Unique historic barn reused for COVID-19 studio in Westport
WESTPORT — Most TV shows in New York have cancelled live in-studio audiences to protect their staff and audience members from the COVID-19 crisis. Many TV studios, without audiences, have also closed their studios because one or more of their staff having been tested positive for COVID-19. In order to continue broadcasting, many TV personalities have created their own “studio” within their own homes. We now can see Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar and Meghan McCain of The View broadcasting separately from their living rooms, at least that is what it appears like. Dr. Phil from his kitchen. Chris Cuomo from his basement since he is recovering from COVID-19 and doesn’t want to infect his family. Newscasters are also included in this new phenomenon.
There is one news personality that is using a novel location as his studio, a circa 1820 historic barn at his home in Westport, Connecticut. Previous to this creative solution, Lonnie Quinn, the CBS Chief Weathercaster, would bike to the Green’s Farms Railroad Station to take the train to his Manhattan CBS studio for his weather broadcasts. Since that studio closed, due to the COVID-19 confirmed employee, he was providing his weather reports from various Connecticut locations. But now he is using his circa 1820 barn as his “studio”.
In 2019, Quinn purchased a property in Westport which included this historic barn. He decided that he could use this barn as his new studio during the COVID-19 crisis. When purchasing this property, he was told that the barn had been used for civic gatherings, concerts and family events by the previous owners. He was also informed that the barn was built in circa 1820 on 13 acres of farm land by Francis Bulkley. But the barn burned down in 1880 and was rebuilt by Bulkey neighbors in circa 1870.
In the 1920s the barn was updated but unused and deteriorated until it was purchased by the previous owners in 2000, Maureen Whiteman Zlatkin and her husband Lawrence. Maureen was a historic buff and decided to restore the barn.
The restoration took several years and was recognized by Westport Historical District Commission with a town Preservation Award in 2017 stating that “the work was spearheaded by Maureen with the support of her husband Lawrence” and that “all the work was done with care and material consistent with the historic structure”. Sadly, Maureen passed away in 2017. She put her heart into the preservation activities so that her husband stated “Maureen loved her barn and she was proud to contribute to its preservation for us and for all of Westport.” Because of her effort to restore and then reuse the Bulkley Barn, the Westport Historic Society plaque states that the barn be renamed in 2017 as the Maureen’s Barn.
More recently, Quinn decided to turn the barn into his temporary studio and stated in a Facebook video: “Ladies and gentlemen introducing the ultimate in broadcast creativity when social isolation has to become a priority. I give you… The Weather Barn!” The studio was built within the barn with the assistance of Alan Lesner, a photojournalist/live shot technician and is used for local weather forecasting. But on April 13, unbeknown to all TV viewers, it was also used for a national show, “CBS This Morning”, for the national weather forecast of the day. Quinn intends to use his new studio until the COVID-19 crisis ends and then return to his Manhattan studio.
The reuse of historic buildings, whether historic dwelling houses being converted for commercial purposes or barns converted into homes, has been a method to prevent demolition of historic structures. The reuse of the Bulkley-Maureen Barn is unique and creative. Starting as use for agricultural purposes, then as a hall for social events and now as a TV studio. It has been used for many purposes and has survived for all these years. The key to survival of all historic structure is their use and at times their reuse. This reuse will ensure that this historic barn is here to stay! So, thank you Lonnie for your creative use of this historic building!
The author is Westport Historic Society House Historian.