Tag Archives: Compo Beach playground

Compo Beach Playground Celebration Postponed To Tomorrow

The weather was great in 1989, when during one glorious late April weekend hundreds of volunteers — including many from the Westport Young Woman’s League — constructed the Compo Beach playground.

The weather will not be great this evening, when veterans of that wonderful project (and anyone else who worked on subsequent maintenance days, plus their kids, and all other Westporters who enjoy a good party) planned to celebrate the playground’s 30th anniversary.

So the event is postponed to tomorrow (Saturday, April 27). All are invited to South Beach (the area nearest the cannons).

It’s BYO food and drinks.

And don’t forget that old souvenir t-shirt you’ve held on to for all these years.

Adults and kids at the Compo Beach playground.

The Compo Beach Playground Is 30 Years Old. Let’s Party!

If you moved to Westport after 1989, you’ve enjoyed the Compo Beach playground without a second thought.

It’s fun, creative, intricate — everything parents want for their kids.

Plus the water, Joey’s and bathrooms are all a few steps away.

There’s no place like the Compo Beach playground for kids (and their parents.)

If you were here that fateful year though, you know that the playground did not just magically appear.

It was designed by children (with help from famed playground architect Robert Leathers).

It was built by 1,500 volunteers, of all ages. They hauled wheelbarrows, cut wood, hammered nails and poured cement. It was a true town undertaking.

Yet none of it would have happened without a huge legal battle.

(Of course whether you moved to Westport in 1959, 1989 or 2019, you know this is a litigious town.)

Playground opponents — no, that’s not an oxymoron — feared a ruined beach vista. They worried the swings and ladders would be a magnet for out-of-towners, or taken over by beer-drinking, pot-smoking, sex-having teenagers.

The playground controversy brought the first — and only — death threat of 1st selectman Marty Hauhuth’s tenure.

Anti-playground activists obtained a court injunction. (They were not playing around.)

As soon as it was lifted, construction began. It was a magical weekend.

The playground quickly became one of Westport’s prime attractions. It did not ruin the view; it enhanced it. And the only problem now is that on beautiful days, too many people use it.

The Compo Beach playground is popular many months of the year.

It also became apparent that the playground not only did not ruin property values; it enhanced them.

Opponents changed their views. I know, because a year or two after it was built, I saw one of the most vocal critics romping there with what I assumed were his grandchildren. (If they weren’t, that’s a whole other issue.)

Which brings us to this Friday (April 26). The 30th anniversary of construction of the Compo Beach playground will take place just to the right of the cannons. (Not the playground? Hmmmm…)

It starts at 6:30 p.m. All Westporters are invited to this BYO picnic. If you were there in 1989, you’ve got a special invitation: Haul out an old t-shirt. Bring a commemorative hammer.

And everyone: Don’t forget beer and wine.

Which is why — now that I think about it — the party is just to the right of the cannons, not the playground.

(Pass the word far and wide. Remember: Bring your own food and drink. Questions? Email ben3rb@aol.com.)

Pics Of The Day #408

The Compo Beach palm tree, as seen through Amy Schneider’s glass lens ball …

… as well as the Compo playground …

… and the Ned Dimes Marina. (Photos/Amy Schneider)

Pic Of The Day #382

Playing nice at the Compo Beach playground (Photo/Britt Sheiber)

Pic Of The Day #171

The Compo Beach playground: a web of fun. (Photo/Amy Schneider)

Photo Challenge #143

To solve last week’s photo challenge, you needed a kid.

Karen Kim, Susan Schmidt and Victor Belyaev have all spent time at the Compo Beach playground. That’s how they nailed the unusual image. Click here for Amy Schneider’s crop circle-like photo.

How about this week’s puzzle? If you know where you’d find this, click “Comments” below.

(Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

No Bull! Westporters Run At Pamplona

Rick Benson, Jack Fanning, Drew Murphy and Rod Smith met in 1988. All had toddlers. They — the adults, that is — helped plan and build the Compo Beach playground.

It was dangerous work. Not the physical labor — just getting it approved was tough. There was significant opposition: It will ruin the vista! Teenagers will hang out there, drinking and having sex! It will attract out-of-towners!

But they — and others — persisted. Today the beach playground is one of our town’s great attractions.

The men have remained friends ever since. This year, they decided to do something even scarier than building that playground.

They would run with the bulls at Pamplona.

The bulls at Pamplona.

If you’ve been living under a rock all these years — or hanging out at a playground — and never heard of that bizarre ritual, it’s this:

Every year, for 9 days during the Feast of Saint Fermin, over 1,000 people join 6 bulls (and 6 herding steers) in the narrow, winding medieval streets of the Spanish town.

The men — and the runners are nearly all male (go figure) — try not to get gored or (yes) killed in the 2-minute race to a large bull ring. Once inside, there’s even more chasing — and being chased by — the bulls.

What could be more fun?!

RB and Rick Benson in the Plaza del Toro bull ring, Pamplona.

The Westporters were joined by others: Benson’s son RB, Fanning’s son Mikey and Smith’s son Tyler; Joey Laurita and his cousin Bryan.

All have Westport connections.

They spent 3 days in Pamplona. They watched one day from the balcony of La Perla — the same hotel where Ernest Hemingway stayed, when he wrote “The Sun Also Rises.” The 1926 novel lifted an obscure Spanish ritual into a worldwide phenomenon.

All ran at least one day with the bulls.

(From left): RB Benson, Joey Laurita, Mike Fanning, Joey’s cousin Bryan and Tyler Smith. They all look relieved — and alive.

“It’s not as scary as it’s sometimes portrayed,” Rick Benson reports.

However, he notes, “Some people are definitely less cautious than we were.”

The craziest folks are in front of the bulls, or near their horns. The Westport contingent ran alongside the 1,500-pound animals.

Which is why they’re back home today, able to tell this great tale.

(PS: Rick Benson does not know what everyone else’s next adventure is. But this fall, he heads to Africa. He’s spent the past months raising funds with Rotary Clubs throughout the state. In Kenya, he’ll help oversee a $135,000 school renovation. In Nigeria, it’s a $120,000 water sanitation project. Both are a long way from Pamplona — and the Compo Beach playground.)

Running with the bulls sure gives you an appetite. The Westport contingent dined well.

For Everyone Who Went To The Caribbean This Weekend, And Wonders What A 65-Degree February Sunday Looks Like In Westport…



Playing Around

Today, hordes of Westporters will descend on the Compo Beach playground.  In an annual ritual they will sand, shovel, screw in and otherwise secure one of the town’s most popular attractions for another season of fun.

Hard to believe the Compo playground was once the most controversial project in town.

Compo Beach playground

Exactly 20 years ago, the playground was a gleam in some Westporters’ eyes. Working with Robert Leathers — designer of 500 play areas around the country — they asked kids in town what they wanted, then organized hundreds of volunteers to make it all happen.

But wait!  True to Westport tradition, where the most minor matters become World War III, a group of anti-playground activists mobilized.

Too high! they said.  Too ugly!  Too ruinous of our precious vista!

Too much arsenic in the wood!  Too attractive to out-of-towners!  Too many teenagers will hang out there at night!

As the New York Times reported, 300 concerned citizens packed a Planning & Zoning meeting.  Little kids wore bright yellow T-shirts; grumpy adults sported blue stickers screaming “Not That Spot.”  The night erupted into dueling slide shows, scale models and polls.

An anti-playground lawyer, perhaps unwittingly alluding to Westport’s artist-colony past, asked: “Who ever heard of putting a Jackson Pollock next to a Renoir?”

The P&Z finally said yes.  Opponents filed 2 lawsuits.  The pro-playground people prevailed.  During a week-long frenzy of volunteerism, the project was completed.

None of the doomsday predictions came true.  No one’s vista was ruined; if anything, the scene of kids playing joyfully, nearly every day of the year, enhances the beach’s beauty.

Teenagers still hang out at South Beach, not on swing sets.  Out-of-towners flock here (out of season), sure, but more for the dog-run expanse than the playground.  No one has died from arsenic poisoning.

And, in one of the most delicious ironies, some of the most vociferous opponents are the first to show off the Compo Beach playground to out-of-town guests.

Or to mention it as a key attraction when trying to sell their homes.

(Today’s playground maintenance runs from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, click here.)