For decades, no one thought about the Longshore lighthouse.
Yesterday, I published a photo of it as part of “06880’s” Friday Flashback series.
I had no idea that Westporters Dick Stein and Tracy Hinson had just offered an oil painting of that same scene to the town, as a gift.
Dick told official curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz that he found the painting behind an upstairs desk at last year’s Red Barn tag sale. Owner Tommy Nistico asked Dick if he knew where the lighthouse had been located. Dick remembered it instantly from his youth.
The painting — by artist Harriet Horowitz, who moved from Westport in 1972 — was dusty and dirty. But Dick bought it, hoping it would one day hang in the Parks and Recreation Department office — at Longshore.
He had it cleaned and lightly repaired. Now he’s given it to the town.
That’s a great story. But there’s one more part.
According to alert “06880” reader Peter Barlow — who sent the lighthouse photo along for the “Friday Flashback” — in the late 1960s a popular Parks and Recreation Commission official ordered the demolition of the lighthouse.
Years later, he admitted it had been a mistake.
The commission member’s name?
Lou Nistico — father uncle of Red Barn owner Tom Nistico, who sold the lighthouse painting to Dick Stein.
You, I and the rest of the world may think that the Red Barn — the iconic restaurant opened in 1933, and operated continuously through last year — is located on Wilton Road, nestled up against Merritt Parkway Exit 41.
According to a state Department of Transportation poster currently hanging in Town Hall, offering facts, photos and a map of ongoing Merritt “enhancements,” the Red Barn is across the river, one exit away.
Click on map to enlarge
See? It’s right there, at northbound exit 42 on Weston Road!
Let’s hope the DOT is a bit more diligent with their actual “enhancement” work.
“I’ve only been here 10 years,” she said. “I’m not really a Westporter, am I?”
Bill Clinton once famously explained, “That depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”
The definition of the word “Westporter” seems similarly slippery.
Here’s what I think. You’re a Westporter if:
You give directions using a landmark that no longer exists. “Take a right at what used to be Dairy Queen” works. So does “Woody’s” or “Swanky Frank’s” — because, as real old-time Westporters know, they’re all the same spot.
You lament the changes you’ve seen since you’ve been here. That can be the demolition of the Compo Inn or the Victorian house on Gorham Island; the closing of Klein’s or Sally’s Place (bonus points if you know how they’re related), the end of the Arrow, Jasmine or the Blu Parrot. You’re even a Westporter if you moved here in June, and are sorry the Red Barn closed a month later.
You can’t believe how rude people are today. It’s amazing, you say, how much more self-centered are compared to the 1950s/1970s/1990s/2000s/2013.
You are able to compare today’s young athletes to yesterday’s. It doesn’t matter whether the name you use is Nooky Powers, Cannonball Baker, Steve Baumann, Lisa Brummel, Lance Lonergan or Jon Baumann (not related to Steve) — if you toss out a reference like that, you’re a Westporter.
You can reference a weather event. The Hurricanes of 1938 and ’55; the Nor’easter of 1993 and Superstorm Sandy all count. The key is to mention how much snowier/rainier/hotter/colder things are/are not compared to the “old days.”
That’s my bar for Westporterdom. We’re a big tent. We welcome everyone.
If you’ve got other ideas, hit “Comments” below. We want to hear from you — whether you’re a Westporter or not.
Antonia Landgraf was born and raised in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. It was a tight-knit Italian neighborhood — like long-ago Saugatuck, perhaps — and she loved it.
Her grandfather — born on the same block — was a mailman. Her grandmother worked in a school cafeteria.
Her parents worked for the government. They lived on the bottom 2 floors of a brownstone, and rented out the rest.
In the mid-1980s, yuppies began to move in. Bodegas and religious artifact stores gave way to crêperies, boutiques and bars.
“The good part was there were nice restaurants and shops. Not everything was a chain,” Antonia recalls.
A “Farmacy” has probably replaced a pharmacy in Carroll Gardens.
Real estate prices rose. Some renters were priced out. Antonia’s parents and grandparents owned their property, and benefited.
Many of her friends stayed in Carroll Gardens. On Facebook, she reads their comments about the changes.
“It’s not like the days when everyone knew everyone,” she says. “That’s ironic, because the first people who came did it because it was a great Italian-American neighborhood, with everyone sitting out on their stoops.”
The oldtimers-versus-newcomers debate is not confined to Carroll Gardens. It echoes in many places — including Westport. Which is where, since 2013, Antonia and her husband have lived.
They moved first to New Jersey, in 2002, because they could no longer afford Brooklyn. Then they had kids. Her husband’s company has an office in Darien. They started looking for bigger, suburban homes.
Antonia and her husband visited Westport on a beautiful September day. The water sparkled under the Bridge Street bridge. Downtown, they walked past the gorgeous Christ & Holy Trinity church, and stopped at the Spotted Horse. “It felt like we were on vacation,” Antonia says.
Moving here has been wonderful. The town is gorgeous. Folks have been welcoming. She could not be happier.
Her 3 sons — the youngest was born here — are busy, and thriving. On the day we talked earlier this summer, one was collecting crabs on Burying Hill Beach. Another was at sports camp. This is their home town.
Antonia’s boys have discovered the magic of Burying Hill Beach.
Antonia sees parallels between Carroll Gardens and Westport. Both places are changing. Some longtime residents resent what’s happening. Recent arrivals feel the undercurrent. They try to be sensitive — but this is their town too.
“We moved because of the beauty, the downtown, the historical homes,” Antonia says. Some of her new friends are natives. One of them lives in new construction, she laughs.
“We’re new, but we still respect what there is here, and what there was.” Yet, she adds, Westport is always changing. “This used to be onion farms.”
She followed the Red Barn closing on “06880.” “We went there once. We were not impressed. But I understand it was an institution.”
The same thing is happening in Carroll Gardens. Antonia pointed me to a New York Daily News story about the demise of a beloved restaurant there.
“It’s not just Westport,” she says. “It’s everywhere. If your secret gets out, that’s it.”
So, I wonder, does Antonia have any message for Westporters of every era, seeking to understand what’s going on here today?
“Not everyone who comes here is not uninterested in the town and its past,” she says.
Antonia Landgraf and her husband understand the importance of the Westport Historical Society.
“My husband and I are very much invested in Westport. We want to contribute to the community.
“We’re not just passing through. We’re here for at least the next 16 years, through high school for our youngest. We might stay here after retirement.
“New people come in all the time. They may be different from those who were born here. But don’t assume they don’t respect all that has made the town what it is.”
“06880” is fair game for just about every story — so long as there’s a Westport angle.
I try to avoid missing-pet posts — though I did cover the expensive, long-running search for Andy, the lost corgi — and I turn down nearly every request about a Staples High School reunion. Trust me, I say to myself: No one cares about your little get-together. (My official response is more tactful.)
But Staples’ Class of 1964 reunion last weekend merits a mention. For one thing, the 50th is a Big Deal.
For another, it was a kick-ass class that came of age at an important time in Staples — and world — history.
For a 3rd, I gave a tour of the new Staples building to nearly 100 reunees. They truly loved what they saw, and appreciated the school they’d attended. They returned to Westport with the wisdom of adulthood, and the enthusiasm of teenagers. I had a blast, but they had an even better time.
The Staples Class of 1964 included many outstanding actors, singers and athletes. Two members — Paul McNulty (2nd from left) and Laddie Lawrence (6th from left) are back at Staples now, coaching lacrosse and track respectively.
So here — thanks to Barbara Range Szepesi, Arline Gertzoff and Bill Martin — is their report.
Many of them more than 100 members of the Class of ’64 who gathered last weekend were reunion first-timers who faced the experience with trepidation, deferring registration until the last possible moment. Others came only because another class member promised to be there. While many members of the class live locally, others came from all over the country: California, Florida, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee.
What happened was nothing short of amazing: the rekindling of friendships and more after 50 years of separation, the mixing of a vast cross-section of class members who might never have interacted during a normal school day, the bonding power of shared experience then and 3 days now.
The celebration kicked off Friday night, August 8, at SoNo Brewhouse. Gordon Hall, a beloved history teacher at Staples, reminisced with students he fondly remembered and just had to see. Jack White, a pillar of education in Weston, shared memories with pupils who once were bused to Staples (there was no high school in the then-small town).
On Saturday morning, a large cohort toured the new Staples, so very different from the California-style campus of 50 years ago. Astonishment at how much the school has changed mixed with the realization of the great education we received there. We were the class that started senior year traumatized by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and seeing the “Ask not…” plaque from our class in the new courtyard only heightened our remembrances.
When the Class of 1964 entered Staples, the school consisted of 6 separate buildings. Walking between them was often an adventure.
The gala reunion dinner was held at the Red Barn on Saturday night. Classmates feasted and were entertained by members of their own class. Eric Multhaup, Melody James, Sylvia Robinson Corrigan and Bettina Walton updated songs of the ’60s for today. Mike Haydn played both Mozart and an original piano piece, accompanied by Bill Reardon on the drums. Bill Briggs and Linda Clifford performed a duet. Holly Kimball Tashian and husband Barry Tashian (’63) played selections from their Nashville repertoire.
As memorialized in a poem written for the occasion by Josh Markel, it was a time for reflection and celebration. So much changed in the course of 50 years, not the least of which was hair color (or lack thereof). We had married or not, had children and grandchildren, sometimes divorced and started over again. Careers spanned law, medicine and teaching; drama, art and music; business, social work, and beyond.
On Sunday classmates socialized at Compo Beach, a favorite haunt of 50 years ago. There, before a final class picture, quietly singing “Amazing Grace,” we approached the water and tossed 43 red roses into the Sound for the classmates we have lost and still hold dear.
Everyone stayed until the day ended with handshakes, hugs, and the hope to meet again in 5 years.
43 red roses honor members of the Class of 1964 who are gone.
Two years ago, someone started an “Arrow Restaurant” page on Facebook. It was a place for fans of the famed Saugatuck eatery to gather virtually, and share very real memories of the food and folks they loved so long and so well.
Lou Nistico, son of the founders of the Arrow.
Tom Nistico — grandson of the founders — still does not know who created the page. But he loves it.
He’s even more excited about an event it spawned.
On Saturday, August 18 (6 p.m.), there’s an Arrow reunion. It’s open to all former employees and customers — anyone, really. It promises to be one of the highlights of the year.
It’s at the Red Barn, naturally — the restaurant Tom and his family saved and restored in 1983. The Wilton Road location is gorgeous — but on August 11, all eyes will be a few miles south.
The original location. The restaurant got its name from the “arrow” shape of the Saugatuck Avenue/Franklin Street intersection.
The original Arrow — started in 1932 — was located on the corner of Saugatuck Avenue and Franklin Street (there’s a Chinese takeout place there now).
The 2nd site — remembered by most Westporters — was around the corner on Charles Street. When the Arrow closed in 1991, Jasmine took over the site. Soon it will reopen as the Blu Parrot, featuring live music.
That’s a welcome addition to the revitalized Saugatuck community. But the old Arrow was old school — just like the neighborhood it served. The rest of Westport came along for the ride.
The longtime location on Charles Street.
The Facebook page brings the old Arrow back to life. “It’s amazing to see what it still means to everyone,” Tom Nistico marvels.
“I wish I had a video of a weekend night, so I could see again all the families and customers pouring through the doors. If you lived in Fairfield County, you probably became part of the fabric of the Arrow.”
Tom reels off the names of families that were customers for generations: Gargiulo, Cantor, Nevas, Sawch, Kaelin, Romano, Santella, Palizzio, Buccieri, Pascarelli, Massiello, Strauss, Caiati, Carbone, Luczkowski, McMahon, Spinola, Backus.
Many will be back for the reunion. “People are coming from everywhere,” Tom says proudly. “Eddie Gargiulo from Atlanta, and his brother Steve from Florida. Eddie and Sara Fuchs from Dallas. Billy Murphy from Boston. Cal Neff delayed his return to Thailand to be there.”
Tom Nistico, back in the day.
Corrado Nebel — son of longtime employee Dino, and a recording singer and guitarist — will perform.
As the music plays, dinner is eaten and drinks downed, the stories will flow. Former cooks, waiters, busboys, dishwashers — and the many customers who loved them — will trade tales of the Nistico family’s legendary generosity to (it seemed) every kid in town.
They’ll talk about 4th of July parties, and recall the countless celebrities (including most of the New York Giants) and regular Westporters who enjoyed good times and great meals.
Like sausage and peppers. Chicken picatta, francaise and cacciatore. Lasagna with baked egg. “Tommy toss.” Pork chops with cherry peppers. Clams casino. Eggplant parm. Fried mozzarella. Meatballs…
(In typical Arrow fashion, the August 18 reunion is a steal for good food and good times. The $45 cost includes a full meal — appetizers, dinner, dessert, tax and tip. There’s also a cash bar. Call the Red Barn at 203-222-9549, or email Tom Nistico at email@example.com for a reservation.)
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