Meet your neighbor... Jack Trifero
Published 4:51 pm, Thursday, July 6, 2017
NEW CANAAN — Jack Trifero has lived in town for more than 40 years and has long been a visible figure in New Canaan.
Trifero operated the Gramophone Shop — originally a seller of vinyl records, then of CDs, VHS tapes and DVDs — until 2010 and has been vocal on issues of preservation. In the last year, Trifero was part of a group of vocal opponents to the Merritt Village redevelopment.
But a majority of his preservation work comes through his role as the “Modern House Man.” Trifero offers driving tours of New Canaan’s close to 100 mid-century modern homes, many of which were built by the Harvard Five architects: Philip Johnson, Eliot Noyes, Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores and John Johansen.
Since beginning the tours roughly 8 years ago, Trifero has worked to educate people on New Canaan’s proud architectural history and advocate for the preservation of the mid-century modern gems.
Q: You came to New Canaan in 1972 to open the Gramophone Shop. Why did you decide to open your business in New Canaan?
A: My dad was an executive in the music business. That’s where the idea of opening my own music business started. He came to New York in the ‘50s, working at RCA Victor and Columbia Records. I spent my childhood going into the city to visit my dad. I’d go into a recording studio and sit for the day and Buddy Rich would be recording an album.
I grew up in North Stamford, but in the ‘60s as I got older, I started coming to New Canaan to come to Bob’s Sports.
Then, when I was in college, I was an economics major and I had to buy Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations.” I called around to all the bookstores and nobody had the book, except for one we called “the Old Wooden Bookstore” in New Canaan. I bought the book, went home and was talking to my dad about how strange it was that such a good bookstore would be in New Canaan. But the town had a population interested in these things.
So I talked to my dad and out of that conversation the Gramophone Shop happened.
Q: Why did you start the house tour?
A: I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I started the Gramophone Shop the day after I graduated from college and I ran it for 38 years. I loved it. It’s always fun to conceive of something and see if you can get it to fly.
I started (the house tours) about 8 years ago.
Cristina (Aguirre) Ross — who’s (currently) running for first selectman —came in my store one day with a poster saying, “Please save my house.” She owned the Alice Ball House (designed by Philip Johnson) on Oenoke Ridge. I noticed how much attention the poster got, so I called her to make a bigger poster to put on the sidewalk, and the response was unbelievable. There were all these people talking about their relation to modernism. I began to understand the power of this history.
Q: How much of your work is preservation?
A: Since I’ve been doing this I’ve seen some important moderns being torn down. There are no rules protecting these homes. And it’s much more valuable to tear them down and build two McMansions. But I feel that this is a moment in our history, and it’s not that hard to access people who are interested. The way to save them, I feel, is to draw attention to them. I’ve moved from being a community activist to a preservationist. My preservation work happens one person at a time. It’s not that fancy, but I think it has an impact.
Q: Why did the Harvard Five choose New Canaan?
A: Land was cheap. And in terms of zoning — there were very few rules here. That gave them the freedom to build what they wanted to build. They had the spur line into New York. And you had the president of Mobil oil and (then President of IBM Thomas Watson) lived here. They were both clients of Eliot Noyes. So there was a client base here.
Q: Why do you think you were drawn to the Harvard Five and mid-century modern architecture?
A: I’m art-centric; I came from a family that enjoyed the arts. So this is not a big stretch for me at all.
And then I was immersed in this culture. My shop was right across the street from Eliot’s (Noyes) office. I’ve been in many conversations with people about this history, and I’ve learned it, partly through books, but also osmosis. It’s very engaging when you learn what these guys were doing.
Q: How do you think the town benefits from preserving its modern architecture?
A: I was a merchant; I was president of the Village Association; I was president of the Holiday Stroll.
I think in town, and in the world, retail is changing. So you have to find new markets. The Glass House brings in 20,000 unique visitors a year. So I think it’s a very healthy thing that we should be trying to understand how to use this architecture to attract people. Because those people have lunch in town, and many of them buy something.
The town had a moment in our history that is quite significant. And on my driving tours I have literally had people from around the world...It’s a world event that happened here and it’s still actually, to me, somewhat alive because there are still people coming here to experience it.