The largest synagogue in Bridgeport was constructed by Congregation Rodeph Shalom in 1947-1949, with a school addition built in 1956. A group that broke away from the Reform Congregation B’nai Israel formed the Conservative Congregation Rodeph Shalom in 1909. The congregation met in Veruna Hall until 1923, when it purchased a church on Iranistan Avenue. The current synagogue, at 2385 Park Avenue in Bridgeport, was designed by architect Jesse James Hamblin of Milford, who also designed Saint John the Baptist Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in Bridgeport. It combines elements of the Neo-Classical and Art Deco styles.
The First Methodist Society in Bridgeport was organized in 1817 and the first church building was opened in 1823. After this wood structure burned down in 1849 it was replaced by a brick one in 1850. After it was deemed unfit for continuing occupancy in the 1920s, a new edifice was built on Golden Hill, overlooking downtown Bridgeport. The new First Methodist Church and Parish House (333-47 Golden Hill Street/210 Elm Street) was constructed as a single structure in 1928-1929 (the church in the Gothic Revival style and the parish house in the Tudor Revival style) to plans by the architectural consortium of Southey, Allen, and Collens. In 1970, several other Methodist Churches merged with First Methodist Church and the church’s name was changed to Golden Hill United Methodist Church.
February is Black History Month! Starting in 1821, free blacks in Bridgeport settled in a neighborhood that would become known as Little Liberia. Only two houses of this nineteenth-century neighborhood survive today on their original foundations. They are also the oldest remaining houses in Connecticut built by free blacks, before the state completed its gradual abolition of slavery. Built in 1848-1849, they were the homes of sisters Mary (1815-1883) and Eliza (1805-1862) Freeman. Initially the sisters leased the houses out as rental properties while they continued to live and work in New York City. Mary’s house, 358-360 Main Street, built first, was either originally, or later added to to become, a two-family house. Eliza house, 352-354 Main Street, is a three-bay wide half-house with a side entrance that had a storefront extended from the facade from 1903 to 2013. A dormer window was added to the house around 1862. Eliza Freeman returned to Bridgeport around 1855, where she worked as a servant for a sea captain. Mary Freeman, who had worked as a hotel chef in New York, followed her sister to Bridgeport around 1861.
The buildings were occupied into the 1980s. By 2010, the houses were vacant and near collapse. The Mary & Eliza Freeman Center for History and Community was soon formed to raise funds to preserve and restore the houses as a museum. Non-historic elements of the houses were removed in 2012. Read the rest of this entry »
The Myrtle Avenue School in Bridgeport was constructed in two sections, both designed by architect Warren R. Briggs. The first section, a mansard-roofed structure, was built in 1884. A flat-roofed Beaux Arts section was constructed in 1916, fronting 325 Myrtle Street and filling the space that had been the old building’s front yard. The school was later renamed as the Jefferson School. No longer used as a school, the building was altered (with a new pitched roof) to house condominiums under the name Jefferson School Lofts.
In downtown Bridgeport is a vacant and dilapidated 13-acre building complex, which occupies a city block. Ghost hunters are very interested in the building, which was possibly built on a Native American burial ground. The Beaux Arts structure, built in 1922, was once home to the Poli Palace, the Majestic Theater and the Savoy Hotel. The Poli Palace was built by theater impresario Sylvester Z. Poli as a vaudeville house. Mae West appeared at the theater in 1927. It was the largest theater in Connecticut and continued in use (later renamed Loew’s Palace Theater) until 1975. The Majestic Theater was smaller than the Poli Palace. It was in operation as a movie theater until 1971. Both theaters were designed by Thomas W. Lamb. Between the two theaters was the 109-room Savoy Hotel. In 1935 the Prohibition-era gangster and bootlegger Dutch Schultz moved to the Stratfield Hotel across the street for several months after two trials for tax evasion in New York State. It is wondered if he was involved in the murder of two people in the second floor lobby of the Savoy during this period. A month after leaving Bridgeport Dutch Shultz was gunned down in Newark, New Jersey. The city is seeking to redevelop the property.
The first Congregational meeting house in what is now Bridgeport (then called Statfield) was built by 1695 at what is today Park Avenue and Worth Street. It was replaced by a new meeting house c. 1717, located on the northwest corner of Park and North Avenues. The third meeting house, located on Broad Street, was dedicated in 1807. The powerful influence of the Second Great Awakening led to a division of the congregation in 1830, with a new Second Congregational Church being built at Broad and Gilbert Streets. The old church was called North Church and the new church was called South Church. A new North Church was built (on the same site as its predecessor) in the Gothic Revival style in 1850. A new brick South Church was also constructed (on the same site as its predecessor) and was dedicated in January, 1862. In 1916 the North and South Churches merged and planned to erect a new united church on the site of the old North Church, which was demolished. Construction was delayed by the First World War and then, when the former site of North Church was deemed to be too small, a new lot was purchased on the corner of Park Avenue and State Street in 1924. The new United Congregational Church was completed and dedicated in 1926. A Georgian Revival edifice, it was designed by Allen & Collens of New York.
In 1886 the Fairfield County Bar Association and county representatives decided that the time had come to build a new county courthouse in Bridgeport. The city’s first courthouse (now called McLevy Hall), built in 1854, had become inadequate and its location near the public square meant that noise from the street, including from streetcars, had become a a nuisance when court was in session. As had occurred before in the 1850s, when the county seat was moved from the town of Fairfield to Bridgeport, the city of Norwalk made its own bid to build the new courthouse, but Bridgeport leaders, including Sidney B. Beardsley and P.T. Barnum, appropriated more funds and won legislative approval. The cornerstone for the building, located near the northwest corner of Golden Hill and Main Streets, was laid on June 24, 1887. Completed in 1888, the Courthouse is a Richardsonian Romanesque structure designed by Warren R. Briggs. There is also a Fairfield County Courthouse in Danbury.