Friday, April 12, 2024

Sponsors

Publisher, Preservationist Sidney Kramer Dies at 99

By James Lomuscio

UPDATE (adds Marpe comments) Westporter Sidney Kramer, a literary lion who seem to roar loudest when it came to preserving the environment and character of his hometown, died early today at home, just six weeks shy of his 100th birthday, friends said.

WestportNow.com Image
Sidney Kramer speaking at wife’s funeral in 2011. Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

An attorney, literary agent and co-founder of Bantam Books, as well as the prime mover of the local preservation group Save Westport Now (SWN), he had stopped eating and over the last few days refused to take water, said Connie Greenfield, a close friend for 30 years and SWN board member.

“He was very weak and very thin,” said Greenfield, noting that Kramer would have turned 100 on Jan. 21. “He just faded away.”

Kramer, his wife Esther and two children, moved to Westport in 1950. The family is best known for owning the iconic, 200-year-old converted sea captain’s house painted fluorescent pink on the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza.

For more than 30 years, Esther, who died at 93 in 2011, operated the Remarkable Book Shop there, a funky, rabbit warren of rooms with new releases and hard-to-find texts. Its name includes “Kramer” spelled backwards.

It was a popular destination of book lovers before the rise in book chain stores and a popular haunt of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. WestportNow.com Image
The 177 Main St. site of the former Remarkable Book Shop (seen in 1987 photo) sold for $4.2 million in January 2013. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow/WestportNow.com file photo

Two years ago, Kramer recalled that in 1978 the store made national headlines when he refused to sell Richard Nixon’s biography “because we thought he was a rascal.”  This decision was neither quick nor easy, Kramer later explained in New York Times op-ed piece.

As a key player in the publication of “The Pentagon Papers,” he knew his decision could be construed as censorship.

“This book ought to be published,” Kramer wrote. “If we were a public library I would think this book should be on our shelves.”

But Kramer added that bookstores always got to pick and choose what they sold — and that Nixon’s behavior in and outside the White House “outraged all of our standards of behavioral decency.”

The Kramers insisted it was not a matter of freedom of speech since patrons wanting it could just walk down Main Street to Klein’s, now closed, to buy it.

After the Remarkable closed in 1994, the 3,500-square-foot building housed Talbot’s for 15 years. Two years ago it changed hands, bought by 177 Main Street LLC for a whopping $4.2 million. WestportNow.com Image
Esther Kramer: Remarkable woman. Contributed photo

At the time Kramer said he could not complain about the price, but expressed a groundswell of nostalgia and sentiment for Esther.

“That place was very close to Esther,” he said.

Kramer spoke fondly of his wife at her funeral in 2011.

He said they were married for 71 years and knew each other six years before then.  Describing his late wife’s sense of humor, he said that “her advice to women was not to get married—because when you hit 40 your husband will want to trade you in for two 20s.”

The building that housed the Remarkable sits diagonally across from Gorham Island. Kramer took such a strong interest in the island’s preservation during the late 1970s and early 1980s that he helped found SWN.

The group, which became a minority political party in town, fought a long, unsuccessful battle to save the island that had just one, historic Italianate Victorian on it from becoming a corporate office park.

“Gorham Island, enjoy it while you can,” Kramer said in the early 1980s as he left a town meeting that allowed its development.

Greenfield noted Kramer kept his hand on the pulse of preservation issues in town despite his failing health. She has often read Kramer’s letters against development to town boards and commissions.

“He was almost totally blind, and until recently he sat in on Save Westport Now meetings with phone calls,” she said.

Greenfield said that Kramer’s son Mark of Newton, Mass. was with his father when he died. Kramer is also survived by daughter Wendy Posner of Chicago, and four grandchildren.

“I joined Save Westport Now about two-and-a-half years ago,” said Jeff Block, board member. “I’m sort of a rookie, but I was able to sit with Sidney on numerous occasions.

“He was absolutely brilliant with town politics and a great sense of when and what to say. I was basically mentoring with him. It was absolutely a privilege. He knew the town inside and outside.”

Block also noted that Kramer never strayed too far from his love of books. Kramer, who also founded New American Library and worked as a children’s book agent “was still representing a couple of authors.”

Block recalled Kramer getting phone calls from writers interrupting SWN meetings.

First Selectman Jim Marpe Thursday called Kramer “a fierce believer in honoring history and preserving the character of his beloved Westport,” adding, “I truly admired his resolve and steadfast nature. His vocal and passionate support for this close-knit town was infectious.”

Two years ago, former First Selectman Gordon Joseloff paid tribute to Kramer in a local newspaper article.

“Sidney Kramer and Save Westport Now have been a positive influential force in Westport for decades,” he said. “He’s been at it since the 1960s, a time I remember growing up here as a youngster.

“Retaining the small town character of Westport in all these years has often been a struggle. But Sidney has made his voice and views known, to the betterment of our town. For that we should all be grateful.”

Greenfield said a memorial service is planned for Saturday, Jan. 24 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Westport Library.

4 thoughts on “Publisher, Preservationist Sidney Kramer Dies at 99

  1. A great man has left the town of Westport—but not without a legacy.

    He was astute, articulate and involved until the end.

    We owe him a great debt of gratitude.

    May he rest in peace together with his beloved Esther.

    Condolences to the family in their loss.

  2. Sidney will live on in the things that were preserved under his watch. I am going to miss my talks with him, I already do. Not sure I’ll find another person to hash out issues with as succinct and observant as he.

  3. Sidney kramer’s passing is a great loss to Westport and to all of us who knew him and what he stood for.  There are precious few who have made such an effort to save what I have always called The “Magical Town of Westport”.  He will always be remembered and his efforts will always remain a part of the community.

    My sympathy to his family on their loss.

    Al Beasley

  4. I was sad the day Remarkable Book Store Closed, b/c he and his lovely wife knew exactly what to recommend to read. The best book store, ever! Not only that, they were both avid readers and had read most of what they were selling.

    Their interest in saving Westport went beyond merely saving it, it was a passion in complete preservation for generations to come. Once it’s torn down, it’s gone forever. Once the land has been built on, it’s tough to reclaim. They had the foresight. I’m sure his efforts will carry on, that’s his legacy.

    Condolences to his family.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *