Antonia Landgraf was born and raised in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. It was a tight-knit Italian neighborhood — like long-ago Saugatuck, perhaps — and she loved it.
Her grandfather — born on the same block — was a mailman. Her grandmother worked in a school cafeteria.
Her parents worked for the government. They lived on the bottom 2 floors of a brownstone, and rented out the rest.
In the mid-1980s, yuppies began to move in. Bodegas and religious artifact stores gave way to crêperies, boutiques and bars.
“The good part was there were nice restaurants and shops. Not everything was a chain,” Antonia recalls.
A “Farmacy” has probably replaced a pharmacy in Carroll Gardens.
Real estate prices rose. Some renters were priced out. Antonia’s parents and grandparents owned their property, and benefited.
Many of her friends stayed in Carroll Gardens. On Facebook, she reads their comments about the changes.
“It’s not like the days when everyone knew everyone,” she says. “That’s ironic, because the first people who came did it because it was a great Italian-American neighborhood, with everyone sitting out on their stoops.”
The oldtimers-versus-newcomers debate is not confined to Carroll Gardens. It echoes in many places — including Westport. Which is where, since 2013, Antonia and her husband have lived.
They moved first to New Jersey, in 2002, because they could no longer afford Brooklyn. Then they had kids. Her husband’s company has an office in Darien. They started looking for bigger, suburban homes.
Antonia and her husband visited Westport on a beautiful September day. The water sparkled under the Bridge Street bridge. Downtown, they walked past the gorgeous Christ & Holy Trinity church, and stopped at the Spotted Horse. “It felt like we were on vacation,” Antonia says.
Moving here has been wonderful. The town is gorgeous. Folks have been welcoming. She could not be happier.
Her 3 sons — the youngest was born here — are busy, and thriving. On the day we talked earlier this summer, one was collecting crabs on Burying Hill Beach. Another was at sports camp. This is their home town.
Antonia’s boys have discovered the magic of Burying Hill Beach.
Antonia sees parallels between Carroll Gardens and Westport. Both places are changing. Some longtime residents resent what’s happening. Recent arrivals feel the undercurrent. They try to be sensitive — but this is their town too.
“We moved because of the beauty, the downtown, the historical homes,” Antonia says. Some of her new friends are natives. One of them lives in new construction, she laughs.
“We’re new, but we still respect what there is here, and what there was.” Yet, she adds, Westport is always changing. “This used to be onion farms.”
She followed the Red Barn closing on “06880.” “We went there once. We were not impressed. But I understand it was an institution.”
The same thing is happening in Carroll Gardens. Antonia pointed me to a New York Daily News story about the demise of a beloved restaurant there.
“It’s not just Westport,” she says. “It’s everywhere. If your secret gets out, that’s it.”
So, I wonder, does Antonia have any message for Westporters of every era, seeking to understand what’s going on here today?
“Not everyone who comes here is not uninterested in the town and its past,” she says.
Antonia Landgraf and her husband understand the importance of the Westport Historical Society.
“My husband and I are very much invested in Westport. We want to contribute to the community.
“We’re not just passing through. We’re here for at least the next 16 years, through high school for our youngest. We might stay here after retirement.
“New people come in all the time. They may be different from those who were born here. But don’t assume they don’t respect all that has made the town what it is.”