Woog's World: Remembering Westport's changing childhood homes

Facebook is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. You like to log on, but you never know what you’re going to get.

One of the more robust pages is “Old Photos from the Westport of Our Youth.” It’s heavy on pictures: old stores (The Remarkable Book Shop is a favorite), restaurants (Big Top, ditto) and beach scenes. The group has over 4,000 members. Most have great memories — and time on their hands.

The other day, someone posted a photo of their old house, with a lament that it no longer looked the same.

Surprise! That’s not the only home that’s been torn down. Facebook followers flooded the feed with pictures of their own childhood houses. The pictorial history of Westport homes from the 1940s through the ‘80s is rich indeed.

It’s a trip not only down memory lane, but through a master class in architectural styles. Cape Cods, colonials, Victorians, farmhouses, split-levels, modernist, indefinable — every type of home was represented.

Some are gorgeous. Some are meh. Some are downright ugly. But all — to the men and women who were once boys and girls growing up inside, and playing in their yards — home.

Stories tumbled forth on that Facebook page. People described why and how their families moved to Westport; the pride their parents took in their property, and the improvements they made.

Tales were told of the roles those homes played in neighborhoods: the names of boys and girls on the street; the games they played in each other’s yards and the block parties held every year.

Some serendipitous connections were made. Several commenters realized they’d grown up near each other, at different times. A few actually lived in the same house, one set of parents having sold to the other.

Photos posted on that Facebook page were often out of focus. Brownie and Polaroid cameras did not produce the sharp images of smartphones today. The pictures are unfiltered (in both senses of the word). But the memories of decades ago are as clear as yesterday. These were more than houses. They truly were “homes.”

Years later, they fall into three general categories. A few remain much as they were. They’re as recognizable today as they were back in the day. Sometimes the same families live there. Sometimes they were sold to owners who felt no need to change.

Some of the houses have been altered almost beyond recognition. New floors were added, new wings built. Garages became bedrooms; kitchens doubled in size. The “kids” who grew up there are conflicted; their childhood home still stands, but it’s not really the same.

Of course, some of the homes pictured on the Facebook page no longer stand. They fell victim to the demolition ball (some photos show the moment that happened). The only place they exist now is in this tiny corner of cyberspace.

A few of the people don’t mind the change. It happens, they say. The house was in bad shape, not built well, or nondescript.

Many others are heartbroken that their childhood homes have vanished. They are not pleased with whatever replaced them.

Thanks to the urge of people to search for their old address — and the ability of Google Earth and Street View to deliver it — a parade of photos showed very large houses. They sport wings and gables. They take up much more of the property than the homes they replaced. They feature multi-level decks, intricately landscaped swimming pools, garages that hold three or four cars. It was hard to find anyone who thought that such a new house was an improvement.

I empathize. The home I grew up in here may soon be a teardown. It would probably continue a trend on the road. Enormous houses on lawns with no trees sit between older, smaller homes, whose landscaping dates back to the 1950s and ‘60s.

Which makes me wonder: What did the Westporters of that era think of the “new” houses sprouting all over town then? Entire new streets — mine among them — sprung out of what had always been farms, fields and woods. This architecture was different. Garages were built for two cars, not one. There were patios, playrooms, pools — things that most Westport homes had never had, or necessarily “needed.”

“Old Photos from the Westport of Our Youth,” the “old homes” edition, was fascinating. I loved seeing so many houses I recognized, and reading so many memories. You can’t go “home” again, particularly if your home no longer exists, but this was the next best thing.

And for every youngster growing up in Westport today, this is their home. Who knows what they’ll be posting, and lamenting, in whatever follows Facebook, 50 years from now?

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.