Tag Archives: Arnie’s Place

Andrew Colabella Turns 30

Andrew Colabella is still the youngest RTM member in town.

But he’s no longer in his 20s.

The lifelong Westporter just celebrated his 30th birthday. As he reached that milestone, the 2007 Staples High School graduate reflected on 3 decades in his home town. He writes (and shares some favorite photos he’s taken):

For the last 15 years, I’ve spent my birthday on the bench of “Myrna Wexler” at Compo with my family. I reminisce about my years on earth, waiting for 9:35 a.m.

While I reflect on my personal experiences and stories, I can’t help but reflect on my memories with Westport too.

Growing up, this was not only my home but my play pen. From riding my bike and then my scooter to driving a car, I passed the same buildings, and drove on these roads a thousand times. It never got old for me.

Westport’s roads are very familiar. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

My first time meeting a police officer was when I was 3. I stubbed my toe outside of the Old Mill market. Dave Eason pulled over and gave me a Band-Aid.

I watched Sam Arciola, Foti Koskinas, Dale Call, Ryan Paulsson, Eric Woods, Craig Bergamo, Kevin Smith, Howard Simpson and the great Bobby Myer climb through the ranks, as they watched me grow up.

I remember standing on the train platform. Everyone spoke to each other with their newspapers clenched between their arm and chest. Now, we’re buried in our phones.

Restaurants like Mario’s, DeRosa’s, Mansion Clam House, Doc’s Cafe, Oscar’s, Onion Alley, Bogey’s, National Hall, Swanky Frank’s, Tacos or What? and many more are now distant memories. My taste buds tingle, wishing for them all to come back.

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)

Going to Longshore on Fridays when Rec-ing Crew was in session during the summer, riding a GoPed to expose myself to hypothermia from the pool on hot days to be with my friends and meet kids from the rival Coleytown Middle School.

Going to Joey’s to hang out with Billy Hess and eat Toasted Almonds out of the old food trailer, then go home and watch Top 10 music videos on VH1 and MTV.

The last few years I’ve been to the movies once or twice. When I was younger, I went to the theaters in Westport to see “Free Willy,” “Leave It To Beaver” and “The Lion King.” Now they’re Restoration Hardware, and the former Pier 1 Imports.

Going to Arnie’s, playing games with my mom and sister, meeting Arnie who had a pool in his living room with a parrot on his shoulder and big Great Dane dogs. Arnie’s turned into Hay Day, where we would run into Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Martha Stewart, Linda Fiorentino, Jason Robards and Christopher Walken.

After the first warm day of the year, my family was at the beach every day by the cannons. What was once my recreational heaven became summer jobs. I worked with Parks & Recreation in high school and throughout college until I graduated from UConn.

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)

Who would’ve thought that when I turned 16, free to drive the roads of Westport I once biked up and down a thousand times, that I would get stuck next to a Volvo station wagon at a traffic light with Ferrari emblems. All 4 tires spun, as Paul Newman pulled out. (Never underestimate custom work and a Volvo station wagon).

Speaking of cars, who remembers the man at Compo Beach who drove a Chrysler LeBaron with leopard seats? He wore a boat captain’s hat, with a scarf around his neck. I never knew his name.

I also never knew the name of the woman who would come to Compo at night in her sweatshirt and sweatpants in the dead of summer, and jam out to her Walkman, dancing in the sand as people strolled by.

Compo sunsets never get old. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

These recurring events and people I took for granted. I thought they would never stop and no matter where I was, they would play out naturally.

Now I think about the last 3 years. They say your late 20s are your most difficult and loneliest ever. Mine were definitely difficult. I lost friends to car accidents, suicide, drug overdose. I’ve watched friends move away, get married, have kids and land the job opportunities of a lifetime. Buying homes, living in high rises or just traveling the world not knowing what to expect the minute they woke up.

As much as I would love to leave, explore with no home address and be on the move, I would feel empty.

The Italian Festival brings back memories. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

Yet going to work every day from 7 to 3:30, I also felt empty. I had all this time I could fill. I wanted to do more.

It wasn’t until I read an article on LinkedIn that I relaxed about my age and success, and stopped comparing myself to others. It said:

  • At age 23, Oprah was fired from her first reporting job.
  • At 24, Stephen King worked as a janitor and lived in a trailer.
  • At 27, Vincent Van Gogh failed as a missionary and decided to go to art school.
  • At 28, J.K. Rowling was a suicidal single parent living on welfare.
  • At 28, Wayne Coyne (from The Flaming Lips) was a fry cook.
  • At 30, Harrison Ford was a carpenter.
  • At 30, Martha Stewart was a stockbroker.
  • At 37, Ang Lee was a stay-at-home-dad working odd jobs.
  • Julia Child released her first cookbook at 39, and got her own cooking show at 51.
  • Vera Wang failed to make the Olympic figure skating team, didn’t get the editor-in-chief position at Vogue, and designed her first dress at 40.
  • Stan Lee didn’t release his first big comic book until he was 40.
  • Alan Rickman gave up his graphic design career to pursue acting at 42.
  • Samuel L. Jackson didn’t get his first movie role until he was 46.
  • Morgan Freeman landed his first major movie role at 52.
  • Kathryn Bigelow only reached international success when she made The Hurt Locker at 57.
  • Grandma Moses didn’t begin her painting career until 76.
  • Louise Bourgeois didn’t become a famous artist until she was 78.

Now when I’m not working, I devote my time and energy to the RTM. I go to schools and educate students about town politics, single-use plastics and composting. I find myself most at ease in Board of Finance meetings listening to Gary Conrad and members talk about line items. I go to every meeting to keep myself up to speed, even committees I’m not on. It’s relaxing, and I want to learn everything about the town I grew up in.

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)

I’m sitting on this bench as I write down memories, and reminisce about how I got where I am today. I hope to do it next year. The year after. The decade after that. And continue it with my kids and grandkids.

Here’s to 30. Here’s to Westport. The town where everyone holds history and legendary stories that make this town our home. To the RTM (my family away from home), and my family: Frank, Jann, Sara and Roxie.

Andrew Colabella, in his traditional fireworks attire.

Friday Flashback #135

Hey, kids: Your parents are not that old.

Still, they grew up in a different world than yours.

Their video games did not come on a phone.

They were big. Really big. Like, not-even-fit-in-your-room big.

Check this out:

That was the scene at Arnie’s Place. It was a “video arcade” — have your parents used that term? — located where Ulta Beauty (formerly Anthropologie) is now, next to Balducci’s.

Maybe your mom or dad is in the photo above. He or she might even be that kid in the stroller. (Love that low-tech stroller. Yet the tot survived!)

As you can see, back in the day people played video games in groups. They also had to pay every single time! Here’s how:

That’s called an Arnie’s Place token. You bought them, then put them in the machines. Crazy, huh?

Just like today, some adults didn’t like video games. They tried to shut Arnie’s Place down. But the kids fought back:

Here’s the really funny part: Some of those kids from the 1970s and ’80s are your parents today.

Don’t let them tell you not to spend so much time on your games.

PS: In 2050, you’ll be telling your kids to stop playing games on their stupid microchipettes!

Arnie’s Place

A few weeks ago, “06880” highlighted 157 Easton Road. The 7-bedroom, 10-bath, 6-car garage, 2.75-acre property on the Aspetuck River — with a boathouse, indoor pool, 2 bars, wine-tasting room, guest quarters, tennis court, waterfalls, walking paths and stone bridges — was on the market.

The story focused on the home’s history. It was the longtime residence of Leopold Godowsky Jr. (a concert violinist with a passion for photography who set up a lab there, and helped develop Kodacolor and Ektachrome) and his wife, Frankie Gershwin (who in addition to being a noted painter and singer was also George and Ira’s younger sister). The Godowskys hosted guests like Richard Rodgers, John Hersey, Maureen O’Sullivan and Mia Farrow there.

157 Easton Road

157 Easton Road

That was intriguing enough. But a number of commenters noted that the house later belonged to another famous Westporter. Arnie Kaye was the larger-than-life (literally and metaphorically) owner of Arnie’s Place, a pioneering and legendary 1970s/’80s video arcade. Arnie also owned an ice cream parlor and delicatessen, regularly battled town officials, paid his taxes in pennies, and killed an intruder on his land.

157 Easton Road has finally been sold. The figure is eye-popping — and not in a good way.

It was listed at $3,599,000. The price — at auction — was $1,800,000.

Someone got Arnie’s place for a song.

And I don’t mean a Gershwin tune.

(Click here for the full real estate listing of this property.)

Friday Flashback #12

A recent “06880” story about Leopold and Frankie Godowsky’s Easton Road home — he helped develop Kodachrome; she was George and Ira Gershwin’s younger sister — moved commenters to note that in later years, that same house was owned by Arnie Kaye.

A larger-than-life figure — and he was pretty large to begin with — Arnie was known for many things. He killed an intruder on his property. He paid his taxes in pennies. He owned a delicatessen and ice cream parlor.

He was best known, however, for his Arnie’s Place video arcade. Located where Balducci’s Anthropologie is now, and one of the first of its kind in an American suburb like Westport, it became a home-away-from-home for countless kids in the late 1970s and early ’80s.

Despite plenty of opposition at the start — lots of adults thought a video arcade heralded The End of the World — he ran an operation that parents soon happily dumped their kids at. Arnie looked out for them, providing a safe place to play (and spend mom and dad’s money).

Pretty soon, every child in Westport had his birthday party at Arnie’s.

Las Vegas? Foxwoods? Nope -- Arnie's Place.

Las Vegas? Foxwoods? Nope — Arnie’s Place.

Most of our Friday Flashbacks flash back many decades. This one will be remembered fondly by folks who wish their own children today — the same age they were then — could have their own video arcade to go to, with other kids.

Instead of playing those damn games all alone, on a stupid cellphone.

Arnie’s Place

Once upon a time — way back in the 20th century — kids did not play video games in their basements or bedrooms.

There were no Wiis, no Kinects, no big screens or joysticks. In the early 1980s, FIFA 2011 was 2 decades in the future.

But Westport had Arnie Kaye. And no history of video games would be complete without him.

Arnie Kaye was larger than life — literally. A hulk of a man — 350 pounds is charitable — he wanted to build a video arcade on the Post Road. The site was the current location of Balducci’s.

In October 1981, the Planning & Zoning Commission rejected his initial proposal. They cited insufficient tree plantings and buffer space, and lack of parking.

A battle royale ensued between the town (and Green’s Farms Association), and Arnie Kaye. It reached the state Supreme Court — but not before Arnie Kaye chained himself to Town Hall. (He was unchained and arrested 10 minutes later.)

Arnie’s Place opened on June 14, 1982. Three weeks later, a Superior Court judge ordered it closed. But within a month it reopened, with a zoning permit allowing up to 50 video games.

Arnie Kaye installed 80. The fight continued.

This was Arnie's Place -- Vegas and teenage nirvana, Westport style. Note the baby in the stroller, hopefully unharmed by early exposure to video games. This photo ran in the November 1984 edition of Electronic Games Magazine, and is now on ArniesPlaceArcade.com.

For the next 10 years, Arnie’s Place was — depending on who you talked to — either the greatest place in town, or the symbol of everything wrong with teenagers, Westport and America. It was glitzy. It was gaudy. It was — gasp! — a video game arcade.

There was more, of course — pool tables, foosball and air hockey — but the video games were the centerpiece. Each standing alone in a wood and copper cabinet, they’ve been described as “seven rows of teenaged nirvana.”

Young kids flocked to Arnie’s — some with their parents’ blessing, some without. An adjacent ice cream parlor — Georgie Porgie’s — attracted plenty of families. Others boycotted the place.

Arnie Kaye outfitted kids in town with t-shirts during his legal battles. Many parents were no doubt horrified at what their children wore.

Arnie loved the controversy — and fanned its flames. Thumbing his nose at the town that had done the same to him, he threatened at times to turn Arnie’s Place over to Hell’s Angels — and to make it a porn theater.

Finally, on September 18, 1994 — done in by changing tastes as well as a decade of litigation — Arnie’s Place closed.

I know all this not because I was an Arnie’s Place fan — I never set foot in the place — but because Peter Caylor has created an online tribute to the video game emporium of his youth.

Welcome to Arnie’s Place” is a website whose appeal is narrow but deep. The relatively small number of kids growing up in Westport in the 1980s who hung out there will enjoy it. Video game history savants will probably appreciate it. If you’re interested in the history of Westport, you might glance at it.

Yet what visitors find is intriguing.

There’s a brief history, which I have stolen liberally from (above).

There’s a comprehensive list of games. Apparently, Arnie’s was “about the only place in Connecticut (for) unusual titles like Krull or Journey.” There was also “plenty of room for sit down or cockpit games like Turbo.”

The list of games “verified” by more than 1 person, or a photo, runs alphabetically from APB to Wizard fo Wor. The “need to verify” list starts with 720, and ends with Vs. Super Mario Bros.

Brett, Aiden, Chris and Jesse play Gauntlet during Brett's birthday party in 1988. Arnie's was a favorite place for SOME birthday parties.

The goal is to create a 3-D model of Arnie’s Place — complete with playable games. It’s a work in progress.

Wandering through the site, it’s hard to imagine how something as innocuous as a video game arcade could have so consumed the town’s time, energy — and legal resources — for over a decade.

It did not turn Westport’s tweens and teens into derelicts, or juvenile delinquents. Kids who hung out at Arnie’s stayed in school, graduated, and had real lives for themselves. One even created a clever website about the place.

Kind of puts today’s debates about teenage texting, Facebook use and — yes — video game playing in context. Right?