Tag Archives: Mary Palmieri Gai

The Historical Society That Rocks!

One of the most persistent urban suburban legends in Westport is that the Doors played a concert in the Staples High School auditorium.

Also the Animals, Yardbirds, Sly & the Family Stone and a host of other rock ‘n’ roll legends.

It’s all true.

To find out more, you can click here to read an “06880” story from 2014.

You can click here to download “The Real Rock & Roll High School,” Mark Smollin’s meticulously researched, fantastically illustrated and awe-inducing history of that remarkable era in Westport history.

Or you can go to the Westport Historical Society. “The High School That Rocked!” opens tomorrow (Friday, June 16, 6 p.m. reception). The exhibit runs through September 2.

The Yardbirds’ “For Your Love,” part of the exhibit’s stacks of wax.

The walls are filled with photos, posters, ticket stubs  and press clippings from and about those mid-’60s concerts. A record player sits near the entrance, with a stack of 45s; choose your favorite, and play it. (Kids: Ask your grandparents how!)

A screen plays clips from the “High School That Rocked,” the video that inspired this show. Staples Class of 1971 graduate Fred Cantor produced the documentary, with much younger (Class of 2014) filmmaker Casey Denton.

Cantor also curated this show, with ’70 Staples grad Mary Palmieri Gai.

Ironically, Cantor never saw any of those concerts. He still can’t figure out how he missed them.

Fifty years later, he’s made up for all that. He zeroed in on some of the most recognizable names — the Doors, Cream, Animals, Rascals, Yardbirds, and Westport’s own Remains — but also includes information about proms (the Blues Magoos played for the seniors, the Blues Project and Left Banke for the juniors), and Lester Lanin’s short-lived Nines Club discotheque (with groups like the Youngbloods and ? and the Mysterians).

Miggs Burroughs — who has his own rock ‘n’ roll stories — puts the finishing touches on the Westport Historical Society exhibit. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

The exhibit pays homage to Dick Sandhaus and Paul Gambaccini — Staples students who had the vision (and audacity) to bring those bands to Westport — and to Cantor’s classmates Charlie Karp (Buddy Miles’ sideman), Brian Keane and Michael Mugrage, all of whom still rock the music industry.

The Westport Historical Society usually highlights events like the Revolutionary War. This is quite a different show.

Then again, so were the ’60s at Staples.

(Other cultural venues are tying in to the WHS exhibit. The Westport Cinema Initiative screens the “High School That Rocked” video on Saturday, July 15 [4 p.m., Town Hall]. The Westport Library hosts a panel discussion on ’60s music on Monday, August 14. And the Levitt Pavilion may soon announce — well, stayed tuned for that one!)

Ginger Baker, Cream’s drummer, at Staples. The copyrighted photo by Jeremy Ross is part of the “School That Rocked” exhibit.

Westport Law School

It’s close. But one of the few things Westport has more of than entitled drivers is lawyers.

law degreeWe’ve got corporate lawyers, real estate lawyers, defense lawyers, patent lawyers and environmental lawyers.

We’ve got partners in huge New York firms, and folks who practice out of their homes.

We’ve got attorneys  whose careers have nothing to do with law. We’ve got our share of disbarred lawyers too.

Their degrees come from Harvard and Texas, UConn and Hastings, and every school in between.

But what no Westport lawyer has is a degree from Westport Law School.

Once upon a time — people did.

Local realtor/amateur historian Mary Palmieri Gai has unearthed a fantastic nugget: Westport once had a law school. It is mentioned in books that list law schools, which she found while researching nearby property.

It was located at what is now 29 Ferry Lane East, off South Compo. The post-and-beam house — which dates to at least 1811 — has ceilings that are higher than usual for that era. Mary says such construction “suggests a law school.”

Originally a saltbox or vernacular colonial, it has been expanded several times since.

29 East Ferry Lane today.

29 East Ferry Lane today.

There is not much more in any archives about Westport’s Law School. There is a rumor that the house served as a staging area for the 1912 train accident mentioned recently in “06880” (details of which Mary also unearthed).

Mary’s love of history began 30 years ago, when she learned that her husband is cousins of the Burritts (of Burritts Landing fame). Interestingly, Mr. Burritt ran the Saugatuck River ferry that gave its name to Ferry Lane.

That has nothing to do with Westport’s law school — whose existence, including its actual name, has been lost to the ages.

But the weekend weather forecast is for rain. Perhaps one of our town’s many attorneys — one who particularly likes doing detailed research — can spend some time digging into the days when Westport had fewer lawyers than today.

But one more law school.

You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!

Restaurants come, and restaurants go.

Some — like the ones at the corner of the Post Road and Myrtle Avenue — changed so frequently, it’s hard to remember them all.

(Today it’s a William Pitt/Sotheby’s real estate office — oh well.)

But in July 1970, a new restaurant moved in: La Crêpe.

Two months later, this ad appeared in the Bridgeport Post:

La Crepe

Hmmmm…I wonder why Mr. Trupin wanted personal interviews only?

(Hat tip: Mary Palmieri Gai)

It Was 20 Years Ago Today: Coleytown Consoled Oklahoma City Kids

In April 1995, online providers like CompuServe and Delphi charged by the hour, and by modem speed.

So it took a tragedy like the Oklahoma City bombing — on April 19, 1995 — for Westport realtor Mary Palmieri Gai to spend time on the fledgling internet. She felt compelled to see what other people were thinking, and find emotional support.

Many in the Oklahoma City area flocked online too. Students in particular were very afraid.

Suddenly, Mary had an idea: bring together local youngsters, and those 1500 miles away. Her daughter Melissa helped facilitate an important, human connection, through the computers at Coleytown Middle School.

To see what happened, click the YouTube video below:

(If your browser does not bring you directly to YouTube, click here.)

From Compo Inn To Chaverim

For several years, plans to build a synagogue on Ludlow Road have stirred controversy.

beit chaverimBeit Chaverim would like to move across the street and up the hill from its present, cramped quarters on Post Road West. Some neighbors fear increased traffic and congested parking.

This is not the first time a new use for Ludlow Road has been proposed.

In 1977 — according to a Norwalk Hour story unearthed by Mary Palmieri Gai – a developer proposed building a 3-story, 17,540-square foot office building on the corner of the Post Road and Ludlow.  There would be parking for 41 cars, plus another 16 spots in a new underground garage.

The office was planned for the site of the old Compo Inn. Back in the day, the Inn was a popular gathering spot for teachers, Famous Artists Schools employees, and others who worked nearby.

A very popular spot. And it had been for a long time. According to this photo (courtesy of Paul Ehrismann), it featured “dancing, music, cafe and grill room.” The telephone number was simply “98.”

Compo Inn

From the looks of it, there’s nothing like it today.

If the synagogue is approved, the last vestiges of the Compo Inn — and the nearby Marion Levy apartments — will finally meet the wrecking ball.

A later view of the Compo Inn.

A later view of the Compo Inn.

Arrividerci, Palmieri

“We had Italy right here in Westport,” Mary Palmieri Gai recalls of her youth in the 1950s and ’60s.

“We made our own sausage.  We had chickens.  My mother had 6 kids, and all the laundry was there on a clothesline.  I can’t imagine how my parents were perceived.”

It didn’t matter — and her parents didn’t care.  For decades, they had carved out their own lives in Westport.  For decades more, they continued.

Mary’s father, Filomeno, was born and raised in Fondola, Italy.  In 1928 — age 13 — he came to Westport.  His parents had paisans here.

On Filomeno’s 1st day of school, he was ridiculed for the dressy jacket his mother made him wear.  He never returned.  He enrolled in night school instead, where he learned English.

Mary’s mother, Josephine Pagliaro, was born in the hamlet next to Filomeno.  The families’ 2 sisters and 1 brother married 2 brothers and 1 sister, so Mary now has 3 sets of double cousins.

Filomeno Palmieri

Filomeno (“Phil”) had many jobs.  He dug graves, and worked at the Richmondville mill and the hat factory in East Norwalk.  “He was a maniac,” Mary says.  “He worked faster and smarter than anyone else.”

Filomeno and Josephine saved enough money — with a Christmas Club account — to buy an acre-plus property at the northeast end of Main Street (near Weston Road) in the mid-1940s.  They paid $800 for what was a gravel pit.

Filomeno loved real estate.  “He flipped houses when no one knew what that was,” Mary says.  “He was a very forward-thinking guy.  And even though he spoke very  broken English, he didn’t care.  He had no sense of inferiority.”

Mary’s father imparted those “guts” to his children.  “We got the sense we could do the impossible,” she says.  To this day, she is a very confident realtor.

Phil bought and sold many properties, but the Main Street lot was his anchor.  He built a house there, and opened a high-end landscaping business.  One of his customers was Milton Green, landlord to an actress named Marilyn Monroe.

Phil added nursery stock to his Main Street land.  Business boomed.  In the 1960s, the Planning and Zoning Commission told him he could not keep trucks — or even run a business there.

Daybreak Nursery next door was okay, they said — it was grandfathered in.  But Phil had established his business a year before Daybreak.  He fought the ruling in court.  A jury found for him, on the basis of discrimination.

Eventually Phil retired from landscaping, and built up his nursery business.  “It was a true mom-and-pop place,” Mary says.  “They really worked together.”

Josephine Palmieri

Josephine trusted customers to fill out their own invoices.  When she died, Mary heard stories of how many people her mother had helped.

“You went in there and got your heart mended, your soul tended, and your plants,” she says.  “Sometimes you even got fed.”

Phil died in 1992.  Mary’s brother Frank took over the nursery, and developed his own devout following.

But food stores like Stew Leonard’s and Stop & Shop started selling plants; so did retailers like Home Depot.  They priced smaller places like Palmieri’s out of the market.

The Palmieri family just sold the property.  The good news:  New owner Tony Palmer is Mary’s 1st cousin — and, with a degree in landscape design, he’s keeping it as a nursery.  Anthony’s Nursery, he’ll call it.

“He’ll do just fine,” Mary says.  “He’s got a huge base of loyal followers.”

The move from Palmieri to Palmer comes at a fitting time.  Josephine’s last surviving sibling — a sister — died recently.  She was 102.

“My parents and their relatives did amazing things,” Mary Palmieri Gai says.  “I grew up there, and I lived through it, but at the time I didn’t understand what they did, and how they did it.  Now I think I have a better appreciation for all that.”

Grazie, Filomena and Josephine!