Bridgeport, 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