Tag Archives: Rod Serling

Remembering 34 High Point Road

Over the years, I’ve written dozens of stories about teardowns. I’ve warned of the impending demolition of historic homes. I’ve lamented the loss of our classic streetscapes. Just this past Monday, I remembered a visit to a special house on Compo Cove.

But as much as I loved those houses, and mourned their passing, it was always about someone else’s property.

Today I’m writing about mine.

At least, it was mine from the time I was 3 years old, through college. It stayed “mine,” in the sense that my parents continued to own it, for decades after that. My sisters and I continued to visit, for holidays and special occasions (Sue’s wedding! My 50th birthday party!). And of course, to use the pool.

My mother died there — in the bedroom she’d lived in since 1956 — in 2016.

It was not a special house: 2,400 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a basement and patio. It was the 5th house built on High Point Road during the post-war baby boom. Although each home on Westport’s longest cul-de-sac was different, it was just another suburban home.

34 High Point Road

Except, of course, every house is special to those who grew up there.

Like any home, this one has stories. My parents told us their move in. A St. Patrick’s Day blizzard buried the driveway. So my mother and father spent their first night in Westport sleeping not in the bedroom of the first home they owned, but in the back of the moving van.

A neighbor down the street was Rod Serling. He’d been a friend of my father’s at Antioch College (and helped persuade my parents to move not just to Westport, but High Point specifically).

Whenever his in-laws showed up, Rod “escaped” to my parents’ house. Who knows which “Twilight Zone” or “Playhouse 90” shows were written downstairs?

When my youngest sister Laurie was born, my parents turned the attic into my room. It was big, and on its own floor. Years later my mother asked, “Did you feel bad you weren’t near the rest of us?”

“Are you kidding?” I said. “It was right by the front door. I could sneak out at night!”

“You snuck out once?” she wondered, surprised.

“Um — more than once,” I said.

High Point Road was a great place to grow up. Nearly all 70 houses were filled with kids around my age. We rode bikes, wandered into each other’s houses at will, and played soccer, touch football and baseball at Staples High School, which was in the backyards of the homes across the street.

Our house sat on an acre of hilly land. My mother had a hand in much of the gorgeous landscaping. (I never forgave her for taking down my favorite apple tree.)

Beautiful back yard landscaping.

Perhaps the most unique feature of the house was a large window. I’ve never seen a larger window in any home. It faced east, framing beautiful sunrises, spectacular autumn leaves in the dozens of trees filling the yard, and animal tracks in newly fallen snow.

The view from the large window in fall …

… and winter.

Several months after my mother’s death, my sisters and I sold the house. We thought it would be a teardown then. But the new owner decided to renovate it himself.

It was a good idea. The kitchen needed updating; removing a few walls would create the open floor plan craved by owners today.

For whatever reason, it didn’t work. For 4 years, the house was in a constant state of disrepair. He took down dozens of trees; the lumber sat on the ground.

I drove by every so often, just to look. One day, a former neighbor flagged me down.

“What’s your mother doing to her house?” she asked.

“Well, she died,” I said. “It’s not hers anymore.”

“Oh, thank god,” the woman said. “It looks awful.”

It did.

Last spring, the house was sold again. The new owner — only the 3rd in its history — is a builder.

He had no intention of finishing the renovation. He would build a new house on the property.

Demolition permit

After watching our old home “ruined,” I was ready for the decision.

I knew that teardowns are part of the Westport real estate lifecycle. I’ve heard about so many, and written about plenty.

But I wasn’t quite ready for my house to be demolished.

I hadn’t realized how many machines would be involved.

I hadn’t thought about how quickly they would reduce wood, concrete and plaster — or, more personally, a roof, walls, floors, rooms, and (more romantically) memories — to (literally) dust.

I hadn’t imagined seeing only the foundation remaining. Then the next day, it too was gone.

After the first day, only the foundation remained.

I did not know that the swimming pool would be filled with detritus. Or that even more trees would be pulverized, exposing the home behind that had been shielded for so long. Or that the topography would be altered so much, so quickly, that I could barely recognize the land.

The front yard.

I did not think that things would change so dramatically — in less than a week — that the only thing left was the mailbox, and an outside light fixture.

(All photos/Dan Woog)

Yet that’s what happened. It’s the same thing that’s happened to countless Westporters. This time though, it happened to me.

34 High Point Road has joined the long list of local teardowns. Soon — within weeks, maybe — a new home will rise somewhere on the newly leveled land.

It will be bigger than “my” house. In many ways, it may be “nicer.”

I’ll try to refrain from making a value judgment. I probably won’t succeed.

I am sure of this: I hope the new residents will love it, like my family did. I hope they live there — like my mother did — for 60 wonderful years.

But I won’t hold my breath.

Friday Flashback #259

Newcomers may have heard that Westport was once an “artists’ colony.”

Oldtimers remember the Famous Artists School on Wilton Road (just north of Bartaco — click here).

For a while, magazine ads and matchbook covers all over the world invited aspiring artists to learn from Famous Artists School masters.

They did not exactly “teach.” They lent their names to the enterprise. But they were quite an accomplished (and very male) bunch.

Anthony Dohanos sent along a great photo. His father — Stevan Dohanos, the famed Saturday Evening Post and US postage stamp illustrator — sits prominently on a rock at the front left, wearing plaid pants.

Norman Rockwell puffs his trademark pipe in the row behind, near the right.

Sitting in the front row on the right is Rod Serling. He was, I guess, part of the auxiliary Famous Writers’ School. (There was also a Famous Photographers’ School).

How many of these men (and 2 women) can you identify? Click “Comments” below — and add any memories you have of the years when the Famous Schools made Westport famous.

Roundup: Twilight Zone, Top Restaurants, More


One of my favorite New Year’s traditions is the SyFy channel’s “Twilight Zone” marathon.

It airs December 31 and January 1 — one great, thought-provoking, stand-the-test-of-time episode after another.

Rod Serling began writing and introducing his stories while he lived in Westport — right down the street from my family, in fact, on High Point Road.

Some were influenced by this suburban, post-war town. And “A Stop at Willoughby” — with a train conductor calling out to a time traveler, “Next stop: Westport!” — is on tomorrow (Thursday, December 31) at 9:20 p.m. Click here for the full schedule.


Congratulations to The Cottage and Kawa Ni — and their owners, Brian Lewis and Bill Taibe respectively. Both are included in Connecticut Magazine’s list of the Top 15 restaurants in the state.

That means our town includes more than 13% of all the best restaurants!


Did you miss last night’s full Full Cold Moon?

Wendy Crowther sure didn’t.

(Photo/Wendy Crowther)


And finally … influential bluegrass and new acoustic singer/guitarist Tony Rice died Saturday in North Carolina. He was 69.

 

Friday Flashback #144

Alert “06880” reader/amateur historian Fred Cantor has a knack for finding obscure but fascinating Westport vignettes in newspaper and magazine archives.

This week’s gem is a New York Times story from September 9, 1956. Headlined “Westport Reviews New Home Numbers,” it says that — “prodded by irate residents who are loathe [sic] to adopt an urban street numbering system” — the Representative Town Meeting voted to “reconsider the $4,500 building address program recently adopted by town officials.”

Seems like Westporters “vociferously” objected to a plan to number (or re-number — it’s not clear from the story) houses on streets. Residents clearly did not want “any change in their rural flavor to something resembling urban impersonality.”

Postal officials had contended that “the lack of proper street numbers and mix-ups resulting from similar names and inaccurate numbering were making efficient deliveries increasingly difficult.”

That’s all we know from the Times story. Whatever street numbers we had — and have now — apparently work fine.

I had no way to illustrate that story. Fred helpfully sent along a Saturday Evening Post cover from May 1944. Westport artist Stevan Dohanos used a local model — and local scenes — for his illustration.

But Fred was not done. He went hunting in the Westport Library for old town directories.

The Price & Lee 1957 edition showed that homes and businesses on at least some major streets had assigned numbers. Streets like High Point — just being developed at that point — did not.*

What was more remarkable to Fred was the personal information included in the directories. They included professions of the income earners, spouses’ names, and those of older children. Presidents of companies, domestic employees — they were all there.

In 2019, the notion of privacy is all over the news (including the New York Times). We call this the “Information Age.” But more than 60 years ago, there was plenty of personal information available to all.

Just very few street numbers.

*My parents moved there in 1956. Their mailing address at that point was “Lot 12 East, High Point Road.”

Image

Former Westporter Looks Back On 2016

rod-serling-and-donald-trump

Next Stop: Willoughby?

Metro-North riders were pleased to note that the rail line provided “good service” on March 9.

Metro-North -- good service

Unfortunately, yesterday — when this photo was taken — was August 16.

Rod Serling would be proud.

Double Parked In The Twilight Zone

Carl Addison Swanson is many things. He’s a Staples graduate. A lawyer who spent decades in Texas, before returning to Westport several years ago. A frequent contributor to the “06880” comments section.

He’s also an author. His Hush McCormick series has done enormously well, thanks to social media marketing.

But in his latest book, Carl steps away from the “boat bum adventure” genre.

Double ParkedDouble Parked in the Twilight Zone: Summer of 1960 is set in Westport. The protagonist, Justin Carmichael — and yes, that’s the name of a 1988 Staples grad, though the similarity ends there — graduates from Bedford Elementary School during that 1960 year.

Suffice it to say, Justin has a very interesting summer.

Carl is a Bedford El grad. (It’s now Town Hall. Carl remembers it well — including the basement, where the Westport Community Theater has replaced civil defense drills of yore.)

“Reaching 65 years of age in February made me aware that I suddenly wanted to talk about my life some more,” Carl says. His return to Westport sparked many memories, some of which he mines in Twilight Zone. (Note the subtle homage to Rod Serling, who lived in Westport when Carl was at Bedford.)

So is this book autobiographical?

Carl Addison Swanson

Carl Addison Swanson

“In a sense, all writing is about your life and experiences,” he says. “The summer of 1960 was particularly intereseting to me, because a lot happened.”

For instance, Carl started playing golf at Longshore. His Little League team went to the town championship. He went steady with a girl for the first time.

“A lot of fun stuff,” he says.

Though Carl has a satirical streak, this is hardly satire. It is, he says, “a critique on the town back then, through my eyes.”

Westport was a great place to grow up, Carl says — “especially back in the ‘Wonder Years’ of the 1950s and ’60s. There was plenty to do, and a lot more freedom to do so.”

But there were not, he says, “as many adult eyes around as there are today.”

So why the title?

“I was pretty much of a goofball back then,” Carl says. “I got into a lot of trouble.

“I was also scared to death to walk by the Famous Artists School for fear of Rod Serling coming out. It was a terrifying television show.”

But a great title, half a century later.

(Double Parked in the Twilight Zone and Carl’s other books are available at Amazon (click here) and on Kindle. All proceeds from his latest book go the Wounded Warrior Project. His website is www.carladdisonswanson.com.) 

Rod Serling Lives!

The Writers Guild of America recently asked its members to rate the 101 best-written shows in television history.

“The Sopranos” was Number 1. “Seinfeld” was 2nd. No surprises there.

But coming in 3rd: “The Twilight Zone.”

That’s right: a half-century-old black-and-white anthology is still called the 3rd best-written TV series ever.

DEE-DEE dee-dee DEE-DEE dee-dee…

Rod Serling

Those of us who remember creator/writer/host Rod Serling from his Westport days are not the only ones excited to hear the place “Twilight Zone” holds in America’s heart.

Mark Dawidziak of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes:

When you handicap the top three and adjust for short Hollywood attention spans, that’s practically saying “The Twilight Zone” is in a dimension all its own — far beyond the No. 1 spot….Submitted for your approval: the real winner of the Writers Guild poll.

It’s a stirring testament to the heroic influence of Rod Serling that, almost 54 years after “The Twilight Zone” debuted, so many television writers cite him and his “wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination” as inspirations. They couldn’t have better role models.

“The Twilight Zone” was a series with a social conscience and it was fantasy television that believed there was intelligent life on the other side of the television screen. It would be difficult to find a writer on any current fantasy, horror or science-fiction series who doesn’t count himself or herself as a proud descendant of the creator, host and principal writer of “The Twilight Zone.”

Westport has other connections to the Top 101:

  • In the final season of “I Love Lucy” — the #12 series –the Ricardos and Mertzes moved to Westport. (Hilarity of course ensued — click here.)
Lucy Ricardo reads a poster to Ethel Mertz in "Westport." It says: "Yankee Doodle Day Celebration -- Statue Dedication at Jessup (sic) Green."

Lucy Ricardo reads a poster to Ethel Mertz in “Westport.” It says: “Yankee Doodle Day Celebration — Statue Dedication at Jessup (sic) Green.”

  • 1985 Staples grad Paul Lieberstein is an “Office” (#50) writer/producer/actor (Toby Flenderson).
  • Rod Serling pops up again at #65, as a “Playhouse 90” writer.
  • Longtime resident Jack Klugman starred for a long time as Oscar Madison on “The Odd Couple” (#78).

I’m sure I’ve missed plenty more. I’m not looking for something as tangential as the fact that “All in the Family’s” (#4) Jean Stapleton’s cousin is Westport artist Alberta Cifolelli.

But click here for the full list. And if you’ve got a good Top 101/Westport connection, hit “Comments.”

Last Stop: Minnybus

Near the corner of North Avenue and Easton Road — right by Coleytown Elementary School — stands this little wisp of Westport weirdness:

In “A Stop at Willoughby” — one of Rod Serling’s most famous “Twilight Zone” episodes ever — a New York advertising executive on the train home to Westport finds himself transported to an idyllic town called Willoughby. In the year 1888.

This sign reminds me of that. Perhaps if I stand there long enough, a diesel-powered Mercedes minnybus will lumber by.

I’ll climb on board, ride it all over town, and suddenly it will be the 1970s all over again.

The Cold War’s Hot Exhibit

The 1950s: McCarthyism. The Cold War. Nike Sites, fallout shelters and elementary school “duck and cover” drills.

Those were the days!

Well, yeah. In many ways they were — especially around here. We had a real-live Main Street, with actual grocery stores, hardware stores, and merchants who knew your name. Kids romped in the woods free from parental worries.

And Westport was growing rapidly. Every day, it seemed, another family moved in. Many were arts-types: novelists, TV writers, playwrights, admen. They were drawn by the town’s reputations as an “artists’ colony” — and as each one arrived, more followed.

Starting this Sunday (January 29), you can revisit those days. The Westport Historical Society presents 2 exhibits looking back on that golden/scary era.

“Next Stop: Westport, The Inspiration for 1950’s TV & Film Writers” takes its title from “A Stop at Willoughby,” one of “Twilight Zone”‘s most memorable episodes. In it, an ad executive on his way home to suburban Westport repeatedly finds himself in a pastoral town called Willoughby — in 1888.

Westport’s role in “The Twilight Zone” was no coincidence. Rod Serling wrote the episode when he lived in Westport.

Fellow residents included novelist Max Shulman, whose Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys! satirized life in a suburban town when the Army selects it for a missile base. (Which actually happened here; the subsequent film led Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward to move to Westport.)

It was quite a time. There were so many creative types, says Linda Gramatky Smith — the daughter of “Little Toot” creator Hardie Gramatky — that there were regular writer-vs.-artist basketball and softball games.

The Historical Society exhibit features all that, and more — like Sloan Wilson’s novel The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, which was set here (the subsequent movie, starring Gregory Peck, was filmed here), and the final year of “I Love Lucy,” when the Ricardos and Mertzes move to town.

Video of a different kind will be shown at the WHS too. “The Cold War in Our Backyard” — a fascinating, chilling (and at times laughable) film compilation by Lisa Seidenberg, including everything from instructions on removing radiation from food to the still-frightening “Twilight Zone” episode on barbarism in a fallout shelter — will play in a continuous loop. (You can also click here to see it.)

Nearby, images and artifacts will recreate the fears that filled that “golden” era.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Charles Dickens wrote.

He didn’t live in Westport.

But so many other famous writers did. Starting Sunday, the Westport Historical Society shares their stories with the world.

(The exhibit’s opening reception is this Sunday, January 29, 3-5 p.m. Click here for more information, or call 203-222-1424.)