Tag Archives: Arthur Tauck

Missing Fountain Mystery Deepens

First, “06880” wondered what happened to the early 1900s fountain/horse trough located at the intersection of the Post Road and Wilton Road.

Turns out it turned up next to National Hall. Then it was established that it’s no longer there.

The fountain a few years ago, near National Hall. It's gone now.

The fountain a few years ago, near National Hall. It’s gone now.

Crazily enough, no one knows when it vanished. Or why. Or where it is now. Even though it happened within the last decade.

What’s beyond dispute, though, is that the fountain was there in 1991, when Arthur Tauck gave Westport one of its greatest gifts ever.

National Hall had stood on the west bank of the Saugatuck River since 1873. It was built by Horace Staples — our high school’s namesake — and over the years served many purposes.

It housed Staples’ First National Bank of Westport. It was used as a newspaper office, a coffin-making business, and for many other purposes. Adjacent wharves provided easy shipping to New York, Boston and other ports.

The 3rd floor was used for everything from basketball games to concerts, said noted local historian Eve Potts. In 1884, the very 1st classes of the new Staples High School met there.

Ships lined up near National Hall (right), in this early photo.

Ships lined up near National Hall (right), in this early photo.

According to the New York Times, the bank moved out in 1924. Other tenants followed. By the 1940s — with most commerce being conducted on the other side of the river — the building was sold to Fairfield Furniture.

But that store closed in the 1970s. For 3 decades the building — one of the most prominent in Westport — sat empty.

Fairfield Furniture -- a hulking presence for many years.

Fairfield Furniture — a hulking presence for many years.

It deteriorated. Water leaked in. Tons of bird droppings caused the roof to sag.

In 1989, the area was designated a Historic Design District. That enabled Tauck — president of the high-end tour company founded by his father, which at that time was headquartered nearby on Wilton Road — to redevelop the area, in a historically sensitive way.

Over a period of several years, Tauck renovated National Hall. He’d bought it at auction in 1986, for $1.5 million. At a cost of $6 million, he and Ferris Architects restored the building to its original brick and cast-iron facade grandeur.

Tauck  created the boutique 15-room Inn at National Hall. Every room was different. Each floor included a living room, library and fireplace. A restaurant occupied the ground floor.

The Inn at National Hall, after Arthur Tauck's restoration project.

The Inn at National Hall, after Arthur Tauck’s restoration project.

The manager was Nick Carter. From 1979-85, the former British Navy officer was in charge of royal accommodations on the yacht Brittania.

Tauck also donated the gas lamps on the Post Road bridge to the town.

Reporting on the project in 1991, the Times described “a new landscaped plaza with a fountain as its centerpiece.”

For a variety of reasons, the Inn at National Hall did not succeed. Today, though with Vespa on the ground floor — and offices above — the place is bustling. And the building is a handsome sight for anyone entering town.

But back to the fountain. Sometime — during one of the many renovations of the property — it disappeared.

How could a handsome — and very heavy — fountain simply have vanished? And how come no one recalls when it happened, or where it went?

Where is Rod Serling now that we really need him?

(Hat tip: Elaine Marino)

 

Keeping History, Adding Excitement To Saugatuck’s West Bank

Bobby Werhane graduated from Cornell’s hospitality school. But he’s the first to admit he wasn’t really into the industry.

A finance major, he did “what every Cornell lacrosse player does,” he says. He went to Wall Street.

It was the summer of 2001. The economy was not great. He got a job with a “chop shop boiler room financial firm,” and an apartment in a brand-new high-rise on Chambers Street.

One morning a few weeks later, he heard a loud crash. He looked outside his window, and saw what he thought was a Cessna piercing the World Trade Center.

Bobby Werhane

Bobby Werhane

He went out on his balcony overlooking the Hudson, and called his father. While on his cell, he saw a plane banking hard to the left. Seconds later, it slammed into the other Twin Tower.

Neighbors poured into his apartment. A man was on the phone, talking to his mother in one of the WTC buildings. As they spoke, the building collapsed.

“I was going to be like everyone else,” Bobby says. “That day, my path diverged.”

A Cornell lax alum hired Bobby to run his popular midtown cafe/bar, Local. At 22, Bobby was bitten by the hospitality bug.

He went on to own, operate and sell 8 different restaurants, bars and supper clubs in New York. One was Gin Lane, in the Meatpacking District. Another was Johnny Utah’s near Rockefeller Center. A 3rd — Scarpetta — earned 3 stars from the New York Times.

Bobby learned about the artisan craft of cooking, and locally sourced quality products. But owning rock-and-roll bars did not seem “genuine” to him.

L'ArtusiHis next restaurant, Dell’Anima, created a real family environment. Then came L’Artusi, which really took off.

But Bobby became a father. Life grew more complicated. He asked his partners to buy him out. He used the profits to open Spasso, a small, rustic Italian place in the West Village.

Six years ago, his wife got pregnant again. “The only people we knew with kids lived in Westport,” he says.

They moved to Saugatuck Shores. “It was a beach shack with no air conditioning,” he recalls. “But it was on the water. We thought it was a palace. We loved it.”

They moved again, to Compo Beach. Hurricane Irene deposited 4 feet of water in their home; Hurricane Sandy brought 8 feet. Their 3rd child was due 3 weeks later. The family moved to Coleytown, then Green’s Farms. All along, Bobby commuted to New York.

One of Bobby’s best customers was a principal in Greenfield Partners. The real estate investment firm is headquartered in National Hall. Bobby and he talked about the renaissance going on across the Saugatuck River from downtown. The arrival of Bartaco, the new development planned for Save the Children, the success of Arezzo and more sounded enticing.

National Hall -- and the west bank of the Saugatuck River -- are among the most iconic scenes in Westport. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

National Hall — and the west bank of the Saugatuck River — are among the most iconic scenes in Westport. Even in snow they are alluring. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

“Growing up, I lived in the Midwest, Texas and Baltimore,” Bobby says. “I wanted roots.”

He found them in Westport. Now he’s digging them even deeper, on Saugatuck’s west bank.

Late last summer Bobby opened Neat. He loved the concept of the Darien spot — lovingly detailed coffee during the day, hand-crafted cocktails at night — and brought it to the former Vigilant firehouse on Wilton Road.

Neat uses the long space of the old Vigilant Firehouse well. There's a popular bar, and plenty of room for tables. (Photo/Riscala Agnese Design Group)

Neat uses the long space of the old Vigilant Firehouse well. There’s a popular bar, and plenty of room for tables. (Photo/Riscala Agnese Design Group)

“Restaurants are all about location. And this location is all about history,” he says. “I want this to be a communal place. There’s nothing more communal than a firehouse. And when it was a pizza place (Da Rosa’s Brick Oven), that was communal too.”

On Christmas Eve Bobby opened Vespa, just a few steps away. It’s on the ground floor of National Hall, occupying the space that once was Zanghi, and then a real estate office mortgage company.

Vespa’s location is even more important than Neat’s. National Hall dates back to the mid-1800s. For well over a century it served Westport as a bank, meeting hall, the very 1st site of Staples High School, and a furniture store.

In the early 1900s, National Hall (seen here from the intersection of the Post Road and Wilton Road) was one of the most important spots in town.

In the early 1900s, National Hall (seen here from the muddy intersection of the Post Road and Wilton Road) was one of the most important spots in town.

It fell into disuse though, and sat abandoned for years. In the 1990s, Arthur Tauck rescued it from the wrecking ball. He turned it into an upscale hotel (and donated the old-fashioned lamps lining the Post Road bridge).

Bobby opened up and brightened the ground floor. He envisioned a sophisticated menu — but also a place where anyone could hang out at the bar, enjoying a bowl of homemade pasta.

He’s succeeded. Vespa is lively. It’s fun. The food is superb. And there are special touches, like a traditional “Italian Sunday supper.” (From 4-8 p.m., the food — antipasti, salads, chicken, fish, whatever the chef comes up with  — just keeps coming.)

Vespa is warm and inviting. This view is toward the Post Road, where it meets Riverside Avenue.

Vespa is warm and inviting. This view is toward the Post Road, where it meets Riverside Avenue. (Photo/Riscala Agnese Design Group)

There have been speed bumps. The horrendous winter kept many Westporters from venturing out. Some  folks don’t realize there is plenty of parking, across the street and in the Save the Children lot.

But Bobby keeps smiling. As soon as  the weather clears, he’ll put tables outside. The very cool Vespa vibe will move outdoors, making the west side of the river even more exciting since — well, the mid-1800s.

How neat is that?