My Years at West Beach Westbrook, Ct Rosemary Cassano Mastrobattisto 8/14/ 2016
I first summered in West Beach when I was 1 or 2 years old (1946 or 1947). When I was a toddler, my family rented the Lavieri cottage for the month of July. The Lavieri’s stayed there in Aug, and we visited them on weekends in Aug. Mary Lavieri was my Baptismal Godmother. Sebastian and Mary Lavieri were close friends of my parents, Joseph & Margaret Cassano. The Lavieri’s son Joe was a close friend of my brother Tony (also called Anthony by family members). I remain best friends with their daughter, Annamarie; we have known each other all our lives. As most summer cottages, ours did not have TV or telephone or hot water. We bathed in salt water or the cold outside shower. Water was heated on the stove for washing dishes etc.
The Lavieri cottage is across from the Graziano’s. I grew up knowing children, who are still coming to West Beach as adults; some of us are living here as our primary residence. I knew my friends’ immediate family members, grandmothers, and other extended family members. We were one big family. We had many friends, and so much fun playing outside together. There were 2 beach stores within 1-2 blocks from us for ice cream, and other treats. One was on Post Ave, and Kelly’s Corner was at the Corner of RT 1 and Wesley Ave. The Bellstone Hotel was flourishing, as was The Dragonwyck, now the Elks Club property. Bill Hahn’s, with its expansive lawn leading from water to Hotel, was at Standard Beach; the property is now Waters Edge. The Elks Club was only the little “Cottage.” next to their present newer building. The Dragonwyck was owned by the Prestia family. Gene Chesanek’s late wife Patty was a part of that family. She too was a childhood friend.
When I was about 5 years old, my parents bought a building lot on 18 Bellstone Ave and had a house built there. The house was one of the few year round homes on our street. It was a modest 3 bedroom, one bathroom ranch with a screened-in front porch. It was modern for its time. It was completed for the summer of 1952. My older brother Tony stayed in Westbrook all summer and helped the workers building our home. We came here every weekend to check the home’s progress and to go to the beach. We changed into bathing suits inside before all inside walls and doors were up. We draped blankets over wall frames for privacy. My parents had close friends here who extended their home when needed. We often slept overnight at the Ravizza’s home, which is now owned by Jack and Janet. At that time their home was a different cottage. My brother Tony was close friends with Ronnie Ravizza; brother Joe was friends with Ronnie’s brother Alvin. Later, my parents had the porch enclosed with windows, and covered the stained wood on the front of the house with white siding. The rest of the house was off- white stucco.
We had many relatives and friends visit, especially for my mother’s special Sunday dinners. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends stayed overnight. Somehow there was always room and food to share. People were happy to drive to the shore where it was cooler than inland, and there was the cool water of the sound. Air conditioners were a new expensive luxury in the late 50s; fans were used. For those of us fortunate enough to spend summers here, we had our mothers staying here with us. Mothers and grandmothers took us to the beach and socialized in the water and on the sand as we played. Most fathers worked inland. My father was a sports writer and editor for the Hartford Times. The Times then was an afternoon newpaper, and sold more papers than the Courant. He was the first President of the West Beach Association. He was a wonderful father and a special man. He always had time for family in his busy schedule. He taught me to swim at a very young age. My father was here every weekend, one evening during the week, and for his vacation time. My Dad loved the water and would come here from work and go swimming. He swam way out, and often dove to the bottom and came home with a conch that would be cooked and eaten.
My brothers and I had our own groups of friends, especially in our teenage years. Some of these friends are still here in West Beach. We had so much fun growing up here. It was such a fun free youth. Upon awaking, I would throw on a one-piece bathing suit and shorts, and run barefoot to Emily’s Bakery for my breakfast donut or pastry. I wore a bathing suit all day, and went barefoot day and night. I loved swimming, and was called “Little Fish” as a youngster, as I never wanted to leave the water. As a preteen, I would get up early & swim while other family members slept. As a teen, I would put my bathing suit under my clothes & swim in the darkness of night with Mary Gulino. Then, I would return to my dark back yard; I’d change back into dry clothes in my father’s shed, and hang the suit on the clothesline. Girls swimming at night alone was forbidden. We often swam in moonlight and looked up at the planets and stars over the dark water. Boating was my next passion (not counting cute boys). I would love to go for boat rides with those cute boys. Groups of us played cards on the steps in front of Bellstone Ave. We all hung out at the Coral Sands Beach Store, where there were pinball machines, goodies, and the opportunity to meet cute boys. I had my first kiss in Westbrook and met my first boyfriend here. I met friends who rented yearly and communicated with them all winter with hand written letters. I so looked forward to seeing them each year.
During my teenage years, I recall walking down the street late at night and seeing lights on all the front porches. Adults were up late socializing and playing cards. I remember the safe feeling of knowing nearly everyone who walked or drove by. You could safely walk alone at night. There were hardly any cars then. However, many cars did line the street for Emily’s Bakery every Sat and Sun morning. West Beach was considered to be a private beach by homeowners then. No one called before visiting; you just visited. Most summer cottages did not have their own telephones, and there were no cell phones. There were many pay phones; and people could put money in to talk, or call loved ones collect. If it was very important, my mother used the Mosca’s telephone next door, until we got our own. Long distance calls were very expensive. We often told a loved one, who was driving inland, to call and let the phone ring twice so we would know they made it to their destination safely. If the phone was not answered, long distance charges were not incurred. I still have our original phone number.
Some of my summer jobs were at Emily’s Bakery; at the Food Center, a grocery store in the center of town; and babysitting. The center of town had a quaint library, the Food Center, Westbrook’s Pharmacy, the Muffin Corner, and the famous Neidlinger’s store. Neidlingers, named after its owner, carried every miscellaneous thing one needed. It was like a hardware store, a toy store, a home goods store.etc. .The store was famous for its local postcards. Many have a collection of them that depict our past. They are precious.
Sea life in the sound was plentiful then. My brother Tony would go fishing with a fishing pole or spear, and bring back an unbelievable amount of fish. The Panellas and others had lobster traps. We crabbed for fun and for the more edible Blue crabs. We climbed rocks at the Town Beach; they were later cemented to a smooth surface, as it remains today. We walked to Menunketesuck Point, which is now a bird sanctuary. We dove off one end of Salt Island, which is presently another bird sanctuary. Some of us swam across the canal to Pilots Point Marina. When I was growing up, Pilot’s Point was a beautiful uninhabited natural point. The Marina had only a couple of docks; I boated from there as a teenager. It was so dark on the point at night that one could see celestial lightshows in their magnificent glory. Later, Pilot’s Point was developed into a neighborhood of homes, and the marina grew. I often think of how beautiful it would be if that land was left to nature.
When I was about 10 years old, my father’s close friend Sam Gulino, his wife Blanche and their 4 children (Joseph, Mary, Blanche & Santo) visited. They too fell in love with West Beach and bought the home that Madeline Devellis now lives in. Mrs. Gulino was my Confirmation Godmother. My family was very close to the Gulino family. We all played on their porch, and I often stayed overnight with the girls. Mr. Gulino passed here in my presence at the young age of 58. Mrs. Gulino later lived here year round then lived in her home at Pilot’s Point. Those who knew her knew how special she was. She passed in her 70s. This was a family that was special to many of us who still live here. We all played together on that porch, and hung out together on the beach.
There were so many other memorable people who are no longer here. I remember Mr. & Mrs. Brady on Seaside Ave, aunt and uncle to Ele Fillipone. Mr. Brady always watched over us children on the beach and had a positive influence for many. He was like everyone’s uncle. On the corner next to him, where Ed and Joan Crow live, were the 6 Bartek boys ( Bobby, Billy Steven, Dick, Jimmy, and Johnny). Many of us knew them well. Mrs. Cambria was a special grandmother who lived across the street, where Gail Colby’s house is. She often sat on her porch. She was older than my mother and had many wise stories to tell. Many evenings, she would slowly shuffle across the street to visit, and perhaps have a nightcap, with my mother on our porch. She would talk about old times. I believe she was married at age 14 and had many children. Among them were a son who became a judge and one who became president of a Bank. Her grandson, Gary Fox, remained one of my brother Joe’s best friends. Mr Graziano summered here into his 90s. He was an excellent golfer and a beach historian. I could go on and on, but I know others will write about their families.
I have seen the effects of Hurricanes and Nor’ Easters on the shoreline. I especially remember the devastation of the famous category 3 Hurricane Carol on Aug 31, 1954. The hurricane destroyed the new homes at Coral Sands, which are now elevated on stilts or a new foundation. Houses were floating in the streets around Seaside Ave. Furniture and canned goods were amongst many other items floating, many were from the Coral Sands store. There was very little advanced warning in our area. It seems like we did not know it was coming until that day. I remember boat owners trying to take their boats out of the water as the storm surge was starting. Many boats were destroyed. I remember my mother’s calm manner, calming my brother Joe and me, as we had the direct hit. Another family came to our house for shelter, as we had a new cinderblock home a block from the water. The area they came from in Saybrook was unsafe & badly damaged by the storm. I also recall my father and oldest brother Tony drove from their work in Hartford during the storm to be with us. They had to take many diversions to get here. I recall going out during the eye if the storm. We walked down the street to see the enormous waves crashing over the sea wall and up the street . At that time the sea wall was higher, 5-6 ft. tall.
As an adult I stayed here with my parents and 2 sons nearly every weekend. I took my vacations here. Thus, my sons Christian and Troy Farrand grew up here too. My sons ventured to live in places like California, Arizona, South Carolina, Florida……They have both returned to Ct. They live nearby and love Westbrook too. Their children love visiting too. My grandchildren (Julia, Jillian, Dacoda) play with the grandchildren of my childhood friends. Soon I will have a new grandson Cole.
I married Jim Mastrobattitsto in 1988. We both enjoyed beaching and boating together. We were introduced by a friend who vacationed in Westbrook. My parents lived into their 90’s. After they passed, my brothers were happy I wanted to keep our beach home. The home had a major renovation that was completed in 2005. Jim and I moved here into our new 2 story home in 2005. Jim really enjoyed living here; he loved being near the water and his boats. Jim has been deceased since March 3, 2012. I now live here with TB (Tiberiu Craici). We both love the beach and water activities. We love the Bahamas also: Freeport, Grand Bahama Island, where my brother Tony lives.
- I feel blessed, and often say thanks to the spirits of my parents for building this home. This place has always felt like my home. I’d lived in Hartford until moving to West Hartford at age 11. Then after college at Uconn, I lived most of my years in Tolland and Bristol. No other place can compare to my little piece of Paradise at West Beach. I have lived thru and seen many changes at West Beach. When I first arrived here, West Beach had many summer cottages. I knew every cottage owner and renter. Some homeowners were related to each other. Later, some became related through marriage. Descendants of original owners remain here. People who summered here for years have made this their year round residence. I could write many more pages about many more very special friends and times here, but it would become a book and take me months or years to finish. More recently, many houses and home owners have changed. I feel so fortunate, as my newer neighbors are all such wonderful caring people. I am proud to say we are still one big family on Bellstone Ave.