Tag Archives: Compo Beach Improvement Association

Improving Compo Beach, For Nearly 90 Years

In some ways, Compo Beach has changed little since the 1920s.

The sand is nicer. There’s a new jetty. But really, you can’t do too much to a beach.

In many ways, the neighborhood looks the same too. Homes line Soundview Drive, and fill the side streets. They’ve been winterized, modernized and raised to escape hurricanes and floods, but they’ve never lost that great beach vibe.

And after nearly 100 years, a Lane is once again in charge of the Compo Beach Improvement Association.

Back in the day, Joe Lane lived on Soundview. The CBIA was formed in 1928, and he was president. The organization took care of the beach, put floats in the water, and provided lifeguards. It also threw great parties.

In the 1950s, rafts off Compo Beach were a great attraction.

In the 1950s, rafts off Compo Beach were a great attraction. But look at those rocks!

Toni Cunningham succeeded Joe, and served for decades as CBIA president. She’s nearing 100 now, and still lives on Soundview. (Her daughter, Gail Cunningham Coen, and Gail’s husband Terry were longtime active CBIA members. Last year, they sold their Soundview home a few doors from Toni, and moved south.)

Three years ago, the torch was passed from Toni to Skip Lane. He’s Joe’s grandson. His father, Paul Lane, is the now retired, much-admired former Staples football coach who (of course) still lives in his own Soundview Drive home.

These days, the CBIA’s main job is taking care of the plantings along Soundview, monitoring issues like traffic and signs.

Skip Lane

Skip Lane

But Skip hopes to broaden the group’s impact. He’s getting more neighbors involved — including those on Minuteman and Bluewater Hill Roads, and around the corner on Hillspoint — and is looking at new projects, like how to add sand to the beach, and remove rocks.

“The beach is fantastic,” Skip says. “But it needs a little TLC.”

Skip now lives on Roosevelt Avenue, off Compo Beach Road.

“Even when I was growing up, I thought the beach could be better,” he says. “Little things like the parking lot bugged me. As much as everyone loves it, it can be polished.”

He is happy to see an influx of young families into the area. “There’s a group of them with little kids. They have parties at the end of Fairfield Avenue nearly every night,” he notes. “That’s the way it used to be. And the way it should be.”

Meanwhile, the Compo Beach Improvement Association is planning a party of its own. With summer renters gone — and some former residents coming back just for this event — the CBIA holds its annual barbecue this Sunday, at the Ned Dimes Marina.

There will be food and drinks. And plenty of back-in-the-day stories from Paul Lane and Toni Cunningham, who knew the beach then and still love it now.

A large wooden bathhouse once stood at Compo Beach. Today this is the site of the playground. The 2-story pavilion (right) is now only 1.

A large wooden bathhouse once stood at Compo; walkways led to the beach. Today this is the site of the playground. The 2-story pavilion (right) is now only 1.

Gail Cunningham Coen Keeps Westport (And America) Beautiful

Gail Cunningham Coen knows a thing or two about keeping things beautiful.

Things like Compo Beach. Westport. America.

Growing up on Soundview Drive — in a house that withstood the 1938 hurricane — she learned carpentry, fishing and beach improvement from her grandfather, Frank Bosco. One of the founders of the Compo Beach Improvement Association in 1928, he passed along his love for the area’s ever-changing landscape to his granddaughter.

From the age of 9, Gail was the neighborhood gardener. Summer renters did not know how (or want) to take care of their yards. So she mowed, trimmed hedges, and “transplanted” flowers between different lawns.

Gail also made money selling clams (a penny apiece) and fish ($1 each). The price included cleaning.

Gail Cunningham Coen, in her Soundview Drive home. It's been in the family for nearly a century.

Gail Cunningham Coen, in her Soundview Drive home. It’s been in her family for nearly a century.

She went to Saugatuck Elementary School, Bedford Junior High and Staples (where she was president of the marching band). After eloping with her husband Terry on Christmas Eve, and earning a bachelor’s of music at Hartt, Gail taught piano.

But playing “Jingle Bells” during a Christmas commercial shoot for Chase Bank one hot August afternoon at Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas’ estate on Minuteman Hill — it’s a long story — got her hired by Promotion Development Corporation, across from the old Fable Funeral Home on Post Road West.

One of her assignments was running spring break for Anheuser-Busch, which sounds like a really good gig for a young woman. After stints with Glendinning, Reach Marketing and MasterCard — as vice president of global promotions and sponsorships — Gail landed a job at Keep America Beautiful.

She began work at the non-profit — the largest community improvement organization in the country — on January 4, 1999, almost exactly 15 years ago. It was, coincidentally, the day Iron Eyes Cody — “the Crying Indian” — died.

Among Gail’s many contributions to Keep America Beautiful, the Great American Cleanup stands out. She brought it to cities like New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, New Orleans and Las Vegas.

Gail was awed by the strength and wisdom of the local leaders she met. She was particularly impressed by what she saw on the Gulf Coast, following Hurricane Katrina. She was in the trenches — sleeping on a wet mattress, eating MREs thrown from army trucks — and watched admiringly as residents of Mississippi and Louisiana replanted their communities.

Gail met mayors all along the coast. She calls them “strong, loyal public servants.” She remains friendly with many of them.

The Gulf Coast drew Gail in. She’d never been there, but quickly appreciated its beauty, its hardy residents, and — of course — its music. Some of the best Keep America Beautiful rebuilding ceremonies featured marching bands and gospel choirs.

During a nor'easter, Gail Cunningham Coen welcomed Waveland. Mississippi mayor Tommy Longo to her Compo Beach home. They forged a strong friendship in the months following Hurricane Katrina.

During a nor’easter, Gail Cunningham Coen welcomed Waveland, Mississippi mayor Tommy Longo to her Compo Beach home. They forged a strong friendship in the months following Hurricane Katrina.

Gail has aided her home town too, of course. Even before joining KBA, she helped transform Compo Beach. During 15 years as president of the Improvement Association — the group her grandfather helped found — she worked with Joe Palmieri on a “traffic and beautification” effort. From the Minuteman statue to Soundview, plantings and speed humps slow drivers — and calm them.

There are now planters on Main Street, police headquarters, Town Hall and Assumption Church, among many other places.

“Beauty is contagious,” Gail says. “It’s not about 150 signs telling people to slow down. What works is plantings, which people can enjoy.”

Gail’s 15 years at Keep America Beautiful flew by. Now, she says, it’s time for a new challenge.

In the years since her piano teaching days, Gail has worked with community groups, corporations and non-profits. The next step, she says, is “putting it all together, somehow.”

She’s thinking globally. She’s excited to figure out what’s next.

Whatever it is, Gail Cunningham Coen is sure to do one more beautiful job.


Ashes And Asses At Compo

Today is the 1st day of fall.  But before we break out cider and carve up pumpkins, we should take one last look at summer.

The Compo Beach seawall, after trying to protect Soundview Avenue from Hurricane Irene.

A Compo Beach resident — and alert “06880” reader — did just that the other day.  The occasion was a story here about the seawall — it was damaged by Hurricane Irene, and of course Westporters are divided over how to repair it, who should pay for it, and whether beach dwellers are actual human beings deserving of help, or over-entitled rich folks deserving of having their homes washed away.

The Compo resident lands squarely (and naturally) on the side of the seawall being every Westporter’s business.

“The blog comments were of course typical of non-understanding Westporters,” the resident says.

They don’t realize that if the wall is washed away Soundview Avenue gets washed out too, and they can’t get down to do their triathlons here, eat at Joey’s, party on South Beach, walk their dogs (and poop on our plants), see the fireworks (and try to crash our party), stroll on the boulevard (and snoop at our BBQs), or just drive by and gawk at storm damage.

But our Soundview reader was just getting started.

A follow-up email noted:

They also come catapulting over walls and fences, when not watching where they’re going on bicycles, skateboards, etc.

They leave all their litter on the beach — and often leave new $100 beach chairs with price tags attached.  And brand new toys galore.

They try to join our late-night, festively lit outside gatherings, assuming this is “Splash.”

They ask for diapers, Band-Aids, ice, corkscrews, bathrooms, warm clothes, mixer, water, booze, mustard , mayo, towels, rides home, parking spaces, and baby sitters.

Two families (sans nannies that weekend) have actually left the beach at dusk, and forgotten a child — for extended periods of time.

We probably can’t mention the obvious sex acts under blankets, or just plain parking on side streets, running into the water and “doing it” in the water with clothes on while folks are having early evening cocktails, or in the moon path on the shoreline (sans blanket).

Living on Soundview sounds pretty exciting!

But wait — there’s more!

A 3rd email added:

I forgot to mention people who drive by at dusk and drop their home garbage bags into beach cans, and think we don’t see them.

And those who come and take the plants we plant in our border gardens, thinking they are theirs for some reason, and pick all our blossoms that hang into the streets, and play thumping music so loud on their car radios that they bounces us out of bed.

Or unwanted church services set up in front of houses.

And someone’s ashes dumped where we sit to sunbathe, or that are blown by the wind onto our patio.

Without the seawall, Soundview Drive would be gone.

No more drivers.  No more ash-scatterers.  No more fornicators.

Just peace and quiet.

And the occasional house-destroying hurricane.

Not all beachgoers are this considerate and civil, Compo residents know.

Sound And Fury

Gail Cunningham Coen has lived most of her life on Soundview Drive — the Compo Beach exit road.

She’s acutely aware of the beauty of Long Island Sound — and the power of nature.

She knows when a storm is coming, and what to do when it hits.

And as a former president of the Compo Beach Improvement Association, she’s been intimately involved in the political process of protecting the beach — and the residents across the street.

Gail can recite the history of the retaining wall that runs from the boardwalk all the way to Schlaet’s Point jetty at Hillspoint Road.

In 1998 Gail Cunningham Coen -- a tall woman -- demonstrated how high the Compo Beach seawall had once been.

It was built over 70 years ago to retain the seawaters and protect the new community of homes at Compo Beach, stretching all the way to the Minuteman statue.

Since that time, sand has built up against the seawall.

A nor’easter in December 1992 caused memorable devastation on Soundview and side streets.  After that storm, many residents raised the heights of their homes.

In 1998 the CBIA staged a “Save the Seawall” event to show town officials how tall the wall had once been.

Last week — in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene — Gail was meeting with her insurance adjuster.  She saw a group of men at the roped-off site by the wall.

When she asked if they were going to take the opportunity to repair and restore the entire wall — “since Mother Nature had so kindly excavated it with surgeon-like precision along its entire length,” Gail notes — they said no.  They’d work only on the part that was roped off.

Hurricane Irene swept away plenty of Compo Beach sand -- and exposed long-lost footings for the seawall.

Gail is concerned that town officials will “do a patch job and then push sand back up against the wall to hide the cracks and crevices, leaving us with a weak little pie crust of a wall — poised and ready to find our homes and possessions in a bowl of seawater and sludge all over again.”

Town officials and the state Department of Environmental Protection have had many discussions about the seawall.  Their engineers say it’s not the height of the sand that affects whether water overtops the wall — it’s the height of the water.

In other words, if tides are 12 feet above normal, they’ll be 12 feet above the normal sound height — not 12 feet above the sand.  Water will flow over the wall regardless.

Water seeks its own level.  So too, apparently, do storms at Compo Beach.