Curious Historian

Stories on local history

Shared Memories

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f3e20d7e-aa50-445c-910d-9efcfb00e863_LargeBridgeport, Connecticut on the East Coast and Detroit, Michigan have much in common. Memories are the biggest thread of commonality. Every resident has fond memories of the old theaters downtown when they saw a great movie. I particularly remember going downtown to the Fox theater with my grade school class to see The Sound of Music. The year was 1965, and I was only ten years old. A Catholic schoolgirl who wore a Black Watch Plaid Jumper to school every day. On this movie day, we got a chance to wear regular clothes and see a movie was wonderful. We were elated, and sat in awe in the beautiful theater.

I remember two other trips with my grade school class. The first was actually an annual summer trip, when we went to Bob Lo Island to spend the day riding the Twirl a Whirl, Ferris Wheel or the bumper cars. My sister actually got stuck on the Ferris Wheel and my mother had to stop it. Very embarrassing. Another trip with the nuns was to the Detroit Institute of Arts. That was a trip I would always remember, not because the museum was so fabulous (which it still is..) because Billy Bebert sat down in an antique chair by the Kresge Court and broke it! The nuns quickly ushered us of the museum, and that was the end of our trips with the nuns.

As the City Historian of Bridgeport, Connecticut, I hear the memories of residents that are similar to my memories of Detroit. Residents of Bridgeport have memories of Pleasure Beach, an amusement park which was on an island much like Bob-Lo Island. The residents tell tales of riding the same rides we rode on Bob-Lo Island. Both amusement parks are now gone, with only memories and photographs as clues to their existence.

And the memories of the theater are similar also…however for Bridgeport, Connecticut residents, these memories are just distant memories of the grand theater that once existed. Detroit, Michigan had the good sense to back the full restoration of the Fox Theater on Woodward Avenue. The Fox Theater is amazing to see. Bridgeport, Connecticut has two theaters on Main that stand waiting for restoration. They have been waiting for restoration since the lights went off in the 1970′s.

Detroit not only restored the Fox theater, but it has become a destination for thousands of Michigan residents who are amazed by the glamour of their youth that they can now share with their children.

The Palace and Majestic Theaters of Bridgeport, Connecticut await the wrecking ball. How can we save them like Detroit saved the Fox Theater? Will Bridgeport have only faded photographs to remember these grand movie palaces? Do Bridgeporters have anything left to show their grandchildren?

–Mary K. Witkowski

Categories: General

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10 Responses

  1. Mary Witkowski says:

    thank you

  2. Robert Wendel says:

    I’m happy to see that I’m not the only one with such fond memories of Bridgeport, growing up there the the 50′s and 60′s, ending just before the downward spiral began. I’ve even thought of writing down my memories of Pleasure Beach, the Wonder Workshop (yes, I was a north end kid) along with the Barnum Festival, MASI, King Cole Super(DUPER!) market with dancing waters in the summer, and the 35 food Christmas tree with the first “mini-lights” we’d seen… a rebel hot dog out at the airport, Beardsley Park Zoo, summer visits at the circus set up ib Seaside Park, the Loes Poli & Majestic theaters, DM Read’s (and the schlepp up to the 5th floor to get to the toy department) and rides on the old C R & L busses (The Grey Line went up Madison Ave, and we lived just off Park Avenue) and of course trips to 90 acres park to see Sputnik and a few years later, both solar & lunar eclipses in the new museum’s parking lot, with Phil Stern as the “emcee.”

  3. Bob Halstead says:

    I am sorry to see so much resignation about these theaters. We have to be more positive. Let’s not forget:
    -These buildings are constructed of masonry and reinforced concrete, the roof is reinforced concrete. There are substantial steel girders beneath the roof that are all in excellent condition
    -There are stirrups embedded in the concrete roof and the girders that hold up the ceilings. There is no structural defect in the ceilings
    -Inside the space between the roof and the ceiling accessed through the film room are catwalks transversing the top of the plaster ceiling. The plaster has substantial metal lathe and rod reinforcement, there is a dome where there is a huge spool of cable that lowers the tremendous chandelier to the theater floor for bulb changing and chandelier cleaning
    -the roof covering was replaced about 15 years ago and a new roof drainage system was installed. Currently the theater ceiling and drainage system don’t leak for the indefinite future
    -the exterior of the building has significant contributory architecture that is in decent shape.
    -The balconeys are build of concrete with under girdiring and are structurally sound
    -ten years ago all the asbestos was removed from the buildings
    -The elevator shafts are structurally sound
    -the stairways are structurally sound and with minimal repair meet doce, they have marble treads
    -Most of the interior plaster ceilings are extraordinarily ornate and are structurally sound
    -Most of the marble balconeys, marble stairways, crystal chandeliers, luncrusta, large marble stalls in bathrooms, all interior stairways, balconeys, foudations, brickwork, faux marble baustrades, ornate vaulted lobby ceilings, cast iron balustrades, and stained glass are all in good condition
    -Let us pray to the Lord
    -There is a large screen of stained glass with a greek goddess hauling a water vase that separates the inner from the outer lobby still in perfect condition in the Majestic
    -the lobby space where the hotel entry is is, funky, cool, artsy Bridgeport
    -The space between the theaters is a huge courtyard, funky, brick, urban, cool.five story with a bidge over it, has potential
    -In addition to some really cool stage and back stage area there is a really cool warren of tunnels, caves,passages,dressing rooms, mechanical rooms. All kinds of places that you can’t find anywhere else. Cool spots with a lot of potential and a lot of creative possibilities, creative. cool, funky, yes
    -The Savoy Hotel, has 109 rooms, all floors and ceilings are reinfoced concrete. All the walls are fire tile and are non bearing. All rooms are separated by bathrooms with large pedestal tubs, many rooms have pedestal sinks. Other bathrooms have pedestal sinks. All in really good condition.
    -The fifth floor of the hotel has sky lights
    -All stairways meet code and are structurally sound
    -The hotel has two elevator vaults
    -Ceilings are all ten feet and there are huge windows
    -outside the fifth floor there is a huge courtyard that is accessible by doorway and suitable for some kind of cool creative use
    -The roof of the hotel is huge and structurally able to accomodate some green roof and an outdoor cafe with a beautiful view of the City
    -Across the street from the city is a huge vacant lot that could be used for parking that is owned by the City- On the right side is a huge vacant lot that is owned by the City. On the left side is a huge parking lot that is owned by the City
    -There are two huge historic tax credits, 20% federal investment tax credit and 35 % State tax credit available for susidy. There numerous other federal and state subsidies available for housing.
    -Myself and many others here and in many successful cities see adaptive reuse as the way to go. The value lies not in its past use as theaters but in creating a new use that will save the incredible treasures and aesthetic beauty of these buildings.

    –What else do you want to know?

  4. Christina says:

    I lived in Bridgeport until I was 12 and have always wanted to take part in it’s restoration.

    I actually used to live on 274 Pembroke St a house that Michael J. Bielawa tried to save because of it’s history but that was in the end demolished.

    Wanting to see a better end for the theatres, I’m currently trying to get support to restore the them and would like to put together a list of people who
    1) could provide some historical information about the site or who attended when it was open
    2) would be interested in aiding with the restoration project
    3) are interested on being on a mailing list about it’s restoration.

    If you’re interested please email me at palacemajestic@gmail.com

    Thanks, Christina

  5. Melvin Curran says:

    The moves I remember downtown Bridgeport were Majestic & Lo Po Li
    that were I first saw The Monster from 20,000 League From Under The Sea and Steve Reve’s Hercules Unchanged.I remember when Deon Warick
    came to sing a one of the theater’s and the Cristal Place was right across the street.That when Bridgeport was the City of Lights.
    GON BUT NOT FORGOTTEN!

  6. Denis OMalley says:

    Wonderful piece but pragmatically I just don’t see how they can be saved by the City of Bridgeport given the City budget and economy generally. Unlike Detroit, B’port is far smaller population-wise as are the suburbs to support our theaters as the Detroit area does.

    There is an overcapacity of classic theater space between New Haven and Stamford. Unless there is a huge subsidy, something has to give and logically, those subsidies are not coming from the Stae of Ct.

    Thankfully the Klein seems on firm (firmer) footing.

  7. Eileen Walsh says:

    Nice piece. It is sad to me that the residents of the city who hold the memories of pleasure beach dear were not consulted regarding the demolition of the remaining structures. I hope we don’t wake up one morning and find the majestic gone in the night!

  8. My life-long love of movies was born at the Palace and Magestic theatres in Bridgeport. Almost every Sunday afternoon, my grandmother, Catherine Maxwell, and my aunt, Eileen Maxwell, would take me “downtown” to see a matinee. I can still hear the distant clicking of their heels as I ran ahead of them down the Congress St. hill. I heard tales of an organist who used to accompany the silent films and how one could win “depression glasses” during the intermissions.

    Yes, I saw the magical Disney flicks; “Alice in Wonderland” was my first. But I was still quite young when the lights went down, and I was swept away into a scene where Ingrid Bergman was staring into the dark waters of the Seine. The film was, “Anastasia” and that was the day that I fell in love with cinema (as well as Yul Brynner)…

  9. Mary-

    This is great, keep it up.

    While I don’t live there any more, I have a huge emotional connection to the city, and you and sites like this will help keep that connection.

    Your former boss,

    Michael

  10. david mel says:

    Mary, I have respected your dedication to my hometown for years & have been intrigued by the facts that you give us. Unfortunately, I think the theaters will never get a second chance. Recently there was a tour of the inside of the theaters by another city historian & I missed it. I could kick myself for missing it, because my parents grew up here. Dad in Seaside Village & Mom in Marina Village / Norman Street. The stories of Downtown & the “shows houses” always danced around in my head when I was a kid. My dad’s description of the inside of the Majestic were always detailed. His experiences always as if they were just yesterday. Yes, someday they will experience the same Fate as many of the city’s landmarks like Barnum’s Seaside estates. It is a shame that the “biggest city between New York & Boston” has no clue about historic appeal. And they wonder why people don’t stop here as they race by on I-95.