For weeks, supporters have protested a Connecticut developer's
plan to demolish the nearly 100-year-old house in Fairfield that the
German immigrant built and lived in. They wanted the house to be
moved and preserved as a landmark to educate people about the German
mechanic's role in the invention of the airplane.
Time ran out on Monday when the town issued a demolition permit to
developer Gary Tenk to build a new structure on the site, according
to Fairfield First Selectman Mark Tetreau. Demolition of the small
house on a residential street in Fairfield, could be completed as
early as Tuesday.
"This home was in foreclosure and purchased by a developer," Tetreau
said. "The town has no choice but to follow building regulations and
issue the permit."
Tenk, the developer, did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Whitehead's supporters insist that the common belief that the Wright
Brothers were first to fly is wrong, and suggest the house could be
a memorial to the Connecticut resident's accomplishment. They said
hundreds witnessed Whitehead flying a plane in nearby Bridgeport in
1901, two years before the Wright brothers' famous flight at Kitty
Hawk, North Carolina.
"My grandmother talked all the time about seeing (Whitehead) fly his
plane in 1901 and 1902," said Stephen Fink, of Norfolk, Connecticut,
who grew up in Fairfield and believes demolition would be "a
disaster for history."
Fink said his grandmother, Elizabeth Papp Koteles, who lived across
the street from Whitehead in Bridgeport, was among 18 people who
submitted sworn affidavits that they witnessed the flights. Her two
brothers helped Whitehead build his planes, Fink said.
Born Gustav Weisskopf in Bavaria in 1874, he emigrated to the United
States in 1893. He died in Connecticut in 1927.
Whitehead was credited last year in "Jane's All the World's
Aircraft," considered the bible of the aviation industry, with
having flown a powered, heavier-than-air craft in 1901. The
Connecticut legislature last year passed a resolution recognizing
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"Shame on us if we can't find a way to save a house of such
monumental historical importance," said Melanie Marks, founder of
Connecticut House Histories.
The timing involved is key as a town ordinance would have required
the house to remain standing for at least another 60 days if it were
100 years old. But a title search last week showed the structure was
built just short of 100 years ago.
Tetreau, the selectman, noted the town plans to "save some materials
and hope a replica can be built."
But Susan Brinchman of La Mesa, California, who grew up in
Fairfield, and has been researching the topic for three decades,
called the house's demolition a tragedy for aviation history.
"I find it preposterous that Fairfield and Bridgeport politicians
and the business chamber would allow the house to be destroyed,"
said Brinchman, adding that her forthcoming writings will include
evidence that Whitehead flew numerous times before the Wright
Brothers. "Fairfield did not want the house."
(Editing by Scott Malone and G. Crosse)
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