Tag Archives: Bob Weingarten

[OPINION] Wondering About The Red Barn

Bob Weingarten is the house historian for the Westport Museum of History & Culture. He writes:

I get many questions about the status of historic properties. Recently I’ve received several concerning the iconic historic building at the intersection of Wilton Road and Allen Raymond Lane.

The former Red Barn restaurant was operated by the Nistico family from 1983 until its sale to the Westport Weston Family YMCA in 2015. It has remained unoccupied ever since.

A painting of the historic Red Barn property …

As part of the purchase, the Y created a limited liability company: 290 Wilton Road LLC. YMCA CEO Pat Riemersma called it “likely to be the last piece of almost contiguous (cell tower in between) property to our Mahackeno campus.”

According to the Historic District Commission Historic Resources Inventory list, the building was built around 1850 as the Augustus Draves Barn. In the 20th century it became the Red Barn restaurant.

The Red Barn in 2014.

The Nistico family purchased the property in 1983, and continued to run the beloved restaurant until 2014. It was very comfortable, with a large hearth that had been remodeled by well-known Westport architect Frazier Forman Peters in the 1930s.

The Frazier Forman Peters hearth.

The Red Barn was an “06880 Friday Flashback” in January 2019. Sally Palmer commented:

The Red Barn was witness to the passage of many major events in the lives of Westporters. It was used for baby showers, baby naming, office parties, weddings, birthdays, graduations, too many funerals, class reunions and naturally for dinner. It is more than just an empty building, and I miss it.

Since the purchase more than 5 years ago, the building has remained unoccupied. This bodes badly, since unoccupied buildings can deteriorate more rapidly than those in use. This is true for interior construction (floors, walls, flues, etc.), exterior facades and mechanical equipment (air handlers, heating units, A/C, etc.). I’d hate to see what the kitchen now looks like.

In November 2015 the Y said: “This is a unique opportunity for our YMCA — a long-term investment that allows us to preserve neighborhood values and, ultimately, utilize the property for the benefit of our members and the community we have served since 1923.”

Lining up for a sale of Red Barn items and artifacts, in June of 2014.

Later, Riemersma reiterated:

We purchased the property because it was likely to be the last piece of almost contiguous (cell tower in between) property to our Mahackeno campus that would likely come to market.

When we entered into the planning process for Phase II of our facility expansion, we considered using the property as a stand-alone site for our gymnastics program.

When we ultimately decided to place that program in the new wing we were left with no immediate plans for its use and that still holds true today.

At some point in the future, as private property owners, in order to ensure that the Red Barn use compliments the Y’s, the Y could look to enter into a long-term lease or sale of the property or continue to hold it, whatever option seems best for the Y’s future.

This is a relief. But after so many years I wonder how realistic it is. I believe that the Y’s membership and other Westport residents should be apprehensive.  Money talks, and future plans change depending on economic conditions.

The building has now been unoccupied for nearly 7 years, without a plan in place. I am interested in hearing what the new CEO plans for it.

Turkey Hill House Earns Historic Preservation Award

It’s easy to see all the teardowns in town.

Sometimes we focus on them so much, we miss the preservation efforts going on nearby.

Preservation Connecticut notices. In fact, they’ve given the owners of 70 Turkey Hill Road South a Connecticut Preservation Award — one of only 10 in the state. The virtual ceremony is May 5.

The 2-story, 1,230-square foot 1892 farmhouse was completely restored last year.

Rahul Ghai and his wife Priyanka Singh bought the property in November 2019. They had several options. They could demolish the 127-year-old house and build a new one; a demolition permit had already been issued to the previous owners.

They could keep the building as it was, and build a new home on the premises.

Or they could restore it — and also build a new house nearby.

70 Turkey Hill Road South in 2019, before restoration …

The couple decided to restore the 1892 structure, and also build a large house, using a Westport 32-18 regulation obtained by the prior owners. Such a plan — which has prevented 22 other historic structures from being demolished — must be approved by a joint Architectural Review and Historic District Commission committee, then by the Planning & Zoning Commission.

Ghai and Singh hired Christopher Pagliaro, the architect for the previous owners. He worked with them to restore both the exterior and interior.

Work was extensive. All vinyl siding was removed, and replaced with wood. The asphalt roof was replaced with cedar shingles. All windows were replaced. The original front and rear porches — which had been enclosed as living space throughout the years — were recreated.

… during the project …

A number of homeowners have demolished homes the size of 70 Turkey Hill South, replacing them with larger, more modern houses. The Preservation Award press release notes that Westport is “sometimes called Connecticut’s teardown capital.”

The 32-18 regulation shows that those older homes can be retained — while simultaneously allowing construction of new ones.

Singh noted, “We are strongly committed to restoration and preservation of historical structures. Our school-age daughter is also passionate about history. But we couldn’t have done it without our architect Chris, and Ryan Fletcher of Fletcher Development.”

… and after.

Certificates will be presented to the owners, architect, contractor, town of Westport and the Westport Museum of History & Culture.

(Hat tip: Bob Weingarten, house historian for the Westport Museum of History & Culture, who nominated 70 Turkey Hill Road South for the 2021 Preservation Award.)

Restoring Historic Homes, One By One

Teardowns gets tons of publicity. The loss of familiar streetscapes — and their replacement by (often) bigger, more modern homes — is hard to miss.

Renovations are harder to see. Much of that work goes on inside. But they’re an important part of Westport life too.

Tracey Ialeggio Kelly was born and raised in Westport. Her father Tony Ialeggio — an architect for over 40 years — instilled in her a love for historic houses.

She graduated from Staples High School in 1991. Nineteen years later, she purchased a 1927 home on Colonial Road that was a prime candidate for demolition.

She restored it beautifully. In 2012 the Historic District Commission honored her with a Westport Preservation Award. It noted her sensitivity to the mass and scale of the historic Greens Farms Congregational Church neighborhood.

Tracey Ialeggio Kelly’s Colonial Road home … (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

“It is an example of how a small, modest house can be successfully preserved, expanded and adapted to the needs of a modern family on a small parcel of land,” the award said.

But Tracey was not through. Last July, she bought another historic house, on Sylvan Road North.

She asked Westport Museum of History & Culture house historian Bob Weingarten to research it. He found that the property was purchased by Charles and Frederick Fable — brothers who created Fable Funeral Home — in 1939, from Edward Nash.

… and her house on North Sylvan. (Photo/Megan Kelly)

Frederick died a few months later. His son — also named Frederick — continued to build the house, with his uncle Charles. It remained in the family until 1985.

Tracey’s friend Andy Dehler surprised her on Christmas with a historic house plaque. It’s one of many that remind everyone who passes that history continues to live in town.

We just have to know where to look.

Tracey Ialeggio Kelly, with her historic home plaque. (Photo/Megan Kelly)

0*6*Art*Art*0 — Week 36 Gallery

Many submissions this week reflect nature.

Naturally, our Saturday art gallery casts a wide net. Each week, we welcome submissions from all artists. You don’t have to be a pro, or even experienced. We want it all!

Works should be inspired by, relevant to, or somehow, in some way, connected to our current lives. Student art of all ages is especially welcome.

Email dwoog@optonline.net, to share your work with the world.

“Chrysanthemums” (Werner Liepolt)

Print: Gingko leaves from the Westport Library tree (Amy Schneider)

Untitled (Jo Ann Davidson)

“Spring is in the Air?” (Bob Weingarten)

“Doing My Best to Get It Right” (Lawrence Weisman)

Untitled (Leah Nash)

“Fire!” (Wendy Levy)

0*6*Art*Art*0 — Week 20 Gallery

The dog days of summer are here. And local artists are doggedly pushing ahead, offering art of all kinds for our Saturday morning gallery.

Professional, amateur, old, young — we want it all. Every medium is welcome. We especially love student art!

The only rule: Your art must be inspired by, reflective of, or otherwise related to the times we’re going through — or the times we’ve lost. Email dwoog@optonline.net.

“Where is Everybody?,” acrylic/canvas (Herman Freeman)

Art - Allegra Bockhaus

“Lone Wolf,” ink on paper (Allegra Bockhaus, age 13)

“Troubled Waters,” acrylic painting (Amy Schneider)

“Copps Island Oysters/Norm Bloom” (Werner Liepolt)

“The Face” (Bob Weingarten)

“Zinnia,” (Lawrence Weisman)

Nick Visconti created this peaceful sanctuary from these unsettling times, in the backyard of his Old Mill Beach home, (Photo courtesy of Miggs Burroughs)

0*6*Art*Art*0 — Week 16 Gallery

A few 4th of July-themed works are featured in this week’s art gallery.

“06880” is finishing our 4th month featuring readers’ creations. As the world changes, your submissions are as important as ever.

Keep ’em coming. Professional, amateur, old, young — we want it all. Student works are particularly welcome!

The only rule: Your art must be inspired by, reflective of, or otherwise related to the times we’re going through. Email dwoog@optonline.net.

“Happy 4th of July!” (Amy Schneider)

“Welcome Back” (Lawrence Weisman)

Seth Schachter created this collage from discarded items he spotted, in and around downtown. “It’s sad to see litter like this (or any litter for that matter),” he says.”But of course it’s reflective of the times we live in.”

“Out for a Drive in the New Norm!” Bob Weingarten says, “While cleaning drawers, I found cars and figures that our grandkids used.” One result is this photograph.

“First Recital” (oil on canvas). Artist Cindy Wagner says, “I just watched my granddaughter perform a virtual dance recital. It’s still beautiful and made me smile, but I thought about how different it was from her past recitals.”

“The Golden Rule” (Mark Yurkiw)

Untitled. Larry Untermeyer shot this tight closeup of the pistils from within a single bloom of a wild tiger lily that grows on his patio.

Lillian Wald: The Sequel

Tuesday’s “06880” story on the Westport Library’s suffragist exhibit included some information about Lillian Wald. 

The Round Pond Road resident was revered nationally for addressing social ills like child labor and racial injustice. She worked tirelessly for immigrants’ rights, world peace and women’s full franchise. 

But there is much more to Lillian Wald’s story. Kathie Motes Bennewitz and Bob Weingarten fill in the blanks.

Lillian Wald was born in 1867 in Cincinnati. She graduated from high school at 15, and spent the next 6 years traveling around the globe. After moving to New York City she studied nursing, then entered the Women’s Medical College become a doctor.

In medical school she volunteered her services to the immigrants and poor on the Lower East Side. She became so engrossed in that care that she left medical school. In 1893 she organized the Henry Street Settlement and Visiting Nurse Service of New York. She found her calling.

Henry Street Settlement.

Wald was a dynamic organizer. She started with 10 nurses. By 1916, 250 nurses served 1,300 patients a day.

She worked out of 265 Henry Street, a 5-story walk-up, cold water building on the Lower East Side. Wald helped to educate those she served on health care and personal hygiene, and expanded to assist in housing, employment and education. In 1903 she persuaded President Theodore Roosevelt to create a Federal Children’s Bureau.

Lillian Wald

In later years, Wald was recognized for her efforts in nursing and as an author.

In 1970 she was inducted into the Hall of Fame for Great Americans through the dedicated effort of Aaron Rabinowitz — Ann Sheffer’s grandfather — who knew Wald from childhood, and in the 1930s had moved to Westport to be near her.

She had come to Westport in 1917, as a summer resident. When she retired, she moved full-time to the 1868 house on the pond across from Longshore. She enjoyed watching neighborhood youngsters skate there in winter.

The library exhibit focuses on her suffrage work. In 1914 Wald wrote::

Democracy brings people nearer together…. When women share equally with men the responsibility for righteousness in government and when their counsels on matters of public welfare are given the dignity the ballot bestows, there will follow a new sense of comradeship, a new sense of fellowship between men and women: woman win not be the unacknowledged power behind the throne—she will share the throne!

The suffrage movement in Connecticut.

In the 1910s Wald hosted suffrage events at the Settlement, and delivered addresses. On November 4, 1915, she fed supportive “watchers and pickets” at Lower East Side assembly districts as men voted on New York state’s suffrage amendment.

These polling sites, The New York Times reported, were lively with “constant cheers and cries of ‘Votes for the Women!’ from small boys in the street. Here and there an Italian voice chimed in ‘Vota for Women.’”

When she left New York for Westport, a stream of distinguished guests visited. Eleanor Roosevelt came several times, enjoying tea and staying at the home of Ruth Steinkraus on Compo Road South.

Lillian Wald’s House on the Pond.

In 1937, the First Lady visited for Wald’s 70th birthday. She wrote:

The neighbors in Westport got together and made a book for her, one of the most interesting books it has ever been my pleasure to see. Westport is the home of many artistic people, but this included the names of all her friends, even if their talent was only that of being able to love another fine human being.

They all signed their names, those who could draw, drew pictures, those who could write, wrote verses and prose, and I think that book will be for her a joy in many hours when she perhaps would not have the energy to take up any occupation, or even to look at anything new.

I was interested in the cover of this book, nicely worked in cross-stitch, but designed so that many of her daily interests were right there for you to pick out. Two little Scotties down in the corner; the ducks which waddle down to the pond and eat chunks of bread up near the house; the birds of peace.

Lillian Wald’s birthday book cover. It is owned by Ann Sheffer.

Wald is by far the most famous — but just one of many fascinating Westporters whose stories are told in the Westport Library exhibit. Click here to access the full gallery.

Lillian Wald’s house today.

 

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.

Literally.