Documentary brings Longshore's storied history to life
Published 1:02 am, Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Sometimes the best decisions are made from the gut, quickly and decisively.
In 1960, Westport's forefathers finalized a deal to purchase Longshore Country Club and Park in only 19 days.
Had they debated the issue at length, as bureaucrats today are known to do, the 168-acre pristine property with its spectacular views of the Long Island Sound could have easily fallen into the hands of housing developers.
During Thursday night's debut screening of the documentary film Longshore Club Park, Westport's Crown Jewel, at the Westport Historical Society, Scott Smith, chairman of the Longshore 50th Anniversary Committee, said the archives of the town's Parks and Recreation Department do, in fact, include plans to subdivide the land into 140 lots.
Assisted by John Boyd, the town's attorney 50 years ago, the men diligently worked behind the scenes to ensure that the premier recreational and social facility -- including golf and tennis, pool and playground, upscale restaurant and the Inn at Longhore -- would remain one of Westport's jewels.
"It was like a big party when it opened," Raymond recalled in the film. "We had no idea what potential it could be."
In fact, he went on to say that once the deal was sealed, and Westport officially owned the park and country club, he and Baldwin toured the complex for the first time. About 40 members of the Westport audience Thursday night laughed aloud when Raymond commented, "We wanted to see what we had bought." On camera, he candidly admitted that they had no idea that there were housing lots included on the property.
Acting quickly, once again, the duo set about making plans to transition the property from what used to be an exclusive private country club -- attracting the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and celebrity golfers such as Babe Ruth, Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra -- into a public park that would be enjoyed by the entire Westport community.
At Thursday night's screening, Westport native Juliana Sloane Fulbright recalled attending dances at Longshore as a teenager growing up in town.
"We would dance on the patio, by the water," she said. "These dances were fun. The kids back then had a place to go. It was nice growing up with the open land at Longshore."
A member of Staples High School's Class of 1970, Fulbright's family was good friends with Boyd and she can remember hearing her parents talk with him about the pending Longshore purchase. And, although she liked the film, she admitted that it would have been interesting to hear more about the people, such as Boyd, who were responsible for its acquisition.
Narrated by Westport's own Frank DeFord, the film was produced by Jenniann C. Barile, Gemmarose Tummolo and Doreen Birdsell, another Westport resident. Smith noted that, like the purchase itself, the film was made quickly and efficiently, in only six weeks. For the past six months, though, Brian O'Leary and Bob Weingarten were busy at work researching Longshore's history. Smith said that they came up with a great deal of "rich materials."
"The film just took shape," Smith added. "We thought it would end up being 10 to 12 minutes but we found it difficult to edit anything out of the film."
An outdoor screening of Longshore Club Park, Westport's Crown Jewel will take place at the Levitt Pavilion on Aug. 10. (Mimi Levitt, a longtime Westport resident and avid golfer at Longshore during the 1950s, is featured in the film.)
Smith assured those in attendance, though, that committee members were continuing to gather stories about Longshore's rich history and video footage would be added online. On the WHS website (www.westporthistory.org/longshore50), there are presently videos available detailing some of the information gleaned so far.
"We would love to hear your memories," Smith noted. "This is an ongoing effort. Everyone has their own story of Longshore. The committee was formed to find its authentic history."
During a discussion after the screening, Judge Ed Karazin, a longtime Westport resident, said that his father, an electrician, was initially opposed to the town's purchase of Longshore.
"Like many people back then, he thought of golf as a rich man's sport," Karazin said. However, he also added that the first couple of golf championships at the country club were won by electricians and plumbers. They, in fact, were able to utilize the golf green when they got off work in the late afternoon, while many of the town's more affluent members were commuting back and forth to New York City.
Plans are underway for Karazin to share some of his personal stories working as a caddy at Longshore with the committee.
Pleased with the audience's response on Thursday, Smith expressed appreciation for the partnership with the Westport Historical Society as well as the hard work put forth by all of his committee members.
Longshore Club Park, Westport's Crown Jewel is available for $25 at the Westport Historical Society. Its $12,000 production costs were funded by the Ralph R. and Ann Scheffer Foundation, Patriot National Bank and Resnick Investment Advisors LLC.