Tag Archives: 1 Wilton Road

Another Turn For 1 & 33?

The town missed a chance to move the little building at 1 Wilton Road — the former yarn shop at the Post Road West corner. A land swap with David Waldman’s Save the Children development project diagonally across the street could have enabled a turning lane, helping alleviate some of the traffic at what’s been called the state’s worst intersection.

But now there’s a demolition sign posted on the southwest corner. That’s the Westport Aquarium building, at 2 Riverside Avenue.

2 Riverside Avenue

It’s probably making way for a new structure — one that would (of course) draw more traffic.

Maybe though, there’s still a way to make this a turning lane — or at least somehow reconfigure that traffic-choked intersection.

Hey — a guy can dream, right?

Pic Of The Day #192

1 Wilton Road — and the Wright Street building. (Photo/John Videler)

1 Wilton Road: Demolition Is Halted

For several days, Westporters watched with mounting concern as 1 Wilton Road — the little building at the always-clogged intersection with Post Road West and Riverside Avenue — was slowly reduced to its skeleton.

This morning, “06880” posted reader Wendy Crowther’s concerns.

Earlier this evening, I heard from Wendy again. She writes:

Following a site visit today that included a Westport building official, the Westport Historic District Commission, the owner of 1 Wilton Road, a representative from the Westport Preservation Alliance and other interested parties, it was agreed that the scope of work done represents a demolition.

Consequently, the work will be temporarily halted on the original structure (although construction of an addition will continue) while the owner obtains a retroactive demolition permit.

1 Wilton Road, front view. The Wright Street office building looms behind it. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The demolition permit will be subject to an automatic 180-day delay period because the building is over 50 years old.  A waiver of the balance of the 180-day delay period will be reviewed at the Historic District Commission’s regularly scheduled public hearing on November 14.

At that hearing, the public will have an opportunity to directly comment on the matter. It is hoped that the owner of 1 Wilton Road will now consider reconstructing more of the structure’s original appearance so as to preserve some historic continuity and to permit the building to read as the beloved house that has witnessed so much change itself.

Wendy concludes:

If you love this quaint and undeniably historic house, we encourage you to continue to weigh in, both here on “06880” and at November’s HDC public hearing.

1 Wilton Road, before the demolition.

1 Wilton Road: The Sequel

Earlier this month, “06880” reported on 1 Wilton Road. The quaint little building at the traffic-choked intersection with Post Road West and Riverside Avenue was going to be renovated by — and serve as headquarters for — the Vita Design Group.

1 Wilton Road, circa 1975. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

The renovation now looks like a demolition. “0688o” reader — and amateur historian — Wendy Crowther writes:

Morley Boyd and I have been watching the goings-on at 1 Wilton Road. We are disturbed by what has been happening there. Plenty of others have come to us expressing similar concerns. We’ve been looking into it, and thought readers might be interested in knowing a little more.  

The little house was built in 1830 – 5 years before Westport was founded — and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s been a grocery store, a vulcanizing business, a tire and battery emporium, a spirit shop and a knitting supply source.

But now it’s been shorn of its charming 19th century Italianate-style side addition, and just about everything else too — doors, windows, walls, siding, even the chimney – as part of a redevelopment project.

1 Wilton Road, from the rear. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Though the owner has characterized this as a renovation, many Westporters have asked if this is actually demolition. The Historic District Commission says yes. The Building Department says no.

Either way, one thing is clear: The intersection that Westporters love to hate was, until recently, pretty well preserved in terms of historic streetscape. With the major changes coming to 1 Wilton Road, the loss of this building’s original features and charming qualities will no doubt be missed by many.

1 Wilton Road, front view. The Wright Street office building looms behind it. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

1 Wilton Road

1 Wilton Road — the little building huddled beneath the massive Wright Street office complex, at the traffic-choked intersection with Post Road West and Riverside Avenue — has a long history.

Built in 1830 — before Westport was even incorporated, when horses watered at a nearby trough — it’s a reminder of days gone by. Originally a home, it’s been in recent years a liquor store and yarn shop.

1 Wilton Road, circa 1975. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Now it’s home to Vita Design Group. The modern design firm’s projects include the Geiger development across from Greens Farms Elementary School, and the new glass house on Compo Beach Road near the Minute Man monument.

Alert Westporters recently noticed scaffolding around the 1 Wilton Road site. Some wonder whether it’s coming down.

Nope.

Lucien Vita said his company spent its first years roaming around Westport. After starting in his home, Vita Design Group moved to several locations, including Main Street.

As a small business, they saw the 1 Wilton Road spot — with plenty of traffic (and everyone stuck at the light) — as a marketing opportunity. They bought the property 4 years ago and planned a renovation, showing off what they do best.

Permits took a while. Just before renovation was to begin, David Waldman and Greenfield Partners approached Vita with a plan.

Together they own the former Save the Children property, across the street down Wilton Road. They planned a retail/residential complex there. To mitigate traffic concerns, they wanted to purchase 1 Wilton Road. They’d reconstruct that building on the Save the Children site; in return, they’d give the 1 Wilton Road land to the town, for a much-needed turning lane onto Post Road West.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed new office building (center) and condos (right) on the former Save the Children property, as seen from Parker Harding Plaza. The Post Road bridge and National Hall are on left.

It took 2 1/2 years, but finally the Planning and Zoning Commission said no.

Though Vita was paying carrying costs each month for the property, they still wanted to help the town. They had a new idea: rebuild the office further back on the land. They’d keep its historical identity, yet still provide room for drivers to turn.

However, it could take 2 years to work out funding. And if that came through, a town or state body could deny permission for the plan.

It’s not feasible for Vita to wait. So — as the scaffolding shows — they’ve begun to renovate 1 Wilton Road for their new home. Plans include rebuilding the 1-story portion with a steeper roof, and putting new siding and details on the 2-story wing, integrating its historical features with a slightly modern touch.

Scaffolding at 1 Wilton Road. The building is dwarfed by the Wright Street office complex. (Photo/Jeff Manchester)

The inside will be gutted. Its original post-and-beam structure has been covered up. That will be exposed again, in a nod to its nearly 200-year-old past.

“We want to make the building solid, and bring it into the 21st century,” Lucien Vita says. “We want to help it live another 100 years.”

That’s still not the end of the story. Vita says that even after renovation, he’s open to moving the building back — so long as that’s a practical, cost-effective solution.

Dream about that the next time you’re stuck at that interminable light.

1 Wilton Road: Through The Years

1 Wilton Road — the former needlepoint shop that’s part of the reason that intersection with the Post Road and Riverside Avenue is the worst in Westport the state the world — has been in the news lately.

David Waldman hopes to buy the property, and move the house onto the former Save the Children site (which he already owns). That will pave the way (ho ho) for a dedicated turning lane, easing (somewhat) the current gridlock.

Right now, everyone in Westport loathes that corner. But 50 years ago, local illustrator Albert Hubbell found it soothing, even bucolic. His stylized illustration became the New Yorker cover on January 9, 1965. It’s also part of the great “New Yorker in Westport” book by Eve Potts and Andrew Bentley, depicting 50 magazine covers by area artists.

New Yorker cover - Jan 9, 1965 - Wilton Road and Post Road

Ten years later — on Christmas Day, 1975 — Fred Cantor found it alluring too. Here’s his photo:

Wilton Road and Post Road intersection - 1975

That corner sure looks pretty — without traffic.

But with that thing we did have every winter. It was — how do say it — “snow”?

David Waldman’s Save The Children Project Takes Shape

A crane towers over Main Street. The old Tudor YMCA is being gutted. Concrete is poured near Church Lane and Elm Street.

But even as Westporters await the completion of Bedford Square — David Waldman’s project that will redefine downtown — he’s moving forward on his next project.

Waldman is a partner in the development group that owns the former Save the Children site across the river. Right now, a 60,000-square foot building blocks views from Wilton Road. A few yards away, the brutal Post Road/Riverside Avenue intersection makes that west bank neighborhood a don’t-go-there-unless-you-have-to afterthought to downtown shoppers.

Waldman wants to change all that. He hopes to build an office building and 18 high-end condos on the 2.6-acre site.

He’ll extend the boardwalk from National Hall and Bartaco all the way to the end of his property. He’ll help the town and other interested parties build a pedestrian bridge, linking his development with Parker Harding Plaza or Gorham Island.

Plans for the new west bank project show ... (Click on or hover to enlarge)

Plans for the new west bank project show the new office building and residential condos, extended boardwalk, pedestrian bridge, dedicated left-turn lane and more. (Click on or hover to enlarge)

Most importantly, he’ll move the charming, old (and very much in-the-way) needle shop house from 1 Wilton Road, to his new project. That will allow construction of a left-turn lane onto the Post Road, easing congestion at one of the worst intersections in the state.

Plans have not been presented formally. But discussions are beginning with important town bodies, like the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Waldman is very familiar with the property, and the land around it. Compass Commons — across the street from Save the Children — was developed by his father in 1982.

Though Waldman knows the Save the Children site is in a flood zone — and is well aware of the traffic woes — he’s excited by its potential. It’s one of the last remaining developable sites downtown. The native Westporter thrives on challenges like these.

The former Save the Children's Wilton Road headquarters. The 60,000-square foot building now stands empty.

The former Save the Children’s Wilton Road headquarters. The 60,000-square foot building now stands empty.

He and his partners worked for over a year on the concept. It includes residential units, because they’re called for in the downtown plan. Waldman knows there are many empty nesters in Westport looking to downsize, but stay here. Nationwide, older homeowners are relocating closer to downtown areas.

“I tried to hit all the buttons: what the town wants, how to incorporate visual access to the river, and get parking off the river,” Waldman says.

He notes that Save the Children at one point had 250 employees, but only 180 parking spaces. His plan will help add parking for restaurants like Bartaco and Vespa. Eight spots will be available for public access to the water.

His new buildings will be FEMA compliant. (Save the Children is not.)

Waldman is particularly excited by the opportunity to redesign the brutal Post Road/Wilton Road/Riverside Avenue intersection.

He has an option on the house that right now huddles underneath the Wright Street building. He hopes to give that land to the town.

Right now, this cute building at 1 Wilton Road inhibits traffic turning in 2 directions, or going straight.

Right now, this cute building at 1 Wilton Road inhibits traffic turning in 2 directions, or going straight.

The development’s architect — Roger Ferris + Partners — is coincidentally headquartered at 11 Wilton Road. They’d accommodate the redesign, ceding room for the new lane (and a nice pocket park.)

It won’t be easy — or cheap. Waldman estimates the cost of moving the house at $2.5 million. But he relocated Kemper Gunn from Bedford Square across Elm Street. He understands the value of both preservation and change.

He’d need a text amendment to increase the allowable height of his residential building to 48 feet. That would allow underground parking. According to Waldman, it would still be lower than the top of National Hall.

An artist's rendering of the proposed new office building (center) and condos (right) on the former Save the Children property, as seen from Parker Harding Plaza. The Post Road bridge and National Hall are on left.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed new office building (right-center) and condos (right) on the former Save the Children property, as seen from Parker Harding Plaza. The Post Road bridge and National Hall are on left; Bartaco is in the middle.

In the early 1990s, the Tauck family breathed new life into that old building. A century earlier, National Hall was one of Westport’s central meeting places. After Fairfield Furniture’s long run, it stood abandoned and in danger of collapse. Today it’s beautiful, and functional.

The old Vigilant Firehouse is now home to Neat. Bartaco recently infused more new energy into that area.

David Waldman stands poised to do the same. With Save the Children gone, it’s time to Save the West Bank of the Saugatuck.