Tag Archives: Westport Historical Society

“06880 + 50”: Mike Greenberg’s Vision

The Westport Historical Society‘s new “06880 + 50” exhibit — visions of Westport in 2067 — is fun. It’s thought-provoking. It’s clever.

Over a dozen local architects contributed ideas. From a reimagined river to out-of-the-way parking for driverless cars, it’s more focused on what’s really possible than an idealistic Jetsons world.

Many of the concepts deal with downtown. One firm took a different approach.

Michael Greenberg & Associates built on their founder’s lifelong association with Westport. The Staples High School graduate grew up in a town filled with artists and other creative people. He believes Westport remains a community that embraces “progressive change,” committed to taking care of the planet both environmentally and socially.

A map of Westport — circa 2067 — shows only arterial roads (white) remaining. The rest of the town is broken up into relatively self-sufficient “quadrants.” Click on or hover over to enlarge.

He’s seen builders embrace the “bigger is better” model, but believes it will end. Single family homes on 1- and 2-acre lots, with driveways, pools and manicured lawns, are environmentally wasteful, Greenberg says.

That lifestyle has created isolation, and a disconnect not only to nature but to each other, he adds.

So Greenberg — who reveres barn and antique materials — envisions a Westport that goes back to its roots. He imagines smaller homes, surrounded by open space, community farms, and places to care for the elderly and young.

These “new villages” will develop, he thinks, as millennials (and the generations that follow) realize the importance of downsizing and living responsibly.

A rough sketch of one quadrant. It is bounded by Roseville Road, Long Lots Road, North Avenue and Cross Highway. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

In the WHS exhibit, Greenberg explains, “the smart and concerned folks of Westport” will establish a new “Farm Zone.” New homes — on the edges of main roads — will surround working farms.

Everyone will pitch in to help traditional farmers. Produce would be available at indoor/outdoor markets. Greenhouses would further support independent sustainability.

Some historic homes will be repurposed to house farm workers and town employees. Others will be retrofitted for day care, crafts and lecture halls.

Main roads will be kept, but “infill” roads — all our lanes and cul-de-sacs — will be eliminated. Pedestrian and bike trails will take their place.

Housing will be clustered in new “quadrants.” Higher density of units and elimination of secondary roads will dramatically increase open space, used for recreation, biking and hiking trails and sculpture gardens. Kids could play — and get dirty.

New homes — modular, for ease of construction and minimization of waste — will emphasize efficiency and quality, not size.

Mike Greenberg’s houses, as shown in the Westport Historical Society’s “06880 + 50” exhibit.

Power comes from solar, wind, geothermal “and sources not yet invented.”

Greenberg created a sample “quadrant,” now mounted on the WHS exhibit wall. It’s bounded by the post Road, Long Lots, North Avenue, Roseville Road and Cross Highway.

“As a citizen of the planet, I am excited that the way we live now will not be the way we live in the future,” says Greenberg.

“The people of Westport will be leaders in making this concept into a reality.

“Now is the time to meld the past with our future. We have to move away from this wasteful, unhealthy present. We have to move as if our lives depend on it — because they do.”

A more detailed view of the Roseville/Long Lots/North Avenue/Cross Highway quadrant (above). Click on or hover over to enlarge.

Selectman Candidates Truly Serve The Public

Political candidates often talk about “serving the public.”

This Friday (October 13, 6 p.m., Design Within Reach), all 4 first selectman candidates — and the 2 who are running for 2nd selectman — will absolutely do that.

They’re celebrity bartenders at the Westport Historical Society‘s “Tomorrow’s History Gala.”

The event — which coincides with the current “06880 + 50: Visions of Westport in Fifty Years” exhibit — includes our current and (possibly) future leaders serving past, present and future-style cocktails.

The old-time drink: an Old Fashioned (naturally).

The present drink: draft beer from Veracious Brewing Company.

The future drink: the Miggs. It’s blue and it glows — and is named for one of the WHS’ favorite volunteers, Miggs Burroughs.

Also on tap: a Prosecco bar (including the very rare 130th anniversary Cuvee), live music, an auction and (of course) fortune telling.

In addition to the political celebrities, other famous names will be at the gala: Melissa Joan Hart and Cynthia Gibbs, for example. Photographer Larry Silver is the guest of honor. Retiring executive director Sue Gold will be feted too.

But they won’t be serving drinks.

Only the candidates will “mix” politics, history and fun.

(For ticket information, click here.)

Unsung Hero #18

In 2004, Susan Gold joined the Westport Historical Society as education director. She became executive director in 2007.

After 10 years, she’s leaving that post. Her legacy is an organization that does great work, has made an important mark in town — and is filled with her friends and admirers.

History and non-profits are just 2 of Gold’s passions.

The Ithaca College grad (with master’s from Cornell University) is an avid swimmer, hiker and kayaker. (She’s probably the reason the WHS sponsored a kayak tour out to Cockenoe Island.)

Gold has run 14 marathons — including a personal best of 3:09 in the prestigious New York event. She’s won numerous age group races, at a variety of distances.

WHS board member Leigh Gage calls Gold “a bundle of energy. She gets up at 5 a.m.  to run and do qigong. Many evenings after work, she teaches yoga or qigong.” Many of her classes are free — she asks only for donations to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Susan Gold, in a typical pose.

A Rotarian, Sue volunteers often at events like Lobsterfest. (That figures: She’s a pescatarian — and an avid Westport Farmers’ Market greens shopper. She usually returns to the office with gifts for the staff.)

Historical Society directors will miss the annual January luncheon. Gold cooked a vegan meal for the entire board. It was one more way to give back.

Past president Joan Andrews calls Gold “dedicated, resourceful, and a tireless promoter of all things related to WHS — especially children’s programs, fundraising events and exhibits. She has served us as our gracious and smiling face to the community, and will be sorely missed by us all.”

Former president Ed Gerber adds, “Very effectively, Susan told me of the work of the WHS, and how she thought I could help based on my enthusiasm for history and historic preservation. She reeled me in, and I thank her for it!”

Gold’s daughter Rachel has 2 children. They live in Washington. She looks forward in retirement to visiting them often.

She has another daughter, Hannah — and her son David lives in Central America. She’ll visit both too.

Susan Gold may soon be WHS “history.” But — like the most important parts of who we are — she will be well remembered.

Unsung Hero #17

If you’ve been in Westport for any length of time, you’ve probably heard — and met — Jo Fuchs Luscombe.

She’s been involved in every aspect of life here — politics, education, community service. If it needs doing, Jo has done it.

But how many people know her back story?

A Dallas native, she was just a year old when her father — an oilman — moved the family to Venezuela. Jo grew up speaking Spanish — and gaining an important, real-world view of life.

She went to boarding school and college in Texas, headed to Katherine Gibbs secretarial school, got married at 19 and had a child at 20.

Jo Fuchs Luscombe

Her husband was in oil too, so they headed to Libya. Jo learned Italian there, and was once more immersed in a very different culture.

In 1969, the family moved back to the US. Her boys were 13 and 10.

In her mid-30s, Jo and her husband divorced. Encouraged by Rev. Dana Forrest Kennedy, she threw herself into every aspect Christ & Holy Trinity Church. She became president of the Women’s Guild, served on the vestry, and ran fundraisers.

She got interested too in the Westport Historical Society. Jo was a driving force behind the acquisition and restoration of Wheeler House — owned at the time by her church — as the organization’s headquarters.

In 1980, Jo was asked to fill out an unexpired term on the Zoning Board of Appeals. Public speaking did not come easily. But — as with everything else in her life — she worked to master it.

She won a full term on her own, then was appointed to the vacant post of 3rd selectman.

In 1986, Jo headed up her friend and fellow Westporter Julie Belaga’s campaign for governor.

Jo’s next step was the state House of Representatives. She served 5 terms — from 1987 to ’97 — and rose to Republican minority whip.

Retirement from state politics did not slow her down. As a member of Westport’s School Building Committee, she helped oversee 5 major construction and renovation projects (including the new Staples High School).

Jo Fuchs Luscombe (Photo courtesy of Westport Woman’s Club)

Remarriage did not slow her down either. Jo has been president of the Westport Woman’s Club (where she helped run major events like the art show), and is active in Westport Rotary, Greens Farms Garden club, and countless others.

As a longtime Westport Family YMCA board member, she helped shepherd the new building on its long, torturous journey from downtown to Mahackeno.

Her husband John says there is one reason she accomplishes so much: “She doesn’t sleep.”

There’s one more thing: Jo Fuchs Luscombe is one of the nicest, most always-smiling people you’ll ever meet.

Congratulations, Jo. And thanks from all of us, for all you’ve done in so many ways.

(Hat tip: Bobbie Herman)

Historical Society’s New Exhibit Looks Forward — Not Back

Since 1889, the Westport Historical Society has focused on our town’s past.

From now through the end of 2017, it’s looking ahead.

Specifically, to 2067.

06880 + 50: Visions of Westport” is not as outlandish as it seems. The Historical Society’s exhibit — local architects’ ideas about this place, half a century from now — includes intriguing aspects, like what we’ll do with parking lots once we move around in driverless cars.

This contribution — from Roger Ferris + Partners — focuses on the Saugatuck River. In the future, it could be a unifying element between the east and west banks. New buildings, parks and community features will be constructed on both sides — and the river itself will be revitalized.

But there are some back-to-the-future elements too. One contribution, for example, envisions neighborhoods filled with clustered housing, walking paths, open space and farms providing much of the food — a way of life that Westporters centuries ago might recognize.

The intriguing exhibit had its genesis last year. Andrew Bentley — a member of the WHS advisory board, and a man committed as much to the future as the past — wondered what would happen if the organization cast its eye beyond old houses, toward new ones.

The WHS asked 40 architects who live or work in Westport to submit ideas about what this place will look like 50 years from now.

Andrew Bentley

Bentley chose 50 years because it is the Goldlilocks of futurism. Ten years from now, we’ll still have single family Colonial homes. A hundred years may bring Jetsons-style stuff.

Five decades, Bentley says, is “the sweet spot. Architects can release their inhibitions, without being crazy.”

More than a dozen responded. The request was open-ended — and so are the concepts.

Mounted on the WHS walls, they range from a full town plan, to a school design, to new street lamps.

They include a beautiful S-shaped pavilion and park behind Main Street, in space freed up by new modes of transportation. There’s a high-speed ferry terminal, linking the Saugatuck River with New York.

Homes may be made of innovative materials. One way to avoid teardowns is building houses using modular pieces, like Legos. Instead of demolishing entire structures, they could be modernized by replacing outmoded parts.

Some projections are practical. Others are fanciful. All are worth seeing.

Architect Robert Cohen drew this bridge. He foresees it linking 2 Coleytown gems: the Newman Poses Preserve and Blau Gardens.

Each contributor has been invited to present an hour-long “brown bag talk” about their visions, with Q-and-As to follow. They’ll be scheduled weekly, throughout the fall.

Bentley hopes that the exhibit spurs attendees into thinking about what Westport can be.

At the same time, he says, it will help us appreciate the talents and visions of the architects currently living and working here.

This is a very intriguing and enterprising project.

And perhaps — say, 50 years from now — the Westport Historical Society can revisit it, with a retrospective of what the town thought 2067 might look like, way back in that crazy year of 2017.

(The “06880 + 50: Visions of Westport” opening reception is this Friday, September 22, 6 to 8 p.m. The exhibit runs through December 31. For more information, click here.)

Friday Flashback #57

The transformation of the Westport YMCA into Bedford Square has brought big changes to downtown.

But that area is always changing. We may not notice it — but our commercial center constantly evolves.

Even the Saugatuck River looks different now, compared to a few decades ago.

In 1985 — to honor the 150th anniversary of the community’s founding — the Westport Historical Society produced “Westport … A Special Place.”

A 2-page photo spread highlighted the many changes that had taken place over the previous 30 years — when Wells Studio took an aerial shot.

Clicking on or hovering over the image shows downtown before:

  • Landfill for the library and Levitt Pavilion
  • Police headquarters on Jesup Road
  • Parker Harding Plaza behind Main Street — also landfill — narrowed the river
  • The 4-story Gap building, and Brooks Corner across the street
  • Demolition of several industrial buildings on Riverside Avenue
  • Save the Children (formerly Famous Artists) on Wilton Road.

Much has changed in the 32 years since 1985, of course — including the current renovation of Save the Children.

What else do you notice in the photo above? Click “Comments” to share your thoughts.

“High School That Rocked” Plans An Encore

It’s always fun to discover a “sleeper” film hit.

But it’s never fun to get turned away.

The Westport Cinema Initiative and Westport Historical Society were stunned last month, when the Town Hall auditorium proved too small for the throngs that wanted to see “The High School That Rocked!”

That’s the documentary chronicling the amazing period in the 1960s when bands like the Doors, Cream, Yardbirds and Rascals played at Staples High School.

Ginger Baker, Cream’s drummer, at Staples. (Photo copyright Jeremy Ross)

So the WCI and WHS are doing what any good promoters should: They’ve added another showing.

The film will be screened again on Saturday, August 26 (5 p.m., Westport Historical Society). A talkback follows, with the movie’s producer Fred Cantor, and filmmaker Doug Tirola. Both are Westport residents.

There’s limited space, so tickets must be ordered in advance (click here for the direct link). The cost is $10 — and includes free popcorn.

That’s a great bargain — even if it is $7.50 more than it cost to see those great concerts, back when Staples High School really rocked.

Unsung Hero #6

This Saturday at 4 p.m., when the Westport Cinema Initiative screens “The High School That Rocked!” Fred Cantor will sit contentedly in the Town Hall auditorium.

Few in the audience will know that the ever-smiling Westporter came up with the idea for a film about 6 major bands — you may have heard of the Doors? — that played at Staples High School in the mid-1960s.

Cantor then produced the intriguing film. He tracked down archival photos, arranged interviews and found funding.

Fred Cantor, at the opening of the Westport Historical Society’s “The High School That Rocked!” exhibit. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

After the talkback that follows the showing, Cantor will head across the street to the Westport Historical Society for a cocktail hour. Guests will enjoy the “High School That Rocked!” exhibit — inspired, and curated in part, by Cantor.

At 8 p.m. Saturday, Cantor will sit on the Levitt Pavilion grass. He’ll watch with satisfaction as an all-star cast of Staples High School 1971 classmates — Charlie Karp, Brian Keane and Michael Mugrage, all of whom played and recorded with the biggest names in entertainment — join several other very talented ’71 classmates for one of the best shows of summer.

Cantor masterminded that event too.

He won’t get much credit for any of this. But he won’t mind. It’s just his way of contributing to the life, joy and history of the town he’s called home since he was 10 years old.

Cantor moved to Easton Road with his family from Fresh Meadows, Queens. (He loves that place too — and wrote a book about the middle class families that thrived there after World War II.)

While serving as a public interest lawyer in New York City, he and his wife Debbie Silberstein bought a 2nd home on Drumlin Road. They now live there full-time. True to his volunteer — and community-minded — form, Cantor is active in his road association, and a great neighbor to all in need.

Fred Cantor, in the Staples High School 1971 yearbook.

His selfless ways are legion. Several years ago, a Staples freshman soccer player with a single mother had no transportation after practice and games. Every day, Cantor — a former soccer star at Staples and Yale — drove him home.

Twenty years ago Cantor combined his passions for soccer, writing and history with a book, “The Autumn of Our Lives.” He followed the Staples team for an entire season, and told a compelling story of the changes — and similarities — between 2 teams, 25 years apart.

Cantor has done more than perhaps anyone in the world to keep the Remains’ memory alive. The Westport band that opened the Beatles’ 1966 tour — and that was, Jon Landau said, “how you told a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll” — has been memorialized in an off-Broadway play (“All Good Things“) and documentary film (“America’s Lost Band“).

Cantor came up with the idea for both. And made sure that both got made.

Always, he stayed out of the limelight.

These days you can often find Cantor at the Westport Library. He’s researching some element of Westport history.

Often, that research — or simple inspiration — leads to an “06880” story idea.

You may not have known the enormous impact Fred Cantor has had on this blog. Or this town.

Now that he’s this week’s Unsung Hero, you do.

(Know of an unsung hero we should celebrate? Email details to dwoog@optonline.net)

Young Education Director Teaches Old History

The Westport Historical Society works hard to make the past come alive in the present.

Though they offer many exciting programs for kids and teenagers, WHS staff and volunteers skew — well, not “historical” exactly, but certainly “older.”

Which is why everyone there eagerly welcomed Nicole Carpenter. In her first job after graduating from college, she’s embraced her new role — director of education and programs — with energy and joy.

And with a nod to Westport’s long legacy.

Nicole Carpenter, with a Westport Historical Society award.

“I’m passionate about history and art,” Carpenter says. “This town has a great blend of both. It’s fascinating to learn about the history, and all the artists and other people who lived here.”

The Brookfield, Vermont native attended Castleton University. She majored in art history and painting, with minors in history and business administration.

Then it was off to Syracuse University, where she earned a master’s in museum studies.

Last year, when Carpenter’s boyfriend landed a job as the Wilton Historical Society collections manager, his boss there recommended her for the Westport education role.

At the time, Carpenter knew little about Westport beyond its reputation as an artists’ and writers’ haven. But she used her research skills — online, and using actual books.

When she began work in September, Sven Selander — and many other Westporters — told her “tons of stories.”

Carpenter has found Westport to be “both similar to and different from the rest of New England.” It’s larger and more urban than her Vermont home. But residents in both places have “a deep appreciation of where they live.” Westporters, she says, “are really, really proud of their town.”

Among her many duties, she particularly enjoys leading school tours, and outreach programs like History on Wheels. The WHS recently sponsored a Colonial Family Fun Day. She also helped organize speakers for walking tours and the Danbury raid exhibit.

Wheeler House — the Westport Historical Society’s Avery Place home — in a painting by famed local artist Stevan Dohanos. Nicole Carpenter loves the town’s artistic heritage — and its vibrant present.

Carpenter cites 2 particularly big accomplishments. One is the 3rd grade tour of Wheeler House involving students, teachers, administrators, curators and historians. “It’s so much fun to see kids discover their town’s history,” she says.

The other was the “Come Build Westport” Lego project in March. As children “constructed” Town Hall, National Hall and the WHS’ Wheeler House itself, they (and their parents) learned a lot about how the town grew.

Carpenter’s most recent project — undertaken with 7 high school interns — was the first-ever 1st grade tour.

She looks forward to 3 week-long camps this summer.

Then Carpenter begins planning for next year. She’s already an “old-timer.”

Though still a very young one.

The Historical Society That Rocks!

One of the most persistent urban suburban legends in Westport is that the Doors played a concert in the Staples High School auditorium.

Also the Animals, Yardbirds, Sly & the Family Stone and a host of other rock ‘n’ roll legends.

It’s all true.

To find out more, you can click here to read an “06880” story from 2014.

You can click here to download “The Real Rock & Roll High School,” Mark Smollin’s meticulously researched, fantastically illustrated and awe-inducing history of that remarkable era in Westport history.

Or you can go to the Westport Historical Society. “The High School That Rocked!” opens tomorrow (Friday, June 16, 6 p.m. reception). The exhibit runs through September 2.

The Yardbirds’ “For Your Love,” part of the exhibit’s stacks of wax.

The walls are filled with photos, posters, ticket stubs  and press clippings from and about those mid-’60s concerts. A record player sits near the entrance, with a stack of 45s; choose your favorite, and play it. (Kids: Ask your grandparents how!)

A screen plays clips from the “High School That Rocked,” the video that inspired this show. Staples Class of 1971 graduate Fred Cantor produced the documentary, with much younger (Class of 2014) filmmaker Casey Denton.

Cantor also curated this show, with ’70 Staples grad Mary Palmieri Gai.

Ironically, Cantor never saw any of those concerts. He still can’t figure out how he missed them.

Fifty years later, he’s made up for all that. He zeroed in on some of the most recognizable names — the Doors, Cream, Animals, Rascals, Yardbirds, and Westport’s own Remains — but also includes information about proms (the Blues Magoos played for the seniors, the Blues Project and Left Banke for the juniors), and Lester Lanin’s short-lived Nines Club discotheque (with groups like the Youngbloods and ? and the Mysterians).

Miggs Burroughs — who has his own rock ‘n’ roll stories — puts the finishing touches on the Westport Historical Society exhibit. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

The exhibit pays homage to Dick Sandhaus and Paul Gambaccini — Staples students who had the vision (and audacity) to bring those bands to Westport — and to Cantor’s classmates Charlie Karp (Buddy Miles’ sideman), Brian Keane and Michael Mugrage, all of whom still rock the music industry.

The Westport Historical Society usually highlights events like the Revolutionary War. This is quite a different show.

Then again, so were the ’60s at Staples.

(Other cultural venues are tying in to the WHS exhibit. The Westport Cinema Initiative screens the “High School That Rocked” video on Saturday, July 15 [4 p.m., Town Hall]. The Westport Library hosts a panel discussion on ’60s music on Monday, August 14. And the Levitt Pavilion may soon announce — well, stayed tuned for that one!)

Ginger Baker, Cream’s drummer, at Staples. The copyrighted photo by Jeremy Ross is part of the “School That Rocked” exhibit.