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Tag Archives: Westport Town Hall
In mid-March, the coronavirus swept through Westport. In just 48 hours nearly every institution — schools, stores, restaurants, the YMCA, the library, Town Hall — closed to the public.
Gradually — if partially — they’ve all reopened.
Except Town Hall.
Employees, residents, and the many folks who do business every day there have had to find new ways of operating.
That does not sit well with one “06880” reader. A real estate attorney, he used to be in and out of Town Hall nearly every day. Title searches, transactions, deeds — the daily work of home purchases and sales must go through the Town Clerk, Planning and Zoning, Building and Conservation Department offices.
For nearly 6 months, those offices have been shut.
“To record a $6 million sale, I have to make an appointment,” the attorney says. “But only certain times. You can’t do it at noon. That’s their lunch hour.
At the appointed time, he says, “they come outside. You give them the documents. They go inside, then come back out and hand you a receipt.”
Once, he says, he was told to put a notarized document in a drop box. It was quarantined for 24 hours. Then it got lost. “I’ve never heard of COVID being transmitted by paper,” he says.
He’s frustrated too to call with a question, and be told, “I’m working from home. I don’t have access to those files.”
It’s not only Westport, the attorney says. Weston, Norwalk, New Canaan, Darien — those Town Halls are closed too.
“It’s not right,” the attorney says. “With all the buying and selling going on now, there has to be a better way.”
I asked town officials to reply. Operations director Sara Harris says:
“While it may appear that Town Hall remains ‘closed,’ it has in fact never been closed. Town Hall staff members have been working in Town Hall every day since March 11, with services available to the public by appointment only. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, we have maintained a citizen- centric approach to accessing all town services. Complaints regarding access to Town Hall have been minimal, and those concerns have been mostly due to misunderstandings of available services. We appreciate that residents have been patient and understanding during this challenging situation.
“Before COVID made its way to Westport, the staff in Town Hall were preparing and planning to offer all town services in case Town Hall needed to be closed to the public for health reasons.
“We devised an operational approach that allowed services to continue. That meant a mixture of staff members working from home (those who utilize cloud-based software for the majority of their work), some coming in on an alternating schedule to allow for social distancing, and some needing to be physically present to do their job.
“We are proud to say that all services continued to be offered to the public during COVID. These have been handled via telephone, email, or the use of the exterior drop box for paper document submission or payments. The Town Clerk and other departments have been hosting appointments for those services that require a face to face transaction, such as marriage certificates or notary.
“There are approximately 20 departments operating in Town Hall or Westport’s other facility buildings. Each have very distinct services and processes. As a result, some staff have worked in-person, remotely or on an alternating schedule.
“Additionally, as witnessed with the overall economy, we also struggle with staff who have childcare or other competing priorities that make it more difficult for some to be physically present. At various times, department office phones may not be answered, and callers are requested to leave voice messages. I have instructed all departments to either answer phones, respond to voice messages or forward them to the appropriate office within 24 hours.
“Regarding the comparison with private business such as stores, banks, gyms and restaurants: Town Hall has in fact been functioning similarly, and for a longer period of time.
“Phase II of our ‘reopening’ strategy is to allow additional appointments to take place in one of the larger conference rooms in Town Hall. We anticipate that this phase will begin later this month, along with some physical improvements to coincide with its implementation, including erecting partitions, removing carpet, etc. Public access to the building will still be somewhat limited.
“Phase III, which we expect in the spring, will include major renovations to allow increased control of traffic into Town Hall. These changes are currently under design and are expected to require a budgetary appropriation due to the complexities of the older building design, ADA compliance, layout, and security and egress concerns.
“With the completion of Phase III, we anticipate that the building can be reopened to members of the public wishing to conduct Town business. We do, however, intend to continue to restrict access to some sections of the building, both for security purposes and to uphold best public health practices.”
Town Clerk Patty Strauss adds:
“The Westport Town Clerk’s Office is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Phone calls are answered directly by a staff member, and in- person appointments are arranged to meet customers at the rear entrance of town hall to conduct business that requires in-person attention. Customers may call to make an appointment for deeds with conveyance, marriage licenses, certification of documents and many other types of transactions where face to face customer contact is necessary. These instructions are located on the town clerk’s web page.
“Westport land records are indexed back to the town’s incorporation date of 1835. The index to these records, and many other collections housed in the Town Clerk’s office, is available for searching online 24/7 FREE.
“Due to COVID, online viewing of land record documents is free of charge. Land record images are online back to 1974. Requests for older documents not imaged are emailed to the Town Clerk’s office. Orders are filled within 24 hours or same day delivery by scanning the document instead of post mailing, free of charge.
“The Town Clerk’s office has recorded 3,952 documents since March 11. No other complaints have been raised, so there is no reason to assume an adjustment to the current searching/recording procedures should be made. However, we are open to any suggestions to better service our customers and, at the same time, keeping customers and the staff safe.”
Last week, I posted a story about the day Marian Anderson visited Bedford Elementary School. Buried in the piece was a quick line noting that the building now serves as Town Hall.
Sure, our Myrtle Avenue seat of government looks like a school. But although generations of graduates think about their alma mater every time they drive by or see a reference to it on “06880,” I wonder how many Westporters who moved here since the 1979 conversion realize its history.
In 1917, the town voted to build a new school to serve children from “East and West Saugatuck, Cross Highway, Poplar Plains and Coleytown.” Major funding came from noted philanthropist (and Beachside Avenue resident) Edward T. Bedford.
Eight years later he helped fund Greens Farms Elementary School, much closer to his estate.
So if Town Hall is now at the old Bedford El, where was it originally?
The Post Road. For decades, our town operated out of the handsome stone building next to what is today Restoration Hardware.
The old Town Hall has been repurposed. Westporters know it now for 2 great restaurants: Jesup Hall, and Rothbard Ale + Larder.
There’s not much to remind you that it was once the center of government. Although the next time you’re in Rothbard, take a close look around.
The basement once served as the police lockup.
I guess we shouldn’t call it a “Christmas” tree.
A press release from the Selectman’s Office notes only that the town’s “annual tree lighting” ceremony will take place at Town Hall this Thursday (November 29, 5 p.m.).
Of course, the tree to be lit is a fir tree. You connect the dots.
It’s a fun, festive, kid-friendly event. The Staples High School Orphenians sing “seasonal” songs.
Speaking of Town Hall trees, this year the “Heritage Tree” — a longtime fixture in the building’s lobby — moves across Myrtle Avenue to the Westport Historical Society.
Each year, local artists add ornaments (yes, it’s that kind of tree). Past contributors include Mel Casson, Randy Enos, Stevan Dohanos, Hardie Gramatky, Howard Munce, Jim Sharpe, Leonard Everett Fisher, Jean Woodham and Hilda Kraus.
This year’s ornament comes courtesy of Victoria Kann. The author/illustrator of the popular “Pinkalicious” book series is a longtime Westporter.
Kids can help decorate the Heritage Tree this Saturday (December 1, 1 p.m.). Kann will read from one of her holiday-themed books (and sign them). Snacks will be served too.
The next day — Sunday, December 2 — another tree lighting takes place. It’s at the Saugatuck Center plaza, between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk. Everyone is asked to bring unwrapped toys for children 10 and under. Al’s Angels wrap and deliver them to needy kids.
It’s set for 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Santa arrives at 5:15 — so I’m on safe ground calling this an actual “Christmas” tree lighting.
And the 28th annual Tree of Light ceremony will be held Thursday, December 6, at 6:30 p.m. It honors the memories of family members and friends who have died.
The site is Saugatuck Congregational Church. So, yeah: That’s a Christmas tree lighting too.
Last Sunday’s Photo Challenge showed a glass display case, with notices about dogs: registration, adoption, fixing.
I said: “We’ve all walked by it — often. But how many of us actually notice it?”
Apparently, no one. A couple of folks guessed Winslow Park. Logical, but wrong.
Only Bob Colson said Town Hall. That’s where it is: Just outside the front door, at the top of the steps next to the big white column.
Hopefully the info is also available at the Town Clerk’s office — the “spot” (ho ho) for dog licenses.
Because it’s clear no one sees it where it is: hiding in plain sight. (Click here for the photo.)
This week’s Photo Challenge comes from Peter Barlow.
He offers 2 hints: This photo does not show the object’s original location. It’s now in his yard, but that’s not where Westporters would have seen it.
And this is not the only one. At one point, there were a dozen or so.
If you think you know where you might once have seen this, click “Comments” below.
When Patty Strauss’ son Greg suffered a traumatic injury last month — he broke his back cliff-jumping, but lost his right foot below the knee — all of Westport rushed to help.
We should. In over 20 years as town clerk, Patty has helped nearly everyone here.
Folks in Town Hall were especially affected. She’s just one official among many, but her work is important to every department. Her warmth and generosity has impacted every office.
Everyone loves Patty.
On Friday, nearly everyone in Town Hall wore Virginia Tech colors: maroon and burnt orange. Greg graduated from there just 4 months ago, and was working his dream job — crewing on a Caribbean yacht — when he was injured.
They added messages of encouragement and inspiration. Those are small gestures, but they boosted Greg’s spirits — and of course Patty and her husband Ed’s too.
#GregStrong — started by Greg’s cousin — has caught on. Patty’s assistant Colleen Tarpey ordered stickers that will be sold soon.
Many Town Hall employees and Westporters have contributed to a GoFundMe campaign, for Greg’s mounting medical expenses. We’re all giving back to Patty, in whatever way we can.
In 1954, Aldous Huxley wrote “The Doors of Perception.” A dozen years later, Jim Morrison’s band took their name from that book.
Doors offer intriguing ways of seeing things. So does Lynn U. Miller’s camera — which provided last week’s photo challenge. (Click here to see it.)
The view through a door window — of a potted plant — was taken at Town Hall. Andrew Colabella, Susan Schmidt, Susan Lloyd and Stephanie Ehrman were able to recognize that where-have-I-seen-it-before? shot.
Wrong guesses included Earthplace and Greens Farms Elementary School.
Now we open the door to this week’s challenge.
If you think you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.
You’d think a plaque honoring all of Westport’s veterans — “living or dead” — would be located in a prominent spot. Veterans Green, probably. The VFW, perhaps.
You’d also think that because it was dedicated in 1975, plenty of people would remember where it was.
You’d be wrong.
Jack Whittle and Deej Webb were the only “06880” readers who knew where last week’s photo challenge can be found. (Click here for the image, and all comments.)
It’s not what our veterans deserve. The plaque is at the old Bertucci’s (and older: Clam Box) property, near where a memorial flagpole once stood.
There’s a reason it’s there, and it has nothing to do with clams or pizza. For several decades, a Doughboy statue once graced the median, between the restaurant and Torno Hardware.
It was relocated probably 20-25 years ago to Veterans Green (though it was not called that then). It’s certainly a more appropriate spot — across from Town Hall, next to the Westport Historical Society.
Also appropriately, I’m honored to pass along alert (and patriotic) “06880” reader Adam Vengrow’s reminder:
Veteran’s Day is Saturday, November 11. Westport’s Town Hall ceremony is always inspiring — but lightly attended. Consider going (10:30 a.m.). School’s not in session that day, so bring the kids too. It’s a great way — besides a plaque — to honor our veterans.
Now here’s this week’s photo challenge. If you think you know where in Westport it is, click “Comments” below.
Westport’s dining scene takes another giant step forward next week.
And it does so with a gentle nod to the past.
Jesup Hall opens Tuesday, in the old Town Hall.
If you don’t know where that is: It’s the building with one restaurant already: Rothbard Ale + Larder.
And if you don’t know where that is — it’s the building next to Restoration Hardware. Opposite Patagonia.
Though it served as Town Hall (and, for many years, police headquarters) from its construction in 1907 through the 1970s, the Revivalist structure with a stone facade is often ignored.
Now — thanks to talented restaurateur Bill Taibe — it will once again be smack in the middle of downtown action.
Taibe — who owned Le Farm in Colonial Green, then opened The Whelk and Kawa Ni in Saugatuck — had been eyeing the Charles Street property that most recently housed the Blu Parrot (before that, Jasmine and the Arrow).
But the deal did not work. When he heard the historic town hall was available, he knew it was perfect.
“It’s got great bones,” Taibe said last night, at a preview opening. “It’s in downtown Westport. With Bedford Square opening up across the street, there’s a lot going on here. This is a fantastic place to be.”
Interior designer Kate Hauser — who worked with Taibe on the Whelk and Kawa Ni — has created a warm, welcoming environment in a very interesting space. With a long bar on one side, communal tables in the middle, and smaller tables (including a circular one) on the other side, Taibe envisions Jesup Hall as an all-day destination. He’ll serve lunch and dinner, plus — a first for him — Sunday brunch.
Chef Dan Sabia — most recently at the Bedford Post Inn, who has worked with Mario Batali and Jean-Georges Vongerichten — specializes in large cuts of meat, and loves vegetables. The fennel, kale salad, cauliflower and lamb served last night were especially noteworthy.
As with all of Taibe’s restaurants, local sourcing is important. “It will be seasonal, honest food,” Taibe says.
Taibe opened his first Westport restaurant — Le Farm — 7 years ago. “I really feel part of the town,” he says. “I adore it. It’s been so good to me.”
He felt a responsibility to the building, he says. But calling his new restaurant Town Hall — as some people suggested — did not feel right. Then he thought about nearby Jesup Green. He researched the family. So Jesup Hall it was.
Taibe makes sure all his employees know where they are — and who Morris Jesup was. He’s the grandson of Ebenezer Jesup, who owned the property we now call Jesup Green (and a nearby wharf). Morris funded the Westport Library (its original location, on the corner of the Post Road and Main Street, was dedicated in 1908, just a couple of months after he died).
He also helped found the Young Men’s Christian Association — the national Y organization — and was a major contributor to the Arctic expeditions of Robert Peary, the Tuskegee Institute and the American Museum of Natural History (which he also served as president).
The space has some challenges. There are two entrances — but one is set back from the Post Road; the other is in back, off the parking lot.
That’s fine. In the summer, the front patio will be filled with tables, making for a lively outdoor scene.
Jesup Hall may even share some outdoor space with Rothbard. “I love those guys,” Taibe says, of the downstairs restaurant, which serves Central European and German fare. “They’ve been so supportive the entire time we were building our space.”
Other downtown restaurant announcements are coming soon. But right now, the 2 words to keep in mind are: Jesup Hall.
(Hat tip: Dorothy Curran)
Today is Veterans Day. Westporters — those who served our country, and those who simply wished to honor them — gathered in the Town Hall auditorium, for an 11 a.m. 11/11 ceremony.
Back in the day — the World Wars I and II, Korean and Vietnam Wars day — Town Hall was located on the Post Road. It was a small, handsome building next to what was then the Fine Arts Theater.
Today the old Town Hall is next door to Restoration Hardware — and it’s where you’ll find the Rothbard Ale + Larder restaurant.
There’s another reason it’s appropriate to run this photo today. Stevan Dohanos’ December 1943 Saturday Evening Post cover showed our town’s Honor Roll. It celebrated all our citizens serving in the armed forces that year — quite a while after the above photo was taken.
This was the 1st of Dohanos’ 136 covers for the magazine.
Today the Honor Roll is part of Veterans Green, opposite the current Town Hall on Myrtle Avenue.
Of course, there are many more names now than when Dohanos made Westport’s Town Hall famous, nationwide.