Valle Weber Fay Preservation Leadership Awards
As successor to the original Norwalk Preservation Trust, so effective in saving the South Norwalk Historic District in the 1980s, the current NPT honored those preservation leaders at a gala fundraiser in May of 2007. Hosted by David Westmoreland and Mike Mushak, the event awarded the first annual Valle Weber Fay Awards for Preservation Leadership, named in honor of the founder and president of the original NPT.
The inaugural awards were given to Mimi Findlay, the architectural historian who was the first to point out the value of preserving the SoNo area, Bill Collins, Norwalk's mayor at the time, Grace Lichtenstein of the original NPT, Rod Johnson of the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency, the late Arthur Collins, the developer for the area, and Jack Shanahan, Connecticut State Historical Preservation Officer.
NPT recognized these individuals and the groups they represented for the dedicated public, private, and citizen-based effort that gave new life to this now-vibrant district.
The 2008 Awards were held at the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum. Built in 1868 for Norwalk's prominent Lockwood family, the Mansion is a National Historic Landmark and is considered to be the finest example of a grand American country house in existence. In the early 1960s it had fallen into a state of severe deterioration. The buildings and land had been acquired fully furnished by the City of Norwalk in the late 1940s but many of the furnishings were soon sold off. A few City agencies were housed there but little thought was given to the preservation of the building. In fact, Parks Department power equipment was stored in the rotunda. The City planned to demolish the Mansion and to build a new city hall in its place, but a few impassioned Norwalk citizens, who called themselves the Common Interest Group, recognized the value of the building and its history. They worked for years and finally sued the City to save this irreplaceable gem for future generations. Once they had prevented the demolition of the Mansion, the Junior League of Stamford-Norwalk took on the task of restoring and operating the buildings. Both groups received awards.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Karen Senich, State Historic Preservation Officer and head of the agency responsible for the arts, tourism, film, and museums in Connecticut, also recieved awards for their contribution to historic preservation in Norwalk by their active participation in the efforts to preserve the Grumman-St. John House at 93 East Avenue. Jane Freeman, who represented the Norwalk Preservation Trust in the legal action to preserve the house, was recognized for her dedication to this issue and her exemplary work in the courtroom.
The developers of Lockwood Terrace Condominiums at 130 Main Street in Norwalk purchased three historic homes and land from a developer who had planned to demolish the houses and construct new condos on the site. Bill Kraus and Simona Tudor were recognized for their extraordinary commitment to preserving some of the vanishing character of Main Street by profitably combining historic preservation with new construction, setting an example for other developers to follow.
The third annual awards were held at Oak Hill, the Manice DeForest Lockwood House at St. Phillip Church at 23 France Street in Norwalk. Awards were given to St. Phillip Roman Catholic Church for the rehabilitation of Oak Hill and to Peter DiNardo Enterprises for the rehabilitation of the Remington Rand Building at 33 Wilson Avenue in Norwalk. Over 100 people attended, and many of the city's leading citizens and preservationists turned out to honor the recipients. Frank Fay spoke about his late wife Valle for who the award is named. Father Michael Boccacio accepted the award for St. Phillip and Melissa DiNardo accepted for Peter Dinardo Enterprises. Ralph Bloom, who knew the Lockwood family who lived at Oak Hill, spoke about the history of the house and the fact that its furnishings formed the core of the collection in the Norwalk Museum. Mayor Moccia and Representative Chris Perone both spoke about NPT's role in supporting historic preservation in Norwalk.
The Remington Rand Corporation built the yellow brick Art Deco style factory building on Wilson Avenue in 1945. The building was initially used to manufacture the famous Remington typewriters and it was designed with bands of tall windows to take full advantage of daylight to illuminate factory and office spaces. Rand had also acquired Rockledge, the former Farrell estate on Highland Avenue, a few years earlier and had converted it into the company’s corporate headquarters. Part of this operation was a research facility housed in the former stable and carriage house (now the Rowayton Library) where the first business computer, the UNIVAC, was developed by a team of engineers working in secrecy. Univac was manufactured and further developed in the Wilson avenue building. By 1975, Remington Rand no longer needed its Norwalk manufacturing facility and it was sold to the DiNardo family who promptly leased it to Norwalk Community College. The college opened in 1976 and stayed at this location until it moved to West Norwalk in 1991. With NCC gone, the building stood empty until Peter DiNardo Enterprises decided to rehabilitate it in 2005. It will soon become the North American Headquarters of Wüsthof, the German cutlery manufacturer.
Oak Hill was built by Manice DeForest Lockwood of that famous Norwalk family which also built the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion. It was finished in 1916 and the Lockwood family lived there until they moved to New York City. St. Phillip purchased this grand mansion in 1946 and it became the St Phillip Convent. After the convent closed, the building was leased to the Vitam Rehabilitation center which divided the interior into small spaces and cared little for the historic nature of the place. Once Vitam left in 2000, Father Boccaccio of St. Phillip set about finding a new use for Oak Hill that would make it possible to begin to restore some of the mansion’s former grandeur. The solution was the Saint Phillip Artists Guild which now has eleven artists in residence in the building. Oak Hill has now recaptured some of the elegance it had when the Lockwoods were still in residence.
Held at Fat Cat Joe, the 2010 awards celebrated the Norwalk Preservation Trust's settlement with the Norwalk Inn, which requires the Inn to restore the Grumman-St. John House at 93 East Avenue to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation in their plan for expansion, as approved by the Norwalk Zoning Commission on October 21. The plan also provides for improved neighborhood screening and a new third story for the existing Inn building, the exterior of which will be changed to better fit in with the architecture of the area. This decision, together with our settlement, is a major victory for historic preservation in general, the neighborhood, and all of Norwalk.
NPT President Tod Bryant presented awards to Representative Larry Cafero and Senator Bob Duff for their dedication in bringing about an expansion plan that addresses the concerns of everyone involved. The Inn originally planned to demolish the house. NPT, along with the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, sued the Inn in 2003 under the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act and won a temporary order to stop demolition of the house. Negotiations stalled at that point and neither party was talking to the other when Duff and Cafero decided to intervene. They were from different political parties but they were united by being native Norwalkers. These elected officials performed an exceptional and truly unprecedented act of public service. They spent over a year of their own time and led 18 meetings. Some of those meetings, especially the early ones, were very tense. Once a basic agreement was reached between NPT and the Inn, the legislators included the Inn’s surrounding neighbors in the discussion. They remained calm, they believed in what they were doing and, in the end, helped craft a solution that benefits everyone.
In addition, Congressman Jim Himes attended the event and presented the Norwalk Preservation Trust with a Certificate of Special Recognition, "For its leadership on securing the preservation and rehabilitation of the historic Grumman-St. John House." In his remarks, Himes praised NPT for its decation to preserving Norwalk’s historic buildings and unique character. Although its origins lie in efforts to save the Grumman-St. John House and other historic structures, such as the Ernst House at 5 Elmcrest Terrace and Fodor Farm, in recent years the Norwalk Preservation Trust has widened its mission to include educational programs for historic homeowners, including workshops on repairing an renovation older homes using green and sustainable materials and practices and architectural tours of historic Norwalk. The NPT also provides expertise and logistical support to other local organizations on a variety of historic preservation-related projects.