurrences downtown.

Local preservationists/alert “06880” readers Wendy Crowther and Morley Boyd agree that good things are happening by the banks of the Saugatuck. They offer this story as proof.

In December 2016, the “Little Red House” faced demolition. A new mixed retail and residential project was planned for 201 Main Street/15 Belden Place — the spot opposite Le Rouge by Aarti and Ron’s Barber Shop, occupied by an aging storefront and some riverfront residences.

The Little Red House in 2016. (Westport Historic Resources Inventory, courtesy of Wendy Crowther)

Immediately, “06880” readers expressed strong opinions about the loss of a familiar part of the downtown landscape. Perched on the edge of the Saugatuck River, the circa 1920 Colonial Revival style structure could never be mistaken for distinguished architecture.

But that wasn’t the point. It was a picturesque little house which, despite flooding and development pressures, had endured. With the passage of time, the structure simply became a small part of what so many felt made Westport special.

Westporter Peter Nisenson, of PEN Builders, saw the many comments on “06880.” As the property’s new owner, he quickly reconsidered his company’s plans to demolish the antique waterside structure.

Nisenson realized that the house could actually become an attractive, valuable part of his larger redevelopment project.

After obtaining a record-setting 15 variances (thank you, Zoning Board of Appeals!), the Little Red House has been flood-proofed and refurbished.

Today, it’s almost near completion.

The Little Red House today. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Now divided into 2 light-filled apartments – each with its own porch and astonishing 180 degree views of the Saugatuck River – the structure retains all its beautiful wooden beams.

As a special nod to its place in the hearts of Westporters, the house’s original red paint has been color matched.

So here’s our takeaway: Whether it’s a quirky iron bridge, a beloved local bar or simply a picturesque waterfront dwelling, residents need to speak up when our non-renewable resources become endangered.

In this case, a savvy local developer responded to community input. He harnessed the peculiar power that authentic and familiar things seem to have over us.

As a result, his project is enhanced. And the public has the satisfaction of knowing that the Little Red House will contribute to the aesthetic value of Westport’s riverfront for generations to come.

How’s that for a positive downtown story?!

Morley Boyd and Peter Nisenson, in the refurbished house. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Pic Of The Day #576

Compo Beach pavilion (Photo/Michael Tomashefsky)