Westport, Connecticut

Historic Kemper Gunn House Moved and Saved

Tuesday, 18 November, 2014

Historic Kemper Gunn House Moved to New Home and Saved

gunnhouse webkg house held up

 

As the historic Kemper-Gunn House was moved onto its new foundation Tuesday morning, Morley Boyd took a step back. He was struck by the vision in front of him. "This is the way it was meant to be seen," he said. "This location gives it more dignity. It has its own space."

"Nobody alive has seen this view of the building until today -- until an hour ago," said Boyd, a member of the Downtown Steering Committee and former chairman of the town's Historic District Commission.

Boyd was among several dozen on hand around 6:30 a.m. Tuesday when the 1880s Queen Anne-style structure began its short journey from Church Lane, across the road, to a 0.13-acre spot at the nearby town-owned Baldwin parking lot on Elm Street. Although it was only a few yards away, it took several hours to relocate the structure.

For many, it was a very moving experience and one that was a long time coming -- more than 18 months, in fact.

That's how long it took to get the needed town approvals after the house was literally saved from the wrecking ball in October 2013 when the Representative Town Meeting, in a unanimous vote, overturned a 4-2 vote by the Planning and Zoning Commission that rejected the proposed move.

Among those leading the charge to "Save the Kemper-Gunn House" was Matthew Mandell, an RTM member and now Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce director, who was on hand to witness the move.

"Yes, all our efforts paid off," he said. "It was good people and a good idea, all working together," he added. "They made an improbable thing a reality."

He called it a great day for the town, adding he was pleased with the large turnout early Tuesday to watch "this historic event."

The decision to save the building, Mandell said, "really shows that Westport is a forward-thinking community and 100 years from now people are going to look back and say these folks had some vision."

So the question of the day, he added, was why did the house cross the road. "To be saved," he said.

At the site from start to finish Tuesday was Selectman Helen Garten, who chairs the Kemper-Gunn Advisory Group. "I'm exhilarated," she said. "I think this will be a wonderful addition for Elm Street."

She said the move went off without a hitch. "They did a lot of prep work last night, in the rain," she said. She said the crew moving the house needed to make "a little adjustment" at one point, but nothing major.

In the end, she said, "It was worth all the effort" leading up to the move. "People will really like it here," she said.

Under a lease with the town, developer David Waldman and partners will renovate the structure into retail and office space.

"This is a great day for me," said Waldman at the site at sundown Tuesday. The house had already been moved onto the foundation and workers were in the process of jacking it up to the right height -- level with the road.

Waldman said it was a good start to his Bedford Square project, adding the house's relocation was like "the cherry on top."

The house's former site -- at 35 Church St. -- will be incorporated into the multi-use project, which will be developed on the site of the former Westport Weston Family Y.

Waldman said the move went "incredibly smoothly" and credited the house movers and his own team. He also said the move also wouldn't have been possible "without the town and all those who help move the process along."

"It's a really exciting thing for Westport," said First Selectman Jim Marpe. "The repurposing of a historic building and the beginning of the renewal of Elm Street, and the first step in realizing a vision that's been in place for a number of years."

Resident Helen Martin Block stayed to watch the move despite "frozen hands and toes" after standing for hours in the freezing morning temperatures.

"This is very interesting and a very good move for the town," she said. "I wish and hope it will represent an opportunity for a start-up business or two," she added.

"This also gives the house a sense of place," Block added. "But most important, it's saving an historic structure."

Regina Masterson agreed. "It's great they were able to save this house,"  she said. "It took a whole town to do it."

Masterson said the move was similar to one she witnessed in Harlem when the Aaron Burr house near City College was moved a few years ago. "It's always a fascinating thing to watch," she said.

"It's nice to see things being moved instead of torn down," said Libby Kole, a longtime Westport resident. "I like seeing the history of the town maintained."

"I think this is pretty awesome," said Jean Tornatore of Westport, who came with her children to see the move. "It's nice that they're saving it and they're keeping it as part of Westport's history."

"I think it's pretty cool," said her son, Nathan Maddaloni, 10.

Sal Liccione, who lives nearby, praised all those involved in preserving the structure. "They saved it from being demolished -- it took a long time and a lot of effort -- but this is a great thing," he said. "I'm happy to see it happen."

The 98-year lease for the town-owned property was signed by officials and developers Sept. 11. The town will be paid taxes on the property as well as $15,000 base rent from tenants in the first six years. About 22 parking spaces at the Baldwin lot were lost with the house's relocation to the site.

Correspondent Jarret Liotta contributed to this report.  Thank You Westport News.

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