Tag Archives: Save the Children

Famous Westport Building Bites The Dust

First it was world headquarters for the Famous Artists School. Joined later by Famous Writers and Famous Photographers Schools, it made Westport known all over the globe — on matchbox covers and magazine ads — as the place to send your artwork, writing and photos to become, well, famous.

Not.

Later it served as world headquarters for Save the Children.

Today, alert “06880” reader (and locally famous photographer) Chip Stephens was across the Saugatuck River, when the 60-year-old Wilton Road building was demolished.

The long view …

The site is being developed by David Waldman into a retail, restaurant and residential complex.

… and a closeup. (Photos/Chip Stephens)

Friday Flashback #83

As work proceeds on David Waldman’s latest project — converting the former Save the Children headquarters on Wilton Road into a retail/residential complex — it’s a good time to revisit Stevan Dohanos’ 1965 painting of the site.

Back then, it was home to Famous Artists School. Dohanos was one of those (very) famous artists who helped stay-at-home artists around the world discover their inner illustrator.

This painting — courtesy of Dohanos’ son Anthony — is a bit stylized. The house on Gorham Island is moved south, and Bedford Elementary School (now Town Hall) slides very close to Main Street.

But it provides a very realistic view of the days when Westport was the center of the illustration world. Even without Famous Artists, we were a town filled with — and honored by — famous artists.

Robin Tauck Reports On Syrian Refugees

The Tauck family is known for many things. Their eponymous company — now in its 4th generation — pioneered high-end group travel, heli-skiing and small-boat river cruises. In Westport — where many family members live — they’ve been quite generous, from renovating National Hall to helping preserve Long Island Sound. A foundation is deeply involved in aiding Bridgeport.

Robin Tauck is a travel industry leader. Her interests range from eco-tourism to helping nations and regions use travel as an economic engine.

She’s nearing the end of a 50-day odyssey in Italy and Greece. With her proximity to Turkey, Syria and the Middle East, she got a first-hand look at the mass migration of refugees seeking asylum in Europe.

Two of the many children in a Lesbos Island refugee camp.

Two of the many children in a Lesbos Island refugee camp.

On Lesbos Island, Robin — an outgoing woman who loves to learn — talked to as many people as she could: refugees, Save the Children workers, and the Lesbos mayor who, she says, “deserves a peace prize.”

Greece has already moved almost a million people from that tiny island just 6 miles off Turkey, through Athens, and on into Europe. Only 4,000 refugees remain.

Little cafes did their best to feed and warm the new arrivals. The island is lovely, Robin says, “but the people are even more beautiful. You cannot imagine how much they did.”

At the height of the smuggling operation, nearly 10,000 people a day arrived in crammed Zodiacs. (By contrast, Ellis Island — set up as an immigration center — handled 11,000 a day at its peak.) Save the Children — which moved its headquarters recently from Westport to Fairfield — now has 10 small offices in the area.

A hand-made sign thanks the many volunteers.

A hand-made sign thanks the many volunteers.

Hundreds of unaccompanied minor children were separated from parents. The kids are traumatized — and not allowed to leave the island yet.

Save the Children is focusing on them. Robin’s new friend Vasili Sofiadellis is teaching computer and coding skills. Youngsters learn English and Greek too.

“It’s not bad. But it’s not pretty,” Robin says.

A pregnant mother survived the trip to Greece. Robin Tauck holds her 7-month-old -- who weighs only as much as a normal 2-month-old.

A pregnant mother survived the trip to Greece. Robin Tauck holds her 7-month-old — who weighs only as much as a normal 2-month-old.

The island is in the midst of cleanup. Broken boats, and enormous piles of hundreds and thousands of life jackets — “each one a life story,” she notes — are being moved from the beaches.

Robin Tauck (right) surveys some of the hundreds of thousands of abandoned life jackets.

Robin Tauck (right) surveys some of the hundreds of thousands of abandoned life jackets.

Robin also reports that Westporter Barbara Innamorati brought toys from Westport to Italy. They were delivered to a refugee camp on Lesbos, housing 880 people from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Robin explains that Lesbos is ready to move from the “R” word (refugees) to the “T” word (tourism). Hotels are vacant; charter aircraft have stopped arriving. Holland America docked one cruise line during the crisis.

Robin told the mayor the Tauck story — including how her family emigrated to the US through Ellis Island. He said, “maybe one day some of our 800,000 refugees that made it to Europe will start a new family and new story, like yours did.”

“God bless the Greeks,” Robin says. Lesbos, and the entire country — one of the world’s top 10 tourist destinations, with dozens of World Heritage Sites, beautiful island and warm hospitality — is “waiting for us to return.”

(Yesterday’s New York Times Travel section also covered the tourist scene on Lesbos, and the rest of Greece. Click here to read that story.)

David Waldman’s Save The Children Project Takes Shape

A crane towers over Main Street. The old Tudor YMCA is being gutted. Concrete is poured near Church Lane and Elm Street.

But even as Westporters await the completion of Bedford Square — David Waldman’s project that will redefine downtown — he’s moving forward on his next project.

Waldman is a partner in the development group that owns the former Save the Children site across the river. Right now, a 60,000-square foot building blocks views from Wilton Road. A few yards away, the brutal Post Road/Riverside Avenue intersection makes that west bank neighborhood a don’t-go-there-unless-you-have-to afterthought to downtown shoppers.

Waldman wants to change all that. He hopes to build an office building and 18 high-end condos on the 2.6-acre site.

He’ll extend the boardwalk from National Hall and Bartaco all the way to the end of his property. He’ll help the town and other interested parties build a pedestrian bridge, linking his development with Parker Harding Plaza or Gorham Island.

Plans for the new west bank project show ... (Click on or hover to enlarge)

Plans for the new west bank project show the new office building and residential condos, extended boardwalk, pedestrian bridge, dedicated left-turn lane and more. (Click on or hover to enlarge)

Most importantly, he’ll move the charming, old (and very much in-the-way) needle shop house from 1 Wilton Road, to his new project. That will allow construction of a left-turn lane onto the Post Road, easing congestion at one of the worst intersections in the state.

Plans have not been presented formally. But discussions are beginning with important town bodies, like the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Waldman is very familiar with the property, and the land around it. Compass Commons — across the street from Save the Children — was developed by his father in 1982.

Though Waldman knows the Save the Children site is in a flood zone — and is well aware of the traffic woes — he’s excited by its potential. It’s one of the last remaining developable sites downtown. The native Westporter thrives on challenges like these.

The former Save the Children's Wilton Road headquarters. The 60,000-square foot building now stands empty.

The former Save the Children’s Wilton Road headquarters. The 60,000-square foot building now stands empty.

He and his partners worked for over a year on the concept. It includes residential units, because they’re called for in the downtown plan. Waldman knows there are many empty nesters in Westport looking to downsize, but stay here. Nationwide, older homeowners are relocating closer to downtown areas.

“I tried to hit all the buttons: what the town wants, how to incorporate visual access to the river, and get parking off the river,” Waldman says.

He notes that Save the Children at one point had 250 employees, but only 180 parking spaces. His plan will help add parking for restaurants like Bartaco and Vespa. Eight spots will be available for public access to the water.

His new buildings will be FEMA compliant. (Save the Children is not.)

Waldman is particularly excited by the opportunity to redesign the brutal Post Road/Wilton Road/Riverside Avenue intersection.

He has an option on the house that right now huddles underneath the Wright Street building. He hopes to give that land to the town.

Right now, this cute building at 1 Wilton Road inhibits traffic turning in 2 directions, or going straight.

Right now, this cute building at 1 Wilton Road inhibits traffic turning in 2 directions, or going straight.

The development’s architect — Roger Ferris + Partners — is coincidentally headquartered at 11 Wilton Road. They’d accommodate the redesign, ceding room for the new lane (and a nice pocket park.)

It won’t be easy — or cheap. Waldman estimates the cost of moving the house at $2.5 million. But he relocated Kemper Gunn from Bedford Square across Elm Street. He understands the value of both preservation and change.

He’d need a text amendment to increase the allowable height of his residential building to 48 feet. That would allow underground parking. According to Waldman, it would still be lower than the top of National Hall.

An artist's rendering of the proposed new office building (center) and condos (right) on the former Save the Children property, as seen from Parker Harding Plaza. The Post Road bridge and National Hall are on left.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed new office building (right-center) and condos (right) on the former Save the Children property, as seen from Parker Harding Plaza. The Post Road bridge and National Hall are on left; Bartaco is in the middle.

In the early 1990s, the Tauck family breathed new life into that old building. A century earlier, National Hall was one of Westport’s central meeting places. After Fairfield Furniture’s long run, it stood abandoned and in danger of collapse. Today it’s beautiful, and functional.

The old Vigilant Firehouse is now home to Neat. Bartaco recently infused more new energy into that area.

David Waldman stands poised to do the same. With Save the Children gone, it’s time to Save the West Bank of the Saugatuck.

Remembering Esta Burroughs

Esta Burroughs — pillar of the famed Remarkable Book Shop, and mother of noted Westport artist/graphic designer Miggs Burroughs — died earlier today. She was 102.

On March 15, 2013 — her 100th birthday — I posted this story on “06880.” It’s a great way to remember a truly “remarkable” woman.

Esta Freedman’s mother left Poland for Ellis Island at 17.  Esta’s father worked in the gold mines of South Africa as a teenager.  He stowed away on a US-bound ship, but gambled away his nest egg before it docked.

Esta was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1913. She and her 4 siblings shared a room. At 17, she left home for New York.

Esta Freedman at 17.

Esta Freedman at 17.

A chance meeting in the subway led to a meeting with Bernie Burroughs, an illustrator.  They hit it off.  Soon they eloped.  They lived in Greenwich Village, then Neptune, N.J.  In 1946 their son Miggs was born.

Bernie’s artist friends were moving to Connecticut.   The Burroughses followed:  to Stamford in 1948, then Westport in 1950 when their 2nd son Tracy was born.

Bernie and Esta quickly joined the local artists and writers’ circle, making friends with the likes of Howard Munce, Tracy Sugarman, Max Shulman, Evan Hunter, John G. Fuller and their families.

Bernie played poker; Esta, bridge.  They entertained often, and went to parties.  At some, couples put car keys in a bowl, and drove home with the owner of whichever set they pulled out.  Esta says she and Bernie always left before that happened.

She wrote articles for local newsletters.  Then she met Sidney and Esther Kramer.   They were opening a bookstore, called Remarkable — the name included “Kramer” spelled backwards — and asked her to join them.

The Remarkable Book Shop. (Photo by Dave Matlow)

The Remarkable Book Shop. (Photo by Dave Matlow)

Esta stayed in the iconic pink building on Main Street — working in the warren of rooms, loving the tall stacks of books, sloping floors and comfy chairs — until the day it closed.

She also partnered with Pat Fay — running tag sales as “Those 2 Girls” — but her Remarkable work really defined Esta Burroughs for generations of Westporters.

She waited on Paul Newman, Liz Taylor, Bette Davis, Keir Dullea, Christopher Plummer and Patty Hearst.  She also massaged the egos of many local authors, who visited constantly to check on sales of their books.

An avid reader, Esta enjoyed meeting writers.  The opportunity to read any title was a great perk — and a huge advantage for customers.  They asked countless questions about books.  She answered them all.

After Remarkable closed, Esta worked at the Save the Children Gift Shop.  Until recently she volunteered at the Westport Historical Society.

Today, Esta Burroughs turns 100.  The Remarkable Book Shop is long gone.  So are Paul Newman, Bette Davis — and key parties.

But Esta remembers them all, quite clearly.  Those memories are all part of her 6 decades in Westport — and her much-loved, seldom-acknowledged contributions to our town.

(Burial will be private. A memorial service will be announced soon, to be held at the Westport Historical Society. Contributions in her name may be made to an Alzheimer’s organization.)

Happy Birthday, Esta Burroughs!

Esta Burroughs (Photo by Miggs Burroughs)

From Westport To Anatevka And Syria, With Love

For the past 2 weekends, Staples Players’ production of “Fiddler on the Roof” awed and inspired packed audiences.

The show’s run ended last night. But its magic lives on.

The plight of early 20th century Russian Jews resonated with the teenage cast and crew. They made connections with world events today. At each performance, Players collected money for Save the Children’s Syrian Children’s Relief Fund.

At the end of last night’s final show, Players president Vig Namasivayam announced that audiences had donated $4,750 to the cause.

Staples Players:  Take a bow!

The symbolic check, presented to Save the Children after last night's performance.

A symbolic check, presented to Save the Children after last night’s performance.

(To add your own donation, click here.)

Westporter Safe In Nepal

Leo Dreyfuss — a 2008 graduate of Staples — was in Nepal Saturday, when the devastating earthquake hit.

The University of Wisconsin graduate is spending a few months traveling, prior to entering Wisconsin’s med school in the fall.

Leo had finished a trek , and was back in Katmandu when the quake hit. His part of the city suffered less damage than others. With communications in Nepal spotty, much of what he knows has come from IM conversations with his parents, David and Lauren, here in Westport.

Leo Dreyfuss, a few hours before the earthquake.

Leo Dreyfuss, a few hours before the earthquake.

Since the quake, Leo spends his nights in a tent city set up by the US Embassy, on an athletic field they control. Like most other people in the large city, he prefers to be out in the open, away from buildings that could tumble down in the many aftershocks that continue.

Leo has MREs to eat, a cot and blanket. He also has gone back and forth to his hotel.

Leo plans to head out tomorrow (Tuesday) — probably to Bangkok. However, he will never be able to truly leave Nepal behind.

(Save the Children has set up a special link for donations. Click here to help.)

Leo Dreyfuss took a long walk around Katmandu today. He found this grim scene in historic Durbar Square. In the background is the Old Royal Palace with the ruins of Taleju Temple in the foreground

Leo Dreyfuss took a long walk around Katmandu today. He found this grim scene in historic Durbar Square. In the background is the Old Royal Palace. Ruins of Taleju Temple lie in the foreground

 

40 Years Of Save The Children, Written On 1 Wall

There’s a certain pleasure in writing on walls — no matter what your age.

But for the men and women of Save the Children, scribbling on a wall just off the main lobby is bittersweet.

On June 2 the worldwide relief organization moves from its Wilton Road headquarters to new, larger digs in Fairfield.

Save the Children has been in Westport since 1974. Forty years of memories are now scrawled on that 1st-floor wall.

The Save the Children memories mural.

The Save the Children memories mural.

Titled “Thanks for the Memories, Westport,” it’s where the 300 employees memorialize the good, the bad, the ugly, the funny, the scary, and — hey, this is a workplace — the trivial and mundane.

Sitting a few feet from the river, there are many memories of hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters. Gloria, Irene, Sandy — they’re all there.

Animals were big, apparently. Save the Children workers saw plenty of geese, swans, turtles, cormorants, beavers and deer. They heard crickets. And one memorable storm drain rescue caused a temporary name change for the organization, to “Save the Ducks.”

There are photos on the wall too. One employee posted his picture of Westport in the spring.

There are photos too. One employee posted a picture of Westport in the spring.

The wall is filled with other memories: “Annual trip to the Sidewalk Sales.” “The gift shop.” “Walking to the library.” “Our community garden.” “The scenery.”

One person will remember “Kurt the UPS guy.” Another recalls “Meeting my husband.” (I don’t think he’s Kurt.)

Not all the memories are written on the wall. The other day Andrea Williamson, Erin Bradshaw and Ginger Tinsley gathered in the lobby, and talked about what working in Westport has meant to them.

Erin Bradsaw, Andrea Williamson and Ginger Tinsley have fond memories of working in Westport.

Erin Bradsaw, Andrea Williamson and Ginger Tinsley have fond memories of working in Westport.

They spoke of shopping on Main Street at Gristede’s and Liquor Locker. Of the bar around the corner (Bridge Grille) and the one down Riverside (Black Duck). They mentioned how helpful local institutions like the Saugatuck Rowing Club, Saugatuck Congregational Church and Earthplace have been to Save the Children.

But then we turned back to the wall. An entire history of the past 40 years is enshrined in just 2 lines.

Looking ahead to Fairfield, one employee will not miss “the soul-crushing commute.”

But another will never forget “quiet, still mornings on the river.”

 

Famous Artists School Draws NY Times’ Attention

Today’s New York Times Arts & Leisure section includes a long look back at popular arts correspondence courses of the 1950s and ’60s.

Writer Randy Kennedy says “the most prominent” — Famous Artists School of Westport — “became a cultural phenomenon, a highly profitable business operating out of a gleaming Modernist office complex along the Saugatuck River.”

(Newbies, take note: that “gleaming” complex turned into the sterile, soon-to-be-vacated Save the Children headquarters on Wilton Road.)

Describing Famous Artists’ talent test, Kennedy notes: “No one, of course, failed.” Instead, they were used “to dispatch a salesman to the door, with a big leatherette binder touting the benefits of a job in art.” Some were real. Others? “A bit far-fetched.”

Norman Rockwell (center, bow tie), with some of the Famous Artists School's faculty.

Norman Rockwell (center, bow tie), with some of the Famous Artists School’s faculty. (Photo courtesy of Norman Rockwell Museum)

At its peak, FAS had more than 40,000 students. At $300 per course, that was real money pouring in. (And real postage pouring out. Famous Artists — and its offshoots, Famous Writers and Famous Photographers Schools — placed heavy demands on our post office.)

Kennedy describes another reason FAS was financially successful: “Few students ever persevered through the entire course, freeing up manpower and saving the school money.” Far fewer students ever became famous artists — let alone capitalized  ones (in both senses of the word).

Famous Artists over-expanded, and went bankrupt in 1972. Its assets were bought in 1981 by Cortina Learning International, which continues to run it from Wilton.

But Famous Artists remains tied to Westport today: in the memories of anyone who lived here during its heyday. And in the minds of the thousands of “students,” who “corresponded” back and forth using the prestigious Westport address.

(For more on the Famous Artists School in Westport, click here.)

An advertisement from the 1950s. Perhaps Famous Artists could have hired a famous agency to create a more compelling ad.

An advertisement from the 1950s. Perhaps Famous Artists could have hired a famous agency to create a more compelling ad.

Save The Children: Bedford Square West?

The opening of Bartaco has opened up the west bank of the Saugatuck River. A couple of nearby restaurants are coming soon; across the Post Road, Arezzo is drawing big crowds (despite limited parking).

Now there’s more good news.

As reported first on WestportNow.com, David Waldman has signed a contract to buy the Save the Children property next to Bartaco, on Wilton Road.

That’s 2.59 acres of prime riverfront property. Though Save the Children is an internationally known, very important non-profit, it doesn’t need that great location to do its good deeds. For a while now, the headquarters — previously Famous Artists Schools — has looked a bit dumpy.

Waldman will fix that.

Save the Children's Wilton Road headquarters.

Save the Children’s Wilton Road headquarters.

Though sometimes controversial, his recent track record is impressive. He turned a dilapidated but historic Federal-style home into the wildly popular Spotted Horse restaurant, and breathed new life into what is now Urban Outfitters.

Now he’s remaking the other side of Church Lane. Bedford Square will bring a mix of retail, residential and office space to this vital but previously underutilized area of downtown.

It’s a project with plenty of moving parts. Throughout the long approval process, Waldman has listened to concerns — of taxpayers and town officials — and adapted well. He’s shown an interest in preservation, while understanding the needs of a suburban town re-imagining its entire downtown.

Bedford Square loking east, up Church Lane toward Christ & Holy Trinity. The Spotted Horse is on the right.

Plans for Bedford Square looking east, up Church Lane toward Christ & Holy Trinity. The Spotted Horse is on the right.

Bedford Square has had hiccups. But Waldman has shown a willingness to adapt, and a flexibility sometimes missing in past developments — his, and others.

I believe Waldman will show similar creativity and concern for his new Save the Children property. This is an enormous opportunity to remake a very cool, very important — and very overlooked — part of Westport.

I have no idea what Waldman will propose. I don’t know whether he bought the building and land because he already has a plan, or if he just realized the location, location, location was superb.

But I have faith he’ll turn it into something Westport can be proud of, and use to full advantage.

Waldman is a Westporter. His heart is here. That’s good news indeed for the future of our entire downtown.

Do you have a vision for the future use of Save the Children? Click “Comments” — and remember, full names please!