Tag Archives: Toquet Hall

Westport Welcomes AAPI Heritage Month

Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month begins Sunday — and AAPI Westport is ready.

With a full slate of activities, the group invites all residents to learn, connect and celebrate together.

  • Kickoff AAPI Heritage Month at Saugatuck Sweets on Monday, May 2 (4:30-6pm). Get an ice cream cone discount, and hear First Selectwoman Jen Tooker’s official proclamation.
  • Join the discussion: #StopAsianHate: One Year Later (Wednesday, May 4, 6 p.m., Westport Library). The film We Need to Talk About Anti-Asian Hate will be shown. NBC News correspondent Vicky Nguyen will moderate a discussion with Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, Organization of Chinese Americans of Fairfield County president Miriam Yeung, #IAmNotAVirus founder Mike Keo, and AAPI Westport co-founder Patra Kanchanagom.  Click here to register.

Vicky Nguyen

  • Enjoy performances and food at the AAPI Festival (Westport Weston Family Y, Saturday, May 7, 2 to 4 p.m).  Mecha-Uma will sell Japanese food. Admission is free; register click here to register.
  • Cocktails, conversation and fellowship are on tap at the AAPI & Allies Happy Hour (MoCA Westport, May 10, 5 to 7 p.m.).
  • Middle and high school students are invited to an interactive workshop about AAPI History: Fighting Anti-Asian Hate with Immigrant History Initiative (May 14, Toquet Hall, 4 to 6 p.m.). Admission is free; pizza provided. Click here to register.
  • To experience the multiverse and see Michelle Yeo, watch  Everything Everywhere All at Once (May 19, Remarkable Theater, 8 p.m.). A short film about AAPI Westport will be shown too. Click here for tickets.

Fore more information click here. Sign up on Instagram (@aapiwestport) for updates.

Roundup: Ukraine Rally, Lynsey In London, Jersey Mike’s …

===================================================

A rally in support of the Ukrainian people, and against Russian aggression, is set for tomorrow (Saturday, March 26, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.) on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge downtown.

A rally earlier this month drew hundreds of attendees. This will be smaller, but no doubt just as heartfelt.

Georgians have suffered under Russian rule. Earlier this month, these natives of that nation showed solidarity with Ukrainians on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge. (Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)

======================================================

Speaking of Ukraine: The world owes Lynsey Addario a huge debt of thanks.

The Pulitzer Prize and MacArthur Fellow-winning New York Times photojournalist — and, not for nothing, a 1991 Staples High School graduate — has taken some of the most riveting photos in the month since Russia invaded Ukraine. Her images have opened billions of eyes to the horrors of this war.

Yesterday, Lynsey returned home — to her home in London, anyway. Her family there — and her parents, Westporters Phillip and Camille, and her 3 sisters spread across the US — are grateful for her safe return.

Lauren, Lynsey, Lisa and Lesley Addario — the 4 sisters.

=====================================================

So far, we’ve heard — from various Jersey Mike’s communications — that they are “closed permanently” (front door) and “temporarily closed for renovation” (social media).

“06880” reader Jason Stiber used the company’s “Support” function to ask if they were closing the Westport location.

The response, from “Kristin” of the Customer Relations Team at Jersey Mike’s Franchise Systems, Inc. in Manasquan (New Jersey, of course) was: “The store is relocating. That is all the information we have at this time. Please feel free to check back for updated information.”

So that’s a third option. Almost as difficult as deciding what to order there …

=====================================================

“06880” reader James Grogan asks: “What are the best places — coffee shops, areas of the Library, etc. — in Westport (and surrounding areas) with Wi-Fi to get work done? I have a fully remote job, and want to change my routine.”

I’m sure he’s not the only one. If you’ve got a favorite spot — and don’t mind sharing it — click “Comments” below.

When the power went out during Tropical Storm Isais in 2020, Westporters took advantage of the library’s WiFi al fresco — masked and socially distanced, of course. (Photo/Miggs Burroughs)

=======================================================

The other day, Wendy Crowther spotted the first osprey of the season. He returned  — right on time — to the Fresh Market perch.

Now Peter J. Swift sends along the first photo.  He appears to be settling in well. After all these years, his family are now natives.

(Photo/Peter J. Swift)

=======================================================

Speaking of nature: Aspetuck Land Trust is all about preserving the land.

Except for invasive plants.

The non-profit’s next “Lunch & Learn” is Thursday (March 31, noon to 1:30 p.m. Zoom).

Discover what to remove — and how — with an expert panel. Click here to register. Click here for some great invasive plant resources, to get started.

Invasive vines (Photo/Darcy Sledge)

=======================================================

There’s a new Lighthouse in Westport.

That’s the name of the peer-to-peer social support group for LGBTQ youth (and their allies), ages 12 to 19. It’s part of Kids in Crisis, the Greenwich-based social service organization.

Meetings take place every Monday from 5 to 7 p.m., at Toquet Hall. Two adults are always present, And there is food!

Questions? Email program coordinator Joe Belisle: lighthouse@kidsincrisis.org.

======================================================

The Westport Police Department earned national recognition for its work in helping donate more than 200 previously used ballistic vests and helmets to Ukrainian fighters.

They — along with departments in Brookfield, Darien, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Monroe, Norwalk, Stratford, Trumbull and Wilton, plus Western  Connecticut State University — joined the effort.

Police1 — a national website — highlighted the donations as its Photo of the Week:

Donated vests and helmets: Police1’s Photo of the Week.

======================================================

Yesterday’s Roundup carried news of a Ukrainian relief effort spearheaded by 1972 Staples High School graduates Tom and Mary-Jo Birtwell McCann.

They’ve added a GoFundMe page. Click here to help. Click here for a story on the effort from the Nantucket Current.

=======================================================

Author Marlene Hauser is a former Westport resident, from the 1990s. She lives in England– but her new book “Geraniums” mentions her former town.

Westport is mentioned toward the end. After a long search, the main character is finally reunited with her mother — right here in town.

As for the title: When Marlene was here, she was a regular visitor to a Westport greenhouse. (Hat tip: Barbara Katz)

======================================================

Connectalent — the Westport-based recruiting company that places female talent and increases diversity within companies, –has just received B-Corp certification from B Lab.

Connectalent qualifies as a full-service recruiting agency that aims to solve a social issue through its work serving an underserved population of candidates — a group that faces chronic discrimination in a particular market, which includes job discrimination based on gender.

=======================================================

 

Today’s “Westport … Naturally” feature shows off Lauri Weiser’s photography — and her creativity. This is her work:

(Photo/Lauri Weiser)

=======================================================

And finally … in honor of Lynsey Addario’s safe return from Ukraine:

Roundup: Senior Center, Toquet Hall, Twilight Zone …

=======================================================

The latest casualties of COVID: the Senior Center and Toquet Hall.

Both places — gathering spots for older Westporters and teenagers, respectively — have suspended all indoor and in-person programming.

The town Department of Human Services says that some Senior Center classes and programs will be offered on Zoom.

The Senior Center lunch program will operate as a drive-thru at noon, Monays through Fridays. To participate, call 203-341-5099 at least 24 hours in advance.

Back in action soon — hopefully.

======================================================

Rod Serling moved from Westport to California in the late 1950s. He died — at just 50 years old — in 1975.

But the screenwriter extraordinaire still lives. Continuing a long tradition, the SyFy network airs a “Twilight Zone” New Year’s marathon. It starts at 2 a.m. tomorrow (Friday, December 31) and runs through 5 a.m. Sunday, January 2.

There’s a new episode every half hour or so. Click here for the schedule.

Looking for “A Stop at Willoughby” — the famous show in which the conductor of a train calls out “Next stop: Westport Saugatuck!” (and which Serling called his favorite of the entire first year)?

It’s 8:20 p.m. on Saturday — New Year’s Day.

=======================================================

Local to Market — Main Street’s great new spot for food, crafts and much more — is hiring.

If you’re fond of fine local stuff, have a passion for small business, and are interested in joining a fun team for 10-20 hours a week, email jon@localtomarket.com.

Local to Market is hiring.

=====================================================

Our “Westport … Naturally” feature focuses on natural features (naturally).

Sometimes though, the natural world needs a slight man-made touch. David Lowrie created this scene, using (naturally) all natural tree stumps, at his property off North Bulkley.

(Photo/Tom Lowrie)

======================================================

And finally … today is the birthday of a ton of important musicians: Bo Diddley, Skeeter Davis, Del Shannon, John Hartford, Paul Stookey, Felix Pappalardi, two Monkees (Michael Nesmith and Davy Jones), Patti Smith and Jeff Lynne.

It’s hard to pick just one to showcase. But in the spirit of optimism — at the end of a tough year, and the dawn of a new one — I’ll go with this:

Friday Flashback #137

I’m not sure what year this was.

I don’t know what “Projectoscope” means.

But — even if it didn’t live up to its promise as “the best program ever given here” — it must have been pretty cool.

(Courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

I do know one thing: the Opera House where D.W. Robertson presented his famous, marvelous Projectoscope is still around.

Today though, we call it Toquet Hall.

Friday Flashback #56

Some Friday Flashback photos are unrecognizable today. Others are long gone.

More than 100 years after this image was taken, it’s still around.

And it looks almost unchanged.

The photo — provided by Seth Schachter — shows what is now Toquet Hall, on the Post Road across from Bedford Square.

Around 1900 — when this photo was taken — it housed the offices of the Westporter-Herald newspaper, and the Westport Drug Company. You could buy newspapers, postcards, magazines and cigars there. The store next door on the left sold cigars too.

There’s the still-familiar alley leading to Toquet Hall — today, a teen center — on the right.

So who was Toquet?

Benjamin H. Toquet was born in Paris in 1834, and came to America in 1845. He served in the Civil War, then returned to Westport.

His son Benjamin Louis was born in 1864.

Toward the end of the century the younger Toquet — now a respected businessman — built an opera house on Post Road property inherited by his wife, Nellie Bradley. The first town meeting was held there on April 2, 1892.

For the next 17 years, all town meetings and assemblies were held there.

The older Toquet died in 1913, a successful entrepreneur. He headed up the Toquet Motor Company, which developed carburetors for Fords.

B. Louis Toquet had a daughter, Vivienne. His family — and his father — lived at 10 Avery Place. As of 1946, he still lived there.

More than 70 years later, their name — and building — live on.

The Toquet building last year.

Thank You, Barbara Butler!

A star-studded cast filled the Senior Center this afternoon, to honor Barbara Butler. Town and state officials, longtime volunteers, and the heads of the library and Y — among many others — paid tribute to the head of Westport’s Human Services Department.

But calling Butler — who retires tomorrow, after 27 years of service to the town — a department leader is like calling the Beatles “a band.”

Barbara Butler (right) shares memories with RTM moderator Eileen Flug.

Barbara Butler (right) shares memories with RTM moderator Eileen Flug.

In nearly 30 3 decades here, Butler has overseen every age group from teenagers (Youth Commission, Toquet Hall, Staples High School outreach) to seniors (Senior Center, Baron’s South elderly housing task force).

She’s been involved with tax relief, casework, career coaching and emergency preparedness. She’s helped homeowners pay for oil, and provided suits and dresses for needy Staples grads.

Butler helped found Project Return and the A Better Chance of Westport program.

She’s been a member of the TEAM Westport diversity group, and served with Positive Youth Development and the United Way. She’s a past president of the League of Women Voters.

Next month, the RTM votes on the formation of a new Commission on People with Disabilities. Butler spent her final weeks on the job helping launch that project.

In her spare time, she runs. And rows.

Guests at today's party signed a card for Barbara Butler. That's her in the center, rowing.

Guests at today’s party signed a card for Barbara Butler. That’s her in the center, rowing.

The Senior Center was packed today with her bosses (past and present), colleagues, friends, family and fans.

But if organizers invited everyone Barbara Butler helped over the past 27 years, they would have needed Yankee Stadium.

And still turned folks away.

Fresh Toquet

Toquet Hall is one of Westport’s most intriguing spaces.

Located in an alley between the Post Road and Jesup Green — on the 2nd floor of what was once Westport’s opera house — the teen coffeehouse provides a big, open spot for middle and high school students to hear bands, watch shows, play pool and hang out after school and on weekends. All in the heart of downtown.

It’s also one of Westport’s most underutilized spaces.

The games area at Toquet Hall.

The games area at Toquet Hall.

Since it opened in 1998, a core group of kids has always enjoyed Toquet Hall. The vast majority, however, seldom set foot inside. Many have no idea it even exists.

A small crew of teenagers and adults have set out to change that.

The Toquet Hall enhancement group — part of the Westport Downtown Plan Implementation Committee — and Toquet teen governing board have worked on a few upgrades.

They include:

  • Fix the stage and flooring, helping reduce noise impact on the retail space downstairs — while allowing more usage and expanded hours
  • Renovate the snack bar, adding more items like french fries and smoothies
  • Build a storage closet above the stairs, to maximize space on stage for more musical performances, movies and plays
  • Improve signage, for better visibility and access (it’s pretty hard to find).

Work begins this summer.

A GoFundMe site is helping raise the $35,000 needed.

Meanwhile, all Westporters — whether they’ve ever been to Toquet Hall or not — are invited to an open house this Saturday (June 18, 2 to 6 p.m.).

Don’t know where it is? Follow the handy directions below!

Toquet Hall directions

Greens Farms Academy's Harbor Blues singing group performs ...

Greens Farms Academy’s Harbor Blues singing group performs …

... and middle schoolers enjoy an afternoon workshop.

… and middle schoolers enjoy an afternoon workshop. A group of teenagers and adults hope to renovate the space, attracting many more kids.

Reshaping Reality, One Teen At A Time

Everyone talks about the enormous social pressures around body image. They lead to extreme reactions — including self-esteem issues, eating disorders, even death.

In Westport, a small group of teenagers is doing something about them.

Reshaping Reality is a Staples High School club. Two dozen students reach out to middle schoolers — and their parents — to break the cycle of dangerous behavior.

This is no ordinary, resume-padding group. Potential members fill out a written application, and undergo interviews. They form a tight-knit, trusting community. They share their hopes and fears. They spend months educating themselves about the complex dynamics of body image.

Then they go out into the wider community, and share what they’ve learned.

Before spring break, the Reshaping Reality crew sponsored a presentation and conversation — called “Middle Schooler in the Mirror” — with parents at Toquet Hall. They talked about friendships, relationships, and everything else that affects eating patterns.

A slide from the Reshaping Reality presentation.

A slide from the Reshaping Reality presentation.

“It wasn’t ‘parenting,'” club president Jenna Patterson says. “We’re not parents. It’s just us looking back on middle school, and things we would have liked hearing from our own parents.”

The evening was a hit. One woman called it “better than adult talk, because the info came from first-hand sources. It was so honest and thoughtful.”

Now — for 3 Tuesdays (running through May 10), the group has organized an open-dialogue session for middle school students. They begin at 5:30 p.m., and are open to all middle schoolers. Registration is not required.

“It’s very personal,” Jenna notes. This is not a ‘school assembly.'”

Jenna Patterson

Jenna Patterson

The 1st session focused on the media and students. The next is on social pressures. The 3rd highlights self-image.

The Stapleites have prepared for this since the fall. They meet for 2 hours every week. First they talk about their own lives. Then they split into small groups.

“Everyone in our group has had different experiences,” Jenna says. “But all of us have tried to move past our awkward middle school times. That’s when eating disorders often start. Middle school kids look up to people in high school. We’re just doing what we can to help.”

Eating disorders and body image are big, complex topics. By taking the time to tackle them — personally, using their own words and voices — 2 dozen Staples students are truly reshaping middle schoolers’ reality.

(The middle school sessions are set for Tuesday, May 3 and May 10, 5:30 p.m. at Toquet Hall. For more information, click here or email reshapingrealityorg@gmail.com)

Kids These Days!

“06880” regularly praises Staples High School’s astonishing actors and musicians, robotics whizzes and talented writers.

Occasionally, I shine a light on great athletes (though that’s really the job of newspaper sports pages).

Yet Staples’ halls are filled with less heralded, equally remarkable boys and girls. Very quietly — but quite passionately — they do wonderful things. 

Here are 3 of them.

————————————

Art Kelly always enjoyed helping around the house. At 3 years old, he was outside watching lawnmowers.

A few years later he walked around the neighborhood with a weed whacker.

At 10, he helped neighbors with chores like raking. His $15 fee was a lot cheaper than “real” landscapers — but he did a great job.

Six years later, he mows, mulches, weeds, edges, plants, aerates, prunes, tills and de-thatches. He has dozens of regular customers, 8 employees — all fellow Stapleites — and a great name for his own company: A Work of Art Landscaping.

Art owns a truck and trailer — along with plenty of equipment. But he’s just a sophomore, with only a learner’s permit. So his father drives him around.

Art bought everything with his own money. That’s exactly the way this independent teenager thinks it should be.

Art Kelly, with some of his equipment.

Art Kelly, with some of his equipment.

He prides himself on being more conscientious than some “professionals.”

“You have to protect gardens and beds” when mowing, he explains. “A lot of companies just shoot stuff into it, without even caring.”

Art has learned many other aspects of business. He uses QuickBooks for invoices and estimates. He’s well versed in the world of credit cards and taxes. Right now, he’s finishing paperwork to be an LLC.

Every lesson is profitable — even when, as with a few early estimates, he took losses. “That’s the only way to learn,” he says philosophically.

Of course, some customers think they can pull one over on a high school kid. “I’m not afraid to walk away if someone tries to take advantage,” Art says. “This is a business. If your goal is only to get the lowest dollar, it’s not worth it for either of us.”

A Work of Art Landscaping's work of art.

A Work of Art Landscaping’s work of art.

Art is currently running a promotion: Show him last year’s mowing bill, and he’ll take 10% off it.

And if you’re worried about him leaving in 2 years for college: don’t. Art plans to stay around here for school, to better serve his customers.

(To learn more about A Work of Art Landscaping, click here, call 203-557-4457, or email awoalandscaping@gmail.com.)

—————————————————

“My whole world is fashion,” says Emerson Kobak.

“I love creativity and art. Whenever I sew or draw, I’m happy.”

Since she was 7 — when her grandmother taught her how to make a skirt — she knew that’s what she wanted to do.

The next year, Emerson’s mother bought her a beginner’s sewing machine. At 9 she made and sold pillowcases at charity events. She called her business LOXO — “lots of hugs and kisses.”

At 12, Emerson made her own bat mitzvah dress. “I wanted it to be different, and special,” she notes.

For every big event since, Emerson has created her own clothes. She made her sister’s elementary school graduation dress (and her own).

Emerson Kobak

Emerson Kobak

Every Saturday at 7:30 a.m. for the past 3 years, Emerson has taken the train to New York. She’s there all day, studying drawing and sewing at the Fashion Institution of Technology.

Though only a freshman last year, she started the Staples Fashion Club. She researched similar groups in other schools. She found like-minded designers and models.

Then she made a business plan. Her goal was to organize a fashion show.

“Fashion For a Cause” takes place Friday, May 13 (7 p.m., Toquet Hall). All proceeds go to Dress for Success — an organization that provides support and professional attire, to help underprivileged women succeed.

Emerson is making 12 different outfits for the show. Other designers contribute their own.

Emerson Kobak, modeling one of her creations.

Emerson Kobak, modeling one of her creations.

Emerson has taken care of every detail. Westport Pizzeria, Matsu Sushi, Oscar’s Delicatessen and Davids Tea are donating all the food and drinks. There’s music too.

The upcoming fashion show is a great — and generous — way for Emerson to follow her passion.

But it’s not the only one. This summer, she heads to Cornell University’s fashion design program.

Where she will continue to make her very distinctive, and quite fashionable, mark.

(To learn more about “Fashion for a Cause” — or to buy tickets — click here. To check out her website, click here.) 

—————————————————

The first time Dylan Horowitz flew a drone, he crashed it.

But he’s got great hand-eye coordination. He soon had the hang of it.

He also realized that neighbors and realtors were looking for better images of homes than Google Street View.

His first job was nerve-wracking. Lots of people watched, and there were mechanical complications.

But — as with flying his drone — Dylan quickly figured things out. He’s now got a thriving business: High in the Sky Imaging.

Dylan Horowitz, with his drone.

Dylan Horowitz, with his drone.

He charges $100 to $400 an hour — far less than the $3,000 homeowners pay for helicopter photos.

Plus, Dylan says, “My service is better.” His high-quality images are available within 2 days.

“People love seeing their houses from a new perspective,” Dylan says. “There definitely is a ‘wow!’ factor.”

Every house is different, of course. Dylan designs a new plan for every flight. He includes a wide variety of angles, and soars over lawns, gardens, pools and outbuildings.

The biggest challenge is trees — but not because of the flying. They interfere with a drone’s satellite connection.

His goal is to show homes in the best possible way. However, some owners and realtors have noticed things like rusty roofs, and decided not to post the videos.

One owner fixed his roof, then invited Dylan back again. Another embarked on a landscaping project, after noticing cracks on his property.

Dylan hopes to branch out. He’s a golfer, so golf courses are a natural. Drone photos show off different aspects of each hole. Dylan’s voice commentary is an extra bonus.

After that — who knows? For Dylan Horowitz, the sky’s the limit.

(To learn more, click here; email highintheskyimaging@gmail.com, or call 917-797-2034.)

Mr. Toquet’s Opera House

Alert “0688o” reader Seth Schachter spotted this gem for sale on eBay:

Toquet ticket

It’s an invitation to an informal reception at the Westport Opera House on December 29 — of 1892.

Smythe’s Orchestra was going to play. The cost for gentlemen was $1. Apparently, women were free.

The most interesting part of the invitation is the 3rd name on the “Committee.” Besides Gould Jelliff and Arthur Jelliff, there was B. Louis Toquet.

Here’s the back story (thanks to Woody Klein’s history of Westport):

Benjamin H. Toquet was born in Paris in 1834, and came to America in 1845. He served in the Civil War, then returned to Westport.

His son — the B(enjamin) Louis Toquet on the invitation — was born in 1864.

Toward the end of the century the younger Toquet — now a respected businessman — built an opera house on Post Road property inherited by his wife, Nellie Bradley. The first town meeting was held there on April 2, 1892.

For the next 17 years, all town meetings and assemblies were held there.

Toquet's opera house, today.

Toquet’s opera house, today.

The older Toquet died in 1913, a successful entrepreneur. He headed up the Toquet Motor Company, which developed carburetors for Fords.

B. Lewis Toquet had a daughter, Vivienne. His family — and his father — lived at 10 Avery Place. As of 1946, he was still living there.

In 2016, of course, the 2nd floor Post Road/Jesup Road alley space is not an opera house. It’s a teen center — and it’s named for Toquet.

Rock bands play there. Hip hop artists, comedians and magicians perform. Teenagers put on plays.

No opera, though.

Go figure.

PS: The eBay invitation sold this morning. The price was $9 — 9 times more than admission to the opera house, 124 years ago.

Fighting Static, live at Toquet Hall.

Fighting Static, live at Toquet Hall.