The City’s Theatrical Twin Jewels–What Would The Mayoral Candidates Do?

Majestic Theater
Bridgeport was a hot theater town.

The city was a smokin’ theater town thanks in part to Sylvester Poli. What would the mayoral candidates do with his shuttered twin gems? The city has some cool shows and concerts going on today at Downtown Cabaret Theatre, The Klein and the new Bijou Theatre. Check them out and check out a piece of city history as the event below:

Bridgeport’s Theatre Legacy: Lecture & Reception. A History of Poli’s Palace and Majestic Theaters. Presentation by Mary Witkowski, Bridgeport History Center/Bridgeport Public Library. Gallery Tour & Reception with photographer JJ Misencik

Direct from New York, Bridgeport was a popular stopping point for some of the best plays and widely-known actors. Sylvester Z. Poli was Bridgeport’s greatest theatre entrepreneur who built or renovated six of Bridgeport’s theatres between 1901 and 1922. His grandest theatres, Poli’s Palace and the Majestic, opened in 1922 with much fanfare and entertained audiences for more than fifty years. This program gives viewers insight into the performances, entertainment and history of the site.

The presentation will be followed by a gallery tour and reception for the exhibit “Inside Bridgeport’s Theatres” featuring the photography of JJ Misencik.

When: Sunday, November 6 1:00pm – 3pm

Where: Fairfield Museum & History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield CT 06824

$8; Members and students, $5.

To register, call 203-259-1598 or register online at



  1. These two beautiful and once very active theaters represent the malaise of Bridgeport. Since their useful demise, downtown Bridgeport has become a wasteland. All substantial commercial businesses have left. The reasons to go to downtown is to go to court, pay your taxes or go to the police department. All other venues are merely a destination (get in and get out). What a sad commentary and who to blame? Mostly Bridgeport’s government.

    1. Bob,
      I really disagree with your description of Downtown Bridgeport. There are now over one thousand residential units downtown, most are market rate units and there are waiting lists to get a unit. Another set of residential units are now being leased up at 333 State Street. There are also restaurants, businesses, theaters, as well as the civic uses.

      The theaters are mothballed for now since there isn’t grant money around to restore them like Rowland did with the Palace Theatre in Waterbury. He pumped over $55 million into that theater and now it is a restored jewel. Speaking of Waterbury, the City just finished the incredible historic restoration of their Cask Gilbert designed city hall to the tune of a $33 million general obligation bond. Go see it, it is fantastic!

      Yes the Bridgeport theaters are historic jewels that have to patiently wait for Bridgeport to get the economic and political juice New Haven, Norwalk and Stamford have gotten over the years. The City just received proposals from developers to sell six blocks of city-owned properties in the Downtown, including the theater properties. Let’s see what the Mayor announces.

      1. Walk from the Sheehan Center to Fairfield Avenue and say that. That area includes the two theaters. And … there is no supermarket for those 1,000 residential units, nor is there parking. Downtown is a ghost town. You can disagree all you want, but there is no reason to go downtown.

  2. Not every historic jewel should be restored. Waterbury has fewer options than Bridgeport and their actions should not be repeated here.

    People on this blog have misdirected their anger. Nancy Hadley owns the voice of logic today. Bridgeport’s downtown is growing in several ways: residential units, commerce and much-needed enthusiasm are just the latest reasons. Here’s the best part: others are coming, too.

  3. The theaters need to be torn down. Time has marched on and among the Klein, Schubert in New Haven and FD Rich, no demand. Society has changed and anybody holding these theaters up as an example of misplaced municipal management is wrong.

    Hadley is correct with downtown housing. Things are nowhere near as bad downtown as many of the posters on this blog would have you believe … In fact, I think they are really picking up.

  4. Agreed. The new Bijou Theatre, for example, is well done. However a lot of buildings remain empty.

    Do state governors favor their home town, which we saw with Rowland getting the Palace Theatre in Waterbury (his home town) restored and not in Bridgeport? And recently, Malloy sent the huge 32-acre NBC Sports Company squeezing into Stamford’s tight real estate while Bridgeport is starving for business with empty lots. If so, should Finch run for Governor? What is state policy, by the way, with those state tax grants?

    Meanwhile, I have seen detailed pics of the Majestic and it is amazing. Many say it should be restored. The economic benefits of historic preservation are not fully appreciated. If the task force and others want out-of-town people to come to Bridgeport, they won’t come just to go to a restaurant.

  5. The theaters are part of the Congress Plaza redevelopment plank that goes back and still is fallow ground, to the late 1960s. Tear it down or keep the facade and incorporate a scenic design studio. Things are picking up and not just on Middle Street. The recent re-RFP for Downtown North hopefully will incorporate several bidders to form a critical mass.

    Too bad some us are getting old and can’t revive the Downtown Bar Association. Or as Bill Finch would like to say, “The torch has been passed to a new generation.”

  6. Ten years ago I spoke with an officer with the Stagehands Union who said that for the Loews-Poli & Majestic to be viable you would need to take property behind the theaters to provide for an area for tractor-trailers to load equipment for traveling shows, concerts, etc. A formidable cost as well as the property in question is owned by the Mount Messiah Baptist church.
    As to Nancy Hadley’s post, I have hope the new crop of young, urban homesteaders will provide the spark that is needed to rejuvenate the city’s economic and political landscape for the better.

  7. ANOTHER REASON in favor of knocking down the theaters is to give first mover advantages to Phil Kuchma. Here’s what I mean:

    Kuchma picked that theater because he thought it was the best one available. He knows a little about local real estate, right? He invested in Bridgeport before Bridgeport was cool. He financed his own revitalization and, in the process, invented a new dance called “The Bijou Bootstrap.” Only after his initial buy did other big-money investors join him. Maybe he started something. Let’s dance. Bridgeport already has a theater worth keeping–it’s the one that’s already renovated.

  8. Why not ask the experts what we should do about restoring the Majestic Theater or not. Wait, we already did.

    Here is what the Advisory Services Panel Report from the URBAN LAND INSTITUTE said after they came to Bridgeport. They had a long list of co-sponsors and chief sponsor was the Bridgeport Regional Business Council (BRBC) …

    Recommendation on page 14 of report:

    “The city should pursue funding for the restoration of the Palace and Majestic theaters, perhaps in conjunction with the construction of a performing arts magnet school.”

    So there it is. Was there any feedback from this report?


  9. *** Living in the past has gotten Bpt nowhere fast, no? Time to make moves towards the future by knocking down the Maj. & Palace theaters which would cost a fortune to remodel anyway, and build a development that will produce more jobs downtown! But first the district needs to make changes to its local district town committee & local district representatives in general. *** PALANTE ***

    1. Mojo // Nov 3, 2011 at 5:14 pm
      To your posting

      Everyone sees the possibilities and you have addressed the priority; what the “first” thing to be done … changes to the local town committee district … as in they must be replaced if the possibilities are to have a probability.
      You are on the mark right on this.

  10. The word that should be on the tip of everyone’s tongues is “adaptive reuse.” True, there is no market for theaters this size although perhaps a religious use would draw adequate crowds to one theater. The buildings do not have to remain as theaters, the ornate features can be used as backdrops for meeting rooms, smaller compartmentalized theaters, artist studios, reception areas, restaurants, offices, retail space, malls, shops, brew pub, artist housing, hotel, apartments, dance halls and even recreational opportunities. Reads Department Store, for instance, did not stay a department store, it became artist housing. Old banks and old post offices are made into restaurants and brew pubs. Imagination is needed!

    Few people realize how structurally sound this building is. It is constructed of steel I-beams and reinforced concrete. It has two well-constructed elevator banks, the front part is a former 109-room hotel with tile brick partitioning, none of which are load bearing, the ceramic mud set tiles in the bathrooms are still intact along with pedestal cast iron bathtubs and pedestal sinks. The roof of the hotel and the two theaters are reinforced concrete that have new roof coverings and drainage systems installed about 12 years ago. The domed roofs are supported with steel trusses in its attic and the trusses have rods attached which hold up the theaters’ ceilings. There are catwalks within this attic space and there is a spool with a cable that lowers the chandeliers for bulb changing and cleaning. This is a very structurally sound building with a great amount of open space. Adaptive re use is in order.
    What one has to realize is the aesthetics of these theaters are truly a Bridgeport asset. If you have not been inside them, please make arrangements to do so. Going in the front lobbies you will see all the showcases, ornate plaster work, brass rails and marble stairs. In the main front lobby you have intact exquisite chandeliers with winding marble staircases on either side. The Majestic Theater has a very large stained glass of a Grecian woman holding an urn. Above on the second floor is an elaborate veranda, separated from the front lobby by leaded glass with marble or faux marble balustrades in an oval shape with mosaic tile floors, marble staircases, a vaulted ceiling and more crystal chandeliers before going through the portals into the second floor balcony. That is what really takes your breath away, seeing the majestic open space with murals, ceiling sculptures, brass organ pipes with seating boxes off to the sides. The hand-painted murals are a treasure. This interior literally takes ones breath away. Demolition is not an option. All of the above possibilities are for the future. Nancy Hadley is correct, they should be mothballed for now; however, in the near future, the former Savoy Hotel should be made into housing. This could be done fairly inexpensively and take advantage of State and Federal Historic Tax Credits and Low Income Housing Tax Credits.


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