BHC Special Events/Announcements

Ripped from the Headlines: Stories from 100-75-50 Years Ago

Saturday, June 2, 2018

2:00 pm - 3:30 pm

Take a journey back in time and see what the Bridgeport newspapers were reporting 100, 75, and 50 years ago as Bridgeport Fireman and local historian Rob Novak presents stories taken from Bridgeport’s papers. See how much has changed and how much has remained the same as familiar sites and names along with many forgotten ones are revealed.

BHC News

P.T. Barnum Research Collection – Now Available Online!

Many items from the P.T. Barnum Research Collection are now available online! Thanks to generous funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, researchers may access many items from the History Center and Barnum Museum collections: Over a thousand items — advertisements, books, magazines, manuscripts, newspapers, photographs, prints, programs, records, sheet music, and souvenirs — all available through the Connecticut Digital Archives!`

History Center Photographs Online

History Center photographs are now available to search and view online.  The images are part of the General Photograph Collection held by the BHC and feature street scenes.  Please check back with us each month as we add new images to our site.

Family Search – BHC an Affiliate for Digital Records

The BHC is an affiliate for the Family Search program published by the LDS church.  This means that patrons using the computers at the History Center may access thousands of digitized records in the Family Search program that were previously available on microfilm only.  More records are being added each month, so stop by the History Center and do some searching in Family Search!

Bridgeport News Articles by M.K. Witkowski Now Online!

History Center Head Emeritus Mary K. Witkowski wrote over 400 articles for the Bridgeport News during her tenure at the BHC.  From the Historical Collections articles explore many facets of Bridgeport history –people, places, and things– from the renowned to the quirky, and will take readers on a delightful journey through the City’s past. More articles are being added each week from this vast catalog, so check back regularly.

BHC Events & Regular Monthly Programming

Ripped from the Headlines: Stories from 100-75-50 Years Ago

Saturday, June 2, 2018

2:00 pm - 3:30 pm

Memoir Writing Workshop

Saturday, June 16, 2018

2:00 pm - 3:30 pm

Genealogy Basics: How to Get Started
Genealogy Roundtable

Thursday, June 21, 2018

12:30 pm - 1:30 pm

Genealogy Basics: How to Get Started
Genealogy Roundtable

Thursday, July 19, 2018

12:30 pm - 1:30 pm

Memoir Writing Workshop

Saturday, July 21, 2018

2:00 pm - 3:30 pm

Genealogy Basics: How to Get Started
Genealogy Roundtable

Thursday, August 16, 2018

12:30 pm - 1:30 pm

Memoir Writing Workshop

Saturday, August 18, 2018

2:00 pm - 3:30 pm

BHC Exhibits on display

Heroes and Villains

The Night Broadway Joe Brought His Act to Bridgeport

By Andy Piascik

There’s an old expression in Broadway theatrical circles that goes something like “Everything outside of New York is just Bridgeport.” Perhaps Broadway Joe Namath felt that way when he travelled to the Park City in 1967, perhaps not. But on one summer evening nearly 50 years ago, Bridgeport hosted an exhibition football game featuring the flamboyant Namath and the up-and-coming New York Jets.

Films

Adlai Stevenson and Harry Truman in Bridgeport, 1952

Bridgeport at War
Viola Louise Smith Bridgeforth

Viola Louise Smith Bridgeforth: Making the Most From Extraordinary Times

By Mary K. Witkowski,
Editor: Ann Marie Virzi

In her 99 years on earth, Viola Bridgeforth, born in 1897, lived through many if not most of the profound changes that African-Americans and women in general experienced in the 20th century. Through all the changes, Viola Bridgeforth remained steadfastly focused on what mattered.

Architecture

Casa Frouge, “Bridgeport’s Fist Luxury Apartment Building”

By Andy Piascik

When the 84-unit Casa Frouge high-rise on Cartright Street on Bridgeport’s West Side opened in 1955, its developer the Frouge Construction Company billed it as the city’s “first luxury apartment building” and “the outstanding apartment residence in New England.” Located across North Avenue from Mountain Grove Cemetery, the high rise is nine stories high with ten apartments on floors one through eight topped by four penthouse units. (1)

Casa Frouge was the brainchild of Thomas Frouge, co-owner with his brother John of the Frouge Construction Company. Thomas Frouge was born in Ohio and moved to Bridgeport as a young boy with his family. (2) He grew up in and around the Hollow and dropped out of Columbus School to go to work while also finding time to study acting in New York City. He put his theater training to good use in Bridgeport, producing and acting in a number of plays for several years including as part of a Works Progress Administration’s Federal Theatre Project troupe that performed regularly at the Park Theatre. (3)

Originally a contracting and lathing firm, the Frouges’s business grew rapidly and eventually became well-known in the Bridgeport area. Among the projects the brothers worked on around the state were the Southern New England Telephone and United Illuminating buildings in New Haven, the Veteran Administration hospital in Rocky Hill and dormitories at the University of Connecticut. In Bridgeport, they did work on Marina Village, Yellow Mill Village (later Father Panik Village) and the city’s downtown municipal parking garage. After the business became the Frouge Construction Company, with Thomas as president and John as treasurer, the brothers constructed the Trumbull Shopping Park mall, the Merritt, Beverly  and Hi-Way movie theaters, Milford and Greenwich High Schools, and Fairfield Hills Mental Hospital in Newtown. In 1952, Frouge served as the Barnum Festival’s ringmaster. (4)

 Luxury Amenities

Casa Frouge did indeed have plenty of amenities including 24-hour uniformed doorman service, indoor parking with parking attendants, spacious living quarters, and laundry facilities and a recreation room on the ground floor. The building was a mix of one, two and three-bedroom units, with each apartment having its own terrace, and early on Frouge himself lived in one of the penthouse apartments. The lobby was adorned with a chandelier from the Manhattan mansion of Cornelius Vanderbilt that Frouge purchased and installed for a touch of elegance.

Casa Frouge also included a private park immediately across Cartright Street where residents could sit in the sun on benches, play shuffleboard and gather around a fountain complete with a statue from which water flowed around the clock. The fountain no longer works and the statue is in storage but the park remains.

Residents in the early years were mainly professionals and well-to-do retirees: young singles and couples not yet in need of a single-family house as well as older couples and singles no longer in need of such a house. By one account, Casa Frouge was known as “’Fort Knox’ due to the wealth and prestige of its original tenancy.” (5)

Casa Frouge II

The Frouge Company’s advertising consistently referred to the high-rise as Casa Frouge I and the plan from the beginning was to construct a second building a short distance away on the opposite side of Cartright Street. It took seven years but the second building at 80 Cartright Street, Casa Frouge II, opened in 1962. As with Casa Frouge, newspaper ads heralded the pending opening of Casa Frouge II, with one likening living there to living on Manhattan’s prestigious Fifth Avenue. (6)

The advertising claims notwithstanding, Casa Frouge II was not quite as luxurious as Casa Frouge I. There was no indoor parking, for example, and, with a large number of studio apartments, the average size of the units was smaller.

 Additional High-Rises in Bridgeport

In the years after Casa Frouge opened, similar high-rises were constructed around Bridgeport, in addition to Casa Frouge II. Among them are Embassy Towers on Park Avenue, which includes tennis courts and a built-in swimming pool; Park Royal, also on Park Avenue; and the Regency on North Avenue a short distance from Casa Frouge.

Thomas Frouge died on January 4, 1969 at the age of 54 of a cerebral hemorrhage. He had moved from Bridgeport to New York City two years before and was in Manhattan at the time of his death. His death was front page news in both the Bridgeport Telegram and Bridgeport Post and Casa Frouge was prominently mentioned in the stories in both papers. The lengthy stories also mentioned that Frouge’s heart was transplanted immediately after his death to a New York psychiatrist and that his kidney was also preserved for possible transplant. This was done at the urging of Frouge’s wife Joan, according to John Frouge, because Thomas “had always been interested in trying to benefit people.” (7)

 Conversion to Condominiums

Two years after Thomas Frouge’s death, Casa Frouge was converted into a condominium complex and that, too, was front page news in Bridgeport. (8) All renters were offered first priority to purchase the units in which they were living and the name of the building was eventually changed to Cartright Condominiums, as it remains today. According to the 1971 Bridgeport Post article about the conversion, prices for the apartments at the time were listed as ranging from $25,000 to $65,000. (9) Casa Frouge II was also converted to condominiums and is known today as Cartright Towers. Unit owners in both buildings are allowed to rent their apartments. Some of the older high-rises around town such as Embassy Towers, meanwhile, remain strictly rentals.

The Frouges’s vision of quality residential living endures 63 years after the first residents moved into Casa Frouge. Currently, the longest tenured unit owner at 25 Cartright Street is John Cain, who moved in in 1979. Another resident, Diane Kaczmarczyk, grew up in the building prior to Cain’s arrival, as her father Connie Kaczmarczyk was the superintendent for many years. After living elsewhere for a number of years, Diane eventually moved back and is now a unit owner.

Notes

  1. This information is culled from a full-page ad announcing the pending opening of Casa Frouge that appeared in the Bridgeport Sunday Post on October 24, 1954.
  2. Lennie Grimaldi: Greater Bridgeport Italian Style (Bridgeport, CT: Harbor Publishing, 1992), page 34.
  3. “Thomas Frouge Dies”; Contractor Was 54. Bridgeport Telegram, January 6, 1969, page 1.
  4. ibid.
  5. From the Connecticut Post obituary of Connie Kaczmarczyk, June 21, 2009. Kaczmarczyk was the superintendent at Casa Frouge for 46 years.
  6. From the full-page Casa Frouge II ad in the Bridgeport Sunday Post on May 6, 1962.
  7. “Thomas Frouge Dies; Contractor Was 54”, Bridgeport Telegram, January 6, 1969, page 1; and “Heart of Thomas S. Frouge, 54”, Beating in Transplant Patient at N.Y. Hospital, Bridgeport Post, January 6, 1969, page 1. Both stories include discrepancies regarding when Frouge was born and thus how old he was at the time of his death. Both state that he was born on March 16, 1914 and that he was 54 when he died. However, both also state he was seven years old in 1917 when his family moved to Bridgeport, which means he would have been born in 1909 or 1910 and, assuming a March 16th birth date, 59 when he died. Presumably Frouge was born March 16, 1954 and was 54 when he died (this is the information Lennie Grimaldi uses in his book Greater Bridgeport Italian Style).
  8. “New Status Set For Apartments: Casa Frouge I on Cartright Street to Become a Condominium”. Bridgeport Post, July 8, 1971, page 1.
  9. ibid.
Art

A.B.C.D. Cultural Arts Center – a Creative Community Response

By Michelle Black Smith

On July 6, 1970, under the agency leadership of Charles B. Tisdale, the A.B.C.D. Cultural Arts Center (hereafter Art Center) welcomed Bridgeport youth and young adults to explore a variety of creative expression at an office building in downtown Bridgeport.  Free of charge and located at 1188 Main Street, the inhabitants of this converted art space were unique tenants among the doctors, lawyers, and dentists who shared the building.  The CT Commission on the Arts (hereafter Commission) was established in 1965, the same year that A.B.C.D. received official designation as a regional anti-poverty agency. 

Bridgeport at Work

Art Selleck: A Tribute to a Fireman Historian 1920-2004

By Rob Novak, Bridgeport Fireman

Arthur “Art” H. Selleck was born in Bridgeport in 1920, living there for five years before moving to Nichols. He attended Harding High School in the Park City,  since Trumbull had no High School at the time.  He would later recall witnessing a house fire as a youth in Nichols,

Women

Kathleen Moore, 1812-1899

By:  Mary K. Witkowski

The story of Kate Moore, the lighthouse keeper who kept the lights aglow in Black Rock Harbor is a wonderful tale of the sea of long ago.

In 1817, Captain Stephen Moore was injured while unloading goods from a ship.  Stephen then applied for a job through the United States Lighthouse service as a lighthouse keeper. He was given the position as the Keeper of the Fayerweather Lighthouse.

African American Heritage

Little Liberia – WNPR pod cast from “Where We Live”

Maisa Tisdale, President of the Mary and Eliza Freeman Center for History and Community, and Keith Stokes, Vice President of the 1696 Heritage Group, are interviewed by Lucy Nalpathanchil about Bridgeport’s Little Liberia, a community that was settled by African and Native Americans in the early 19th Century on Bridgeport’s South End.

Maritime

The Bridgeport Harbor Lighthouse

by Andy Piascik

The waters near Bridgeport were long served by lighthouses that helped to guide ships to their destinations. One that is still in use is the Penfield, which opened in 1874 and is located a mile from shore. A little more than a mile to the east is the Fayerweather, constructed in 1808 and long out of use though a popular part of Bridgeport history. (1)