Tag Archives: Larry Michaels

Remembering Larry Michaels

Longtime Westport architect Larry Michaels died last month. His family sends this remembrance:

“I want to live to 100 so I can be on the Smucker’s jar!” was what he always said, but that wish was not to be fulfilled. Larry passed away November 24. Despite not reaching his goal, he lived a very happy, full life, with a most positive attitude till he was 90 1/2.

In May we had many wonderful celebrations to commemorate his big 90th birthday, Though he was a man of few words, Larry made a beautiful speech, saying something to each person.

Larry was born and raised in Norwalk. He found his passion when he visited a friend in the Architecture Department, and saw models of structures that students had built. He studied at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s 5-year program, graduating in 1953.

For 46 years he practiced architecture in Westport, and was published in national and international magazines. His work included residential, commercial buildings, shopping centers and malls, stores, condos, in and around Connecticut, New York, California, St. Martin and more.

Larry Michaels

As a young architect Larry was an active member of the board of Westport Community Theater, and designed sets for their shows. He was also member of the Westport Zoning Board of Appeals and Architectural Review Board.

One of his most exciting projects was designing Dave Brubeck’s home in Wilton. A formal Japanese garden enhanced the entrance to the “strongly Oriental- influenced estate.” This project was particularly meaningful, because Larry was a jazz enthusiast.

His work was toured several times, including the Westport Historical Society’s 2010 exhibit, “Westport Modern: When Cool Was Hot”.

Larry was a member of the Connecticut Society of Architects. He was licensed to practice by the State of Connecticut Architectural Examining Board and the National Council of Architectural Registration Board Examinations.

Retirement came in 2006, when Larry and Linda moved to Los Angeles. Along with the wonderful weather, he looked forward to taking classes at the Santa Monica Emeritus College. His favorite was “Exercising the Brain.” He looked forward to word puzzles each week where his humor and intellect were greatly appreciated. He also enjoyed the Survey of Art, and the music classes.

Every day, for decades, he did the puzzles in The New York Times or Los Angeles Times. Larry was always learning.

Larry had a passion for sports. For many years he coached the Little League Pontiacs team in Westport. He was an ardent Mets fan when living in the East, and a Dodgers fan on the West Coast.

Linda and Larry had many adventures, including travels to Canada, Europe, and the Middle and Far East. His most memorable was to China and Bali. For 22 years, they vacationed in St. Marten where Larry had designed The Ocean Club.

He leaves behind his wife, architectural designer Linda Zamelsky, of 36 years. They worked together for 22 years. He also leaves his East Coast family of daughter Jennifer (Scott) Soodek and grandchildren Jessica, Sara and Jake (and their spouses/partners); son Eric (Sharon) and grandchildren Jonathan and Jordan (and their spouses/partners). His previous marriage was to Toby Michaels of Westport.

On the West Coast, he leaves behind Dr. Janeen Locker (and partner) and grandchildren Anji and Rafa, and Dr. Brendan Armm (Winter) and grandchildren River and Leaf.

Larry died peacefully at home, surrounded by family singing to him “Amazing Grace” and his favorite, “It’s a Wonderful World.”:

The funeral was private. Donations in memory of Larry may be sent to the charity of your choice, or Santa Monica Emeritus College.

When Cool Was Hot — And Not

High Point Road — where I grew up — was a street of 70 nice homes.  Colonials, Capes, split-levels, custom-designed houses — all melded together in a handsome streetscape.

Unfortunately, there were 71 houses on the road.

The 71st — even more unfortunately, it was #6, meaning everyone drove past it every day — was hideous.

Imagine my surprise to see it featured in the Westport Historical Society’s Little Gallery, as part of the current exhibit “Westport Modern:  When Cool Was Hot!

The show pays homage to mid-20th century modern architecture.  There are photos galore, of Westport and Weston homes designed by Mies van der Rohe and Paul Rudolph, and local architects like Larry Michaels and Joseph Salerno, along with tons of informative text.

Opening day last Sunday was packed.  Perhaps it was the novelty of a historical society shining a light on Modernist architecture — or maybe Westporters wanted to show their enthusiasm for a piece of town that is fast disappearing.

The Modernist movement’s record is mixed.  It gave us beautiful buildings like Victor Lundy’s Unitarian Church (below), which stood the test of time

Westport's Unitarian Church (Photo by Nancy Burton)

and his less-than-celebrated Hillspoint Elementary School, which — with its decibel-producing gym in the center of the building, and windows that fell into classrooms soon after it opened — did not.

The Historical Society exhibit is comprehensive, educational and fascinating — all that something like this should be.  It even includes original examples of mid-20th century furniture, which made me think I’d wandered onto the set of “Mad Men.”

But back to that Victor Civkin house on High Point.

A Russian refugee, he designed 900 projects independently — residences, stores, theaters, synagogues, office buildings, restaurants, community centers — and hundreds more for GE, including the 1939 World’s Fair GE Pavilions, FDR’s White House kitchens, and futuristic model homes.

The guy was no slouch.

But that house on High Point was not one of his high points.  I know a family that rented there for a year and — I am not kidding — said they were so embarrassed by it, they never wanted anyone to visit.

Anyone who reads “06880” knows I deplore the Westport hobby of knocking down normal-sized homes, to build houses on steroids.

Yet no one cheered louder than I when the house at #6 High Point went to that great dumpster in the sky.

Until this week I had no idea the architect was so revered, he’d have his own Little Gallery at the Historical Society show.

As the great mid-20th century modernist Lawrence Welk  might have said, “There’s no accounting for taste.”

A surprisingly flattering photo of the Civkin house on High Point Road. Trust me -- 10 minutes after this shot was taken, the house looked gruesome. It did not wear well.