When Westport firefighters began planning their 1st-ever fundraising gala, they did not have to look far.
Autostrada — the very cool club/classic car spot/event space — is right next to fire headquarters, on the Post Road.
The result is an exciting new event on the local calendar. The whiskey tasting on April 19 includes silent auction items far beyond the usual, plus a DJ, great food and drinks.
And it’s put on great folks, for several excellent causes.
The Westport Uniformed Firefighters Charitable Foundation includes all 64 men and women in the department. For more than a decade, they’ve hosted a Santa Run and golf tournament.
Proceeds benefit soup kitchens, scholarships, and — most recently, the Bridgeport Rescue Mission (with a donation of more than 800 winter coats).
Westport is indebted to our firefighters for keeping us safe, and protecting our lives and property.
Many of us don’t realize how invested they — even those who live far away — are in helping our community.
Now they’ve targeted another important cause for their April 19 whiskey tasting-and-more.
“Bed-shakers” are devices that are installed on beds of hearing impaired children. They warn sleeping youngsters who cannot hear smoke alarms, or see flashing lights, of fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.
Bed-shaker smoke fire and carbon dioxide alarm system.
The Uniformed Firefighters’ goal is to provide one of the devices for every hearing impaired child in Westport. Eventually, they’d like to expand it to the elderly, and beyond our town.
Proceeds from the gala will also help the Hole in the Wall Gang, and provide cancer screening for firefighters. Carcinogens in smoke, chemicals in their uniforms and diesel fuel in trucks are all occupational hazards. One firefighter recently died of cancer; 2 others under the age of 35 have been diagnosed with it.
Sure, a whiskey tasting is a bit outside the WUFCF comfort zone.
“In the past we’ve stuck with what we know,” says president Rob Lenois. “But Gioel and Ronni” — Molinari, the owners of Autostrada — “are right next door. They’re really excited to host us. It’s been a great collaboration.”
Lenois adds, “If people haven’t been there, they’ll be amazed at the venue. They’ve got a bar, an espresso machine, and all those amazing cars.”
Westport Uniformed Firefighters Charitable Foundation president Rob Lenois. (Photo/Dan Woog)
The evening includes — in addition to whiskey provided by Greens Farms Spirit Shop, and food catered by On the Marc — a DJ, photographer and door gifts.
Plus auction items seldom seen at a fundraiser, like estate planning for 2 from attorney Joseph Maya, a half-day tattoo session with Rebel & Rose, a “King for a Day” package from Hammer & Nails men’s grooming shop, and a year of trash pickup from Malone’s Refuse.
There’s also a diamond necklace from JL Rocks, a month of services and gift basket from Moxie Salon, Guess watches, yoga and spin classes, and over a dozen restaurant gift certificates.
It’s a new, special event, at a new place, for new causes.
But one thing will be old: fire engines.
In keeping with Autostrada’s “classic vehicle” theme, the Fire Department will show off Westport’s old Engine #9, and a fully restored 1918 fire truck from Westbrook.
They’ll be parked outdoors, just a few feet from the fire station.
The whiskey will be waiting inside.
(For tickets to the WUFCF whiskey tasting, click here or use the QR code below. For more information or to donate, click here. To become a sponsor or provide an auction item, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 203-341-5179.)
Speaking of Staples: The high school’s logowear is everywhere. Athletes, actors, musicians, Inklings writers — all proclaim their Wrecker allegiance.
There’s plenty of generic “Staples” apparel too, worn proudly by students and parents. It’s fun — and quite profitable for the retailers (some local, some not) who sell it.
At the Homecoming football game last month, a Staples PTA member spotted 2 varsity jackets — on long-ago graduates: Gina Hackett (Class of 1991) and John McGrath (’95).
Gina Hackett and John McGrath, at Homecoming.
That sparked a fundraising idea.
For a limited time — and just in time for the holidays — the Staples PtA is selling Staples Wreckerwear. Some is branded for alums; some just says “Staples.” It’s available to all alums everywhere. And anyone else who is proud of our outstanding high school.
Keeping it local: This is a partnership with Nice Threads, the Kings Highway North customizing company owned by 2000 graduate Tim Nash.
Click here to see all the sweatshirts, t-shirts, flannel pants, hats and beanies. The ordering deadline is November 11.
Some of the Staples PTA/Nice Threads logowear items.
Longtime Westport resident and noted actress Page Hedden Wilson, died at her Haddam home on September 13. She was 96.
Page was born in New York City in 1926 to Walter P. Hedden, director of Port Development for the Port Authority of New York, and Worth Tuttle Hedden, an award-winning novelist and champion of minority rights.
After attending Antioch College, Page met her husband, Ian H. Wilson while studying at the Theater School of Bradford Yorkshire, England. They were married in 1951 and lived for a short time in London, where Page gave birth to her first child on the day Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne.
In 1954 the couple relocated to Westport, Connecticut, where they raised their daughters Rebecca, Dori, Ellen, Holly and Alix. For more than 60 years the family lived in 5 different homes there.
Page and Ian acted in the Westport Community Theater during its early years at the group’s little theater on Kings Highway, Wilton Playshop and White Barn Theater.
Page was an artist and puppeteer, creating her own traveling puppet show Trunk of Tales Puppets in 1965 and performing at hundreds of schools, museums and nature centers in New York and Connecticut. She was also s founding member of the Connecticut Guild of Puppetry.
Page was a playwright, actress and producer of critically acclaimed plays about famous women, from Agatha Christie to Mary Cassatt and Eleanor Roosevelt. She researched her characters carefully, using authentic props and dresses.
Page is survived by her daughters Rebecca (John Armstrong) of Madison, Connecticut; Dori (George Ostasiewicz) of Norwalk; Holly (Jim Luce) of Denville, New Jersey and Dr. Alexandra Wilson (Terry Dawson) of Austin. and 12 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren. Page was predeceased by her former husband, Ian Wilson, her daughter, Ellen Page Wilson and her companion of many years, Sayard Stone.
But there’s lots to see and do at Sherwood Island State Park too.
The Nature Center sizzles on Sundays, Thursdays and Fridays. For example:
July 24 (1- to 2 p.m.): Five Irish musicians (the Shamrogues) play. They’re part of the Shamrock Traditional Irish Music Society, which meets Wednesdays at 7at the Gaelic American Center in Fairfield.
July 24, August 14 (2 to 3 p.m.): Birds of Prey ambassador Siobhan, from Earthplace. An owl? Hawk? Vulture? Find out, and learn how to draw ne.
July 28 August 4, August 11 (1 p.m.):Bug Walk. Every Thursday there’s a treasure hunt to find interesting bugs in the gardens. Learn how to report your findings on iNaturalist, and much more.
July 29, July 31, August 5 (1 p.m.): Bird Walk. Learn about the birds around the Nature Center, including the pair of osprey and their 3 chicks, and the dozens of purple martins. 310 species of birds have been observed at Sherwood Island!
August 7 (2 to 3:30 p.m.). The popular Turtle’s Back program returns, with up to 8 species of turtles found in Connecticut. Touch, draw and learn about them all.
August 21 (2 to 3:30 p.m.): Butterfly Walk. Expert Michele Sorensen leads a walk along the dunes to find buckeyes, swallowtails, sulphurs, fritillaries, monarchs and more. Bring binoculars and cameras.
September 9 (6 to 8:30 p.m.) Friends of Sherwood Island’s Shorefest annual fundraiser and silent auction. Tickets go on sale in early August:
Admission to everything (except the fundraiser) is free, with a Connecticut license plate! Click here for more information.
Nature abounds at Sherwood Island. (Photo/Maureen Salko)
Westport’s newest, most novel concept — a private members club/classic car storage spot/event space — hides in plain sight.
You pass it every day. You have no idea it’s there.
Too bad. You’re missing something very cool.
Gioel and Ronni Molinari.
Autostrada opened, softly but smoothly, in January. Since then it’s hosted a few private parties (most recently, a gathering for Land Rover enthusiasts).
Its 10,000 square feet are filling slowly with rare Porsches, Ferraris and Alfa Romeos.
Members gather for coffee, conversation, or just to lounge on very comfortable furniture with like-minded collectors, a few steps from both a full bar and those beloved automobiles.
It all happens at the former Steinway showroom, between Fire Department headquarters and the Connecticut Humane Society, on the curve just before Compo Shopping Center.
Autostrada, on the site of the former Steinway showroom.
Gioel Molinari and his wife Ronni have lovingly created a unique venture. He’s a tech entrepreneur; she’s an architect. They’ve lived in Westport for 10 years. Very quietly — right under our noses — they’ve designed a multi-functional space that combines his passions for cars, food and beverages, and her stunning eye for design.
The idea — a place for collectors to store their automobiles and gather casually, while doubling as a special spot for benefits, social and corporate events — took root several years ago.
The project was delayed twice: first when the original partners dropped out, then by COVID and supply chain issues — but the gut renovation of the piano showroom is worth the wait.
The gleaming car storage area, with a capacity of 22, offers 24-hour access (and a lift/detailing/ washing area).
A catering kitchen serves as a staging area for On the Marc, the highly regarded group that works exclusively with Autostrada. The same team is on hand for every event.
Private functions range from a few people in the lounge only, to up to 150 people with dancing on the vintage automobile floor.
The Piston Foundation held an event recently at Autostrada.
“Most car storage spaces feel like a garage. Or they’re in a less than desirable area,” Gioel (pronounced “Joel”) says. “This is a place you feel very comfortable coming to. It’s like sitting in your living room, with your car, relaxing and talking to your friends about your passions.”
“Comfortable” is an understatement. Ronni’s welcoming lighting, glass doors and specially designed floor complement the “mid-century flair, modern Milan lounge” feel of the furnishings.
“You feel at home, but you’re transported beyond Fairfield County,” she says. “There are masculine details, but it’s not a man cave. It appeals to anyone who appreciates beautiful spaces.”
Autostrada’s lounge overlooks the car floor.
Those people do not have to own vintage or rare automobiles. Social memberships are available too.
There are 40 or so members right now. Autostrada may go to 75, but not beyond.
Members enjoy weekly happy hours. Coffee is available weekdays. Monthly special events focus on different themes, like food, wine, bourbon or barbecue.
Autostrada also features a full bar.
Autostrada means “highway” in Italian. Gioel was born in New Haven, but grew up in Milan.
“The Post Road” sounds less glamorous than “Autostrada.” And traffic sure does not flow smoothly past Westport’s Autostrada.
But Gioel and Ronni Molinari have created something new, unique and special, hidden in the heart of their adopted hometown.
The 1st quarter of 2022 is in the books. That means it’s time for some real estate stats.
Westport had 86 house closings, a 25% decrease from a year ago but
still the 2nd-most number of closings for this period since 2006.
The average house closing price of $2.2 million was the highest for the quarter in the past 2 decades. The average closed price per square foot rose to $509, up 23% from a year ago.
Reflecting high demand and low inventory, houses in the quarter sold on average for 102% of the list price — the 4th straight quarter that average has been over 100%
Eight-five Westport houses were pending (properties with signed contracts) on March 31. That’s down slightly from the end of March 2021, but still high by historical measure. (Hat tip: Rose Marie Colletti, Brown Harris Stevens)
This Bluewater Hill home is on the market for $12 million.
Two years ago, Westport Farmers’ Market started its #Who Grows Your Food” campaign. The goal was to expand people’s knowledge of what farmers look like, to gain more support foro local agriculture.
Anne Burmeister and Ashley Skatoff offered to help. They lent their photographer lenses and creativity, capturing the essence of the farmers while creating an intimate story that eaters could follow along with.
Last fall, the Farmers’ Market partnered with MoCA Westport. Dozens of Burmeister and Skatoff’s stunning photographs became part of an art exhibit called “Between the Ground and the Sky.”
Now, those 52 photos from over 15 farms are available for purchase.
Each 18″ x 27″ original print (23″ x 32″ with border) is $500. All are signed and dated by the artist. The print includes information about the farm and photo, plus text created by the artist for the display at MoCA. The certificate is signed by the farmer.
All proceeds support WFM programming. Purchased photos may be picked up at the first 3 markets of the season: May 12, 19 and May 26.
Arbor Day is near — and the Westport Tree Board is ready. Among the events throughout the month:
Saturday, April 23 (10:30 a.m. to noon, Jesup Green, free): The Tree Board and Westport Book Shop celebrate Earth Day with a fun event to promote reading for all ages, with attention also on the value of trees. Interactive family-friendly activities involving reading and early learning; educational materials and a native tree sapling giveaway, courtesy of Bartlett Tree Company.
Friday April 29 (Arbor Day, 3 to 4 p.m., Town Hall, free): The Tree Board hosts their annual native sapling giveaway, plus brochures and advice from professional associations on tree-related topics, from site selection to proper maintenance. Native saplings for giveaway are donated by Bartlett Tree.
Saturday, April 30 (3 to 4 p.m., Earthplace): The Tree Board hosts a live discussion and free information session with a tree professional on the basics of tree planting and maintenance, including selection, mulching, pruning, pest management and more. Native tree saplings, courtesy of Bartlett, will be available while they last.
As part of Arbor Day, Earthplace also hosts a “Toast To The Trees” family event 4 to 6 p.m.), with kids’ activities and s’mores, handmade pizza, beverages for adults and kids, plus a “tree walk” tour. Click here to purchase tickets.
Beginning mid-April, the Tree Board and Westport Library will create a “StoryWalk” at the Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum (2 Woodside Lane). The featured book is “Be a Tree!” For more information, click here.
Superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice offered a video update yesterday. He covered 4 areas:
The 5-year capital forecast to bring all schools — especially Long Lots and Coleytown Elementary — up to the district’s standards.
The uptick in the COVID Omicron sub-variant.
The Westport Public Schools’ ongoing equity study.
Ukrainian refugees. Scarice notes that Westport has already welcomed some to town, and any student settling here will be accommodated — as will all refugees from anywhere who come to Westport. He asks anyone with any information on refugees in Westport to call his office: 203-341-1025.
Speaking of Westport Public Schools: Horace Lewis was the beloved head custodian at Staples High School, and served the district for 3 decades. He suffered a stroke shortly after retiring last summer, and died in December.
Classrooms, hallways, teaching kitchens, storage areas, auditorium, gym, fieldhouse, cafeteria, library, TV studio, boilers and HVAC systems — Horace kept them all sparkling and working. Despite a stressful job, staff and students knew Horace as the walkie-talkie carrying, most cheerful custodian.
Over the years, countless students (and parents) enlisted Horace’s help after leaving coats, backpacks, sporting equipment and phones at school. Even after his official retirement, Horace stayed on to help the schools cope with COVID cleaning requirements.
To honor Horace’s legacy of hard work, service to others and positive outlook, Staples Tuition Grants has created a scholarship in his name. The first need-based award will be offered this year. Click here to donate to this special fund.
Among the most impressive parts of Westport Country Playhouse’s production of “Next to Normal”: the set.
Like everything that appears on the Playhouse stage, it was constructed by the in-house production staff — with help from Jake Krasniewicz, assistant box office manager.
But that’s not his only side gig.
The Stratford native plays bass, ukulele, guitar, banjo and synthesizer. At Berklee College of Music he studied film scoring.
After graduating, Jake spent time in Boston’s music scene. When he returned to Connecticut, he formed Drop Party. The band plays an amalgam of genres, and call their style “a way to access emotions without sounding like radio music.”
What does all this have to do with building the set? After college, Jake helped out at his father’s welding shop. The Playhouse technical director recruited the assistant box office manager to help with the extensive welding needed for the “Next to Normal” set.
He particularly enjoys funk. But it seems “heavy metal” is also one of Jake’s outlets. (Hat Tip: Bruce Miller)
Jake Krasniewicz takes a break from ticket sales and music,, to help create the “Next to Normal” set.
There’s always something going on Westport — and much of it flies under the radar. And I do mean “radar.”
Last Saturday, over 100 automotive enthusiasts and industry leaders filled
the Autostrada facility — formerly the Steinway piano showroom — to kick off the Piston Foundation’s 2022 season.
Attendees came from across the US and Europe. They heard the non-profit
foundation lay out its mission to “bring more young people into the collector car industry so the craftspeople who built this American touchstone can transfer their skills to a new generation.”
The site included a “collection of exotic automobiles.” A silent auction raised funds for students and apprentices to pursue careers in automotive craft, restoration specialties and service.
And finally … the Westport Library’s VersoFest (see story above) and Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz present an intriguing concert tonight (7 p.m.). Headliners are Enid Ze and Daniprobably. Click below for a sneak listen; click here for ticket information, and more.
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