Tag Archives: Mark Yurkiw

Pic Of The Day #920

Art thrives, at the most visible corner in downtown Westport.

A pop-up gallery — with the clever name of Pop’TArt — just opened at 1 Main Street. That’s the juncture of the Post Road, opposite Anthropologie.

Curator/director Jennifer Ruger Haviland relocated from Southampton, for the current show. Artists — who work in oil, photographs, and wood and metal sculpture — include Miggs Burroughs, Mark Yurkiw, Robert Braczyk, Betsey Fowler, Joe Sorge, Monica Bernier and Jim Velgoti.

Below, Haviland welcomes art lovers to the warm, inviting space. It runs through the end of the month. The next show — “Words Matter” — opens November 1.

Unsung Heroes #46

Last Saturday was Green Day. All across town, dozens of Westport volunteers picked up trash.

For Bob Braczyk and Scott Williams, every day is Green Day.

Nearly every weekend for 40 years, Bob and his wife Monica Bernier come to Westport from their Manhattan apartment.

Every morning they’re here — rain or shine — Bob joins Mark Yurkiw and his wife Wendy Van Wie on their daily 3 1/2-mile dog walk. The route includes Cross Highway, Sturges Highway, Meeker Road and Bayberry Lane.

Bob is here to relax. But when he joins Mark and Wendy, Bob brings a plastic claw, and the biggest recycled plastic bag he can find. He wants to clean the streets of his weekend hometown.

No matter how big the bag — and some are huge — he always fills it up. By the end, he’s stuffing in more trash than it can hold.

Bob Braczyk, with one day's haul.

Bob Braczyk, with one day’s haul. Keeping pace is Wendy Van Wie.

Mostly, Mark says, the garbage is coffee cups, beer cans, liquor bottles, cigarette packs, fast food wrappers, and “really gross things.”

Just imagine what Westport would look like if — every weekend, on every walk — Bob just passed it all by.

Scott lives just down Sturges from Bob and Mark. You know his place: the iconic horse farm on the corner of Cross Highway.

Scott is a 1-man army. He cleans up all around the Merritt Parkway underpass — both sides of the bridge.

People use it as a dumping ground. For some reason, truckers park there and unload their trash.

On the other side of the bridge he cleans up dead trees, manicures and mows.

Scott Williams’ iconic farm. He cleans up all around, all the time. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Mark says that Scott keeps the farm, and environs, looking exactly like it did on a Saturday Evening Post cover (and the opening shot of the “Stepford Wives” movie).

Scott’s farm actually falls on the Fairfield side of the town border. But he — and Bob — are true “06880” heroes.

And any other zip code.

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Read This Story. Buy This House.

“06880” has written often — and admiringly — of a handsome old Cross Highway home.

Built in 1728 by Samuel Meeker, it was already half a century old when the British marched past, on their way to Danbury. They took Meeker’s 2 sons prisoners — but not without a fight. A musket ball lodged in the door offered vivid evidence that this house had history.

Today, it’s known as the Schilthuis-Meeker house. (More history: Sally Schilthuis was influential in preventing construction of Merritt Parkway Exit 43 in the area, resulting in the current “No Man’s Land” between Exits 42 and 44).

The saltbox incorporates 3 vernaculars of American architectural history. It almost met the wrecking ball, but owners Mark Yurkiw and Wendy Van Wie spent several years (and a ton of money) restoring it, and ensuring its legal preservation in perpetuity.

The front view of 180 Cross Highway. (Photo/Amy Dolego)

The front view of 188 Cross Highway. (Photo/Amy Dolego)

Next Wednesday, the house will be listed for sale. But Mark and Wendy are offering a unique opportunity to “06880” readers:

You can buy it before it hits the market.

No, I’m not pimping real estate on the side. But I love this house. I’d buy it myself if I had a few hundred thousand dollars floating around.

And because the owners want to find someone as special as the place they’ve worked hard to protect and preserve — someone who appreciates the home’s connection to Westport, US and architectural history — I’m happy to help.

The rear view. (Photo/Amy Dolego)

The rear view.

The listing price is $1,499,000. But if you contact Mark and Wendy before Tuesday afternoon (February 28), they’re willing to work with you. “We can be creative in how it’s sold to the best buyer,” they add.

Timing is everything. If you’re interested, email mark.think3d@gmail.com before next Wednesday.

Just tell ’em your real estate advisor — “06880” — sent you.

The sitting and dining room.

The sitting and dining room.

The living room.

The living room.

180 Cross Highway: Saved!

Our country is more polarized than at any time since the Civil War.

But in one corner of Westport, at least, folks negotiate in good faith.

They compromise. And everyone wins.

The Planning & Zoning Commission was all set last night for a contentious hearing on Mark Yurkiw and Wendy Van Wie’s plea to preserve their 1700s property on Cross Highway. The couple — who spent years restoring a home and barn — wanted a waiver to live in the barn, but sell the other structure. That way, they said, it could be loved, cared for and maintained in perpetuity.

One view of 188 Cross Highway.

One view of 188 Cross Highway.

A neighbor opposed the proposal.

Mark and Wendy had a number of supporters in the Town Hall crowd. An “06880” story — with 100 or so comments — was read into the record.

But before anything else happened, both sides huddled. Suddenly, the neighbor’s attorney announced he’d drop the objection — provided Mark and Wendy adhere to a few simple conditions.

Bingo!

The P&Z approved what they needed to. Because it contains historic homes, the property can now be subdivided. The homes will remain.

Everybody wins.

Perhaps we can send that crew down to Washington?

UPDATE: 180 Cross Highway: Important Meeting Moved To November 17

Last month, “06880” highlighted the efforts of Mark Yurkiw and Wendy Van Wie to preserve their 1700s property on Cross Highway. The couple — who spent years restoring a home and barn — are asking the Planning & Zoning Commission for a waiver. It would allow them to live in the barn but sell the other structure, so it can be loved, cared for and maintained in perpetuity.

Nearly 100 people supported Mark and Wendy in the “Comments” section, or via personal emails and letters.

Part of the Cross Highway property.

Part of the Cross Highway property.

Now it’s time to put our money where our mouths are. Tonight (Thursday, November 3, On Thursday, November 17 (7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), the P&Z hears the waiver request. An attorney for one set of neighbors — who oppose the request — will argue against it.

Mark and Wendy have — very quietly, and with an eye toward history — enhanced their historic neighborhood. They don’t like speaking in public.

But they hope that their presence later this month — and that of other concerned Westporters — will speak volumes about the value of preservation.

Westporters Renovate 2 Historic Structures. Now Neighbors Want Them Torn Down.

Most Westport preservation battles follow the same pattern.

A historic house is sold. The new owner wants to tear it down. Outraged residents object. Others point out that preservationists could have bought the home, but did not — and the people who did, can now do whatever they want.

In rare cases — like 93 Cross Highway108 Cross Highway, or the one across the street at #113 — the home is saved. It’s a handsome stretch on an important main road.

Further down Cross Highway though, something bizarre is happening.

Near the Fairfield border sits 188 Cross Highway. The gorgeous 2.9-acre property includes a saltbox built in 1728,  a barn circa 1790-1810, and 2 legal pre-1959 cottage apartments.

When the British marched past in 1777 en route to Danbury — taking brothers Benjamin and Daniel Meeker prisoner, and sacking the house — it was already half a century old.

The "Meeker house" in the 1930s, as photographed for a WPA project. After the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Meeker built the barn in back. It -- and the house -- still stand today.

The “Meeker house” in the 1930s, as photographed for a WPA project. After the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Meeker built the barn in back. They still stand.

The Schilthuis-Meeker house — Sally Schilthuis was influential in preventing construction of Merritt Parkway Exit 43 in the area, resulting in the current “No Man’s Land” between Exits 42 and 44 — is one of 5 remaining nationwide of original medieval structure Colonial revival construction.

In 2003, Mark Yurkiw and Wendy Van Wie purchased the property. It was in foreclosure. The houses were in distress, ready to be plowed under. But the couple saved the historic homes.

For 2 decades, they have poured time and energy into their renovation project. The result is gorgeous.

The exterior of 188 Cross Highway.

The exterior of 188 Cross Highway.

But it’s been costly.

And one couple can’t live in 2 houses. They live in the barn, and rented out the saltbox. The tenants wanted to buy. Mark and  Wendy would love to sell to them — as a practical matter, and to make sure the historic structure is loved, cared for and maintained as it deserves.

They’re even willing to add covenants to keep — in perpetuity — the historic house as a single-family dwelling; forever maintain the facade, and do whatever else is necessary to maintain the house where it is. In other words, no future owner could move — or demolish — the structure.

Right now though, they can’t sell. Planning and Zoning regulations don’t permit 2 homes to exist on 1 piece of property.

Sounds like a win-win: for Mark and Wendy, and the neighborhood.

But a small cadre of Cross Highway neighbors object.

At a Planning and Zoning Commission hearing on Thursday, they (and their lawyer) cited traffic, safety, density, the fact that the house is currently unoccupied, and the sight of dandelions on the lawn as reasons to reject the application.

A recent, sun-dappled fall day.

A recent, sun-dappled fall day.

After 2 hours of heated testimony — during which Wendy and her supporters countered most of the objections, then offered even more covenants and encumbrances to save the historic building and properties — the real issue came through.

Robert Yules and a few other neighbors opposed the subdivision because it would save the historic houses.

He said essentially that the state of the property did not reflect his McMansion, and others nearby. The grounds — period gardens and stone walls, with cobblestone walkways — did not match his extremely well-kept lawn.

One more view of 188 Cross Highway.

One more view of 188 Cross Highway.

“Trash” and “eyesore” are usually not associated with painstaking historic rehab projects. But they were Thursday night.

It’s astonishing. Yet in this through-the-looking-glass tale, there’s something even more eye-popping.

In 2006, Robert and Susan Yules wrote to the P&Z supporting the efforts of their “friends and neighbors,” Wendy and Mark, on the “renovating and improving of the main house and free standing cottage/barn.”

The Yuleses added, “Their efforts have transformed the buildings significantly. Please permit them to continue to remodel the buildings as they will enhance the beauty of the neighborhood.”

An interior view of the bright, high-ceilinged renovated barn.

An interior view of the bright, high-ceilinged renovated barn.

They were not the only neighbors to appreciate Mark and Wendy’s work.

Others described how Mark and Wendy had “lovingly restore(d) these irreplaceable architectural treasures” to their “deserved place” in Westport and American history.

Now the Yuleses and a few neighbors have changed their tune. They believe a new, large construction better fits the neighborhood than a plan that would save 2 structures — lovingly restored, and paying homage to the days when history quite literally marched past the front door.

“Houses are only kept alive by their owners,” Mark says.

“This is very discouraging. We’re not trying to ‘win.’ We’re trying to give the town something.

This could be one of the most topsy-turvy tales I’ve ever told.

But don’t take my word for it. Drive by 188 Cross Highway. (That’s the official number. The mailboxes have always said 178 and 180). See for yourself. Then — if you want to contact the Planning & Zoning Commission — click here.

Sticking With Poetry

Some folks wander around Westport, waxing poetic about their surroundings.

If you’re on Sturges Highway, you’ll find poetry — literally.

Mark Yurkiw and Wendy Van Vie walk their dogs every day. Around the corner from their house, there’s “poetry on a stick.”

Poetry 1

Anyone is welcome to enjoy the offerings, which change regularly.

Poetry 2

Robert Frost took the road less traveled.

If you’ve got a choice in Westport, try Sturges Highway.

“1-Room Schoolhouse” In A Westport Driveway

It’s an incongruous sight: Sitting in the driveway of a wooden, wizened 1720s house is a multi-colored, futuristic-looking structure. A sign calls it “The Think 3-D Lab.”

Folks passing 178 Cross Highway, near the Fairfield line, have wondered what’s up. The answer is: something very, very cool.

The “lab” — actually a 100-square-foot, easily disassembled building — is the brainchild of Mark Yurkiw. It’s in front of the saltbox home (which still bears a musket ball hole in the front door, thanks to Redcoats who marauded past on their way to Danbury in 1777).

The

The “Think 3-D Lab” sits in front of Mark Yurkiw’s 1720s-era house. (Photo/copyright Amy Dolego/ Winton Studios)

Mark spent an intriguing career in New York. A physicist by training and artist by avocation, he’s designed magazine covers and TV commercials; worked on films and special effects, and created “storytelling sculptures” for Fortune 500 companies and non-profits. (His “Homeless Statue of Liberty” for New York Cares helped bring in a million used coats.)

Mark’s son met James Potter, an architecture student at Norwalk Community College. When James heard that Mark was working on a project for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, he said he wanted to be involved.

The project was for a 10-year-old boy in upstate Connecticut. He wanted a place to play Legos and Minecraft games.

Mark’s mission was to “meld the physical and digital worlds. I wanted to educate this boy about his future.”

So Mark, James and NCC engineering student Andrew Myers spent the past 2 months designing and building “the 1-room schoolhouse of the 21st century.”

James Potter and Mark Yurkiw inside the

James Potter and Mark Yurkiw inside the “1-room schoolhouse.”

That “1-room schoolhouse” includes LED lighting; a bed for “dreaming” about creativity; a solar-powered fan; a 3Doodler pen for writing in space; a wireless “Internet of Things” kit; magnetic walls; movable tables — and, of course, plenty of space to experiment with Legos. Most of the materials were donated.

What Mark calls “the world’s first off-the-grid 3-D printer” — it runs on solar panels — is being manufactured now. It will be installed soon, donated by Tiko 3D.

Mark’s idea, meanwhile, has morphed from educating one boy about his future, to inspiring an entire generation of children.

He hopes that community college students will build dozens — hundreds! — of these “3-D labs.” They can design their own, or buy them pre-built and set them up, in libraries, schools, pediatric hospitals and backyards.

The money the students earn can help fund their 4-year college degrees. At the same time, they’ll reach and teach even younger kids.

“I’m inspired by 20-year-olds who inspire 10-year-olds,” Mark says.

Another view of the interior. Check out all the Lego materials under the desk -- and the bunk bed for

Another view of the interior. Check out the Lego materials under the desk — and the bunk bed for “creative dreaming.” (Photo/copyright Amy Dolego Winton)

And that “3D Lab” sitting in his Cross Highway driveway? Mark says it will be disassembled next Thursday, then trucked upstate as a surprise gift for the 10-year-old Make-a-Wish boy.

“His jaw will drop,” Mark says.

Then he turns back to work. A creative tinkerer’s work is never done.

(Mark is looking for sponsors to get his idea — as part of a non-profit foundation — off the ground. To help — or for more information — email mark.think3D@gmail.com.)

Bob Braczyk’s Business Is Picking Up

Nearly every weekend, Bob Braczyk and his wife Monica Bernier come to Westport from their Manhattan apartment.

Every morning they’re here — rain or shine — Bob joins Mark Yurkiw and his wife Wendy Van Wie on their daily 3.5-mile dog walk. The route includes Cross Highway, Sturges Highway, Meeker Road and Bayberry Lane.

Bob is here to relax. But when he joins the Yurkiws Bob brings a plastic claw, and the biggest recycled plastic bag he can find. He wants to clean the streets of his weekend hometown.

No matter how big the bag — and some are huge — he always fills it up. By the end, he’s stuffing in more trash than it can hold.

Bob Braczyk, with one day's haul.

Bob Braczyk, with one day’s haul. Keeping pace is Wendy Van Wie.

Mostly, Mark says, the garbage is

  • Coffee cups
  • Beer cans
  • Liquor bottles
  • Cigarette packs
  • Fast food wrappers
  • Really gross things

“It’s virtually always the same items,” Mark says. “And I suspect from the same people — who live here.”

It’s great that Bob — who lives here only a couple of days a week — cleans up after us.

But what a shame he has to.

Missing Meeker Musket Ball

Yesterday’s commemoration of the 238th anniversary of the Battle of Compo Hill — with ceremonies honoring the Minute Men who battled the British on the way to and from their arsenal-burning in Danbury — got Mark Yurkiw thinking.

He lives in a very historic saltbox home on Cross Highway.* By the time the Redcoats marched past in 1777, the house — owned by Samuel Meeker — was already nearly half a century old.

The

The “Meeker house” in the 1930s, as photographed for a WPA project. After the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Meeker built the barn in back. It — and the house — still stand today.

As Samuel’s great-great-grandson Edward Franklin Meeker wrote in an application to the Sons of the American Revolution in 1895, the British expedition included a number of Tory guides.

They knew who along the way were Patriots. So en route to Danbury the Redcoats took Samuel Meeker’s son Benjamin and Daniel prisoner. They “sacked and gutted his house,” and butchered his cattle. The brothers were taken to New York, and held in the Sugar House Prison for 18 months.

The Meekers did not go easily. A musket ball was lodged in their front door.

There it stayed for nearly 2 centuries — silent witness to a historic past.

But sometime in the late 1940s or ’50s, the musket ball vanished. “Oral history tells us it disappeared after a local Boy Scout troop visited the house for a tour,” current owner Yurkiw says.

The door today. The hole left by the missing musket ball can be seen on the left side, underneath the knocker.

The door today. The hole left by the missing musket ball can be seen on the left side, near the bottom.

Yurkiw wants the musket ball back — or at least closure. If anyone knows where that small ball is, he’d like to know. He hopes to restore it for future tours, of what is the only known house in Westport still standing that the British passed on their way north.

Click “Comments” if you know. And don’t be shy. The statute of limitations is long gone.

Just like the Redcoats.

*BONUS FUN FACT:  Cross Highway gets its name from the fact that it “crossed” the “long lots” on what is now Bayberry Lane and Sturges Highway, near Long Lots Road.

Daniel Meeker died in 1784. His wife Abigail (Gorham) died 5 years later. They are buried in the cemetery bordered by Greens Farms Road and the Sherwood Island Connector. Daniel's brother Benjamin outlived him by 33 years. He married another Abigail (Burr). This photo -- and information about the Meekers, and the house -- comes from current owner Wendy Van Wie, Mark Yurkiw's wife. She is a law professor and historian.

Daniel Meeker died in 1784. His wife Abigail (Gorham) died 5 years later. They are buried in the cemetery bordered by Greens Farms Road and the Sherwood Island Connector. Daniel’s brother Benjamin outlived him by 33 years. He married another Abigail (Burr). This photo — and information about the Meekers, and the house — comes from current owner Wendy Van Wie, Mark Yurkiw’s wife. She is a law professor and historian.