House built by Gustave Whitehead could come down

The small, green and white bungalow at 184 Alvin Street in the Fairfield Warde High School neighborhood bears an ominous sign.

In huge spray-painted orange letters, the front porch is marked “demo 184,” meaning the owner, indicated on town tax records as the Kalcar development corporation, intends to demolish the small house.

The news is disheartening for local aviation buffs, because the bungalow was hand-built home of one of the fathers of  aviation.

Gustave Whitehead, whom Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft as of 2013 cites as the first to build and fly an airplane in 1901,  built the house in 1914 and lived there until his death in 1927.

“The loss in demolishing it is that this is the sole major artifact left that was constructed by the man now recognized as inventing and flying the first airplane,” said Susan Brinchman, a California resident who is the author of “Gustave Whitehead: First In Flight,” a soon-to-be released book about the German immigrant who fell short of major fame and fortune like that known by the Wright Brothers, who accomplished their feat at Kitty Hawk two years after Whitehead flew at Jennings Beach.

Time is running out for Brinchman and other Whitehead backers to try to save the house. Once the owner applies for a demolition permit, he has 10 days to post his intentions on the house. The clock is now ticking because Kalcar applied for the permit Thursday morning, April 10.

Not everyone views the Whitehead house as being historical. First Selectman Michael Tetreau said the house is also not in a historic district.

“He lived there after he was done flying,” Tetreau said. “The house is not historic.”

And in his opinion, it is too small to be any kind of museum for visitors to walk through.

It would cost considerable money to move to house to another location, Treteau said.

Brinchman s passionately trying to forestall the demolition.

“The Wright Brothers did not personally build the homes they lived in, but Orville’s mansion is a tourist attraction, and he lived in it long after his flying days,” Brinchman said. “It is short-sighted to assume the (Whitehead) home has no historic value. Was Lincoln living in a log cabin when he was president Yet a reproduction of his early home is important. The homes of famous people are significant historical places.”

It’s difficult to say what the owner actually has in mind. The selling agent for the deal with Kalcar, Lois Bologna, declined to answer questions, although she told the Connecticut Post the developer who owns Kalcar, Gary Tenk of Stratford, plans to tear the house down and build a new one because the property is in terribly rundown condition.

Brinchman said she hoping to find grants through the State of Connecticut and a non-profit organization and work out a plan with the owner in time to save the house.

“Perhaps the owner will benefit if he allows it to be removed intact, by saving on the demolition, and the state and the public will benefit through preserving the priceless artifact that was all hand-built by Gustave Whiteadead, inventor of the airplane,” Brinchman wrote in an email from California.

Brinchman is not the only writer who is passionate about Whitehead’s historical importance. John Brown, the aviation historian whose work Jane’s cited in deeming that Whitehead flew before the Wrights, said the demolition is a matter of concern.

“The home at Alvin Street is marginally significant because he built it with his own hands, but more significant because it’s all that’s left to show his presence in the area,” Brown wrote in an email from Germany, where he lives.

Whitehead’s historical recognition is growing, according to Brown. Aviation authorities, universities and research institutes around the world acknowledge Whitehead, not the Wrights, as the first in flight, and stand behind evidence of his many different flights he made during the 1901-03 period. Connecticut last year also commemorated Whitehead as the First in Flight, and passed legislation stipulating it.

“The time is right to restore to the Fairfield-Bridgeport area its rightful legacy as first in powered flight,” Brown said.

Whitehead’s first flight at Jennings Beach was made with a plane he built in a workshop  at 241 Pine Street in Bridgeport, where a warehouse now stands.

Whitehead was not the only one who built the plane he designed. In the 1980s, Bridgeport Captain’s Cove Seaport owner Kaye Williams  put up $10,000 for a replica to be built and flown by teacher  Andrew Kosch.

Kosch is a member of the Connecticut Air and Space Center in Stratford, and is also passionate about preserving the Whitehead house.

“A lot of people are working on it right now,” Kosch said of efforts to block the demolition.

If saving the house is not possible, perhaps saving pieces of it is an alternative, he said.

“We’re hoping to get at least parts of the house to display,” said Kosch, who is a member of the Connecticut Air and Space Center in Stratford.

Preserving pieces of the home seems entirely possible, according to Mark E. Corvino, vice president of the Connecticut Air & Space Center. Corvino said he has been in contact with the owner of the Whitehead house and has permission to take whatever he likes from the house, under supervision, to assure that no artifacts or valuable pieces of history are lost.

He had an interesting twist on the Whitehead house.

“As far as the house goes, there are really no architecture pieces left from the original house. It has been remodeled and rehabilitated and generally destroyed by former owners and tenants,” Corvino said.

He the new owner is more than cooperative.

“He is more than happy to work with us at Connecticut Air & Space Museum to preserve anything of value found at the site,” Corvino said.

This house on Alvin Street, marked for demolition, was built by Gustave Whitehead, believed to be the first person to fly a heavier-than-air aircraft. (John Kovach Photo)

This house on Alvin Street, marked for demolition, was built by Gustave Whitehead, believed to be the first person to fly a heavier-than-air aircraft. (John Kovach Photo)

About author

By participating in the comments section of this site you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and User Agreement

© HAN Network. All rights reserved. Fairfield Sun, 1000 Bridgeport Avenue, Shelton, CT 06484

Designed by WPSHOWER

Powered by WordPress