The last time I wrote about Walter and Naiad Einsel was in 2016. The story was about their estate sale. Collectors flocked from many states to the 1853 Victorian farmhouse that for over 60 years had been home to the husband-and-wife artists. Both were inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame.
Walter and Naiad Einsel
The couple were Westport icons. They worked together and independently on book and magazine illustrations, posters, ads and package designs.
They were the first married couple to create stamp designs for the US Postal Service. They also produced 55 figures — with intricate details and moving parts — for Epcot Center.
And they were important members of Westport’s arts community. Naiad designed our Bicentennial Quilt, sewn by 33 women and on display in Town Hall since 1976. She earned a Westport Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.
Most importantly for this follow-up piece: In 2006 the Einsels received a Preservation Award for their South Morningside Drive home.
Now, in 2018, that house may not be preserved much longer.
In fact, a demolition permit has just been filed for the entire property.
As far back as 2007, Naiad was thinking about what would happen after her death (Walter passed away in 1998). Morley Boyd — then chair of the Westport Historic District Commission — spent plenty of time on her porch, discussing her vision for the future.
Ultimately, Naiad applied for a Local Historic District designation for her 2 contiguous properties. She and Walter had previously subdivided, facing the possibility that they might have to sell 1 lot — a square one, in front of Walter’s gallery — to fund their retirement.
Walter and Naiad Einsel’s South Morningside Drive house.
The Historic District Commission supported the designation. They hired a professional architectural historian to document the property’s history, and assess the structures’ architectural integrity.
That report cited the historic and cultural heritage of the structures, while noting that the site reflected the rich agricultural history of Greens Farms — and represented fast-disappearing open space.
Naiad died in April of 2016. The property was marketed as sub-dividable, and sold to a developer.
The development company redrew the lot lines, extending 20 Morningside Drive South all the way back to wetlands. The firm then submitted a Certificate of Appropriateness application to the HDC, to build a house at #20. Preservationists and historians called the design “stylistically inappropriate,” and warned it would damage the historic integrity of the structures and their setting.
The Commission denied the request, citing historic open space and farmland as additional considerations. In response, the developer sued the town of Westport.
In the late 1960s, Naiad Einsel’s “Save Cockenoe Now” posters were seen everywhere in town.. Eventually, Cockenoe Island was saved: a nuclear power plant was never built there.
Next, the developer submitted plans to subdivide 26 Morningside South. Two new houses would be stuffed around the historic building.
The Historic District Commission — with only advisory powers — voted unanimously against recommending approval of the subdivision application. They sent their comments to the Planning and Zoning Commission.
The developer responded with a vague commitment to preserve the historic structures.
Assistant town attorney Eileen Flug offered her opinion: Open space and historic significance may be considered by the P&Z when weighing a plan to sub-divide.
The Greens Farms Association weighed in too. They said that the proposed subdivision of #26 — coupled with the development proposed for #20 — “drastically degrades if not destroys the district.”
They added: “We cannot imagine that crowding out one of the few remaining mid-19th century farmhouses in the town of Westport with 4 new homes aligns with town guidelines in favor of open space and historic preservation.”
The P&Z voted down — with only 1 abstention — the request to subdivide.
Which brings us to the present. Demolition permits have been requested for all 3 structures on the property: the 1853 farmhouse, a small barn that is believed to date to the same period, and Walter Einsel’s culturally significant barn-style studio.
Demolition would allow for “new construction.”
One of the demolition notices on the former Einsel property.
Neighbors, artists and others throughout town wonder: Who would buy an entire Local Historic District, knowing it had been the home of 2 beloved Westport artists, understanding all the regulations that apply — then set about surrounding it all with other inappropriate buildings?
And — when that doesn’t work — destroy it all. Literally.
“The preservation of these structures and their setting is ensured by an ordinance enacted by the RTM,” Boyd says.
“That’s because it was determined by experts that the conservation of this collection of historic resources — together with their original setting — was in the public interest. And because the property owner at that time (Naiad Einsel) wanted it that way.”
I called Fred Ury — attorney for Morningside Drive Homes LLC, the Greenwich-based entity associated with the properties.
Citing ongoing litigation, he said he could not comment.
(Hat tip: Greens Farms Association and president Art Schoeller)