Tag Archives: baby boomers

Richard Brodie Built A House — And Made A Home

Scott Brodie was a baby boomer — one of tens of thousands of youngsters who arrived in Westport with their families during the late 1940s and ’50s. Like nearly all of that generation, his story begins with his parents.

Scott writes:

In 1954, my father set out to relocate with his wife, 2-year-old son and infant boy. They left a 1-bedroom apartment on upper Broadway in New York City for a town midway between Manhattan and New Hartford, Connecticut, where he was the director of a summer sleepaway camp. They chose Westport, then a sleepy community of farmers and artists, with a population under 10,000.

They rented a house on Newtown Turnpike, and went looking for a lot on which to build a home. They settled on an acre near the end of Burr Farms Road, which was being developed as a street of cookie-cutter split-level homes extending past the Burr Farm apple orchard into the woods just west of North Avenue. He chose a wooded spot, on the uphill side of the street.

With time on his hands after the camping season was over he became his own general contractor. He built a California-style ranch house, unlike anything else on the street, largely with his own hands.

Richard Brodie in the rafters as he built his home, 1954.

Richard Brodie in the rafters as he built his home, 1954.

There, he and his wife raised 2 children, and welcomed a generation of youngsters growing up on the street. It was a simpler time. Dozens of kids, all nearly the same age, enjoyed the quiet of the cul-de-sac, riding bicycles and toy cars, and sledding down each other’s backyard hills.

There were no “play dates.” We would walk over to a friend’s house, literally knock on the door and ask, “can Johnny come out and play?” We went trick-or-treating by ourselves, without a parent lurking a few steps behind.

Richard Brodie and his wife Esther, in the house he built. They were married nearly 65 years.

Richard Brodie and his wife Esther, in the house he built. They were married nearly 65 years.

We all walked through neighbors’ yards to Burr Farms School, and later (through different yards) to Staples. (The first day I walked through the woods to the high school, I was worried to see a sign at the edge of a yard. Not to fear — it didn’t say “No Trespassing,” only “Please keep off the grass”!) Long Lots Junior High was a longer way off, most days a bike ride away.

The “synchronous culture” of the first generation on the street grew up and went  their separate ways. We became doctors, lawyers, musicians, furniture makers (novelist Cathleen Schine grew up down the street). As new families moved in, they found fewer children of the same age as theirs to walk over and knock on doors.

Then came the tear-downs. With increasing affluence and rising real estate values, the 1-acre lots became desirable as places to build much larger houses, with 3-car garages, pools and tennis courts. But the lawns to play on and hills to sled down were smaller. We still refer to them by the names of the families who first lived in them, all of them long gone.

The “Steidel House” across the street from the Brodies' – one of the few 1950s split-levels in its original state on the road, as it looked in 2012.

The “Steidel House” across the street from the Brodies’ – one of the few 1950s split-levels in its original state on the road, as it looked in 2012.

Most of them have been enlarged beyond all recognition except to a practiced eye:

The “Fleming House”  just to the north of the Brodies'. The deck over the original garage remains, but the garage has been converted  into living space, and a new garage added (left). The porch, dormer and new gables effectively camouflage the original '50s split-level.

The “Fleming House” just to the north of the Brodies’. The deck over the original garage remains, but the garage has been converted into living space, and a new garage added (left). The porch, dormer and new gables effectively camouflage the original ’50s split-level.

Our California Ranch is still there – now a wonderful place for an older couple, with no stairs to negotiate.

 

The Brodies' house, today.

The Brodies’ house, today.

The house to the south of ours was replaced a year or so ago. The “Steidel House” diagonally across the street came down last month. There have been massive excavations, and new foundations were poured last week.

The lot where the “Steidel House” sat, as it looks today. At least the demolition crew left the red maple on the front lawn.

The lot where the “Steidel House” sat, as it looks today. At least the demolition crew left the red maple on the front lawn.

No one builds his house on our street with his own hands these days…

My father, Richard Brodie,  passed away earlier this month, at age 96. He was a Westporter for nearly 60 years.

Richard Brodie, at his 96th birthday party.

Richard Brodie, at his 96th birthday party.

Richard Brodie graduated from New York University in 1938. His medical studies at the University of Edinburgh were cut short by the outbreak of World War II. He joined the US Army, serving in the Philippines, New Guinea and with the Occupation Forces in Japan.

After the war he joined his father as director of Camp Berkshire in Winsted, Connecticut. In 1954 he, his wife and 2 young children moved to Westport.  

He was active as president of the local chapter of B’nai Brith, and a leader of local Boy Scout troops, in the off-seasons between camp. He returned to school in his 40s, earning M.S. and Ph.D degrees in educational psychology from Yeshiva University.

Brodie spent many years as an educational psychologist in the Ridgefield and New Canaan school systems, and developed a private practice as a psychologist and nutritional advisor.

In the 1980s the Camp Berkshire property was sold to the town of New Hartford, which operates the site as Brodie Park. Richard remained an active and very competitive tennis player into his 90s.

He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Esther; his sons Scott and Bruce, and 5 grandchildren.

Who You Calling Old?

The other day, Westporters received an automated phone call. Police were looking for a female between the age of 60 and 70 years old. She wore a gray sweater.

A couple of hours later, another call came in. The “elderly” woman had been located.

Great news! Except for those between the ages of 60 and 70.

An alert “06880” put down her Geritol* long enough to wonder, “So anyone born before 1954 is now ‘elderly’?”

Apparently.

The line between “baby boomer” and “elderly” is razor-thin.

Laugh now, millennials.

*Reference made by people of a certain age, to a product associated with the elderly.
elderly