Village of Light
(page 4 of 4)
“One of the differences with Village Creek and the reason we have retained the balance and same spirit that infused us in 1949 is that we created a detailed covenant,” explains Willcox. “All homeowners have to sign a document to abide by it. We used our cooperative concept to retain the balance that we wanted. We had a real estate broker, a waiting list of white and black people, and we used the right of first refusal to make sure we didn’t lose it.”
This has had unforeseen consequences. During the 1960s, a well-known black couple expressed interest in buying a house in Village Creek in the part of the community where many other black families lived. As Willcox told The New York Times in 1996, “The prospective buyers were offered several other properties that were available, but they insisted on that very one and brought charges against the association.”
This situation created a weird political dynamic that saw the local NAACP siding with the association against the black family. But as the case crawled through the courts and the local newspapers, ownership trends shifted elsewhere in Village Creek and the racial balance became realigned more equitably. So the prominent black couple was allowed to buy the home they originally wanted after all, with no lingering animosity.
Strong bonds are forged at, and to, Village Creek. This is seen in obvious ways, such as the relatives of homeowners who, like Patrice Hunt, choose to become residents and home-owners themselves. At the peak of this second-generation ownership, 13 homes in Village Creek were owned by descendants (today there are 10). Among such owners today are three of the four Kerschner children, whose parents, Barbara and Nolan, were among the founders of the village and live here still. Nolan Kerschner had been a paratrooper in the Pacific during World War II and embarked on a lifelong career in construction upon his return, save two years off in 1961-63 to work on behalf of nuclear disarmament.
Their children obviously have taken to heart the lessons they learned growing up here—lessons that have exerted a lingering hold on others, too. In the silver anniversary publication in 1975, for example, Laura Lasker wrote, “I can return year after year and always see familiar faces. Village Creek remains the same—a factor of continuity and stability in my life throughout college, world travels, meeting and leaving friends, trying out different lifestyles—creating a place for myself in this challenging world.”
Robert Morganstern noted, “I am overjoyed that I had the opportunity to grow up in such a cooperative, democratic and culturally enriched community . . . Village Creek was a childhood where I had many ‘mothers and fathers’ . . . I never had time to develop racial, cultural or economic prejudices. I was too busy enjoying other people.”
Cynics might be tempted, when learning of a place with the lofty aims of Village Creek, to poke at it until tiny hypocrisies deflate its image. However, Village Creek may have fewer such holes than most neighborhoods, even after decades of being poked at by outsiders. It’s not perfect, of course, but it is a work forever in progress and still fueled by an idealism embodied by Ann Frimmet, the current president of the Village Creek Homeowners’ Association.
Frimmet lives in the first house built in Village Creek, located on Splitrock Road. “It was the typical 1950s home,” says Frimmet, who bought the house with her husband Alfred 18 years ago. “It had 600 to 800 square feet, no basement and no garage. Every vet returning from World War II bought one of these, it seems.”
She and Alfred knew Roger Willcox from sailing on the Sound.
“Alfred was a member of the Frostbite Crew, a group of friends who raced all winter on the Sound,” she recalls. “When Alfred complained to Roger about the water being frozen near Westchester County, he told him that the hot water emitted by the power plant here kept the water off Norwalk from freezing over. So, we came up to Norwalk with our boat and I looked out the window of Roger’s house and saw the area was filled with migratory birds.”
That visit nailed it. When she and Alfred were talking about retirement, Village Creek was where they wanted to be. They enjoyed 15 years of happiness at Village Creek until Alfred’s death in 2008.
“My husband was delighted in the time he lived here,” she says. “It had everything he wanted and I still feel it does for me, too. Norwalk has all the amenities I need and a good hospital—not that I want to go there anytime soon. It’s about as far as you can be from New York and still commute comfortably into the city.”
For Ann Frimmet, Village Creek also offered a chance to put her own youthful optimism, for too long in mothballs, into real-world practice.
“I grew up during World War II in Westchester County, in a place called Larchmont, which was one square mile in size,” she says. “We had one black family and no Jews. One guy, a Jewish manufacturer, bought a farm and subdivided it just so the Jews could have an option to enter suburbia. I was always moved as a child by those Norman Rockwell magazine covers that showed a world in which people were mixing. I remember thinking I should do something about it. We wanted to change the world, but not scream and shout and act outrageous. All these World War II veterans were committed to the same ideals.”
Earlier this year, in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of Village Creek, The Norwalk Museum installed an exhibition on the neighborhood. At the time, museum director Susan Gunn Bromley said, “Many suburban enclaves become cohesive as healthy cooperative communities, but few have done so in such a conscious manner or with the inclusive spirit of Norwalk’s Village Creek, whose nondiscrimination policy—unheard of in planned communities 60 years ago—is now the law of the land.”