No Pleasure From UI In Beach Revival, Plus: Pleasure Beach History

Pleasure Beach
Aerial of Pleasure Beach courtesy of Morgan Kaolian.

From Brian Lockhart, CT Post:

The view of the starry Long Island Sound sky is surely beautiful from the long-isolated shores of Pleasure Beach peninsula.

And if a dispute over hooking up electricity for the reopened attraction isn’t settled, stars could be visitors’ only illumination.

Pleasure Beach 1950s
Aerial of Pleasure Beach 1950s.

Mayor Bill Finch’s administration is closer than ever to reopening Pleasure Beach, the longtime summer destination cut off from the mainland when fire destroyed a bridge linking the peninsula to Seaview Avenue.

Read entire story here.

A little history on Pleasure Beach from the book Only In Bridgeport:

Pleasure Beach is perhaps the one park left that is a sad reminder of the demise of the premier summer resorts of New England dating from the Gay ’90s. Tourists from throughout the northeast traveled by trolley and ferryboat to visit the original 37-acre area also known as the “Million Dollar Playground.” J.H. McMahon and P.W. Wren, two wholesale liquor dealers and land developers, turned the barren, sandy island into an amusement park in 1892. Three years later, a brochure of Pleasure Beach advertised a roller coaster, boardwalk, miniature railroad, skating rink, arcade, merry-go-round, a 5000-seat coliseum, wooden horse rides on a rail (for which the park later took the name Steeple Chase Island before returning to its original name) and a track that was one of the prestigious stops on the bicycle racing circuit. It also boasted of the Pleasure Beach legend, which alleges that the island was chosen by Captain Kidd for burying vast treasures.

Pleasure Beach postcard
Post card of Pleasure Beach in its heyday circa 1940s.

“No exorbitant prices, an honest dollar’s worth for all,” was the motto. The Pleasure Beach Cafe served broiled lobster and soft-shell crab for 50 cents, broiled bluefish for 40 cents, and clams on the half shell (when local oyster beds were abundant) for 25 cents a dozen.

McMahon and Wren, as well as other private operators, ran into some financial troubles with the help of the fires that have cursed the island through the years; the first came on August 18, 1907, and destroyed the grandstand and weaving horse rail ride. The Bridgeport Board of Park Commissioners bought the park for $220,000 in 1919 and took over full operation in 1938, running the park during its most glorious days. Through the Depression it was a place to relax–on the glittery carousel, roller coaster or in the big-band ballroom. In its heyday, Pleasure Beach attracted hundreds of thousands each year. In the 1950s the amusement center began to falter through the city’s willingness to allow it to deteriorate and due to declining tourist revenues.

Pleasure Beach bridge
The clickety-clack wooden bridge at Pleasure Beach that connected to the peninsula was a magnet for fishermen. The bridge burned in 1995.

The park became a campaign issue in Samuel Tedesco’s victory over Jasper McLevy in 1957. The Tedesco administration tried reviving the park through a massive public-relations campaign, but the amusement center closed in 1960 and steadily sank into disrepair. The leftover buildings, ballroom and rides fell victim to fires, vandals and wrecker balls. Just about every year since, Pleasure Beach has been promoted as the ideal location for a jai alai fronton, dog racing track, gambling casino, college campus, jail or resort center. Lots of talk and ideas, but little else. The 53-acre peninsula (the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used landfill dredged from Bridgeport Harbor to increase its size by 16 acres and connect the island to Stratford in 1947) has resembled a ghost town except for the 600-foot T-shaped pier, the last relic of the former amusement center that survived as a local fishing haven for blue snapper anglers. The pier sustained heavy damage when Hurricane Gloria swept the area in late 1985. In 1995, a fire ravaged the bridge that connected the East End to the peninsula. (Exorbitant costs have prevented bridge replacement, according to city and state officials.)

Pleasure Beach pier
In 2011, the city built a pier near Pleasure Beach in the East End.

Original horses from the Pleasure Beach carousel were restored in the 1980s. They are on display at the carousel house of Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo.

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  1. What would Bridgeport do if we did not have the talent of Morgan Kaolian taking the most awesome pics? Maybe we should put a windmill there and generate our own electricity. How green and cool is that! Do we really need UI? Mayor, make your mark.

    1. Steve, if I recall correctly, didn’t Mayor Moran fire Morgan Kaolian as Airport Manager and appoint John Ricci?

      Regarding the Pleasure Beach fiasco, there is a saying amongst City employees, “another Finch cluster fuck.” This administration can’t do anything right. Bring back Joe!

      1. She did not fire John Ricci. I have no idea about Morgan Kaolian but I do not think so nor would what she did have anything to do with me and my respect for his talent. I may be a loyalist but I do not carry a torch for any candidates. I will call her this evening and get clarification only because you have piqued my curiosity.

      2. The Fixer, as promised I just got off the phone with Mayor Moran. She did not fire Morgan Kaolian, she is very good friends with Morgan and apparently, John Ricci’s job at the time had nothing to do with Morgan Kaolian. Maybe Joe Ganim fired Kaolian?

    1. Now the Finch team never speaks out of both sides of its mouth.

      Right, Manny!

      “Pleasure Beach will be open to residents of the entire area and the entire state,” said Tony Macleod, an attorney for Bridgeport. “We understand UI’s concern (but) the converse of that is if the city of Bridgeport is asked to pay the costs of a project that benefits the entire region, then that’s kind of an unfair burden on the city.”

  2. This is totally typical Finch.
    The city buys water taxis but we don’t know who or what will operate them (city employees or private business).
    Therefore the city does not know if passengers will pay or ride for free.
    And if they will pay how much will that be. And if it will be a residential discount or not.
    The city agrees to lease property for parking but we don’t know how many parking spaces we will need.
    And again we do not know if parking is free or people have to pay or who will operate the lot if it is not free.
    We do know the lease will cost $250K over 5 years and the city will pay somewhere between $250K and $500K for basic improvements.
    The UI is saying it will cost one million dollars to guarantee reliable electricity to the island but Finch doesn’t want to pay. He says there will be regional use but has no idea who that will be, how many, how often.
    So with the apparent lack of a well-thought-out plan, budget, long-term payback on a project that has been discussed as long as this has, is it any wonder the Finch admin totally f’ed up Manny’s driveway???
    We need a qualified competent Public Facilities Dept. Dare I say we need someone like Bucky Marsilio or George Estrada and we need this NOW.

    1. Bob,
      You have made some good observations on the way things work here in Bridgeport. As a former member and “solo voice” too many times of the City Council your knowledge of how things work with that group, what they get, what they miss and the reasons those are each terribly important to responsible decision making, is critical at this time in Bridgeport history.
      Will you join my voice at City Council meetings regularly to advocate for the small things the CC can do to improve its chance of getting closer to reality and good decisions when pressed for a vote? Some of those folks do care. They have to run in the fall. Make history by pointing out the necessary and easy changes about their “body” that will cause the Finch administration to respond in kind. Getting people to do the right things more regularly is difficult, not impossible, and to me it is more satisfying than being a commentator on endless stupid moves made on behalf of this community. Time will tell.

      1. Mr. Lee, just for once can you put aside your personal pontificating and comment on the subject at hand? You’ve repeatedly made your dissatisfaction with the administration very clear, but the remediation of Pleasure Beach has nothing to do with your addressing the city council or posting commentaries about how stupid everyone else is. Enough already!

    1. Mustang Sally, excellent observation. PLEASURE BEACH HAD MILLIONS PUMPED INTO IT. THE QUESTION IS WHY??? Because for years and years people actually thought Pleasure Beach would be perfect for a casino … that will never ever happen. The local leadership was very very weak. Finch is at least making an effort. Maybe Ganim and Fabrizi want to comment on this. This was not a bridge to nowhere. This was just another affront to the neighbors on the East Side. Sad, sad, sad. You can imagine how vibrant Seaview Avenue would be. Dolphins Cove would not be the only game on that block. Love their food but competition is healthy.

  3. While the re-opening of Pleasure Beach could be potentially beneficial for Bridgeport, it requires an enormous investment of resources that could be better utilized elsewhere. What is wrong with this administration? How about maintaining/improving the parks that are already in use? Or fixing the streets? Or just not spending money we don’t have?

  4. Mustang Sally, I’ve often wondered that myself. Were there no grants or state assistance to repair that bridge or did no one check into that? It’s such a waste of beachfront property that has such potential. I’m assuming it was cost-prohibitive, and it appears as if it still is. We can only hope there is a remedy to re-open it in the near future.

    1. Or insurance? At the very least, isn’t there some way to turn this beach into a state park with a cut of revenues for Bridgeport? Or was it already a state park?

      1. Good point, but who knows? It would be marvelous if the state stepped up to the plate to remediate and re-open it. I’m surmising erosion took its toll on the beachfront, but that can be fixed. My understanding is it was an amusement park and a dance hall back in the day, and it was also home to Polka Dot Playhouse.

  5. As far as Pleasure Beach is concerned, this city can’t even develop Steel Point in a timely Fashion. Steel Point is probably one of the last vacant waterfront properties in Fairfield County, and look where we are. We put some signs on fences and called it progress. The city should have offered this parcel at a highly reduced price to The Royal Bank Of Scotland, and let them build the American headquarters they built in Stamford. That would have fostered some nice business for local restaurants, retail and other service providers. Just a thought.
    I think to give this administration another project to spend money on is a disaster waiting to happen.

    1. Maybe so, but what I don’t get is why the beach has lain fallow since the bridge burned in 1996. The notion it has been “marked” for use as a site for a Casino does not, to my mind, provide an acceptable excuse for this gorgeous piece of Fairfield County beachfront to just sit there and erode.

      Is the city not required to have insurance on its properties? I am not a native here so I really don’t know the whole scoop.

      And why isn’t it a state park? It could make Sherwood Island look like a joke.

    2. I totally agree with Royal Bank of Scotland. A deal for any major corporate headquarters there would stimulate other development. I would have gone after Subway, a business that started in Bridgeport and has become a mega mega corporate giant. The should have put a headquarters there. Makes you wonder if the BRBC and our our development department department are waiting for these businesses to approach us. Pleasure beach, I would be making proposals to Six Flags, Disney, Legos etc. These would just make our city a destination for families within a 3-hour radius. Sometimes you just wonder what the development department does with their time on a daily basis. Where is the creative juice for a city on the move? Nowhere. I will bet P.T. BRBC will be the first quoted when something of note does happen, most likely by accident. I have faith in Steelepointe. I would like the City to invest in a commercial with Finch talking about Steelepointe. A well-produced, polished piece of expensive marketing with BRBC, Christoph, UI and every other corporate giant that will benefit from the City helping to defray the cost. Yes I want Mayor Finch on New York television stations and print. Better sooner than later.

  6. At the risk of “being off topic” (according to Godiva 2011), the City self-insures many lines of coverage and uses Enterprise Funds to isolate and manage certain risks. Of course, if one looks at the budget, you still see numerous departments with seemingly large insurance budgets. Good info on that should wait until there is a specific OIB article on insurance, I guess since I do not wish to annoy any readers more than I have already. I hope this summary is helpful and is not looked at as pontificating. Time will tell.

  7. When Bob Keeley was State Rep he got $1M put into the state capital budget for a study to be conducted as to the best way to reestablish access to the island. Most people think building a road from Stratford to the island was the best route to take. However Bridgeport and Stratford never agree on anything and the money went unspent.

  8. As someone who remembers Pleasure Beach from the very early 1950s onwards, and drove over the bridge frequently until it was lost, it sure is depressing to see it go to waste. One wonders if we really know the whole story as is so often the case with BPT politics. Search results for “pleasure beach bridge repair” almost brings tears to your eyes … but one of the pages that comes up gets the heart beating again with its stream of consciousness memories:

  9. “… But in both cases, the mayor’s office believes the expense should be borne by UI’s ratepayers because Steel Point’s retail, restaurants and recreation, as well as Pleasure Beach, will be enjoyed by more than just city residents …”

    I’m a rate payer, are you?!?! Not everyone who shall “enjoy” Pleasure Beach could be expected to be UI ratepayers. If I happened to visit Pleasure Beach just once or not at all, will I still have to pay the UI rate? If I live in another State and visit Pleasure Beach, will I be denied entrance because I don’t pay the UI rate? UI ratepayers will be paying even if they never visit any of these two destinations.

    When a person builds a house or commercial building, he or she has to pay for the UI connection to the Street line from the building or house. If Bill Finch has no problem with paying for a driveway (utilities and all) to Manny’s house, paying for the laying of the cable on these and other city developments shouldn’t be a problem.

    Just think of all the revenue lost to UI since the city shut down Pleasure Beach and demolished all the homes and businesses in and around the Steel Pointe zone. I never heard UI bitching about this. Instead of having the ratepayers pay for the cables, why not take the money from the taxes generated or the Tax Incremental Financing funds. It’s not fair for the developer to enjoy the benefits of TIF while UI ratepayers get stiffed.

    1. Marc, I think Bridgeport gets a fair share of money from the state. Malloy supports Finch and while Westport gets a meager $500,000, Bridgeport gets millions, Steelepointe being a major focus for Bridgeport.

  10. Hey Steven, I stand corrected. However as the biggest city, we should be getting more, and I believe we would if Bridgeport leadership showed some competence. Driveway gate, a large part of our Hartford delegation, and other random acts of stupidity from various city leaders along the way have not inspired faith.

  11. The administration at that time did not want to repair the bridge because the closing of Pleasure Beach stopped a lot of their headaches.
    They no longer had to budget for Pleasure Beach, they got rid of the abandoned car problem. They also eliminated a drug hangout.
    They claim it was a cigarette that caused that fire. I don’t buy that at all. I believe the fire was intentional.
    No one to this day has checked the mechanicals which by now are probably shot. I am sure that can be made in a good machine shop. At the time of the fire the bridge was working then it wasn’t, Bullshit.
    Most of Pleasure Beach cannot be developed because of a rare bird called the Plotting Plover that nests throughout the island.
    I would bet new mechanicals can be fabricated and installed at a nominal cost but no one has looked into this.

    1. I always wondered about that fire–interesting to see your speculation. Perhaps the lack of development in recent years has been beneficial to the Pleasure Beach area, giving it a break, so to speak. I always thought it would be a fantastic state park, especially since the beaches there were so nice and the water quality has recently improved. I hope some way can be found to compromise protecting natural resources with providing access to such a place for the local population. From what I saw in the Connecticut Post recently, Silver Sands State Park in Milford was a big hit on 4th of July.
      Aerial Map view of the area:

  12. OK folks, do we NEVER learn anything? Three choices.
    1. Do nothing. Let BPT and CT’s ‘investment’ in Pleasure Beach get washed into LI sound.
    2. The city develops the beach. Lots of sweetheart deals for developers. Lots of no-show do-nothing high-paying jobs for cronies and minimum-wage jobs for residents. PB loses money for decades and the beach ends up where it is now. Much like the rope park at Discovery school, no one from BPT can afford to go there. After all, cronies do not like to do a lot of work.
    3. SELL THE PLACE. BPT gets money now and the place is run like a real, for profit business. Mostly because it will be a real, for profit, business. It will pay taxes and make continuing income for BPT. One would hope the business that runs the beach would design their attractions to suit all income levels in order to get every last penny they can. If the place goes under, BPT will get the beach back for free with the improvements. It will be a win, win, win situation.


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