Tag Archives: Toquet Hall

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.

Laughable Teenagers

Once upon a time, Toquet Hall was a hotbed for comedians. Mike Barbiglia, Bo Burnham and Bill Burr — big names have appeared there.

But it’s been a while since Westport’s downtown teen center hosted a major comedy night.

Josh Popkin

Josh Popkin

This Friday, laughter returns. Ryan Conner — a writer for “Saturday Night Live” and Dave Chappelle — headlines a show.

Equally intriguing are the warmup acts.

Staples senior Josh Popkin and junior Michael Mathis take the stage. It’s one thing to be a professional comedian. It’s another thing entirely to stand up in front of your peers — and do stand-up.

But they’re ready.

“I have a weird obsession with making people laugh,” Josh says. He’s performed at summer camp, but this will be his first time in front of a hometown crowd.

Josh calls himself an “observational” comedian, like Jerry Seinfeld. His routine includes jokes about school, Facebook, parents, the orthodontist and public nudity. Michael is more improvisational.

Michael Mathis

Michael Mathis

So is Josh nervous about his debut?

Sure — but not because of his material or delivery.

“I’m more nervous people won’t show up,” he says.

So help him out. Pack the house. (This Friday’s show is 7:30 p.m.; tickets are $5.)

Then — when Josh and Michael are household names — you can say you knew them when.

They might even come back and headline their own Toquet Hall show.

(For more details on Toquet Hall, click here.)

“The Last 5 Years”

Michelle Pauker and Clay Singer had major roles — Mary Magdalene and Judas — in this summer’s Staples Players production of Jesus Christ Superstar.  It was a huge time commitment — and very successful

Michelle Pauker (Photo/August Laska)

So when the show closed July 31, Michelle and Clay could have been expected to spend the final weeks before school begins chilling at the beach, hanging out with friends or just acting like rising Staples juniors.

Instead they put on another show.

They chose “The Last 5 Years,” a clever 2-person song-cycle musical that chronicles a relationship, from meeting to breakup (or backwards — you had to see it).

Michelle and Clay secured the rights and the stage; hired a 5-person pit orchestra; corralled their friends (and parents) into assisting as stage managers, lighting and tech crew, publicists, set and costume designers — and handled thousands of other details, like miking and a website.

Clay Singer (Photo/August Laska)

The show had a very successful run last weekend at Toquet Hall.  Michelle and Clay have beautiful voices.  They nailed every aspect of a complex, long relationship.  It was one of those unexpected treasures of summer.

But that was not the most impressive part of what these teenagers did.

Virtually every aspect of the the production was donated.  It was a fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Here’s what Michelle wrote in the program:

Five years ago, at 11 years ago, my life was drastically changed when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.  For “the last 5 years” of my life I’ve dealt with testing my blood sugar levels and giving myself insulin every time I eat something; excusing myself from classes and activities when my blood sugar gets too low, and experiencing the pain of needles every time I change my insulin pump site.

The day I was diagnosed, I thought my life as I knew it was over.  However, because of support from the JDRF, new technologies and treatments allow me to live an almost normal life.

However, I know that many people with type 1 diabetes are not as fortunate as I am, and have a more difficult time dealing with the disease.  I want to give back to JDRF for all it has given me, and by doing this project I hope to take another step toward finding a cure.

Michelle went on to thank her doctors and nurses at Yale; her parents; Clay, and everyone else who made “The Last 5 Years” possible.

She concluded:

Finally, most importantly, thank you to each and every one of you in the audience.  Each ticket purchased is a donation to JDFR, and each donation goes toward helping children with diabetes.

Thank you for joining me in the fight against this disease, and the journey to a cure!

And how did you spend your summer vacation?!

(Click here for more information on the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation — or to make a donation.)

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

A recent post highlighting one former Westporter’s disillusionment with what his former hometown lit a (predictable) fire in the “06880” comments section.

In response, someone who grew up here in the 1960s — then returned to Westport 10 years ago to live — offered these thoughts on positive changes in over the decades.

For example:

Staples.  “What a magnificent facility this is now,” the writer says.  “It reminds me of a modern college complex.  And while going to classes back in the ’60s via outdoor walkways was great on beautiful fall and spring days, it was a pain in the neck in the winter and during downpours.

The fieldhouse and pool, the returnee adds, represent much-improved athletic facilities.  They’re used often, by people of all ages.

The Staples High School of yesteryear looked nothing like this.

Levitt Pavilion.  “We had nothing like this growing up.  A true cultural and entertainment jewel.”

Toquet Hall.  “There was no teen center when we grew up,” the “06880” reader notes.

Senior Center.  “Was there anything like this back in the day?”  No way.

Library.  The writer says there is “absolutely no comparison between the old cramped Post Road building and the current location.  Besides the far greater offering of books and periodicals, the present-day library is much more of a community center in so many ways.  The hours are also much more extensive now.”

The Library looks a lot different from its previous, cramped quarters.

Speaking of hours, stores are open far longer than in the past.  This is a function of the repeal of Connecticut’s blue laws, but it’s a change for the better, the reader says.

Restaurants offer a “much greater choice today (and I’m sure most people would add, a great choice of high quality).”

Longshore, including the building housing the tennis pro shop, lockers and food concession, is “a beautifully designed gateway to that section of the club, far superior to the prior run-down building.”  Much of the rest of Longshore — the pool, inn, golf course and marina — is also vastly improved.

The person who responded served up this challenge:  “If you’ve got a Westport connection going back at least 20 years, what else is better now?”

I’ll start it off:  We never had local blogs 🙂

To add your own thoughts, click the “Comments” link.