Bob Weingarten is the house historian for the Westport Museum of History & Culture. He writes:
I get many questions about the status of historic properties. Recently I’ve received several concerning the iconic historic building at the intersection of Wilton Road and Allen Raymond Lane.
The former Red Barn restaurant was operated by the Nistico family from 1983 until its sale to the Westport Weston Family YMCA in 2015. It has remained unoccupied ever since.
As part of the purchase, the Y created a limited liability company: 290 Wilton Road LLC. YMCA CEO Pat Riemersma called it “likely to be the last piece of almost contiguous (cell tower in between) property to our Mahackeno campus.”
According to the Historic District Commission Historic Resources Inventory list, the building was built around 1850 as the Augustus Draves Barn. In the 20th century it became the Red Barn restaurant.
The Nistico family purchased the property in 1983, and continued to run the beloved restaurant until 2014. It was very comfortable, with a large hearth that had been remodeled by well-known Westport architect Frazier Forman Peters in the 1930s.
The Red Barn was an “06880 Friday Flashback” in January 2019. Sally Palmer commented:
The Red Barn was witness to the passage of many major events in the lives of Westporters. It was used for baby showers, baby naming, office parties, weddings, birthdays, graduations, too many funerals, class reunions and naturally for dinner. It is more than just an empty building, and I miss it.
Since the purchase more than 5 years ago, the building has remained unoccupied. This bodes badly, since unoccupied buildings can deteriorate more rapidly than those in use. This is true for interior construction (floors, walls, flues, etc.), exterior facades and mechanical equipment (air handlers, heating units, A/C, etc.). I’d hate to see what the kitchen now looks like.
In November 2015 the Y said: “This is a unique opportunity for our YMCA — a long-term investment that allows us to preserve neighborhood values and, ultimately, utilize the property for the benefit of our members and the community we have served since 1923.”
Later, Riemersma reiterated:
We purchased the property because it was likely to be the last piece of almost contiguous (cell tower in between) property to our Mahackeno campus that would likely come to market.
When we entered into the planning process for Phase II of our facility expansion, we considered using the property as a stand-alone site for our gymnastics program.
When we ultimately decided to place that program in the new wing we were left with no immediate plans for its use and that still holds true today.
At some point in the future, as private property owners, in order to ensure that the Red Barn use compliments the Y’s, the Y could look to enter into a long-term lease or sale of the property or continue to hold it, whatever option seems best for the Y’s future.
This is a relief. But after so many years I wonder how realistic it is. I believe that the Y’s membership and other Westport residents should be apprehensive. Money talks, and future plans change depending on economic conditions.
The building has now been unoccupied for nearly 7 years, without a plan in place. I am interested in hearing what the new CEO plans for it.