Tag Archives: Longshore Club Park

New Life For Old Trees?

The trees lining the entrance to Longshore are handsome and stately.

They’re also old. And dangerous.

The Parks and Recreation Department, with the consent of the tree warden, has identified approximately 15 trees that are the last of the originals along the entry road. They’re identified by their poor shape, and the condition of their crowns.

These trees have reached — or will soon — the end of their useful lives. The crowns are sparse and misshaped, as a result of deterioration and falling dead wood over many years. Large branches have fallen — threatening golfers, drivers, bicyclists and joggers — and the trees themselves may topple in high winds.

The trees lining the Longshore entrance have a long history -- and are now old.

The trees lining the Longshore entrance have a long history — and are now old.

Nearly 20 years ago, Parks and Rec realized what was coming “down the road.” They planted a new strand of trees, further back along both sides of the entrance. Now mature, they create a visual row of trunks and shade. When the 15 oldest trees — which also crowd and shade the new trees — are cut, the new ones will benefit.

Parks and Rec — and the Westport Tree Board — understand the love many Westporters have for trees. (Until they fall on your property.) Thanks to the new trees, there will be no real visual impact after removal.

And the department and board hope the old trees will have a 2nd life.

That’s where “06880” comes in. If you’ve got an idea on how to “repurpose” those 15 trees, click “Comments.” Artists? Furniture makers (Todd Austin, perhaps)? Let’s hear your thoughts.

WARNING: There is no guarantee that the trees are in good enough shape for anything.

Longshore trees frame this wedding photo by Victoria Souza.

Longshore trees frame this wedding photo by Victoria Souza.

Halfway Home

When groundbreaking was held Wednesday for the new Halfway House at Longshore, it marked the end of a long campaign.

And the start of a new organization that could impact much more than just golf here in Westport.

This week’s ceremonial shoveling was the result of a team effort that raised private funds and developed construction plans. The building came in on time and way under budget thanks to leaders Fred Hunter and Mark Holod; donations of time, material and money from Westporters; a major gift in Cliff Ross’ name, and a tournament organized by Skip Lane and the Haberstroh “boys” (Chuck and Steve).

Longshore golfers will soon have a halfway house worthy of the course -- and the entire park.

The umbrella organization — Friends of Westport Parks & Recreation — is a non-profit that encourages tax-exempt private donations for a public purpose. With its 1st project nearly complete, the Friends group is now looking for other projects through which private individuals or groups can improve the town’s recreational opportunities and infrastructure.

No word yet on what those projects might be — a new ramp for kayaks and canoes? A bone for the Winslow dogs? A new clubhouse at Longshore?

But with over 2 dozen parks and athletic complexes around town — each with its own constituencies and concerns — there should be no lack of ideas.

What’s yours? Click “Comments” to give our Friends some friendly input.

(In other golf news, the Longshore course opens today. Tomorrow morning, the Longshore Men’s Golf Association sponsors its annual course cleanup day. Golfers, their kids, the Staples golf team — all put in a few hours to spiff up one of Westport’s crown jewels.)

Breaking ground on Wednesday (from left): Mark Holod, Katherine Ross, Jeff Mayer, Janis Collins, Fred Hunter, John Cooper.

Photographs And Memories

Looking for something to do in the dog days of summer?

You could do far worse than click on the Longshore 50th anniversary website.

Hosted by the Westport Historical Society, it’s a fascinating — and extremely professional — romp through more than a century of Longshore life.  Long before it was a town park — even before it was a thriving club — the land between Compo and the river hummed with activity.

That’s George Lawrence (above).  His father — Alexander Lawrence — was a wealthy New Yorker who in 1868 purchased 68 acres of farmland on what is now Longshore.  Alexander made his money important fruit and statuary.  As the Longshore 50th site notes, George is standing on “the fruits of his father’s labor.”

This is the “Longshore Lookout Tower” — but growing up in the 1960s, we always called it “the lighthouse.”  If you’re walking through the pavilion toward the pool, the tower would be on your left.  It was torn down sometime in the ’60s or early ’70s.  Why?  Who knows?

Here’s the Inn at Longshore, looking barren and bleak.  Perhaps this picture was taken during the time the inn nearly went bankrupt.

Those photos — and many more — are on the Longshore 50th website.  You’ll also find maps, and video interviews with sailing school managers past and present, golf superintendent Don Rackliffe, former town officials like Jackie Heneage, Ted Diamond and Bill Steffen, and more.

There are audio interviews with folks like 97-year-old Pat Lucci, who played golf with Bob Hope and Bert Lahr.  (The “Cowardly Lion” was Longshore Beach & Country Club champ in 1935).

And there are newspaper clippings and maps, along with a blog and calendar of events.

Plenty of website for things like 50th anniversary celebrations are half-hearted, lifeless and littered with dead links.

This one is dynamic, fresh, handsome — and always new.

Just like Longshore itself.

Sail On, Longshore

In 1965, John Kantor needed a summer job.  He wanted to be a Longshore caddy — but was rejected.

He walked across the parking lot to the sailing school.  They hired him.

The rest is history.

Longshore Sailing School celebrates its 50th anniversary this weekend.  Hundreds of former employees will eat, drink, dance and reminisce about summers that were fun, fulfilling, and — for many — transformative.

John Kantor (left) instructing outdoors in 1969.

Kantor has been around for nearly all of those 50 years.  Quietly, efficiently — improving what works, and always changing with the times — he’s built Longshore Sailing School into the largest such youth program in the country.

By far.  You might say it blows everyone else out of the water.

In retrospect, getting rejected as a caddy — and hired by the then-nascent town sailing school — was karma.  Kantor grew up on Owenoke — just across Gray’s Creek from Longshore.

“I clammed at low tide, and sailed and raced at high tide,” he recalls.

When the town of Westport bought the failing Longshore Country Club in 1960, it had no idea how to turn it into a town park.

It knew even less about running a water program.

“In the very beginning it was just borrowed rowboats and volunteer instructors,” Kantor says.  “John Mulhaussen took kids from what is now Strait Marina out to the channel.  It was basic boating.”

A couple of years later, 8-foot Sprites — “bathtub boats,” Kantor calls them — were introduced.

1964 marked a quantum leap.  Bill Mills — owner of American Fiberglass Corporation in Norwalk — manufactured Aqua Cats.  He loaned a small fleet to Westport, for an advanced sailing class.  It was the 1st multi-hulled sailing program in the US.

Kantor came on board the next year.

And never left.

By 1969, Longshore boasted 3 junior national Aqua Cat champions.

But, Kantor says, “The town always knew it wasn’t very good at running a sailing school.”

In fact, the Parks & Rec department ran the fiberglass boats into the ground.  They never replaced any, so by 1975 the fleet was in bad shape.

A national recession was underway.  “Recreation is low on most priority lists to begin with,” Kantor says.  “And sailing is always low on the recreation list.”

By 1982, Longshore Sailing School had moved to new quarters.

With several hundred young sailing students each year — and a program run out of constantly collapsing cabanas near the pool — Kantor made a proposal.  He’d buy a new fleet — at his own expense — provided he could keep any profit.

If there was a loss, he’d absorb it himself.

First selectman Jacqueline Heneage agreed — provided he put his name on the sailing school.

“I didn’t want to,” Kantor says.  “But I guess that was a way for the town to wash their hands of it if things didn’t work out.”

They did.  The program continued to grow, almost exponentially.  Now, with 1,400 youngsters a year, it’s monstrous.

“And those are full courses — not 1-shot private lessons,” Kantor emphasizes.  Add in several hundred youngsters, and 2,000 people learn to sail each summer.

When the program outgrew its makeshift building — but the town was reluctant to pay for a new one — Kantor formed the non-profit Friends of Longshore Sailing School.  Former employees — now very successful — funded a 2-story, $400,000 structure.  The school now has 5 classrooms, plenty of storage space, and an actual office.

The program also outgrew fiberglass boats.

“They were hard to maintain on a stony New England beach,” notes Kantor.  “And with people learning to sail, there were always scrapes.  They took beatings, and then got dragged up and down the sand.”

The move to other synthetics has been a godsend.  For years, Kantor stayed until midnight readying the fiberglass for another day.

“Things were so tight, we couldn’t afford to be down even 1 boat at any time.  It was exhausting.

“Now we just hose ’em off at the end of the day, and we’re done.”

Two young students having a great time.

Kantor has watched his business evolve in many ways.  He bought Hobie Cats from the Boat Locker.  Windsurfing was big in the 1980s; then kayaking was the rage.

The latest trend, Kantor says, is standup paddleboarding.

After 45 years, Kantor has plenty of memories.  The best ones are of his staff.

“We’ve had over 1,100 employees over the years,” he says.  Laid end to end, they would reach from the Longshore pool to Elvira’s.   (Insert your own joke here.)

“There are so many very interesting, special people.  We hire them as high school or college kids, and watch them grow.  It’s neat — and gratifying — to see that happen, and help mentor them along.”

This Friday’s celebration of the program’s 50 years will not be the 1st.  Past reunions have been drawn hundreds.

“I’m amazed that any place could have a reunion of a summer job,” Kantor marvels.

A TV producer is flying in from Los Angeles — for the day.

“They go to each other’s weddings,” Kantor says of his former employees.

Some even go to their own.  Four couples have met at Longshore Sailing School, and gotten married.

A reggae band — composed entirely of sailing school ex-teachers — will play.  An improv comedian — of course he worked at the sailing school too — will entertain.

Five screens will show thousands of slides.

Of course, the next day everyone is invited out on the water.

So what does all this say about Westport?

Life doesn't get much better than this.

“This town is a place to raise kids,” Kantor says.  “They want their kids to have access to the water, without being vetted by a private country club.

“I’ve heard that people move here because of the sailing school.  I don’t know how true that is, but kids dig it.  And parents are all for something their kids love.”

In 2013 — Longshore Sailing School’s 53rd year, and Kantor’s 48th — his town contract is up.

“It’s time for someone else to run this,” he says.

“I’m trying to groom my successors.  I never tire of teaching — just administration.  I hope they’ll hire me to work for them — as a teacher.

“I want to hand off this building, and the finances, in good shape.

“I hope Longshore Sailing School lasts forever.”

The Baldwin Family Returns

It started with a Google alert.

A grandson of Herbert Baldwin is notified every time his grandfather’s name appears in cyberspace.  In February, he learned of an “06880” post about Westport’s upcoming celebration of the 50th anniversary of the purchase of Longshore.

Baldwin — who in 1960 was serving the 2nd of  his 5 terms as 1st selectman — was instrumental in getting the RTM and Board of Finance to approve $1.9 million to buy financially ailing Longshore Country Club, before it could be sold to a residential home developer.

This afternoon Westport celebrated that historic event with a gathering at — of course — Longshore, following the Westport Rotary‘s annual golf and tennis outing.

Wendy Baldwin holds Herb Baldwin's license plate. It is from 1956 -- the year she was born.

Wendy Baldwin — Herb’s granddaughter — was there.  She smiled brightly as she recalled her grandfather.  She enjoyed the day immensely — but that’s not the only reason she and other family members traveled here from across the country.

Her father — Herb Baldwin Jr. — died last year, at 88.  For several months the family tried to figure out the best time to gather in Westport, so he could be buried here.

This was the perfect opportunity.  Tomorrow, Herb Jr. joins his father and mother in the Saugatuck Congregational Church cemetery.

Wendy and her brother Pete were delighted to have the chance to return to Westport, see Longshore — and reunite with people who helped their grandfather move so swiftly 50 years ago.

Pete Baldwin, proudly wearing his grandfather's cap.

Former Baldwin kitchen cabinet members John Boyd and Allen Raymond were both at today’s event.

“It was great to see them,” Pete said.

“And it’s nice to see my grandfather is still remembered in Westport.”

Right back at you, Pete and Wendy.  It’s nice you had the chance to make it back “home.”

With a tip o’ the hat to Google Alerts.

Honoring Herb Baldwin

Westport Rotary‘s annual golf and tennis outing is always a nice affair.  Folks play, socialize, eat, drink, and raise funds for over 30 local charities.

Nice — but hardly blog-worthy.

Herb Baldwin

This year’s event (Wednesday, June 9) is different.  To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the town’s purchase of Longshore, then-1st selectman Herb Baldwin will be feted.

But this is no hollow let’s-thank-a-dead-guy thought.  Several relatives — including Baldwin’s daughter Phyllis, and 3 grandchildren — are coming from as far away as Indianapolis and Menlo Park, California.

Some will play in the golf tournament.  All will join in the 4 p.m. ceremony that will look back on Baldwin’s role in those lightning-quick 18 days, when Westport raced from “wow, Longshore Country Club is on the market” to a signed, $1.9 million contract to buy all 169 acres.

Allen Raymond — current town historian, and past member of Baldwin’s kitchen cabinet that helped seal the deal — will be there too.

So who was Herb Baldwin?

He arrived in Westport soon after serving in World War I.  In the same year he got married — seems like he always moved quickly — he bought 20 acres of Bayberry Lane land.

With no experience — and no capital behind him — he planted a thousand apple trees, and hundreds of rows of vegetables.

Four years later, he cleared $123.

He soon became a successful apple grower.  But he found time for plenty of volunteer work too.

He chaired both the Westport and state YMCAs, and served on the national Y council.

He taught Sunday school at Saugatuck Congregational Church, then became deacon emeritus, chairman of the state Congregational organization and a national commiteeman.  When the church moved — on logs — across the Post Road to its present location, Baldwin was on the engineering committee.

He entered politics in 1919, as a member of the Board of Tax Review.  He remained on it for 17 years, and was elected chairman.  He was a deputy judge of the Town Court, until laymen were barred from serving.

He spent 18 years in Hartford as a state assemblyman and senator, eventually chairing the Appropriations Committee.  Back in Westport, he was selected as the 2nd moderator ever of the RTM.

Herb Baldwin (far right) during a Memorial Day parade, in the late 1960s or early '70s. Also in the front row, from left: John Davis Lodge, a Westporter, former governor of Connecticut and ambassador to Spain, Argentina and Switzerland; U.S. Congressman Stewart McKinney. Rear (from left): Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Brummel; unidentified; Board of Education member Merald Lue.

When 1st selectman became a full-time position in 1957, Baldwin was elected.  Early in his tenure he eliminated 28 sources of raw drainage from the Saugatuck River; soon, fish returned.  Roads in Saugatuck Shores were raised, preventing flooding.  Two new schools were built.

When Longshore was put on the market — in an area zoned for 1-acre housing — Baldwin shepherded the town’s purchase plan through both the RTM and Board of Finance.  Instantly, Westport was the 1st town in the country to own a country club.

Later in his 5 terms as 1st selectman he championed DDD zoning, allowing businesses like Glendinning (off Weston Road) and Stauffer (Nyala Farms) to build in residentially zoned areas.  Some Westporters opposed the moves — though the buildings were as discreet as offices could be, and the tax rolls benefited handsomely.

Baldwin Parking Lot — named for him — off Elm Street alleviated downtown parking problems (though several old homes were demolished in the process).

Baldwin retired in 1967, age 73.  In retirement he played bridge, backgammon, chess — and golf.  (He stopped in his early 90s — because his clubs were stolen out of his car trunk.)

In 1986 — for one of my 1st “Woog’s World” columns — I interviewed the-92-year-old Baldwin.  I asked him to sum up his life.

“May and I are as lucky as the devil,” he said, referring to his wife of (then) 67 years.

“We’ve got our health, our family, and we’ve been able to serve our community for 67 years.  What else could anybody want?”

Well, how about being remembered a quarter-century later for your role in preserving a property that has since become the most beloved purchase in our 175 year history?

(Wednesday’s golf tournament begins at 8:30 a.m.; tennis follows at 9 a.m.  Both events are at Longshore.)

The Art Of Longshore

Artists Neil Hardy (left) and Leonard Everett Fisher flank Helen Klisser, During, who curated the "Art of Longshore" exhibit. (Photo by John Hartwell)

The golf course.  Weddings.  Herb Baldwin.

It seems no aspect of Longshore is overlooked this year, as Westport celebrates the 50th anniversary of the town’s purchase of a failing country club — and subsequent redevelopment into a town jewel.

Now it’s art’s turn.

That’s art, as in oil paintings and photos.  Longshore offers almost unlimited opportunities — the tree-lined entrance, scenic marshes, handsome Inn — as well as historic subjects like the lighthouse and old apartment building that no longer exist.

Tomorrow (Friday, June 4, 6 p.m.), the Westport Public Library honors “The Art of Longshore” with an open-to-the-public reception.  Generations of artists’ works will remain on display through July 30.

Some of the prints, paintings and photos are old; some very recent.  Each presents a different facet of Longshore’s beauty.

None, thankfully, shows what might have been had Westport not acted so swiftly 50 years ago:  240 homes crammed together on what was  considered the most lucrative building site in town.

The Kids’ Wall

Between the 50th anniversary of the town’s purchase of Longshore and the founding of Orphenians; the 175th birthday of Westport, and the 375th celebration of Connecticut, the 10th anniversary of anything might seem like nothing to write home blog about.

But the Westport Historical Society is taking note of the decade-long Kids’ Wall at the Longshore pool.  If something that’s only as old as the millennium can be honored by historians, it’s good enough for “06880.”

Today (May 28), the WHS unveils an exhibit paying tribute to the “dedication, tenacity and spirit of a passionate group who fought Town Hall to bring the project to fruition.”

Okay, so it wasn’t the Minutemen trying (unsuccessfully) to beat back the British at Compo Beach.  It’s still a good story.

The 6-foot high, 44-foot long Kids’ Arts Wall, decorated with 32,000 hand-placed tiles, was first proposed in 1998 by Westport artist/teacher Katherine Ross.

“There were very few activities for middle schoolers at the time,” she recalls.  “There were no arcades, no bowling alley, no movie theaters.”  (Not like today!)

“They were being kicked out of downtown stores for loitering.  We wanted to show these kids they had a creative voice.”

She and fellow artist Miggs Burroughs envisioned a spot near the library.  But the P and Z, other politicians and some Westporters feared — well, everything:  Visual clutter.  Skateboarders atop the wall.  Amplification of sound from the Levitt Pavilion.  Headlights reflecting against the wall, causing accidents.  The list was more dire than the plagues at a Passover seder.

Finally, Steve and Toni Rubin suggested the Longshore pool.  Bingo!

Middle school students submitted 1400 drawings.  Using a variety of media — and little treasures like quarters, beads, even notes about water safety — the wall was built and decorated in 3 months.

What Burroughs believes to be “the largest piece of children’s art in Connecticut” was unveiled on May 28, 2000.

Ten years later, the WHS exhibit will include an actual-size photo replica of the wall, newspaper clippings and interactive mosaic art opportunities.  The event is a focus of the WHS Time Travelers Camp sessions, which take place during the summer.  It will serve as a springboard for a study of the sea.

Middle schoolers who participated in the project are especially invited to today’s exhibit.  Of course, they may recall it as ancient history.

After all, they’re now in their early 20s.

(The Westport Historical Society exhibit begins with a reception today [May 28], from 5-7 p.m.  It also honors the 50th anniversary of the town’s purchase of Longshore.  Earlier today — 3 p.m. at Saugatuck Congregational Church — town officials and noted citizens celebrate the 175th anniversary of Westport’s charter, with a unique ceremony [and a birthday cake].  For more information, click here or call 203-222-1424.)

Championing The Chappa

Like many events, the Chappa Invitational Golf Tournament is more than a name.

And this year — as Westport celebrates the 50th anniversary of the town’s purchase of Longshore — is a good time to look back on the name (and the man) behind one of the top high school golf events in the country.

Mike Chappa, in his Staples football uniform

When over 80 Connecticut schools tee off at Longshore on Thursday, May 27 they’ll play in memory of a true — and now forgotten — legend.  Here’s what they (and, these days, too many Westporters) don’t know about Mike Chappa.

A lifelong resident of town, Chappa graduated from Staples in 1927.  He captained the football and basketball teams, and played baseball — and is still regarded as one of the most all-around Wrecker athletes ever.

At Georgetown University he earned All-American football status for his aggressive 2-way play — as both an offensive and defensive end.

Returning to Staples after World War II as a social studies teacher, he coached football with Frank Dornfeld — another Georgetown All-American (tailback).

But Chappa’s great love was golf.  He coached Staples’ linksmen from 1955 through ’68.  His last year, the team was 15-0 and won the state championship.  He was named Coach of the Year.

The following spring, he dropped dead of a massive heart attack — on the 16th green at Longshore.

Since 1970, the Chappa Invitational has been sponsored by Staples, the Longshore Men’s  Golf Association and Westport Parks & Rec.  The 2-man better ball event allows small schools to compete equally with the big boys.

It’s also the only high school golf event spectators are allowed — in fact, encouraged — to attend.

Over the years, they’ve seen some memorable moments.  Once, an upstate team with a commanding lead left, to get home for an awards dinner.  Another team tied them for 1st.  Officials called the northerners, who turned around, drove back, jumped out of their car – and beat the other team in a 1-hole sudden death playoff.

Even more improbably, a few years ago Trinity Catholic had the lead, and left for their senior prom.  Another team drew even.  Staples coach Tom Owen called Trinity at the prom.  Golfers came back — with their dates in gowns.  Trinity lost on the 3rd hole of sudden death — perhaps they were distracted — but photos of the players and the dates on their course live on.

Fairfield’s J.J. Henry — now a PGA pro — was Connecticut’s top high school golfer in the early 1990s.  He played in the Chappa each year — but had never won.  In his senior year, he needed only a par at the 18th hole to take the title.  He didn’t do it.

Westporter Carl Swanson — a captain on the 1966 team — remembers Chappa well.  The coach didn’t say much — sometimes just pointing his arm to convey the message “keep it straight!” — though Chappa did once ask Swanson, when his concentration level lagged:  “Carl, is it golf or women?”

Chappa, Swanson says, gained respect through is “quiet, authoritative demeanor — never scolding, never yelling.  It was understood that you were to play well, and it was your responsibility to do so.  But you also knew that he had your back.”

He was much louder on the football sidelines — “very emotional and excitable,” recalls former Wrecker Tom Allen — but football is supposed to be that way.

Swanson hopes to volunteer at this year’s Chappa tournament.  He remembers the early years of Longshore as a public golf course, and to the man who put Staples golf on the high school map.

There is no more important “link” than that.

Dylan Murray and Andrew Gai led Staples to an undefeated record, and the state golf championship, last year.

Moving The Baldwin Boulder

As most of Westport knows by now, Herb Baldwin was a major force in the town’s 1960 purchase of Longshore.  In just 18 days, Baldwin — the first selectman — persuaded the Board of Finance and RTM to pay $1.9 million for the 169-acre property.

If you don’t know that history, you must be hiding under a rock.

Herb Baldwin

Perhaps it’s the rock — boulder, actually — tucked under the fir trees separating Longshore’s 1st tee and 18th green.  The boulder — and a plaque commemorating the event — were installed 25 or so years ago.  Over time, the boulder has nearly vanished from sight.

Tomorrow (Thursday) at 10 a.m., Baldwin’s boulder will be moved to a more prominent spot.  The new location — just 25 feet away, at the corner of the roadway next to the 1st tee — is actually the intersection of Julian Brodie and (ta da!) Herb Baldwin Drives.

Baldwin is long gone, but Allen Raymond — a member of his kitchen cabinet, and another important figure in the purchase of Longshore — hopes to be on hand.

Rotary Club members will be there too.  That’s also appropriate:  Baldwin will be honored at the Rotary’s June 9 golf and tennis outing, and at an invitation-only “Friends of Longshore” celebration later that day.  Members of the Baldwin family expect to attend.

Just think — in only 18 days, perhaps the biggest land acquisition in Westport history went from idea to completion.

Let’s  hope the front-end loader has as easy a time hefting the Baldwin boulder.