From time to time, Scott Smith turns his eye on the Westport that most of us see every day, but seldom think about.
Recently, he’s written about culverts and concrete. Today, it’s Cape Cods. Scott says:
Having lived in Westport for 25 years, I’ve heard plenty about teardowns, and the McMansions that relentlessly rise in their place.
I prize the sheer variety of architectural styles still found throughout 06880, from the Revolutionary-era Colonials, the gingerbread Victorians and Frazier Peters stone homes, to the ’60s-era contemporaries and more uniquely modern one-offs.
What I haven’t heard much about is the history of Westport’s more modest houses.
I’m familiar with the ubiquitous Cape style (having lived in one), and know there are several neighborhoods in town filled with Capes — Washington Avenue near downtown and Fairport Road on the other end of town, to name two.
The streetscape of Washington Avenue, a relatively unscathed neighborhood near downtown.
I’m curious about not just these suburban standbys but, to be frank, the tract houses built a la Levittown, by a developer who used the same basic template to fill a street — even whole neighborhoods — with similar houses.
Most of these developments likely date from the 1950s. That is probably the case with Guyer Road, a nearby street I jog along, marveling at the vintage style of the homes.
Homes on Guyer Road, off Valley Road near Hillspoint. (
They look like a variation of a California ranch, with canted rooflines to handle the New England snow. Many have been remodeled of course, but with some you can still see the stamp of the founding design. Do the homeowners swap tales, tips and gripes, or know the history of the original builder?
I’m sure there are other such enclaves. I recall Saugatuck Shores having more cookie-cutter homes, before floods and the real estate market transformed the area into something else.
I imagine there are even older developments, from the pre-war era. I figure that one of the later “planned communities” — the Gault neighborhood off Imperial — doesn’t quite qualify, as they seem to be a related mix of custom homes. Same with the recently built Hales Court development, which is a different matter altogether.
I’d be intrigued to hear from residents of some of these old-school neighborhoods. I’d like to get the back story of who built them, perhaps what these homes first sold for, and if any untouched versions still exist. I bet not. Just the same, they are a part of 06880’s continuing history.
Fairport Drive, in the neighborhood once called Westfair Village. (Photos courtesy of Google Street View)
“We’ll take over your house for a couple of weeks,” they told Brett Adams. “It will be crazy.”
They offered a contract. It specified exactly what they’d rent — the porch on his handsome Washington Avenue home, that sort of thing — and what they were responsible for. It spelled out the COVID restrictions, and other contingencies.
Brett signed. A couple of weeks later, the production crew arrived: all 50 to 75 of them.
“We probably didn’t fully understand that,” Brett says. “Or what it would mean for the entire street.”
Welcome to life, when your quiet Westport home becomes a bustling Hollywood movie set. Along with 5 others, next door and across the street.
A few of the many trucks, at the load-in on Washington Avenue.
The Adams’ house will be seen on screen a year and a half from now. December 2022 is the anticipated release of “The Noel Diary,” the Netflix film starring Justin Hartley (“This is Us”) and Bonnie Bedelia (“Die Hard,” “Parenthood”).
Yes, Christmastime. “The Noel Diary” is (duh) a holiday film.
And yes, it was filmed in Westport, on the hottest days in June. That’s the way the movie industry rolls.
Like anyone else in the business, Adams and his family learned to roll with the punches.
The saga began in March. Working at home, Adams saw people taking photos of his house.
Working with representatives from the state’s Office of Film, TV and Digital Media, they were scouting for 2 porches. They’d come to the right place: Adams’ — and the facades of other nearby houses, on the end of the usually quiet road just off Main Street — are historic and gorgeous. There’s not a McMansion in sight.
Filming began in other Fairfield County towns. The first sign of Westport’s star turn came when several enormous trucks massed in the Playhouse parking lot. That was the staging area.
Adams’ first sign that the crew was ready to take over — and do it their own, practiced way — was when they installed a massive generator on the side of the house. Then came tents in the back.
And huge cranes, for lighting. Plus cutting down a tree, for a better shot of another house across the way.
The Adams’ house. No, there is not usually a blue postal box in front.
The original contract included rental of the porch, a bit of the first floor interior, and basement (as a break room for the crew). Quickly, the producers asked to rent the driveway and garage too. Those riders were added.
Adams, his wife and son Will were both fascinated and blasé about the production. They watched in wonder as actors sweated through take after take in 90-degree heat (someone’s specific job was helping them take off their heavy coats).
Bedelia asked Brett if she could come inside between takes. Sure, he said. Will — a Staples High School junior — came downstairs during a study break, greeted the Emmy-nominated actress with a casual “hi!”, then went about his business.
Just like in the movies: The star gets her own chair.
The shaded porch became a favorite hangout for hair and makeup crews. Brett would take breaks from his own work, and ask them about their work. “I have my job, and they have theirs,” he says. “I learned a lot about what they do.”
One surprising lesson: how long it takes to shoot one scene. Each involves multiple angles, and many takes.
Once, a boy rode a bike up and down the street, over and over again. Another time, a dog chased a car — over and over and over again.
Brett was also astonished at the number of people involved, in every aspect, from the production manager to the guy watering the street.
The final night, the crew created a snowfall. Brett was impressed. “They really can create magic,” he says.
Winter in June. The snowman is a nice touch.
Nearly everyone who tromped onto Brett’s porch, and into his basement, had kind words for how nice and accommodating everyone in Westport had been. Apparently, that’s not always the case.
He returns the compliments. Negotiations were not stressful, he says. “They’re very practiced at this. They know antagonism will never get them anywhere.”
When a recycling bin went missing. someone hustled over to Westport Hardware and bought a new one.
The actors were great too, Brett says. Hartley took photos with everyone. Director Charles Shyer (“Father of the Bride,” “Private Benjamin,” “Alfie”) — “classic Hollywood, 79 years old in sneakers and a t-shirt” — was often available for interesting conversations.
“He never yelled ‘action,'” Brett observes. “There was someone else around to do that.”
“I don’t know where a Netflix film fits in with the whole art scene. But for a couple of weeks, even though it could be a nuisance, it was pretty cool.”
Besides, there was this: While work colleagues apologized for dog or toddler interruptions, Brett had another excuse.
“Sorry, guys,” he’d say. “They’re filming a movie at my house.”
Some scenes were filmed at night. These days, Washington Avenue is back to normal. (Photos/Brett Adams)
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