Bette Midler project to dock in Norwalk temporarily
By John Nickerson
January 3, 2004
NORWALK — The nearly finished boathouse being built by actress-singer Bette Midler is expected to float down the harbor next week where it will stay at Norwalk Cove Marina for at least a month.
Construction on the $2.8 million, 4,300-square-foot boathouse began last summer at Norwalk Marine Contractors Inc., off Harbor Avenue.
The two-story structure, measuring 80 feet long by 54 feet wide, was to have been moved to Swindler Cove on the Harlem River in October. Midler’s foundation is building it to provide access to the sport of rowing for hundreds of low-income high school students.
But the summer’s wet weather and construction problems will keep the two-story Peter Jay Sharp Boathouse in Norwalk until at least next month, said Stamford resident Alex Foglietta, whose father’s company, Foglietta & Son Inc., is assembling the boathouse.
Moving New York City’s first boathouse to be built in more than 100 years has all the ingredients for edge-of-your-seat suspense. To reach Norwalk Cove Marina, the structure must first pass under Interstate 95’s Yankee Doodle Bridge.
Then, it has to be precisely threaded through a very tight opening under the railroad bridge spanning the Norwalk River in South Norwalk.
The railroad swing bridge opens to a maximum 58 feet, leaving just a 2-foot clearance to pass on either side. From there, the boathouse will go through the 100-foot wide Stroffolino Bridge at the foot of Washington Street, before floating another mile to Norwalk Cove Marina.
Cove Marina General Manager Stephen Babbitz said maneuvering the boathouse through the bridge shouldn’t be too difficult because it has fenders on either end that will allow the structure to slide easily along the span if the boathouse comes into contact with it. But Babbitz warned that all bets were off if the boathouse hits the bridge head-on.
Part of the reason to move the boathouse downriver is to make sure ice floes, which tend to form in that part of the river during the winter, don’t do any damage to the barge portion of the craft, Norwalk Marine Contractors Vice President Gary Wetmore said in an interview late last year.
While at Norwalk Cove Marina, Foglietta said the boathouse, constructed atop a multipiece concrete barge filled with Styrofoam, has to be repaired to make it float more evenly in the water. One corner of the barge is sitting a few inches lower in the water than the other corners, making it dangerous to transport the boathouse to the newly renovated Swindler Cove, located at the eastern end of 208th Street.
The project is being undertaken by The New York Restoration Project, which was founded by Bette Midler in 1995 “to create a cleaner, more beautiful New York.”
While filming the “Stepford Wives” remake at the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum in Norwalk in the fall, Midler made a brief visit to the boathouse to see the progress being made.
“She was happy,” Foglietta said. “She kind of looked around and checked it out.”
In the New York Restoration Project’s winter newsletter, Midler wrote that the boathouse “will be the hub of the NYRP’s community rowing program, conducted in partnership with the New York Rowing Association. It’s the Harlem River’s first new boathouse in more than a century.”
Foglietta said once the repairs were done and a little more work performed on the inside of the spacious interior, he hoped mild weather next month could be enough to see the boathouse set sail for New York.
“If we get it unseasonably warm, it will be a blessing, and we will be able to take it down there,” Foglietta said.