Tag Archives: Three Bears Restaurant

L’Chaim, Chabad!

In early 2012, “06880” reported that the former Three Bears would turn into a Chabad Lubavitch synagogue. It would be used for prayer services, educational programs and other meetings.

The 9,180-square foot property sat on 2.73 acres, at the corner of Wilton Road and Newtown Turnpike. It was a historic site.

Three Bears Inn, in its heyday. (Photo courtesy of Westport Historical Society)

That’s where the Three Bears — with 6 fireplaces — operated from 1900 until 2009. It reopened for about 5 seconds as Tiburon restaurant, but the property was soon abandoned. Weeds sprouted on the once-stately site — parts of which still stood from its days as a stagecoach stop, 200 years earlier.

The story noted that complaints had been made by a neighbor about work being done without permits, and bright security lights infringing on neighbors.

Other concerns included traffic, wetland impacts, and exterior alterations to a historic building.

The interior of the Three Bears, from its glory days. (Postcard/Cardcow.com)

That story ran when I still permitted anonymous comments. It drew the most responses ever: 217. (The record still stands.)

They ranged far and wide. Readers waded in on Chabad’s mission, good works, and religious tolerance/intolerance in general; zoning issues like the permit process, residential neighborhoods, traffic, historic structures — even the pros and cons of anonymous comments.

What a difference 6 years makes.

As Chabad of Westport prepares for its grand opening celebration May 3 — including a ribbon-cutting ceremony with 1st Selectman Jim Marpe — the neighborhood has changed hardly at all.

The Chabad of Westport exterior, on Newtown Turnpike.

The exterior of the Three Bears has been preserved. Some of the interior wood beams and other features remain too. More than 10,000 square feet have been added, but it’s in the back, barely visible to anyone. It’s all done in traditional New England style, with a barn-type feel.

Even the parking lot has been redesigned, eliminating a dangerous entrance near Wilton Road.

The renovated space — designed by Robert Storm Architecture, and carried out by Able Construction — includes seating for 300, in a light-filled multi-function synagogue; 8 classrooms for Hebrew school; event spaces, with a special area for teenagers; a large library, and a state-of-the-art commercial kosher kitchen.

The synagogue in the back includes plenty of light.

Eight apartments above can be used by visiting lecturers, and Orthodox observers attending events on the Sabbath who are too far away to walk home. (The apartments — completely renovated — were once leased to 3 Bears dishwashers.)

A large mural gives energy to the teenagers’ space.

The building process has reinforced for local Chabad leaders the importance of its site. Over the centuries, the property has been not only a restaurant, inn and stagecoach stop, but also (possibly) a house of ill repute, says congregant Denise Torve.

To honor its history, Rabbi Yehuda Kantor and Torve are seeking artifacts to display, and memories to showcase. Photos and recollections can be sent to DeniseTorve@aol.com.

An old sign hangs proudly in the new library.

Chabad has come a long way from the days when members met in the basement of the rabbi’s home, and rented the Westport Woman’s Club for High Holy Days services.

Of course, zoning issues continue to provoke intense Westport controversy. Only the location changes.

(Chabad of Westport’s grand opening celebration is set for Thursday, May 3, 6 p.m. at 79 Newtown Turnpike. It includes a ribbon cutting, mezuzah affixing, ushering in of the Torahs, buffet dinner, music and dancing. The entire community is invited.)

Chabad Grows Into Its New Home

Three years ago, Chabad Lubavitch of Westport bought the old, abandoned Three Bears Restaurant. An “06880” story — including neighbors’ complaints of renovation work done prior to the permitting process — drew a record 217 comments.

Three years later, Chabad is preparing a moderate expansion plan. All is going smoothly — so well, in fact, that neighbors are ready to toast “L’chaim!”

Chabad Lubavitch's home -- formerly the Three Bears, as seen from Newtown Turnpike.

Chabad Lubavitch’s home — the old Three Bears, as seen from Newtown Turnpike.

Though it’s called “Chabad of Westport,” the local branch of the international group serves Weston, Wilton and Norwalk too. The old Three Bears property — at the intersection of Wilton Road and Newtown Turnpike — is centrally located for all 4 towns.

It was Chabad’s 1st true local home. The organization — whose aim is to enhance Jewish life through programs, social services and worship — had rented a variety of sites for 18 years, including Ketchum Street, the Westport Woman’s Club and Camp Mahackeno.

Chabad has flourished. It runs a religious school, teen and adult programs, and a summer camp (at Coleytown Elementary School). Recently, they hosted a festive Purim party.

Another view of Chabad, looking toward Wilton Road.

Another view of Chabad, looking toward Wilton Road.

The new addition will enhance Chabad’s services — and the neighborhood — say Rabbi Yehudah Leib Kantor and Peter Greenberg (a Chabad member and partner in Able Construction, who is doing the project at cost). The architect is Robert Storm.

The historic nature of the building — including, importantly, its street-facing facade — will be protected. New construction will be in “the New England vernacular” — fieldstone and shingles — blending in with what’s already there.

The additions and renovations — enlarging the current 9,000 square feet by 4,000 more — will take place in the back. A new 300-person sanctuary will double as a function hall for holiday events, and bar and bat mitzvahs (right now, Chabad rents the Westport Woman’s Club.) The religious school will be housed in the lower level.

A rendering of the addition.

A rendering of the addition, as seen from Newtown Turnpike.

Also planned: a new lobby, kitchen and elevator. The interior of the existing building will be “freshened up,” Greenberg says.

The 100-car parking lot entrance closest to Wilton Road has been closed. That should ease traffic by the light.

The back of the parking lot, meanwhile, will be raised slightly, to protect nearby wetlands.

Another rendering -- parking lot view.

Another rendering — parking lot view.

Chabad has already presented plans to Westport’s Flood and Erosion Control Board. Ahead are more panels, including Conservation, and Planning & Zoning.

A variance for coverage will be needed from the Zoning Board of Appeals. This is routine, Greenberg says, for nearly every church, synagogue, school and commercial property.

“This is a community project,” the rabbi notes. Funding comes entirely from area residents. Feedback from neighbors has been very positive, he and Greenberg say.

Chabad hopes for approvals within 3 to 4 months, with construction completed by next spring.

From their lips to you-know-who’s ears.

Chabad Lubavitch Makes An Unorthodox Move

After more than a century as a restaurant — and with parts of the building dating back over 200 years, to its days as a stagecoach stop — the former 3 Bears will turn into a Chabad Lubavitch synagogue.

Or not.

A January 23 Norwalk Hour story said that the 9,180-square foot property, on 2.73 acres at the corner of Wilton Road and Newtown Turnpike, was “poised to change hands and become the new home of Chabad Lubavitch of Westport.”

The Three Bears was a famed restaurant/inn — with 6 fireplaces — from 1900 until February 2009. It reopened for about 5 seconds as Tiburon restaurant, but the property was soon abandoned. Weeds sprouted on the once-stately site.

The Three Bears, after abandonment.

According to the Hour, John Zervos of DVB Commercial Realty said that Chabad — an Orthodox sect based in Brooklyn, and by some estimates the largest Jewish organization in the world — was “not planning on changing the outside, and the inside works really well for them with the big open spaces of the dining rooms.”

The Hour paraphrased Zervos as saying that while the group had already moved their offices into the new space, they had not yet applied for permits with town officials “to use the space as a religious institution in order to officially close the deal.” (They appear to be leasing, not buying, the building.)

The Three Bears, in its heyday. (Postcard/Cardcow.com)

The story noted that Westport’s Planning and Zoning Department received a complaint on January 4 from a neighbor “regarding activity taking place at the former restaurant.” A January 11 inspection revealed work being done on the premises without permits.

A letter sent January 13 cited violations of zoning regulations, said P&Z director Laurence Bradley. Chabad’s attorney requested a 30-day abeyance for more time to submit paperwork. It was granted, giving the group until February 23 to file its application.

Bradley noted, “they have been working and doing things without a permit. It’s been a restaurant since probably before there was zoning, so if they want it to become a synagogue, they will have to go through an extensive review and public hearings.”

Chabad attorney Ken Gruder told the Hour that the space will be used for an outreach group that includes prayer services, educational programs and religious discussions.

“It’s not a synagogue in the traditional sense, it’s so much more,” Gruder added.

But the story does not end there, with applications simply pending.

Yesterday afternoon, I received an email from a longtime Westporter. Attached was a letter the resident sent a day earlier to Bradley.

The interior of the Three Bears, also from its glory days. (Postcard/Cardcow.com)

It said: “Without proper permits for use of the premises as an office or house of worship, the group appears to already be working in the building, often at night, although the nature of their activities are unclear.” Apparently, there are 6 to 10 cars there each night.

The resident added that an “extremely bright outdoor security light in the parking area” was infringing on neighbors.

The writer expressed concern about traffic, parking and wetland impacts, and noted that the building — currently enjoying a “pre-existing approval for non-conforming use as a restaurant in a residential area” — would need a new P&Z approval process for any change of use.

One more concern: exterior alterations to historic building.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-94), famed Chabad leader.

In the email to me, the resident added more information: Several years ago Chabad was embroiled in a lawsuit in Litchfield, over proposed renovations that would turn a Victorian house in the town’s 1st synagogue. At one point, according to the Register-Citizen newspaper, Chabad filed suit against the town in federal court, alleging anti-Hasidic prejudice.

Right now, Chabad occupies a house on Kings Highway North that faces the medical complex.

Will they apply for permits by February 23? Will there be hearings — and if so, how contentious will they be?

Will Chabad move a mile or so up Wilton Road? Will the site of what was once Westport’s oldest restaurant become our town’s newest synagogue-or-something-like-it?

And why — despite a story last month in a Norwalk paper — is no one talking about this in Westport?