Tag Archives: Bob Weingarten

Post Road Real Estate: Tenants Needed!

In June of 2017, alert “06880” reader/Westport Museum of History and Culture house historian Bob Weingarten drove the entire Westport stretch of the Post Road. He counted the number of commercial buildings with either a “For Rent” or “For Sale” sign.

There were 50.

He shared the information on “06880.” It generated 57 comments.

Two years later he did it again. This time there were 65 commercial properties  looking for tenants — 15 more. Many — including 2 former banks, a gas station and several large retail storefronts — were still vacant from 2 years earlier.

The Mobil Self-Serve property next to Barnes & Noble remains vacant.

Once again, Bob’s story touched a nerve. Fifty readers commented.

The 3rd time — a couple of weeks ago — showed another increase. Now, 72 commercial buildings are available for rent or purchase.

Bob says that one bank building was added to the already empty two. Large retail storefronts still not occupied include the old Pier 1,  and XL Clothing building.

The Mobil gas station near Barnes & Noble, and the large garden center near Stop & Shop are still vacant.

Additionally, 2 new commercial buildings near the new Ignazio’s Pizza (just west of Sherwood Diner), with townhouses in the rear, are unoccupied.

Newly constructed — and not yet rented — space at the foot of Long Lots and the Post Road.

Bob is “alarmed” by the number of empty stores adjacent to Fresh Market.

A renovated large office building on Post Road West will start renting in January, for use as co-working and shared offices.

Empty space on Post Road West, just up the hill from Wright Street.

“I don’t understand how we can be told the economy is getting better and better, with the increasing number of available, empty commercial units,” Bob says.

And, he adds, his figures do not include the apartments that may be available across from Greens Farms Elementary School, or the new townhouses near the diner.

“Several empty available commercial spaces are now occupied — but they are relocations from other spaces on the Post Road, filling one spot but leaving another unoccupied,” he notes. These include Sam Slots Coins, Millie Rae’s and Earth Animal.

“What is going on in the Westport commercial economy?” he asks.

Tons of available space near Fresh Market. (Photos/Bob Weingarten)

Post Road Real Estate: 2 Years Later

Alert “06880” reader Bob Weingarten writes:

In June 2017 I drove along the Post Road from the eastern border, near Bulkley Avenue, to the western end, near Whole Foods. I counted the number of buildings — including individual offices or retail space — for lease or sale. I spotted 50 signs, just on the Post Road.

These figures were the basis of an “06880” story: “This Space For Lease.” It drew 57 comments.

Because we have been told that the economy is “so strong,” I decided to drive the same route, and again count how many buildings or individual offices were for lease or sale.

This time I spotted over 65 for lease or sale. That does not include all the new residential construction on the Post Road, such as the 94 apartments at 1177 Post Road East, or the 2 mixed-use buildings with a total of 28 apartments (some in townhouses) at 793 Post Road East.

The former A&J’s Market on Post Road East is available …

While counting, I realized that this mix of for lease or sale buildings and offices was extremely different from 2017.

This time I spotted 2 bank buildings, a gas station, a farm market, a classic car dealer, and several large commercial buildings and retail outlets for lease or sale.

… as is the old Mobil Self-Serve near Barnes & Noble …

During the past 2 years many of the former for-lease buildings have been occupied. But it appears to me there is a larger inventory of space available now, with larger properties.

I have my own opinion as to the reasons — for example, higher rental rates or the economy — but other readers may have better knowledge.

… and the nearby bank, at the corner of Morningside Drive.

The 2017 Post Road story noted that there were “10 or so others on Main Street.” I just drove from the Post Road to Avery Place on Main Street, and counted 10 buildings or retail spaces for lease.

From Avery Place to Kings Highway North I saw an additional 3 more “for lease signs.”

The same questions posed in 2017 are still relevant today: “Is something wrong with Westport’s commercial real estate market? If so, are there solutions?”

Click “Comments” below to offer answers.

Or more questions.

The Rich History Of Westport’s Poorhouse

Did every old structure in Westport start somewhere else?

Saugatuck Congregational Church, the Birchwood Country Club clubhouse and Bedford Hall at the Westport Woman’s Club are 3 examples.

This coming Monday (May 1, 3 p.m.), Project Return takes the spotlight.

The North Compo Road home — a converted 8-bed farmhouse that since 1983 has housed scores of girls and young women from Westport and surrounding towns — will receive a historic significance plaque.

Project Return, on North Compo Road.

Turns out the building — sitting handsomely but unobtrusively between Little League fields and the Town Farm tennis courts — has quite a history.

It started out in what is now Playhouse Square, nearly 200 years ago.

In 1901 it became the town “poor house.”

More than a century later, it still serves folks in need.

Bob Weingarten — WHS house history chair — says the structure was built in 1824. A decade after that, it became part of the Kemper tannery. In 1930, that land became the Westport Country Playhouse.

In 1864, Charles Kemper Sr. moved it to property he bought from Samuel Gorham on North Compo.

The town of Westport purchased it in 1901, for use as an almshouse. At that point, by renting space in individual homes, we were spending more money on indigents than surrounding towns. Buying the entire farm, including the house of 13 rooms, for $2,750 could save us at least $1,000 a year.

“Town Poor House,” circled on a 1911 map.

In 1927, a man named Alfred Violet — the same person who gave his name to the road off Myrtle Avenue? — found sanitary conditions there “absolutely unbelievable.” Chimneys were crumbling; windows furnished “practically no protection at all against the weather … and the grounds have been used for the past years as a garbage dump.” Approximately 15 children lived there.

It’s uncertain how long the “town farm” operated as a poorhouse. The site was considered for a town garage. From 1975-83 it was rented to James Drought, a noted writer.

After he died, the house deteriorated. Kate McGraw — assistant superintendent of special education for the Westport school system — had the idea to use it as a residence for girls whose parents could not keep them at home.

Renovation $100,000. Many local organizations and individuals contributed funds, labor, materials and furniture.

1st Selectman Bill Seiden championed Project Return. 2nd Selectman Barbara Butler — later named town human services director — helped negotiate a $1-a-year lease.

That contract is still in effect. Project Return pays for all interior and exterior maintenance, and utilities. The town pays for tuition of each girl, while parents pay residential costs.

The safe, nurturing home has helped over 160 girls rebuild their lives. Project Return has evolved with the times — most recently last year, when the state stopped funding group homes for youth. Homes With Hope merged with the organization, ensuring a seamless transition.

Monday’s plaque presentation will include representatives of the town of Westport, Project Return and Homes With Hope, plus Kate McGraw’s daughter Sarah and 2 of James Drought’s children, Hank and Sarah.

It will be a fitting tribute to an important town structure — one that, like so many others, has ended up in a very different place than it began.


Digging Into Westport’s 300-Year-Old Mystery

The other day, amateur historian Bob Weingarten published a story in Greens Farms Living magazine.

Read the previous sentence carefully.

The publication calls itself Greens Farms. Not Green’s Farms. Or Greensfarms.

Punctuation matters. And the punctuation of Westport’s oldest section of town was the subject of Weingarten’s piece.

I’m interested. From time to time, I’ve referred to that neighborhood in several ways. I never knew the answer — and never knew how to find out.

Weingarten quotes author Woody Klein, who called John Green “the largest landholder” among the 5 Bankside Farmers who in the late 1600s settled around what is now Beachside Avenue (the “banks” of Long Island Sound).

This is where the Bankside Farmers first worked the land. It looks a bit different today.

This is where the Bankside Farmers first worked the land. It looks a bit different today.

The area was called Green’s Farms. But in 1732 it was changed to Greens Farms because, Klein says, Fairfield — the town of which it was part — did not want “any individual landholder to become too independent.”

The plural form, Weingarten writes, could mean either that Green had more than one farm, or that it was “adopted from the multiple farms of the Bankside Farmers.” So Greens Farms it was.

Except in property deeds, which referred to “the Parish of Greensfarms.”

However, in 1842 — when the parish was incorporated into the 7-year-old town of Westport — the spelling became Green’s Farms.

The church of the same name adopted the apostrophe. Today it sometimes uses one, sometimes not. Sometimes on the same web page.

Green's Farms Congregational Church

The church — with or without an apostrophe.

Confusion continued, though. For decades thereafter, official documents and maps referred to both Green’s Farms and Greens Farms.

Weingarten also mentions two streets: Green’s Farms Road and Greens Farms Hollow.

The state Department of Transporation has used both spellings — and a 3rd: Green Farms, for the Metro-North station.

Weingarten cites one more example. The post office near the train station uses the apostrophe spelling on one sign, the non-apostrophe on another.

This is definitely not one of the options.

This is definitely not one of the options.

Weingarten favors Green’s Farms. So do I.

But “06880” is a democracy. So — even though the zip code is 06838 — we’ll put it to a vote. Click the poll below — and add “Comments too.”

All you have to lose is an apostrophe.

Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Oh My 06880 — Photo Challenge #77

Bob Weingarten has driven up and down North Avenue for over 10 years. But until recently — when Aquarion started work on the water tanks opposite Staples High School — he’d never noticed them. To be fair, they’re hidden behind tall evergreens.

But Rebecca Wolin, Edward Bloch, Matt Murray, Carl Volckmann, Jane Sherman and Susan Huppi sure did. That’s how they nailed last week’s photo challenge.

The question remains, though: What exactly do those tanks do? If you know, click “Comments” below. (Click here for last week’s photo challenge, and all the guesses.)

Lynn U. Miller provides this week’s challenge. If you think you’ve seen this image, click “Comments.” HINT: It’s somewhere in Westport — not Amsterdam.

Oh My 06880 - June 19, 2016

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Oh My 06880 — Photo Challenge #73

Last week’s 2-fer — photos of a boulder surrounded by overgrown brush, and a plaque saying the planting was made possible by the Westport Garden Club — was as tough as the tangled weeds in Bob Weingarten’s shot.

Only 2 “06880” readers — Diane Bosch and Elaine Marino — knew it was hidden in plain site: at the Merritt Parkway Exit 42 commuter parking lot.

The Westport Garden Club didn’t know. But they responded quickly, noting that although they help with plantings, they are not responsible for (non)-maintenance like this. (To see the photos and all guesses, click here.)

This week’s challenge comes courtesy of Joyce Joiner. If you think you know where you’ve seen this colorfully intriguing scene, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Joyce Joiner)

(Photo/Joyce Joiner)

Oh My 06880 — Photo Challenge #54

We started the new year off with one of our toughest photo challenges ever. It was a wooden owl, perched on a roof. But where?

The Westport Arts Center? Ned Dimes Marina? Earthplace? Inn at Longshore? Nope, nope, nope, nope.

No one was close — until Sharon Paulsen asked: “Sherwood Diner?”

Yep. Way in the back — near the rocky ledge — sits an owl. I’d never noticed it either. But Betsy P. Kahn photographed it, and Sharon remembered it. “Who” knew?! (Click here for the photo; scroll down for the dozens of wrong guesses.)

Here is this week’s challenge. The waterfall is visible from a very busy road. But how many of us have actually looked and seen it?

(Photo/Bob Weingarten)

(Photo/Bob Weingarten)

If you think you know where in Westport it is, click “Comments” below.

Roseville Road’s Civil War Connection

This fall, the Westport Historical Society awarded its 300th historic house plaque.

They’re available (for a $300 donation) for any house at least 100 years old; any house within a local historic district (regardless of age), and houses less than a century old if either a special event occurred there, a prominent person lived in it, or it was designed by a noted architect.

The most recent addition — 88 Roseville Road — spotlights a bit of often-overlooked Westport history: the Civil War.

Benjamin Brotherton

A photo misidentified as Benjamin Brotherton. It is actually Peter Oscar Lewis, a relative who was a highway superintendent for the town.

According to historian David Press, the home’s 2nd owner, Benjamin Brotherton, was wounded in that conflict.

In July 1862 — with the war going poorly for the north — President Lincoln called for 600,000 troops. Each state and town had numbers to fill. Henry Penfield Burr of Westport was in charge of our quota. A bounty for soldiers to join was set at $480 per year.

The next month Brotherton joined 50 other enlistees in the 250-man 17th Brigade, Company E.

He was wounded in Virginia by Stonewall Jackson’s forces, and also fought in Gettysburg.

Brotherton returned to Westport. In 1866, at age 47, he married 22-year-old Phebe Batterson. Brotherton’s father-in-law, William Batterson, had built the house around 1860, on 15 acres of land. He gave a half-acre to Brotherton as a wedding gift.

Why such little acreage? Bob Weingarten — the WHS house historian, who compiled much of this information — believes it’s because Batterson was an oysterman. He had little need for farmland.

88 Roseville Road, in an 1895 photo.

88 Roseville Road, in an 1895 photo.

The current owner is Karen Brewer. She’s lived in New York and the UK (in a converted 17th century vicarage), but with friends and family in Westport — and an admiration for the town, its architecture and history — she’s long wanted to live here.

When the company she worked for moved to Stamford, she found a house with “a sense of time and place inherent in things that are not brand new.”

It was a challenge. The house had been renovated by a builder, and maintained none of the original details. Brewer spent the last 2 years developing a plan. So far, she’s focused on the mechanicals and interior cosmetic changes. This spring, she hopes to restore the original exterior wood siding.

88 Roseville Road today. (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

88 Roseville Road today. (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

Brewer is a banker — not a farmer, oysterman or soldier. But she cherishes the heritage of her home. And she’s doing her best to preserve it

Now she’s got a historic plaque to honor it too.

Westport Historical Society house historian Bob Weingarten, current owner Karen Brewer, and the historic house plaque. (Photo/Laurence Untermeyer)

Westport Historical Society house historian Bob Weingarten, current owner Karen Brewer, and the historic house plaque. (Photo/Laurence Untermeyer)

These Old Houses Earn Historic Honors

Just when you think every old house in Westport has been sacrificed to the teardown gods, you hear this:

The Westport Historical Society recently awarded its 300th house plaque.

And you realize sometimes there is hope.

The WHS historical home plaque program began in 1978. It’s a way for homeowners to honor the heritage of their house (and town). Plaques identify the original owner, and date of construction.

They’re available (for a $300 donation) for any house at least 100 years old; any house within a local historic district (regardless of age), and houses less than a century old if either a special event occurred there, a prominent person lived in it, or it was designed by a noted architect.

53 plaques honor homes that are more than 200 years old. The 1st one dates to the 1680s, marking a structure built by John Osborn. The newest is on a 1941 house owned by famous jazz pianist, lecturer and critic John Mehegan.

The most recent plaque — #300 — goes to an 1803 home at 268 Wilton Road. In 2014 that house was featured on “06880,” as an example of renovation rather than demolition.

Presenting the 300th historical house plaque are (from left): builder Peter Greenberg, Westport Historical Society president Ed Gerber and WHS house historian Bob Weingarten. (Photo/Laurence Untermeyer)

Presenting the 300th historical house plaque are (from left): builder Peter Greenberg, Westport Historical Society president Ed Gerber and WHS house historian Bob Weingarten. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

The awarding of that plaque coincides with the opening next Sunday (November 8, 3 p.m.) of a special WHS exhibit. “Window to Westport’s Past and Present: WPA Images of Historic Houses” is a collection of 131 photographs of local homes. Taken in 1935 — during the depth of the Great Depression — they were largely the work of WPA photogapher (and Westport resident) T. O’Conor Sloane.

The WHS show pairs those photos with current images of the same houses. Most were taken by WHS house historian Bob Weingarten.

If the concept sounds familiar: It is. Last spring, “06880” ran a weekly series — “This Old House” — in which readers helped identify some of the structures that are now part of the exhibit.

268 Wilton Road in a 1935 WPA photograph...

268 Wilton Road in a 1935 WPA photograph…

The featured photographs portray a wide range of Westport history. There’s the Kings Highway North residence of Pulitzer Prize winner Van Wyck Brooks, and that of George Hand Wright, a founder of our “arts colony.”

The former homes of Paul Newman and Martha Stewart were photographed for the WPA project — decades before their later owners became famous.

One of the show’s crown jewels is the Wynkoops’ Long Lots Road home. Dating to the mid-1680s, it’s considered Westport’s oldest structure. And yes, 268 Wilton Road — the one with the 300th historical plaque — is in the exhibit too.

So, of course, is 268 Wilton Road — lovingly preserved, restored and renovated (and moved back from the busy street) by Able Construction partner Peter Greenberg.

...and the same home today.

…and the same home today. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

There’s much more on the walls of the Westport Historical Society — fittingly, one of Westport’s most treasured old homes itself. As a plaque near the door proudly notes, Bradley-Wheeler House was built in 1795, and remodeled in 1867.

(The Westport Historical Society exhibit opens with a reception this Sunday, November 8, 3-5 p.m. It runs through March 26. For more information, click here.)

Woodman, Don’t Spare That Tree!

Westporters love our trees. Whenever one is chopped down — particularly at very visible places like Longshore and Town Hall — we howl in protest.

Many, of course, have outlived their usefulness. They look fine on the outside. But — like, FIFA — inside they are totally rotten.

Bob Weingarten spotted a great example of this the other day. For over 100 years, a tree stood at Hillandale Road and Morningside Drive South.

Once it was felled, however, we saw why:

Dead trees - Bob Weingarten

(Photos/Bob Weingarten)

(Photos/Bob Weingarten)

As for all those trees sacrificed for the sake of McMansions — well, those are different stories.