Tag Archives: Arnold Schlaet

Isadora Duncan Lives — In Westport

Rodin called Isadora Duncan “the greatest woman who ever lived.”

The mother of modern dance died in 1927. (She was just 50. Her flowing silk scarf became entangled around the open-spoked wheels and axle of an automobile in Nice, France, breaking her neck.)

Now, 89 years later, Duncan — or at least her spirit — is alive and well in Westport.

Isadora Duncan

Isadora Duncan

On Sunday, September 11, the Isadora Duncan International Institute launches its 40th season with a dance performance and garden champagne reception at the early-20th century, very Duncanesque former Schlaet estate on Bluewater Hill.

The event benefits the Institute and Jeanne Bresciani, a world-renowned dancer and longtime Duncan Institute director.

And that’s where the Westport-Isadora Duncan connection becomes even tighter.

Back in the day, Duncan’s dancing delighted millions. But she also taught children. She adopted 6, who became known as “the Isadorables.” They performed in Europe and the US.

Three went on to teach as well, passing along Duncan’s beautiful, timeless technique. It has become the inspiration for creative dance education for children, and of dance therapies worldwide.

Vicky Sloat with 2 young dancers.

Vicky Sloat with 2 young dancers.

One of those Isadorables was Maria Theresa Duncan. She mentored Bresciani — who went on to teach Vicky Sloat.

Sloat has paid it forward, teaching children and teenagers in Westport for 12 years.

And — drum roll, please — she and her husband now own the Schlaet property.

The event thus comes full circle — an artistic, dancing circle. It bridges Isadora Duncan with a disciple of sorts, decades later — for a cause that will keep Duncan’s memory and work alive, for many decades to come.

(Tickets for the September 11 event are available here. For more information, click here.)


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Who Was Schlaet, And What’s His Point?

From time to time — most recently in a story about rock formations on local shorelines — I’ve mentioned “Schlaet’s Point.” That’s the strip of land between the end of Soundview Drive (north end of Compo Beach), and the only house on the water side of Hillspoint between Compo and Old Mill Beach (big stone wall; yardarm with the US, Connecticut and  Texas [!] state flags).

But I’ve never asked myself: Who was Schlaet? And no one ever asked me, either.

Peter Barlow knows.

The 1947 Staples grad — and lifelong Westporter, until decamping to Pawcatuck in 2005 — emailed info about the long-forgotten man.

And his land.

Peter recalls a stone gazebo located at the end of a long concrete pier, extending from a Japanese-style boathouse.

The original Schlaet's Point boathouse.

The original Schlaet’s Point boathouse.

The gazebo was knocked off its base by the hurricane of 1938, and remained tilted for 30 years or more.

One day in his teens, during low tide, Peter waded from Compo Beach. Using a $3 camera, he took what he calls “possibly the only close-up photos of this ‘landmark’ that exists.”

The gazebo off Schlaet's Point, in the 1940s. (Photo copyright/Peter Barlow)

The gazebo off Schlaet’s Point, in the 1940s. (Photo copyright/Peter Barlow)

Peter says the boathouse and pier were part of an estate on the other side of Hillspoint Road. It was enormous, including  most of the land from Compo Hill Road at Elvira’s to Minute Man Hill off South Compo.

A view of Long Island Sound, from the Schlaet estate.

A view of Long Island Sound from the Schlaet estate. (Library of Congress archives)

A mansion — with red-orange tiled roof — and elaborate gardens perched high on the hill. A smaller structure, with a similar roof, is still visible from Hillspoint. It was a guest house, or servants’ quarters.

In 1917, the entire property was assessed at just under $148,000. The owner was Arnold Schlaet (rhymes with “slate”), an investor and co-founder of Texaco in 1902.

...and another.

A view of the estate grounds. (Library of Congress archives)

Woody Klein’s history book about Westport notes that in 1918 Schlaet donated his 65-foot yacht to the US government, for the war effort. But, Peter says, there is no other information about him. Wikipedia — which includes entries on anyone who has ever lived — has just about zilch.

Arnold Schlaet (Courtesy Texaco)

Arnold Schlaet

Perhaps, Peter says, an “06880” reader knows more about Arnold Schlaet. If so, click “Comments” below.

Perhaps, Peter adds, “if he had paid for a school or library, or something, his name would be remembered for more than just a point at the north end of Compo Beach.”