In December, “06880” reported that the Westport Arts Center was planning a move from its Riverside Avenue home. They’ve been in the long, narrow 3,600-square foot space since 2002.
They were eyeing Martha Stewart’s former TV studio. The address is 19 Newtown Turnpike, Westport. But the 3-story building is actually located a few feet over the border, in Norwalk.
Today, the WAC confirmed those plans. The first phase of their relocation and expansion will open this fall.
They’ll take nearly 10,000 square feet of 19 Newtown Turnpike, nearly tripling their current space.
The former Martha Stewart TV studio on Newtown Turnpike.
The opening coincides with the Arts Center’s 50th anniversary. It was formed in 1969 as the Westport-Weston Arts Council. The organization was renamed Westport Arts Center in 1986. It was housed in a variety of locations, including the then-closed Greens Farms Elementary School.
In a press release, the WAC says they’ll be “marrying our rich heritage with an exciting new chapter as a leading contemporary arts destination.”
The Newtown Avenue 1926 stone building, attached warehouse and free-standing cottages offer the potential of 33,000 square feet for museum exhibitions, state-of-the-art classrooms, concerts and events, and offices.
The 6-acre property includes an outdoor garden space and parking for 110 vehicles.
WAC executive director Amanda Innes says:
This important expansion of the Arts Center allows us to greatly broaden the scope of our programming and exhibitions. We will be able to showcase large-scale, innovative art pieces and installations both in the gallery and on the exterior grounds. Our first exhibition in the new space will be something never before seen in Connecticut. We look forward to unveiling details of the exciting exhibition and expansion at our 50th Anniversary gala on May 18th.
The interior remodel and renovation of 19 Newtown Turnpike is led by Howard Lathrop of Sellars Lathrop Architects. He has served as designer and project architect on major museums around the world.
The gallery — which also sponsors educational outreach, talks, music concerts and films, in its Riverside Avenue home and other venues — has hired Sellars Lathrop Architects to possibly convert Martha Stewart’s former TV studio into the WAC’s new home.
The address is 19 Newtown Turnpike, Westport. But the 3-story building is in Norwalk.
Sellars Lathrop has invited neighbors to an informal meeting tomorrow (Wednesday, December 19). It’s an early step in the process.
The former Martha Stewart TV studio on Newtown Turnpike.
The Westport Arts Center has a long history. When Greens Farms Elementary School was closed, the WAC moved in. Artists and sculptors rented studios in former classrooms, and the gymnasium was used for exhibits.
The town eventually reclaimed GFS for education. After being homeless for several years, the WAC eventually landed at 51 Riverside Avenue. The long, narrow space works as a gallery, and has a killer view of the Saugatuck River.
But there is little room for other programming — and none at all for working artists.
Westport Arts Center, 51 Riverside Avenue.
The Newtown Avenue project is not a done deal. Sellars Lathrop must make an application to Norwalk’s Planning & Zoning department. Westport officials will be involved too, because the entrance to the property is here.
“It’s no secret we’ve been looking for space for the better part of 3 years,” says Amanda Innes, executive director of the WAC.
“We’ve looked at many places in Westport. Some are near downtown. But this is a great property. There are 110 parking spaces. It’s nearly 10 times the size of where we are now.”
Riverside Avenue — which is rented by the WAC, as the Martha Stewart property would be — is just 3,400 square feet.
“We’re part of the whole fabric of Westport,” Innes notes. The Martha Stewart studio “is still Westport to us. In order to grow, this is the best space for all of us — hands down.”
It’s been a dozen years since Martha Stewart sold her Turkey Hill home, and moved to Westchester. Both she and we moved on.
But Westport and Martha remain an item in the minds and hearts of the many followers who still revere the lifestyle guru.
And this weekend, diehard fans from as far as Wisconsin and Canada will make a pilgrimage here, for her.
On Saturday, June 3, Positive Directions — the Westport-based awareness and treatment program for adolescents, adults and families affected by addiction — sponsors a private afternoon tour of Martha’s old farmhouse and gardens.
Locals will be there. Joining them is a flock of others, for whom the chance to meet their idol — at the actual spot where her empire began — is worth a trip from anywhere.
On Saturday, Martha Stewart returns to Turkey Hill.
Joey Jelnicki calls himself “the biggest Martha Stewart fan,” and he may well be. He lives in Philadelphia, but he calls his gardens “Turkey Hill.” His email address is “WestportJoe81.”
He’s had it ever since he got his first computer as a kid 20 years ago. Westport is “a place I can only dream about calling home,” he says. “It’s country living and beaches — the best of both worlds.”
On Joey Jelnicki’s previous visit to Westport, he posed at this sign.
“I adore Martha,” Joey says. “She adds a touch of class and good things to what can be a hard life to live.”
He has goosebumps thinking of walking through Turkey Hill — which he calls “my Graceland.”
It will be Joey’s first time meeting Martha in person (they talked once on her radio show for 7 minutes). But it won’t be his first visit to Westport.
Several years ago he stayed at the Westport Inn (which he’ll do again). He walked up and down the Post Road, swam at Sherwood Island, shopped locally, and talked with everyone he could about the town.
“Hearing how people grew up in Westport was great,” Joey says.
Dennis Landon’s email pays even more direct homage: “MarthaFan.” The Madison, Wisconsin resident has loved her ever since 1993, when a co-worker gave him her magazine. He got great ideas about changing a room’s shape with paint.
He’s kept copies of every magazine since, and videotaped nearly all the “Martha Stewart Living” TV shows. He’s converting them all to DVD.
“My life in the kitchen and garden has been totally been influenced by Martha,” Dennis says. “Her guidance over all these years is timeless.”
Dennis Landon, in his Martha-inspired Wisconsin kitchen.
The chance to take a tour — led by Martha herself — “really hasn’t sunk in yet,” he admits. “It doesn’t seem possible.”
Dennis flies in 3 days early. He hopes to visit some of the Westport places she’s referenced over the years.
Nathan Schmidt will drive here from Pittsburgh. He’s been a fan since 1992, when he was not yet 15 and his parents bought him a Christmas gift: the book “Martha Stewart’s New Old House.” He devoured it, and has re-read it many times since.
His friends encouraged him to come here, for “the chance of a lifetime.” A ticket to the tour was expensive, but Nathan says it supports a good cause.
He has been to Westport a number times — he even had a job interview here once. He’s driven past Turkey Hill — and the Adams house on Long Lots, the subject of his holiday gift book — but this will be his first chance meeting his idol, and touring her property.
Rox-Anne Henderson will be coming with her mother from Kitchener, Ontario, making this an international event.
Rox-Anne Henderson in Ontario, with the Canadian flag.
In fact, she says, besides her parents only Martha has influenced her life more. Rox-Anne was introduced to the magazine in 1990, at age 9; got her own subscription at 16, and learned to bake, craft and can her own food, all by reading and watching.
A few years ago Rox-Anne started her own lifestyle blog: Celebrating This Life. When creating content, she always asks, “What would Martha do?” That silent guiding voice has taught Rox-Anne that women can be both homemakers and business people.
The chance to speak to — and perhaps pose for a photo with — Martha makes Rox-Anne dizzy. She’s never been to Westport, but follows a few local bloggers.
“I’m excited to explore the city for myself!” she says.
Martha has been gone a while. But Turkey Hill remains a storied destination for many of her fans.
We look forward to welcoming Martha Stewart back this weekend.
And if you see Joey, Dennis, Nelson or Rox-Anne — or any other Martha devotees — give them a big “06880” hello!
(A few tickets remain for Saturday’s event. Click here for details.)
Back in the day, Martha Stewart’s kitchens — the small one on Saugatuck Avenue, then the glamorous, made-for-TV Newtown Turnpike space — put Westport on the culinary map.
A new kitchen concept may soon get us back there. And it’s got a Martha connection.
C&K Community Kitchen is a collaborative, community incubator kitchen. Launched through Cabbages & Kings Catering — Sarah Gross’ renowned business — it supports the use of organic, non-GMO, locally sourced products and services.
It nurtures anyone inspired by that movement by offering affordable, certified commercial kitchen space, rented in 8-hour shifts.
And it’s available 24/7/365.
A core of folks are already excited by Gross’ venture: an organic frozen soup maker, a gluten-free baker, a maker of potato omelets who is creating a frozen version to bring to market, a cooking teacher, and a local food retailer needing a kitchen to create more substantial offerings for its stores.
Others who have contacted Gross about using the kitchen include a how-to-cook filmmaker, a farmer considering new products, 2 people hoping to create a meal delivery service, jam and canned good makers, a chef who wants to make his very popular grilling sauce organic, and an organic bone broth maker who would like to offer his healthy option to the world.
“We’re open to any and all inquiries,” Gross says.
Sarah Gross and Martha Stewart, back in the day.
Gross is well known to everyone here who eats. A Westport native and Staples class of 1970 graduate trained as a fine arts painter (with a master’s in psychology), her mother’s kitchen and dining room were often filled with great artists, poets, authors and editors.
After college, she answered an ad for a new retail establishment: The Market Basket. It was Martha Stewart’s 1st venture.
Gross’ talents evolved. She eventually managed Stewart’s catering business.
The idea for C&K Community Kitchen dates back to those early Market Basket days. In addition to Gross, Stewart hired locals like Dale Lamberty (who went on to found Great Cakes) and Audrey Doniger (who launched her famous lemon bars there).
Sarah Gross with a very satisfied President Obama.
Gross herself made desserts after hours in the prep kitchen, for Soup’s On. When owner Sue Fine moved, she offered Gross her Saugatuck Avenue space.
Cabbages & Kings Catering grew quickly. Gross has served fabulous food and managed events all over Connecticut and New York. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are among the many diners who have enjoyed her meals.
Yet after more than 40 years in the industry, Gross realized what needed to change.
“The more aware I became of the pollution of the mainstream food system, the more difficult it became for me to service my clients with the quality I was known for, without totally revamping how I work,” she says.
She closed her Saugatuck Avenue kitchen, but kept her facility nearby. She could not give up her beloved 3-bay refrigerator and freezer, stove and sinks.
Sarah Gross, in her C&K Kitchen.
Though she wanted to support what she knew to be “good and true” in relation to food, Gross also realized that with today’s extensive rules and regulations, she could not have started out today the way she did in the 1970s.
So she’s keeping her kitchen alive, in a 21st-century form: a collaborative community incubator kitchen.
She’s giving anyone who cannot afford a certified kitchen the legal space to produce organic, non-GMO, locally sourced, regenerative food — and get it into the marketplace, for others to enjoy.
“I want everyone to experience, accelerate and champion the kind of world I want to be a part of, and share,” Gross says.
(To learn more about the community kitchen, call 203-226-0531. She offers a 10% monthly discount to the first 6 applicants who meet the required criteria, and commit to 1 or more shifts weekly for 6 months.)
Laura Plimpton — the youngest sister of Martha Stewart, and a longtime writer for the former Westporter’s blog — died Wednesday, after suffering a massive aneurysm. She was 59 years old, and lived in Weston.
Laura left a living will. She was kept on life support until her 3 children could say goodbye, and testing could be completed for organ donation.
Laura’s husband Randy — a Westport realtor and independent property manager — wrote this remembrance.
Laura’s death was totally unexpected. I’m still in shock, but buoyed by my kids, extended family, and wonderful network of friends.
That evening, my kids, sons-in-law and I ate dinner. We served ourselves dessert – a blueberry crisp that Laura baked the day before she collapsed. Laura was a brilliant chef, and eating her delicious dessert was the definition of bittersweet. Here was this perfect creation that she had so lovingly prepared for us, even though she would no longer be here. It felt like we were giving her and ourselves culinary last rites.
This “last” — one of so many for me this week — made me vividly remember a “first”: the first time I met my wife. It was in Westport.
Laura and Randy Plimpton.
In the 1980s and ’90s I was the producer for Jerry Simpson, a New York photographer. We were contracted to shoot for a magazine story at Martha Stewart’s property. So Jerry and I drove up I-95 and arrived at Turkey Hill. Laura was working as a food and prop stylist for her sister, and we hit it off immediately.
After shooting all day long, Jerry, Laura and I decided to grab some dinner. Jerry and I were staying overnight at the Inn at Longshore, so the 3 of us went there. Instead of eating we rented some golf clubs and tried our hand on the course. It was a disaster. None of us had any clue how to play, and we sprayed balls everywhere.
Our memorable game led to drinks at the bar. From there we went to the Black Duck for more. Jerry and I went back to Longshore, and Laura drove all the way back to her house in Weston. The house she went home to became our home together for almost 25 years.
The next day we returned to work, still recovering from our antics. Laura told us that she had woken up to find that her shoes were still on, but somehow on the wrong feet. We had a great laugh, and it made for a hilarious beginning to our relationship.
I know there will be many more “lasts” in the days, weeks and months ahead. At the same time, my Laura’s love has already led to healing and warmth in our family this week, and will lead to many “firsts” in the years to come.
“06880” prides itself on our ability to tie nearly any story — anywhere — back to Westport.
Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
Including the indictment earlier this week of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen. They’re charged with accepting $165,000 worth of Oscar de la Renta dresses, a Rolex watch, Louis Vuitton shoes, Cape Cod weekends, golf greens fees and cash from the head of a dietary supplement company that hoped for state aid.
The current issue of The Washingtonian has an exhaustive, 4,000-word story on Todd Schneider. He’s the governor’s former chef who blew the whistle on the fishy doings down in Richmond.
He was once so close to the first family, Maureen asked if he’d go to Washington if McDonnell became vice president.
But he chafed when Maureen sent him text messages as late as 2 a.m., ordering him to fetch “everything from liquor to tampons.” If he didn’t bring back the exact items demanded, she’d “browbeat” him, Schneider said.
“Have you ever gone and bought tampons?” he added. “There’s a million different kinds.”
Schneider also says the McDonnells’ college-age kids removed “cases and cases” of Gatorade, soda and water from the kitchen, plus “half” his pots and pans, drinking glasses with the state seal, and “boxes of unused trash bags.”
Eventually, Schneider got fired. He himself is no prize. The Washingtonian says he was charged with felony embezzlement in 2000; AP says he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge. He had more than $400,000 in state and federal tax liens.
Todd Schneider, when he was executive chef for Governor McDonnell.
But he catered for the stars: former governor Tim Kaine, Republican House majority leader Eric Cantor, George W. Bush’s Thanksgiving address, and the Obama presidential campaign.
So how did he end up hired for the governor’s mansion? Whether or not the staff ran a background check on him is in dispute.
The magazine story goes on and on. Bottom line: Schneider was concerned that too much “weird stuff” was going on in his kitchen, with the McDonnells and their political patron Jonnie Williams. He then took cell phone photos of anything that smelled funny.
Former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell.
But someone called in an anonymous tip that it was Schneider who was stealing food from the governor’s mansion. The FBI and state police woke him up one morning last year, for questioning.
The chef was fired. Soon, he handed the Virginia attorney general a stack of documents — like a check showing that Williams had paid for the governor’s daughter’s wedding, and photos of “Costco-size hauls of snacks the McDonnell kids had lifted from the mansion.”
More stuff happened to Schneider, most of it bad. The Washingtonian story goes on and on, longer almost than all the documents Edward Snowden leaked to the media.
So what does all this have to do with “06880”?
According to The Washingtonian, Schneider grew up in Westport. And he “got the ‘food bug’ while working for the catering company of his hometown celebrity, Martha Stewart.”
Former Westporter Martha Stewart. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
But — in keeping with this convoluted, contradictory tale — “a Stewart spokeswoman couldn’t confirm that Martha ever employed Schneider.” And his name rings no bells with many longtime Westporters.
Schneider has not been charged with a crime (this time). But his business has gone kaput, and his house went into foreclosure.
Sometime in the future, ex-Governor McDonnell and his wife may follow Martha Stewart to prison.
You can’t make this stuff up.
But it’s all part of “06880 — where Westport meets the world.”
(To read the entire VERY long piece in The Washingtonian, click here.)
As US attorney for the Southern District of New York, he helped send then-Westporter Martha Stewart to the Big House.
But — although both the Southern District and FBI were involved — he had nothing to do with the arrest and conviction of Rajat Gupta. That’s the former businessman/philanthropist convicted in June 2012 on insider trading charges. He lives in another big house on Beachside Avenue — around the corner from Comey.
Martha Stewart may no longer live here, but it’s not like she has a bone to pick with us.
Yesterday, in her cleverly named “The Martha Blog,” she gave a nice shout-out to Saugatuck Craft Butchery — the shop on Riverside Avenue (opposite the old Doc’s) that’s drawing raves from plenty of non-Martha normal people as well.
(On Monday I was at The Whelk — Bill Taibe’s equally excellent restaurant next door, whose meat comes from Craft Butchery. Sure, Bill’s menu is heavy on oysters, clams and other seafood. But my lamb burger at least equaled any dish I had in New Zealand. And the meat there was waaaay beyond mouth-watering.)
But back to Martha (of course). She wrote:
Recently, I learned of Saugatuck Craft Butchery, which opened its doors last November in my former hometown of Westport, Connecticut, and is owned by Ryan Fibiger. Fibiger started his career in finance on Wall Street and after relocating from Manhattan to Westport with his wife, Katherine, he became deeply disenchanted with the food choices in his new neighborhood.
Ryan Fibiger and friend.
Fibiger learned about a Butchering 101 course being taught by Joshua Applestone at his shop in Kingston. After taking the class, Fibiger started rethinking his career path, spending his weekends as Joshua’s apprentice. Along the way, he met Paul Nessel, who had some restaurant experience and was also deeply interested in the art butchery. The two found a shack to rent near Kingston, which they dubbed ‘Meat Camp’, and spent an intensive eight months learning the craft.
Saugatuck Craft Butchery is a gem of a shop, which Ryan and Paul run together. They are one of perhaps ten butcher shops in America that deal with cutting whole animals from nose-to-tail, sourcing their organic meat from local sustainable farms. It’s also a very friendly shop with wonderful customer relations and a true sense of community.
Okay, as a food writer Martha is no Ruth Reichl or Frank Bruni. But the woman knows her onions.
And her grass-fed, grain-finished, all-natural, humanely raised beef, pork, lamb and poultry too.
Martha Stewart talks turkey about Saugatuck Craft Butchery.
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Thanks!)