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Students istening to a talk by Dan Woog.

Featured Article

Teen Hang-Out

25 Years of Toquet Hall

The next time you find yourself stuck in downtown traffic, which will be very soon, peer upward as you inch past 58 Post Road East, across from the Anthropologie and above Brown Harris Stevens real estate office.

You’ll note a large red second floor: this is Toquet Hall (TH), a chaperoned student center for tweens and teens with a small sign indicating one should go to the backside of the building for entrance.

According to Henry Carson, President of its Student Governing Board, TH is “The place that tries to make sure teens have a place where they feel comfortable, where they can share interests and a place where they have a community.”

The space is an enormous loft, tricked out with colorful swaths of fabric on the rafters, scores of video games and shelves of board games, table hockey, snack bar, and signed posters pinned to the walls.

It was originally built as an opera house in 1892 by resident Louis Toquet (pronounced toe-kay), in which “gentlemen” were charged $1 for entry and ladies were either not charged or not invited - they were not mentioned on an invitation from that time (which hangs in TH).

Despite its many transformations since - dance hall, town hall, inventors’ workshop, and Westport’s first movie theater - vestiges of its elevated architecture remain: vaulted ceiling, hardwood floor, stage, and a “catwalk.”

In the mid-90s, Dale Pfeiffer spearheaded the raising of almost $400,000 ($750,000 today) to convert the then-vacant space into a gathering spot for “artistic and musical purposes.” (NYT)

Why? Parents were worried about the same things parents do today: alcohol, theft, drug use, and the myriad pressures of an affluent community. (Fortunately for those moms and dads, iPhones and social media had not saddled them with our shiny, new terror.) Instead of lectures and threats, they decided a vice-free zone would help alleviate untoward behavior.

The list of policies (no drinking, no drugs) is on the site and, according to Youth Services Director Ken Godburn, the student governing board of TH works hard to enforce them.

Throughout the past 25 years, TH has hosted young bands, comedians, stage performances, film screenings, fundraisers and more. This past June, Staples Players performed The9 Worsts Breakups of All Time to a sold-out audience.

While it may not boast the iconic parade of hitmakers that famously fired up the auditorium of Staples High School, such as The Doors, Cream, and The Yardbirds, TH has hosted plenty of impressive talent. Comedians Bill Burr and Mike Birbiglia, recording artist Rachel Platten (Fight Song), American Authors - then The Blue Pages - (Best Day of My Life) and Jack Antonoff currently of fun..

Designed to “meet the critical and emerging needs of teens in our community,” (website) TH provides a safe and confidential refuge for Kids In Crisis, LiveGirl, and other support groups.

An active student board helps run and govern TH, giving kids yet another opportunity for enrichment. Right now they’re busy planning events for next year, such as concerts, Dungeons & Dragons, and paint night.

It also keeps the kids safe, busy, included, and out of the horrendous traffic jams.

ToquetHall.org

Available for private events and bookings.

  • Students istening to a talk by Dan Woog.
  • Recording a podcast for Staples radio.
  • Billiard table.
  • Video games.
  • Local band performance.
  • Toquet Hall