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Post-Sandy damage, Westport re-build sensitive to renowned architect's original

Published 3:44 pm, Wednesday, February 6, 2013

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  • A special historic resource permit is sought for the house at 1 Greenbrier Road, the only wood house in Westport that architect Fraizer Forman Peters built. Thw owners want the permit to facilitate rebuilding a garage on the property that was demolished by a tree uprooted by Superstorm Sandy.  WESTPORT NEWS, CT  2/5/13 Photo: Meg Barone / Westport News freelance
    A special historic resource permit is sought for the house at 1 Greenbrier Road, the only wood house in Westport that architect Fraizer Forman Peters built. Thw owners want the permit to facilitate rebuilding a garage on the property that was demolished by a tree uprooted by Superstorm Sandy. WESTPORT NEWS, CT 2/5/13 Photo: Meg Barone

 

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Architect Frazier Forman Peters, famed for his signature stone structures, built only one wooden house in Westport, so it's ironic that it was wood -- in the form of a giant oak tree uprooted during Superstorm Sandy last October -- that destroyed the original wood garage Peters built at 1 Greenbrier Road, and damaged the vintage car that sat inside.

The owners of the unique Peters' house, W. Scott and Kathleen Bennewitz, want to rebuild the garage with modern amenities but without straying far from Peters' intent. If approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission, the design they came up with would honor Peters' vision and would complement their wood-framed, Cape Cod-style house, which Peters built in 1930, while allowing the Bennewitzes to create a slightly larger garage than the original. It would include room for two vehicles and a second floor office space.

As part of that process, the Bennewitzes have applied for a 32-18 special permit, which would grant their house protection as a historic resource of the town. They cleared the first step in their effort at a joint meeting Tuesday of the Historic District Commission and Architectural Review Board Joint Committee. Members agreed to send a letter of support for the application to the Planning and Zoning Commission, which has jurisdiction over issuing such a permit.

ARB Chairman George Masumian said he hopes the finished product represents what was shown to the boards' members Tuesday. The homeowner and his builder assured them it would.

"We want to (rebuild) in a sensitive way in keeping with the house (but) make the garage suitable to the 21st century," Scott Bennewitz said at Tuesday's meeting.

"We're going to follow the pattern that was established by the venerated architect Frazier Peters in the construction of the house and the (original) garage," said Joseph Schott, a builder from Southport. Schott said his idea is to build a new garage that would accommodate modern vehicles, but would not look much different from Peters' original garage.

The proportions would be slightly different but it would be faithful to Peters' design, taking architectural cues from the existing house.

"It would not look inconsistent with the rest of the house. It will look like it's been there all the time," Schott said.

The dimensions for the new garage would make the structure larger than what Peters' built, but smaller than the typical garage of today. The original garage was about 19 by 24 feet, while the proposed replacement would be 23 by 23 feet.

The original garage was "space starved," Schott said. Actually, the interior of the house is short on space and permission to create office space above the garage would free up a bedroom in the residence, he said.

The special 32-18 designation would allow for use of space above the garage as an office or art studio, Schott said. The designation would also preserve the house in perpetuity, which it deserves, according to Bob Weingarten, an alternate member of the HDC, who also serves as the house research director for the Westport Historical Society.

"This house is the only example of a wood-siding house designed and built by architect Frazier Forman Peters found in Westport out of the 36 houses he designed and built," he said. Weingarten prepared a report about the Bennewitzes' house as part of the 32-18 process.

"The exterior of this house was not a typical style for a Frazier Peters-built house. Wood shingles were used rather than fieldstone for the exterior walls," he said in the report. Weingarten was able to verify the structure as a Peters' house using deeds, survey maps, and an image from Peters' 1933 book, "Houses of Stone."

As of Jan. 20, there were eight properties in Westport granted the historic resource permit, Weingarten said. Two other such applications were denied.

"Granting the preservation easement to this house is a great asset to the town," said Francis Henkels, chairman of the HDC.