Tag Archives: Ralph Alswang

Roundup: Sunday Service, Blau Gardens, $500 …

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For years, one of Westport’s best traditions is the Sunday beach service at the Compo Beach cannons.

Four Congregational churches — Greens Farms, Saugatuck, Norfield and Wilton — and the United Methodist Church — rotate as hosts.

This morning, Norfield invited the Pivot Ministries Choir to join in.

More than 20 men from the Bridgeport faith-based residential recovery program for drug and alcohol addictions added their spirit and inspiration, offering renewal and strength amid life’s challenges.

Two Sunday services remain: August 22 and 29 (8:30 a.m.). All are invited. Bring your own chair or towel, or sit on the stone wall, benches and tables. Beach stickers are not required; tell the gate attendant you’re there for worship. You can stay until 10 a.m.

Pivot Ministries at this morning’s Compo Beach Sunday service. (Photo/Gloria Smithson)

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“06880” is not a real estate agency. But from time to time, a property  deserves a shout-out.

This is one.

Designed by theatrical stage set designer Ralph Alswang, it’s set between towering great oaks. The gardens — by advertising executive Barry Blau — were created in response to the house. They incorporate native plants interspersed with a blend of exotics.

A group — Friends of Blau House and Gardens — hopes to retain the property, so it can become a community asset and resource for small non-profit organizations. They’re looking for ideas, interested people and organizations that can benefit and/or help.

If interested, click here or email R@RobertCohenArchitect.com. (Hat tip: Peter Gold)

Blau Gardens

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One of Westport’s top community events — the annual Catch a Lift fundraiser — has just announced a new date and location.

Originally scheduled for September 13, the special ceremony honoring the 20th anniversary of 9/11 — will now be held at Compo Beach on Friday, September 10.

Starting at 5 p.m., there’s 3 hours of food and drink trucks, music, and words from Catch a Lift veterans. The national nonprofit organization helps post-9/11 combat-wounded servicemen and women recover and rehabilitate, physically and mentally, through physical fitness, motivation and support. So that 9/11 Eve date is both appropriate and poignant.

Beach stickers are not needed to attend.

The Compo event will kick off an action-packed weekend. There’s a Saturday workout (September 11, Westport police station, 1 p.m.) and Sunday family bike ride (September 12, Ridgefield).

Click here for details and information, including how to help with auction items, and more. 

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The Westport Downtown Association’s 3rd Shopping Day of the summer yesterday was a great success.

The weather cooled substantially from the previous week. The sun was out. With plenty of music, food and great goods, it was a relaxing way to start the weekend.

Except for everyone driving in Parker Harding Plaza. Each car had to maneuver slowly past this red vehicle. No, that was not a legit parking space.

But hey! What’s the inconvenience of hundreds of other drivers, compared to the right to park as close as possible to the action, right?

(Photo/Susan Garment)

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Martha Stewart no longer lives in Westport. But someone channeled her the other evening at Compo Beach.

I’m guessing the menu was not hot dogs.

(Photo/Karen Como)

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If you found a card with $500 on the ground, what would you do?

Most Westporters (I hope) would try to find the owner. Some would look to see if anyone was watching, and slip it into their pocket.

Few would probably go as far as Gabrielle Perry to return it to whoever lost it.

As reported by News12 Connecticut, the 2016 Staples High School graduate spotted the card in the Maritime Aquarium parking lot last month.

The envelope read “Reverend Dennis … thank you for marrying us.” Inside was a “really sweet, heartfelt note” to the minister. It was signed “Christina and Dave” — no last names.

Gabrielle enlisted a friend’s mother, who is good at Google searches. She found a registry for Christina Ulreich and David Kean. That led to Ulreich on LinkedIn.

The weeding was marred only by the fact that the gift to the reverend was lost the night before, at the rehearsal dinner. She and her new husband were stunned — and thrilled — at Gabrielle’s perseverance.

Congratulations to the new couple — and to Gabrielle, of course. Click here for the full News12 report.

Gabrielle Perry

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Most Levitt Pavilion nights are one-and-done.

But Jesse Terry had an opening act Friday. Clueless — a local band that’s been together for several years — warmed up the crowd with a powerful performance.

The band includes 20-year-old Westport guitarists Jake Greenwald and Zach Rogers, drummer Witt Landau (a rising Staples High School junior), and keyboardist/vocalist Ethan Walmark (a rising Staples sophomore).

Ethan Walmark (Photo/JC Martin)

Witt Landau (Photo/JC Martin)

Looking for entertainment this week?

The Levitt schedule includes:

  • Tonight (Sunday, August 15): Dan Levinson’s Palomar Jazz Band
  • Tuesday, August 17: Treehouse comedy
  • Wednesday, August 18: The Pop-Ups (Children’s Series; special needs celebration)
  • Thursday, August 19: Buffalo Rose (modern folk)
  • Friday, August 20: Lizzie No (singer/harpist/guitarist)
  • Sunday, August 22: Nellie McKay (American songbook)

Click here for (free!) tickets, times and more information.

Around the corner, the Remarkable Theater shows the animated classic “Coco” tomorrow (Monday, August 16, 7:45 p.m.) and “Get Out” on Wednesday (August 18, 9:15 p.m.). Click here for tickets and more information.

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The dog days of August are a great time to fish. This Saugatuck River snowy egret at the right idea — and posed nicely for today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo.

(Photo/JC Martin)

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And finally … on this date in 1939, “The Wizard of Oz” premiered at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles.

Back To Bohemia On Hidden Garden Tour

Day by day, bit by bit, wrecking ball by wrecker ball, Westport’s artistic and “bohemian” past is disappearing.

Fortunately, pockets remain. You just have to know where to look.

This Sunday (June 10, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.), a secret gem takes the spotlight. The Blau Home and Gardens is one of 4 properties featured in the Westport Historical Society’s 27th annual Hidden Garden Tour.

One view of the Blau garden …

Designed by Broadway theater designer Ralph Alswang, the home is rustic and glamorous. From salvaged exposed heavy barn timber beams — uncommon in modern homes of the mid-20th century — to a Romeo and Juliet bedroom balcony window opening to the living room, and a dramatic main staircase, the house off Bayberry Lane was owned by advertising mogul Barry Blau.

Both he and Alswang journeyed from poor, urban roots to the then-freewheeling arts colony of Westport.

The garden — like its owner and designer — is informal and unconventional. It features massive rhododendron groves, towering oaks, antique sculptures, paths, benches, ornamental gates and stunning stone walls.

Blau’s widow is almost 90. The WHS says she and her family want to preserve the home and property. Welcoming Hidden Garden Tour visitors is one way to see it.

… and another.

The tour also includes an English rose garden with Italian fountain; a meticulously restored 1820s onion barn with post-and-beam construction, original stone foundations and antique farm equipment, surrounded by woodland gardens, and a 225-year-old colonial farmhouse in Weston, with 30 varieties of peonies and exotic specimen trees.

In addition to Sunday’s tour, unique items for gardeners and garden lovers from local artisans and businesses are available for sale on the Historical Society’s front lawn (25 Avery Place, 9 a.m.  to 4 p.m.).

That front lawn is well-known, and very visible. To see those 4 hidden gardens though, you need a ticket.

(Click here for tickets: $50 for Westport Historical Society members, $60 for non-members, $75 the day of the tour. Click here for more information.) 

Jeff Seaver Recalls A Constellation Of Stars

Last month’s post about “I Love Lucy” and Westport’s Minuteman statue — plus many of the characters in that story — struck a chord with alert “06880” reader/longtime resident Jeff Seaver. He writes:

I first experienced Westport at age 17, visiting the family of a college friend. Ralph and Betty Alswang lived on Fraser Lane. He was a theater designer of note, and we became friends. Eventually he took me under his wing as an intern in theater architecture. (Mercifully, he later suggested I leave the field and “try something more fun.”) In the meantime I helped work on Lucille Lortel’s White Barn and Playwrights Horizons, among other projects.

At the Alswang home I was exposed to an astonishing collection of the special denizens of Westport. This included the Alswangs themselves, Bob and Eileen Weiskopf, and their delightful children.

Ralph and Betty’s house on Fraser Lane had once been the studio of the sculptor James Earle Fraser. With its stone walls, imposingly large doors and windows, and dark slate roofs, the house was an architectural marvel. I understand that Fraser found the villa in Italy, purchased it and had it disassembled and brought here — along with Italian masons — to be reconstructed, stone by stone.

James Earle Fraser and his bust of Theodore Roosevelt, around 1921.

James Earle Fraser and his bust of Theodore Roosevelt, around 1921.

I am told that Fraser’s original for the cast bronze equestrian sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt with an American Indian (now standing at the entrance to the American Museum of Natural History) was created within those walls. Sculptures were rolled out through the 2-story-tall swinging doors on to a massive concrete loading dock, later converted into a patio.

Ralph and Betty had a lively, eccentric home life: 3 vibrant, smart kids; a pair of neurotic Siamese cats; dogs here and there; huge spreads of food; lots of laughter, storytelling and music; remarkable friends, and deeply held — usually radical — political views, loudly expressed over meals.

Ralph was a larger-than-life character. He built a coffee table sturdy enough to stand on to facilitate the delivery of his fabled orations: smart, opinionated, always hysterically funny. And everyone, it seemed — especially my college chums — had secret crushes on Betty.

The Alswang home was open to neighbors and friends like Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Sydney Poitier and their families; director Otto Preminger; actor Gary Merrill (who had been married to Bette Davis); attorney Leonard Boudine (who lived across the street); Lucille Lortel, and many others.

Some were luminaries, some mere mortals, but all of them fascinating, talented folk. I would stumble out of Ralph’s studio, bleary-eyed from work, and find an assembly of guests lounging over coffee at the outsize dining table or enjoying the sun in back. As a naive teenager, I assumed this lifestyle must be how all adults lived.

Ralph Alswang (5th from left), with a galaxy of stars as they arrivefd for a session of the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington, D. The group includes June Havoc, John Huston, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Danny Kaye, Jane Wyatt and Ira Gershwin.

Ralph Alswang (5th from left), with a galaxy of stars as they arrived for a session of the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington, D.C. The group includes June Havoc, John Huston, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Danny Kaye, Jane Wyatt and Ira Gershwin.

Sad to say, this extraordinary madness was not to last. Betty Alswang, whose beauty (she was a model in her youth) was matched by her wits, died from cancer. As sometimes happens, Ralph died of a heart attack not long afterward. It was a heartbreaking loss, and the aftershocks left holes in many lives.

But the children carried on the tradition of style, talent and smarts. The Weiskopfs’ son Kim, who became a friend, went on to some celebrity as a TV writer in California. Fran Alswang became a TV producer, working with Michael Moore among others. Hope Alswang has a distinguished career as a curator of the decorative arts at various museums. Ralph Alswang was, among other things, official White House photographer for the Clinton administration. The Poitier children who once scampered around the house have found their own special callings.

Ralph and Betty and their circle remain emblematic for me of the greatest attributes Westport had to offer, when its gravitational pull attracted a constellation of brilliant lights in the theater, visual and literary arts.

Given the changes over the past 30 years in Westport, I’m skeptical such a powerful confluence could occur here again. But I feel blessed to have been invited in briefly, if only as a spectator, during that special time.

Jeff Seaver

Jeff Seaver

I later set about crafting my own dynasty. I got as far as designing and building a beautiful loft in Chelsea, filling it with Siamese cats, and marrying another talented artist.

In 1999, after 25-plus years of carving out a successful career as an artist in New York, I began searching for a life outside of the city. I wanted our 5-year-old daughter to experience exotic, rarefied things like grass, birds and squirrels.

One evening, while scouting locations in Connecticut, I looked up and recognized the road that leads to Longshore. I crossed over from there to Compo Beach, parked by the legendary cannons and stared out across the beach, flooded with recollections. I stopped over at Allen’s Clam House, and took a drive back up north to Fraser Lane, where so many other wonderful memories came flooding back.

Poof — the decision was made.