Last Sunday’s Photo Challenge showed the eagle on the front of Brandy Melville, on Main Street. Tons of readers responded with memories of what that building has been in years past — among others, a jewelry store, ice cream shop, crystal store, salon and travel agency. It was connected on the 2nd floor to Chez Pierre, a popular French restaurant next door.
But only Jill Turner Odice sent an illustration.
Judging from the car, it’s 1964. Judging from the view, it’s timeless.
On Wednesday, “06880” introduced a new feature: “This Old House.” Every Wednesday we’ll post a new photo of an old house. We hope to identify 12 of them prior to a Westport Historical Society exhibit on the preservation and change.
We started with a practice shot — one that exhibit curator Bob Weingarten had already identified:
“06880” readers placed it (literally) all over the map. Guesses included Kings Highway, Cross Highway, Long Lots Road, Baker Avenue, Hillspoint Road, South Compo Road, Avery Place, Canal Street, Riverside Avenue, Myrtle Avenue, Partrick Road, Woodside Avenue and Wilton Road.
All were wrong. As Morley Boyd, Maureen Aron, Wendy Crowther and Kevin Martin noted, it’s on Main Street. Today we know it as Tavern on Main.
According to the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism’s Historic Resources Inventory, the building was constructed in 1813 for grocer Levi Downes. A former wing on the east elevation was occupied by the Downes School for Ladies, run by Levi’s daughter Esther.
The area lacks ownership documentation for the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, it is shown on a famous 1878 map of Westport this way: “River Side Institute for Ladies, Sophia V. Downes, Principal.” And the WPA archives identify the 1930s owner as “C. Van Wyck.”
The Historic Resources Inventory says that by the early 1940s, the building contained several apartments. By 1948 they had been converted to offices. The 1954 town directory lists a gift shop, clothing store and 2 real estate offices at the address.
By 1965, part of the building became Chez Pierre. That famed restaurant remained in the space through the 1980s. Since 1996, it is the equally renowned Tavern on Main.
Morley Boyd adds this information: “In the 1920s and ’30s, buildings in the downtown area shuffled about with some regularity (Spotted Horse, Red Cross, Avery medical building, Christ & Holy Trinity parsonage [now up on Compo North, I think], the (lost) house on Gorham Island, the houses in back of Colonial Green, etc. What couldn’t be moved in whole was deconstructed and used in new construction (houses on Violet Lane).”
And, Dan Aron says, in the 1st half of the 20th century the building was the home of Robert and Marie Lawson. He was a noted author and illustrator of children’s classics like “Rabbit Hill” and “The Story of Ferdinand.”
There you have it: Everything you ever wanted to know about 146 Main Street.
It happens like clockwork: I write a random, Westport-related post. Someone responds with an even more interesting back story.
Within minutes of this morning’s look back at our town’s former smoking culture, alert “06880” reader Adam Stolpen clued me in to a May 16, 1987 New York Times piece.
Headlined “A Tough Smoking Plan is Debated in Westport,” it said a proposed law would require restaurant owners to “erect walls, set up partitions or install separate ventilating systems to segregate smokers from non-smokers.” It would also limit cigarette smoking in the workplace to designated areas.
The RTM would vote on “one of the nation’s most restrictive smoking laws, rivaling ones recently approved in Beverly Hills, Calif., and Aspen, Colo.”
The Times quoted Stolpen, an RTM member and principal author of the proposal: ”Westport is a relatively enlightened community. People come to Westport for variety of reasons. One is clean air. (People) are aware of what’s healthy and not healthy, and studious of what is in their best interest.”
Calling Westport — with about 100 restaurants — a “dining center of Fairfield County and the state,” the Times noted that many restaurateurs opposed the ban.
”I come from an Eastern bloc country,” said Horst Antosch, owner of La Cle d’Or, who was born in East Germany. ”And I am seeing a freedom of choice being taken away. This is not like an airplane. A customer does not have to come into my restaurant if he doesn’t want to.”
Chez Pierre owner Brendan J. Donohoe added, ”A restaurant, since time immemorial, has been a place where people have gone to eat, drink, smoke and make outrageous statements or whatever they want. What’s wrong with that?”
Chez Pierre was a famed French restaurant on Main Street. Today it’s Tavern on Main.
The Times noted that some customers were also upset.
”People smoke in restaurants — period,” said Mitchell L. Katz, 37, a pension consultant, as he dined at the Mansion Clam House. ”If you don’t want to be in a restaurant where people are smoking, then don’t come in. ”
The piece ended with a quote from Second Selectman Wally Meyer:
I would hope that we would approve an ordinance that did not allow stray smoke to move from a smoking area into a non-smoking section. But we’re not boutique-ee. We’re going to come up with the most sensible solution that respects the rights of smokers and non-smokers.’
In fact, what followed was a typical Westport controversy. Following intense and contentious discussion, the RTM voted the proposal down.
After which Stolpen received death threats from an overwrought restaurant owner, and his mailbox was blown up.
“I attributed it to nicotine withdrawal and cherry bombs,” Stolpen says 27 years later.
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