Sidney Kramer dies at 99, recalled as 'remarkably' devoted to Westport
Published 12:39 pm, Thursday, December 11, 2014
Sidney Kramer, longtime town resident, lawyer and chairman of Save Westport Now, died Wednesday. He was 99 year old.
Kramer, a co-founder of Bantam Books, moved to town with his wife, Esther, and their two children, more than 60 years ago from Brooklyn N.Y., according to a 2011 article in the Westport News.
In the 1960s, the Kramers opened the Remarkable Book Shop on Main Street, housed in a rambling pink building. It was a fixture downtown for more than 30 years and became the town's best-known independent retail establishment.
In the late 1970s, when a developer sought to build a new office complex on Gorham Island in the Saugatuck River, several hundred yards from the Kramers' bookshop, it sparked an outcry from many residents. Asserting that the project would violate town zoning regulations, the Kramers contested the project in state Superior Court, the article noted.
While they did not succeed in completely halting the development, now known as One Gorham Island, the Kramers secured a settlement that limited the size of the complex.
The citizen group that opposed the Gorham Island development quickly evolved into Save Westport Now, which became an official political party in 1979 and endorsed candidates for local zoning boards. SWN styled itself as a watchdog on development and zoning issues that members felt could diminish the community's character.
Since the party's inception, Kramer presided as chairman.
"Sidney Kramer sustained his cause for more than a quarter of a century," members of SWN said in a statement Thursday.
"He led Save Westport Now with straight talk, and a no-nonsense approach informed by both his legal training and deep understanding of the land-use issues in the town he loved, Westport," the statement said,
"As chairman of SWN, Sidney was an unyielding voice for the protection of the residential character of the town. He advocated for the autonomy of Planning and Zoning Commission and demanded that the town use its municipal properties for their best and highest purposes, ones that would benefit its people and provide the town with the most value. SWN's electoral presence had significant impacts on the candidates from both parties."
SWN members said Kramer was not reticent in voicing his opinions about what he felt were over-reaching developments that would damage the character of his town, and his analyses were not only respected, but often resulted in better outcomes.
"Although he relied on the members of his organization to help fulfill the SWN mission, it was he, well into his 90s, who stood at Town Hall and spoke," according to the group's statement. "And we all listened, learned and benefitted. "
"He was a good friend and a sage council," said Valerie Seiling Jacobs, SWN vice chairwoman. "He provided a guiding hand for Westport for many years."
She said Kramer remained "sharp until the end."
Jacobs noted the book shop that he and his wife ran for many years was named "remarkable." "That's something because that's a word that best describes him," she said.
First Selectman Jim Marpe, in a statement issued Thursday, said it was "with regret" that he acknowledged Kramer's death.
"In addition to his impressive professional accolades and accomplishments, Sidney was a fierce believer in honoring history and preserving the character of his beloved Westport," Marpe said. "He was instrumental in affecting change in a myriad of ways: from his original endeavors in maintaining the Remarkable Book Shop, to establishing a third political party in Westport, and until recently when, despite failing health, he remained active in Save Westport Now."
Marpe said "all the while, Sidney provided guidance and a history lesson for us all. I truly admired his resolve and steadfast nature. His vocal and passionate support for this close-knit town was infectious."
Marpe said that when Kramer established Save Westport Now in the early 1980s, "he provided an outlet for those with a distinct and admirable vision for Westport -- a vision which remains focused on planning, development and preservation discussions to this day."
Because of Kramer's "progressive foresight and dedication, members of Save Westport Now will be involved in town government for years to come," Marpe added.
"On behalf of the town of Westport, I wish only heart-felt peace to Sidney's family and friends during this difficult time," he said. "Like so many others in our community, I am grateful to have known this `remarkable' man."
A memorial service for Sidney Kramer is planned at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan, 24, at the Westport Library. The service will take place three days after what would have been Kramer's 100th birthday.