Last week’s Photo Challenge’s honored Sigrid Schultz.
As the Chicago Tribune‘s Berlin bureau chief — the first female bureau chief of any major newspaper, anywhere — the pioneering reporter, social justice activist and longtime Westporter played a key role in exposing the growing Nazi threat during the lead-up to the war, and beyond.
A plaque memorializing her was unveiled last year, near her former residence. (Click here for the photo.) Where, the Challenge asked, was that?
The plaque is at Serena & Lily — the lifestyle store in the former Kemper Gunn House. It was moved across Elm Street in 2014, to make way for Bedford Square.
Schultz lived a bit behind the site of the present store, in what is now the Baldwin parking lot. Her home was demolished, to make way for cars.
Dick Lowenstein notes that in 2019 the RTM unanimously named the area “Sigrid Schultz Plaza,” though there is no signage to that effect.
Others who identified the site correctly were Fred Cantor, Linda V. Velez, Wendy Cusick, Wendy Schaefer and Judy Reid.
This week’s Photo Challenge is another plaque. It’s appropriate, because tomorrow is Presidents Day.
If you know where in Westport we honor our first president — and why there’s a Westport tie to him — click “Comments” below.
Two years ago, when Bedford Square developer David Waldman proposed a deal to save Kemper-Gunn — moving the 1889 Queen Anne Victorian house from Church Lane to the Baldwin parking lot — the town imposed several conditions.
One was that he could not rent to a retail tenant operating more than 5 stores.
Serena & Lily — a California-based lifestyle and home decor brand with branches in the Hamptons, San Francisco and Los Angeles — was interested.
Aaron Mutscheller flew east from Sausalito headquarters. His first impression of Westport — driving over the Saugatuck River bridge — was great.
Then he saw the building.
“It was dark and smelly,” he recalls. “There was a dropped ceiling, falling plaster and rotten shag rugs. It hadn’t been touched in years.”
But Mutscheller is not the chief creative officer for nothing. He poked around the old house. He traveled around Westport. Gradually, he realized that Serena & Lily could make the property as unique — and different — as its other 3.
Serena herself — Dugan, co-founder and chief design officer — was not so sure. She thought it was haunted.
But she trusted Mutscheller. The deal was done.
Now — 23 months later — the public is about to see what Mutscheller and Dugan have done.
It’s pretty impressive.
Serena & Lily, ready to open on Elm Street.
The duo (and their team) have turned a 19th-century house into a 21st century design destination.
Mutscheller calls the building “our way of saying ‘we get Westport. Here’s our version of it.'”
Which means what, exactly?
“Westport doesn’t feel like the West Coast perspective of Connecticut,” he explains. “It’s not a hedge fund town. It’s really an eclectic mix of lively, creative people.”
Mutscheller hopes that Westporters see the repurposed old house — now a bright, fun retail store — and realize they can update their own living space.
“Change happens. But it doesn’t have to involve demolition,” Mutscheller says. “You can do a 2.0 version, without tearing everything down to the ground.”
Dugan adds, “We’ve paid a lot of respect to the original architecture. But we’ve made it applicable to today’s living. We’ve tried to show we can blur the lines and evolve, in an honest way.”
A fireplace and mantel in the Kemper-Gunn House has been beautifully preserved.
The Serena & Lily renovation was complete, and careful. Stained glass windows and casework were preserved, beams uncovered. Crown molding shows off the hand-carved center staircase. Rooms were opened up, creating a fresh, clean look — without sacrificing the building’s great old bones.
The store’s products — bedding, bath, furniture, fabric, rugs, lighting, nursery and art — are shown in actual settings like a dining room, living room and bedroom.
The 1st floor features a kitchen and nook. A swatch-filled design shop on the 2nd floor is where designers work with customers. The 3rd floor — formerly an unused attic — was transformed into a dramatic “kids’ space,” filled with funky delights.
The original windows enhance the new Serena & Lily.
Serena & Lily enjoys a unique position in town. They occupy prime downtown real estate. They’re the 1st tenants of Bedford Square (sort of). They bridge old Westport, and new.
They take that role seriously. They’re sponsoring an artist for next month’s Art About Town. They’ll contribute to organizations like Near & Far Aid (15% of all sales this weekend), Project Return and Pink Aid.
Before that though, they’ll welcome Westporters. The official opening is tomorrow (Friday, April 29). There’s a ribbon-cutting (9:30 a.m.), and a weekend filled with balloons and face painting, coffee and treats from SoNo Baking, a gelato cart and more.
Westport watched warily as the Kemper-Gunn House was saved. We watched with wonder as it was moved into the parking lot. We worried what would come next.
Now we know.
But don’t take my word for it. Check out the old/new building for yourself. See what a bit of vision and creativity can do to a place that — just a couple of years ago — seemed not only doomed, but haunted.
The first 40,000 square feet of Bedford Square has been leased.
Anthropologie — the women’s clothing store owned by Urban Outfitters, now located 2 miles east, next to Balducci’s — will move into the retail/ residential development downtown. Its specific location is the Bedford building and adjacent former firehouse, on the corner of Main Street, the Post Road and Church Lane.
The new Anthropologie will include a full restaurant, clothing, home and beauty stores, and BHLDN, Anthropologie’s wedding brand.
Meanwhile, across Church Lane, Serena and Lily will move into the Kemper-Gunn house, newly relocated from Elm Street in the Baldwin parking lot. They sell home decor, custom bedding, nursery furniture, rugs and wallpaper. This will be their 3rd US store.
Still on the market: 30,000 square feet of space.
A rendering of Church Lane, from the Bedford Square website.
It’s not the Saugatuck Congregational Church move. But it should be pretty cool anyway.
In 1950, the church — sanctuary, bell tower, hymnals and all — was moved from its longtime location near Baron’s South (the site today of a gas station) across the Post Road (then called State Street) to its current spot on the corner of Myrtle Avenue (where it now looks like it’s been all along).
How do you move a church? In 1950, this way.
The move — accomplished thanks to a series of logs — took 10 hours. Life Magazine spotlighted the event. (It was a slow news week.)
This Tuesday (starting at 6:30 a.m.), the much smaller Kemper-Gunn House makes a much shorter trip. The 1890-era building will be wheeled — or in some other way conveyed — across Elm Street. Its new home is the Baldwin parking lot.
An artist’s rendering of the Kemper-Gunn House, after it settles in at the Baldwin parking lot.
Lost in the mists of history is what those mid-20th-century Westporters did while watching the church make its verrrry slooooow trip down Route 1.
But we do know what will happen Tuesday. Java — the 1-year-old coffee shop across Church Lane from Kemper-Gunn — will hand out free coffee and baked goods (courtesy of the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce).
While Westport wonders about the fate of the cherry trees in front of the now-abandoned downtown Y — they’ll probably end up like George Washington’s — JP Vellotti is thinking about a different species.
These stand handsomely on the small rise at the corner of Church Lane and Elm Street:
Though the nearby Kemper Gunn House will soon be moved to the Baldwin parking lot, these trees will most likely not go with them. They’ll make way for the Bedford Square retail/residential/office complex, whose construction begins soon.
JP wondered if — thanks to their location — they are elms.
They are not. He learned they are Norway Maples — a common street tree, he says, “but one that Columbia University’s forestry department calls an invasive species.”
Cherry trees, Norway maples, and whatever else is downtown: JP advises, “enjoy ’em while we got ’em.”
Earlier today, a notice was posted in the Baldwin parking lot. It announces a hearing next Wednesday (August 13, 8:30 a.m., Town Hall Room 309) regarding a .13-acre lease in the lot. The board of selectmen will be asked to approve a lease, to accommodate the relocation of the Kemper-Gunn House from across Elm Street.
That vacated property will then become part of the retail/residential development that replaces the soon-to-be-vacated Westport Family Y.
The Baldwin parking lot lease, which has already been approved by the Board of Finance and Planning & Zoning Commission, awaits final Board of Selectmen action.
The meeting announcement sign, in the Baldwin parking lot.
According to 3rd Selectman Helen Garten — a member of the Kemper-Gunn Advisory Group — “the lease creates a unique public-private partnership that not only will ensure the preservation of a historic downtown structure, but also will return the building to productive commercial use as a home for small, independent businesses.”
Major components of the plan include rental of the Baldwin lot land by the town to DC Kemper-Gunn LLC for 50 years, with renewal options up to 98 years.
DC Kemper-Gunn LLC will own the house and pay for all site work, relocation expenses, renovation and ongoing maintenance and repairs. The town will incur no operating expenses.
An old door and lock, in the Kemper-Gunn house. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)
DC Kemper-Gunn LLC has agreed to preserve any original exterior features of the house that are in good condition, or replace them with original materials. Garten hopes that some interior architectural features can be reused or donated to the Westport Historical Society.
The plan calls for refitting the interior for commercial use. The lease requires all tenants to be small, independent, preferably locally owned businesses — no chain stores. Garten says, “Our aim is to add to the diversity and vibrancy of our downtown business offerings.”
The town will receive taxes on the building and improvements, as well as rent and — eventually — a share of net profits generated by the commercial rental operation.
“Since we are receiving no income now, this is a net gain to the town financially,” Garten notes. “But the real reward for Westport is how this venture will help restore a sense of place to our downtown.”
The actual relocation is tentatively set for November. A giant Elm Street block party may accompany the move.
An artist’s rendering of the Kemper-Gunn House, after it is moved to the Baldwin parking lot.
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