65 Things That Changed Our Town

1947—The Greenwich Social Review, now Greenwich magazine, made its debut—all twenty black-and-white pages of it (counting covers).

1948—WGCH FM, the first Greenwich radio station, started broadcasting from the Pickwick Arms Hotel at the top of Greenwich Avenue with its antenna on the roof.

1948—Millionaire socialite Henry J. Topping Jr., known as Bob, became the third of actress Lana Turner’s seven husbands. He proposed to her at “21” by dropping a ring into her martini.

1949 — Back when cigarettes could advertise on television, John Cameron Swayze, host of NBC’s first television newscast, was inviting us to “go hopscotching the world for headlines” on the Camel News Caravan.

1950—Ethel Skakel married Bobby Kennedy on June 17 at St. Mary Church, with his brothers John F. Kennedy serving as Best Man and Teddy as an usher. During that decade and the next, Ethel would bear eleven children, while the Best Man went on to become the thirty-fifth President of the United States.

1951—Maher Avenue children put on their first Nativity pageant on somebody’s front porch, a Christmas tradition that continues today. The youngest kids were always dressed as angels or shepherds until little Dick Hollister, now an eminent oncologist, insisted on being a king—so then there were four.

1952—The Augustin family started farming in Greenwich. Today, across from the Griff Harris Golf Course, Kathy and John Augustin run the only produce farm left in our town. Even on a prosthetic leg after a tractor accident a few years ago, John is still harvesting the world’s best corn, vegetables and flowers.

1953—Parking meters were installed on Greenwich Avenue, where they now gobble up $1.5 million worth of quarters a year (not including Smart Cards), while meter maids and men keep a sharp eye out for scofflaws. Originally meant to improve our parking facilities, there was quite a brouhaha several years ago when the BET raided it for the general fund that pays for everything except parking.

1957— A group of local characters including Bernie Yudain, our town’s favorite journalist and wit, founded the Harpoon Club for the sole purpose of preserving the sense of humor of Greenwich. Ever since, honorees ranging from senators and weathermen to priests and police chiefs have felt the point of its spear at a rollicking annual dinner.

1958—Old Greenwich author Anya Seton (Chase) came out with her ninth hot-selling historical novel, The Winthrop Woman, based on the founding of our town.

1958—After cutting a wide swath through the trees and homes of Greenwich, and being rerouted to save the Historical Society’s Bush-Holley House, the Connecticut Turnpike opened, destined to become overburdened with traffic and every driver’s nightmare.

1959—Splitting off from Stamford, the Junior League of Greenwich opened its doors; and setting aside their pearls and white gloves, the ladies jumped into the trenches and started launching all those projects that have contributed so greatly to the welfare of our community.

1960—Greenwich Country Club burned to the ground for the second time. The first was back in 1896. But in the interim, a fire had destroyed the gazebo in 1910 and the east wing in 1929. That area between Stanwich and Doubling roads was known as Electric Hill because Thomas Edison had created the world’s first completely electrified home there for Edward Johnson, but the club historian suggests it should have been called Incendiary Hill.

1960—James Linen became President of Time Inc. Greenwich was a hot-bed of Time-Life executives, including such publishing greats as company founder Henry R. Luce, President Roy Larsen and Time editors Otto Fuerbringer and James Keogh.

1964—Muppets creator Jim Henson, who with wife Jane introduced the world to a whole new form of puppetry, moved into a house once owned by Impressionist John Henry Twachtman on Round Hill Road. Strange, but old photographs from Historical Society archives prove that the two bearded gents also looked alike.

1965—The landmark case of Griswold v. Connecticut established the right to buy contraceptives in our state, so Greenwich residents—married or single—no longer had to drive over the border to Nan Rockefeller’s clinic in Port Chester for supplies. By 1992, 2,000 people were assembling in Roger Sherman Baldwin Park for a huge pro-choice rally.

1966—The RTM approved its largest single appropriation ever granted—$9,800,000—for a new high school by Put’s Hill. Designed by a California architect with little regard for our New England weather, it boasted lockers too small for coats, flat roofs that leaked, classrooms with no doors, too much glass and windows that didn’t open.

1967—Textile executive Bob McCullough, who served as commodore of both Riverside and New York yacht clubs, skippered Constellation in the 1967 America’s Cup trials while winning silver with his seventy-foot yawl Inverness.

1970—When the worldwide headquarters of PepsiCo moved from Manhattan to Purchase, New York, CEO Don Kendall envisioned a museum without walls on the property, resulting in the famous PepsiCo Sculpture Gardens. Later he would introduce Pepsi to Russia (along with his wife Bim and their little boys), prefacing an end to the Cold War.

1970— Having observed unoccupied cars rolling backwards down Greenwich Avenue for years, narrowly missing our traffic officers at their posts, the town fathers wisely decided that one of the most famous streets in the world should become one-way south, thus putting a positive spin on the phrase “downhill all the way. ”

1970—Seeking tranquility in Greenwich, Robert Motherwell set up shop in an old stone carriage house on North Street, preferring to work alone late at night, destroying any paintings he felt inferior. Today a major Motherwell goes for millions. It is said that he was one of the few abstract expressionists who didn’t do himself in with drink and drugs.

1976—Our figure-skating champ Dorothy Hamill brought home the gold from the Innsbruck Olympics, along with a haircut copied by women all over the world, before she signed up with the Ice Capades and married, if ever so briefly, Dean Martin’s son.

1977—With his Complete Book of Running, Jim Fixx really got us going and, in fact, is credited with starting America’s fitness revolution.

1977 — Ruth Sims became the first woman ever elected First Selectman of Greenwich and the first Democrat in seventy-five years—not surprising for someone who also raised a son Chris who would win the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2011.

1983 — When the Mianus River Bridge collapsed in the middle of the night, cars and trucks plunged into the waters
below and people lost their lives, including the driver of a stolen car who reportedly gave the finger to witnesses trying to flag him down.

1984—William May, retired CEO of American Can, became head of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, thus charged with giving Miss Liberty a face-lift.

1988—By one year, the Riverside Yacht Club beat out both Indian Harbor and Belle Haven in celebrating its 100th birthday.

1989—George H. W. Bush, who met his future wife Barbara at a Christmas dance at the Round Hill Club in 1945, was elected President of the United States.

1990 — Steeple bells rang, children sang, fireworks exploded and town leaders helped unfurl America’s largest national flag in Roger Sherman Baldwin Park to celebrate the 350th anniversary of our town.

1991— Lowell Weicker Jr. was sworn in as Connecticut’s 85th Governor, becoming the first independent Governor in the state since the Civil War. Our former first selectman and four-time U.S. Senator, he led the effort to uncover Nixon’s role in Watergate, for a time earning the wrath of fellow Republicans.

1991— Steve Young, Greenwich High Class of 1980, became a star quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers and was named the Most Valuable Player of the NFL in 1992 and 1994.

1992—Greenwich Library, now the second busiest library in New England, received $25,000,000 from the estate of Clementine Lockwood Peterson, widow of U.S. Tobacco CEO J. Whitney Peterson. It was the largest gift ever made to a community library in the United States.

1992—Jim Carrier launched Salute to Veterans, an annual Fourth of July celebration that left us breathless as Navy SEALS
hung from helicopters circling the high school. The heart of every man, woman and child always bled red, white and blue that day.

1993— Greenwich firefighters hauled off crates of lobster from an overturned truck on I-95; and that’s why, somebody quipped, fire engines are red.

1993—Rene Anselmo, generous to a fault, took a break from planting daffodils along North Street and built a white picket fence around the croquet course in Bruce Park, winning him the Broken mallet Award from the Department of Parks & Rec for not consulting them first.

1995—John Margenot, longest serving First Selectman in town history, decided not to run again for a sixth term because, if elected, it might have required a coronation.

1995—A seriously ambitious law student from Stamford made waves trying to get into Greenwich Point for a jog, leaving us awash in legal proceedings and later forced to admit non-residents to the beach— for a fee.

1996—Bank of New York bought the eighty-three-year-old Putnam Trust Company, which has changed its name four times since then, making it even more difficult to count the remarkable number of banks that have been springing up all over Greenwich. At last count there were nineteen, not including branches.

1997—In her divorce settlement from the CEO of GE Capital and spouse of thirty-one years, Lorna Wendt took a giant step for womankind by declaring that corporate wives contributed equally to the financial success of their husbands—and won.

1997—Greenwich families savored good food so much that the dinnertime burglar entered twenty-three of their houses and made off with $700,000 worth of treasure before they put down their forks.

1997—Matt Lauer replaced Bryant Gumbel as co-host with Katie Couric of NBC’s Today Show and was on his way to television superstardom. During his Greenwich High School years, this self-effacing young man was great with people and worked as a salesman at Richards on the Avenue. He still buys clothes there.

1998—Long-Term Capital got bailed out. Here is a group that plays it so close to the vest that when we called one time to check the correct spelling of the founder’s name, nobody would tell us. Maybe they didn’t know?

1999—Insurance fraudster Martin Frankel got bored handing out black Mercedes- Benzes to his friends, so he took off for Europe with duffels full of diamonds and the FBI hard on his heels.

1999—Edgehill opened, attracting so many retirees from the east end of town that mealtime in its spacious dining room looks like a meeting of the Riverside Association.

2000—The national television show LIVE! With Regis and Kathie Lee came to an end after over twelve years, but Kathie Lee Gifford and Regis Philbin are still friends and still live in Greenwich.

2001—Dede Brooks, Sotheby’s first female CEO and known as the most powerful woman in the art world, owned up to price-fixing with archrival Christie’s. She was sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service and six months of house arrest. Then she took off her ankle bracelet and headed for Hobe Sound.

2002—The YMCA sold Calf Island for $6 million to become part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge because they needed money to pour into their “Olympic-size” pool, which actually came up short by a few inches as well as some $20 million.

2003—Billionaire hedge fund manager Edward Lampert was kidnapped in the parking lot of his Greenwich office and got sprung two days later after his captors used his credit card to order out for pizza.

2003—Over in their sleek new headquarters, the Chief considered doubling the size of the police force in order to fill all the office space.

2003—The issue of cell phone towers has always elicited lively conversation and litigation: The Bernardine Sisters of St. Francis balked at allowing a tower in the shape of a 100-foot cross to be erected in their front yard; and a Greenwich volunteer fire department renounced its agreement to replace its sixty-foot flagpole with a 150-foot tower after neighbors threatened to bulldoze the firehouse.

2004—The Archbishop of Canterbury preached in Christ Church, followed by Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and preceded by practicing Buddhist Richard Gere speaking at Greenwich Academy— giving our town a spiritual uplift that some believed was overdue.

2006—When the body of Andrew Kissel was found in the basement of his mansion bound, gagged and stabbed seventeen times, in the absence of obvious suspects someone actually suggested it might have been suicide. Just three years earlier,
brother Robert had been polished off in Hong Kong by a poisoned milkshake supplied by his wife. The Kiss-el of death?

2006—In a town known for its many benefits (both perks and the fundraising kind), Deborah Royce and Christine Vanderlip launched a sellout event called the Old Bags Lunch, where handbags have been auctioned off for as much as $13,500 each to fund the YWCA’s Domestic Abuse services.

2008—Out on King Street the West-chester Airport board voted to restrict the number of noise complaints they have to investigate to fifty per month per household after the number climbed to 1,847 in October—1,490 of them from the same individual.

2008—Judge Judy Sheindlin completed her new mega-mansion here. With her tidy salary, fitness fixation, love of dogs, penchant to shop The Avenue and contributions to the community, Judge Judy—along with husband Judge Jerry—fit right into the Greenwich scene.

2008—When Crayola king Edwin Binney gifted a park in Old Greenwich to the town back in 1927, he’d never have foreseen that the second President Bush would use it as a landing pad for his helicopter.

2009—Figuring that Greenwich needed more places to party, the P & Z approved the construction of a 40,000-square-foot mansion on Simmons Lane with a 19,000- square-foot basement, fifteen bathrooms and a septic system to accommodate 480 people.

2009—The Town turned down an offer of $20 million from a syndicate headed by Peter Malkin for a Greenwich Center for the Arts in the Havemeyer Building because the Board of Ed could not do without its easy access to Saks and Ralph Lauren.

2009—What with the Bruce Museum overflowing with exhibits and the town dog pound across the driveway overflowing with strays, something had to be done. So private funds were raised to build a new Animal Control Center out on North Street, and The Bruce got the elbowroom it needed for future expansion.

2010—A police officer was removed from traffic duty on the Avenue at Lewis Street near Betteridge, Manfredi and Steven Fox jewelers in order to create a more level playing field for high-end thieves.

2011—The infamous estate called Dunnellen, built by steel, tin plate and banking czar Daniel Grey Reid, has been inhabited by a series of ill-fated owners. But one elderly resident, a Maltese named Trouble, turned out to be very lucky indeed when his mistress Leona Helmsley died and left him $12 million. That was $2 million more than she had given in 1999 for the new wing at Greenwich Hospital.

2011—A little white plastic orb caused a heavy-duty stir among locals who didn’t want to see Wiffle Ball played in a vacant lot on their street, perhaps preferring the kids to go play in the traffic.

2011—Our town’s seventh school chief in eleven years fled town amidst a furor over maladministration, and the Board of Ed got a dunce cap.

2012—It was announced that the historic Greenwich Avenue post office where we have been buying stamps since 1917 will now be leased to Restoration Hardware, where we can buy sheets and stocking stuffers. A sure sign of progress.

2012—Last but hardly least, the winds blew, the waters rose, trees fell, houses burned and power lines hung loose overhead as Hurricane Sandy swept through town, leaving most of us freezing in the dark. But for once, nobody could quip “only in Greenwich.”

MLspace

MLspace

share this story

© Moffly Media, 2008-2022. All rights reserved. Website by Web Publisher PRO