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.
A subscription library in East Guilford (now Madison), called the “Farmers’ Library,” had existed from 1792 until the 1860s. A new Madison Library Association was formed in 1878. The library’s collection was housed in various places in town until it was lost in a fire in 1895. Eighteen books survived (those checked out at the time of the fire) and the Library Association soon resumed operations. A permanent home for the library was built at 801 Boston Post Road on the corner of Wall Street in Madison in 1900 by Miss Mary Eliza Scranton, who offered the fully furnished building to the town. The library was designed by Henry Bacon, later the architect of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. In 1901, the Library Association was dissolved and the E.C. Scranton Memorial Library was incorporated.
At 243 State Street in New London is Lyric Hall, a commercial building with an auditorium on the second floor. Originally a theater, by the mid-twentieth century the auditorium space was being used for dance classes. The Classical Revival building was designed by architect James Sweeney of New London. The building has had various owners and been used for different purposes over the years. It has recently undergone restoration work and has very recent new owners.
At 758 Main Street in Branford is the imposing James Blackstone Memorial Library, constructed between 1893 and 1896. The library was a gift of Timothy B. Blackstone, a railroad executive born in Branford, in memory of his father. The James Blackstone Memorial Library Association, with a board of trustees consisting of six residents of Branford and the librarian of Yale University, was incorporated in 1893. Blackstone provided an endowment fund $300,000. The monumentally-scaled library, constructed of Tennessee marble with a domed octagonal rotunda, was designed by Solon Spencer Beman of Chicago. It is a Classical Revival building with architectural details modeled on the Erechtheion on the Acropolis in Athens. The dome has murals painted by Oliver Dennett Grover. The library was dedicated on June 17, 1896. There is also a Blackstone Library in Chicago, also designed by Beman and named after Timothy Blackstone.
Located at 146 Hartford Road in Manchester is a former office building of the Cheney Brothers silk mills. The office was built in 1910, replacing an earlier office. After the Cheney Brothers mills closed, the building was owned at different times by the electric company and Manchester Community College. Currently it serves as the offices of Fuss & O’Neill, an engineering firm.
The building that today serves as the Town Hall of Montville was built in 1917-1918 as the Uncasville School. Located at 310 Norwich-New London Turnpike, it was designed by Wilson Potter, a New York City-based architect of schools throughout the Northeast. A substantial addition (1925), probably also designed by Potter, consists of the two projecting wings that flank the recessed central block that was the original building. Another one-story addition was made in 1953. The school was the gift of Grace Palmer Melcer, a civic leader and daughter of Edward A. Palmer, a local industrialist. It was built at her own expense as a memorial to her mother, Isabel Mitchell Palmer, who died in 1916. With a substantial number of immigrants from Eastern Europe and elsewhere settling in Montville at the time to work in the the area’s mills, the school had a curriculum that emphasized acculturation and integration. The school, now used as the Town Hall, is located next to a 1938-1939 building that had previously been the Montville Town Hall.
At 87 Post Road East (at the intersection of Church Lane) in Westport is a flatiron-type building built in 1924 to house the Westport Bank and Trust Company. The bank was founded in 1852 by Horace Staples (1801-1897) as the Saugatuck Bank. Soon renamed the First National Bank of Westport, it long occupied offices in National Hall in Westport, which it shared with the Westport Savings Bank, founded by Staples in 1863. The two banks merged in 1913 and eleven years later moved into the new building, designed by Charles E. Cutler (1881-1962), in the developing downtown east of the Saugatuck River. The building, later home to Hudson United Bank, has two large (10’x12′) murals that are reminiscent of works of the WPA-era. The murals were painted in 1965 by Robert L. Lambdin (1886-1981), a local artist, and depict scenes from Westport’s history. They are entitled Shipping on the Saugatuck and Hotel Square. In 2005 the building was restored as mixed-use retail space by David Adam Realty, which saved and refurbished the original exterior, terrazzo flooring, murals and four of the five bank vaults.