Land Use Patterns of West Haven, Connecticut's
Savin Rock Area: 1771--1993
William P. Shepa, Jr.
In partial fulfillment of BS in Geography/Land-Use Planning
Southern Connecticut State University
There were many rides and attractions at Savin Rock throughout the years. There was the Peter Franke's Fun House, Laff in the Dark, The Whip, Water Skooter, Death Valley Fun House, The Midway, and Tilt-a-Whirl. During the Hurricane of September, 1938, the high seas and gales wrecked practically all of the buildings on the south side of Beach Street, with the exception of the Showboat, which, ironically, was the only building in Savin Rock covered by hurricane insurance. Much of Savin Rock's history was lost overnight. In this section I present a limited incomplete inventory of some of the attractions that Savin Rock had over the years. (To obtain Savin Rock map, click here) It is hoped that visitors to this site can help fill in the blanks by contributing any knowledge they have, whether it be a story about one of their visits to the Rock, a range of dates they know a particular attraction existed, or by lending us some Savin Rock photographs and postcards to scan and put on the site. (Click here to send email to the webmaster of this site)
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Click here to open old Savin Rock Map (West)
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Between 1910 and 1912 there was an open air movie house at Savin Rock, in the Grove, called Mitchell's. It advertised Vaudeville. They had old one-reel movies of people like Charlie Chaplin, William S. Hart, and Blanche Sweet.
The Orpheum Theater stood just inside to the left of the White City entrance and was opened in 1913 by "Doc" DeWaltop. He ran movies all year round and people scoffed at the idea and the other moving picture men laughed at his foolishness, but he made money. Even on the coldest Sundays three moving picture houses and one restaurant were in operation. The theater could seat 2,000. Lightning was believed to have started the fire in June 1921 and damages were estimated at about $60,000.
At Savin Rock there was a Shooting Gallery, a Miniature Golf, something called The Baseball Man, and Elite Bowling Alleys (located at 475 Beach Street). Savin Rock Skee Ball was located at 45 Palace Street; and the Savin Rock Park Company was located at 10 Palace Street. Donovan Field Ball Park was located at 58 Oak Street and featured stock car races. There were at least two bingo parlors at Savin Rock: Star Bingo (at 511 Beach Street) and Seaview Bingo (at 490 Beach Street).
The Savin Rock Arcade started out as a roller skating rink on the north east corner of Morgan and Beach Streets. The arcade had machines that dispensed little prizes, such as hand-cranked diggers that went down into a lot of chewing gum balls and generally brought up a prize, probably worth about a cent. There was a fortune telling booth with an old woman inside who handed out cards with fortunes printed on them. There were also automatic photo-taking machines.
The Midway was a wide pathway running from Beach to Palace Streets, just west of Grove Street, and it was glutted with wheels of chance which were raided periodically by the State Police. It was one of the more popular focal points of the gambling element. It was rumored that the coupons won here could be redeemed for cash elsewhere.
A directory printed by the West Haven Chamber of Commerce in the 1950s listed the following Savin Rock hotels:
Other Savin Rock hotels include the following:
The Hineman House, on the northwest corner of Washington Avenue, was managed by William Moeglin of Danbury. He later became proprietor of Moeglin's Beach House. The hotel was famous for the willows that grew across the street in front of the house. The hotel burned in 1888. It was rebuilt and renamed Pleasant View. James Campane, who ran it for years, made it the rendezvous for trotting fans who raced their steeds on a half-mile stretch east of the hotel. The original owner was Preston Hineman. When Campane, with four others, met death in an automobile accident, the place changed hands. It then became Dadd's Hotel, which was demolished in the Savin Rock Urban Renewal Program.
Cox's was located near the Old Savin Rock House. With the market crash of the Great Depression, fewer patrons could dine as they had in years before. The new fad of hot dog stands mushroomed, thereby hurting Cox's business. In 1930, the final crushing blow was struck when the old Savin Rock was torn asunder to make way for a road, with shovels and drills and blasts destroying the tranquility of the place and smothering the wide dining porches with fog-like clouds of dust and dirt. Frank J. Cox, son of the original owner decided that year to give the place an honorable funeral and ordered the demolition of the structure.
Hotel Ihne, opened in 1907, faced "The Promenade," ran back 114 feet to Grove Street. Its address was 24 Grove Street. It was Venetian in architecture, modern in appointments, and built as an all-year-round hotel. There were 25 sleeping rooms, modern plumbing, hot and cold water, hot air heat, a dining room on the ground floor (for gentlemen) and a 50x25 feet dining room on the second floor (for ladies and gentlemen). There were also smaller dining rooms for private parties. It also had an immense veranda which ran across the second floor and overlooked the park. Complete with Terrazzo floors, marble trim, the best cuisine, it was a first class hotel run on the American Plan. In 1957 Bill and Ethel Ihne celebrated the 50th anniversary of the hotel which housed many famous performers in the past, including Red Skelton and John Bunny.
During the late 1870s and early 1880s Oscar Reynolds, known as West Haven's Candy Man, made and sold his own delicious candy. His fresh-grated coconut and his homemade medicinal candies like horehound, coltsfoot, slippery-elm drops and candied flagroot. He carried fruit-drops of all kinds and luscious coconut cakes, cream bars covered with chocolate, peanut-taffy, sassafras, checker berry, lemon drops, sticky-candy in a variety of toothsome flavors and the inimitable taffy-on-the stick. Mr. Reynolds candy store was at various locations. At one time on Ward Place near the shore, and then in a frame building just in back of the Town Hall on Campbell Avenue.
Raffaelli's Restaurant, located at 676 Beach Street, was a family owned business with the upstairs was used as the owner's residence. It had a "Widow's Walk." It was a regular sit-down restaurant with no carry out counter.
On the opposite corner on Rock Street was the original O'Connell House building built in 1870 when the old Savin Rock Hotel burned down. It later became the Sippican House. The Sippican House, located at 671 Beach Street, was acquired in the 1940s by the owners of a night club on College Street in New Haven and featured female impersonators.
Bishop's Colonnade Restaurant was in operation at the Rock from 1904 until 1921. The building consisted of a central dome and scenery loft with columns of pillars extending laterally to the right and left. The spacious loft offered enough ventilation space so that Mr. Bishop was able to install an open kitchen at the rear of the central structure and by the simple expedient of putting up glass partitions between colonnades of pillars he constructed two long dinning halls. This open kitchen, second to none in the country, was spotlessly white, and showed every detail of cooking and all the other departments connected therewith. It occupied the lofty central portion of the building opposite the main entrance. The structure was 360 feet long, a perfect sun parlor for light, an open pavilion for cool sea breezes and was the finest and most central locations at the Rock. Sitting at the tables patrons could enjoy the beautiful electric displays and the band concerts in the Park adjoining. The entire restaurant was on pilings over the water. There were few places in the New Haven area which could accommodate so many patrons at a sitting. It was able to handle 1,000 diners at a time; therefore, Mr. Bishop's establishment immediately became a popular site of Yale class reunions, and alumni from all over the world ate there at one time or another. One of the most famous seafood dishes at the Colonnade was Crab Meat Tokyo, named to imply that it was of Japanese origin, but actually it was invented by one of Bishop's Italian chefs. This dish was served in little brown beanpots and consisted of crab meat with a Mongol sauce (a combination of tomato and pea soup). The Colonnade was open from Decoration Day until Labor Day. Its success depended on the weather. Extending out from the shore was a pier which was used by ferry and steamboats. This was later wrecked by the 1938 hurricane. All good things come to an end and the Colonnade's end came on January 4, 1921 when a fire leveled the restaurant.
Other eateries included:
The West Haven Chamber of Commerce directory also listed the following Savin Rock eateries:
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