Memories of Bridgeport from the 1950s
Bill Nolan of Bridgeport’s WPKN 89.5 FM Radio
(Bill is the host of the popular “Antique Blues” radio show on Sunday evenings from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM, where he documents the source and history of American rock ‘n’ roll music with research from all around the U.S., and where he plays R&B from the 1940s and 1950s.)
…I’m from the “Valley,” but Bridgeport was my playground during the 50s. I used to love to cruise around town and hang out. The Park City had it all. Remember “Wildman” Steve Gallon on WNAB-AM playing the Blues for all the cats and kittens. I used to buy records at the RnB Shop on Stratford Avenue. Bill Streeter was the original operator and then Helen Gatson had the store. The location became a Laundromat. EKs on East Main Street also had a great record store which was right near Skydells. Columbia Records had a plant on Barnum Avenue and downtown Rudy Franks Record Shop with the sound booths. A lot of nice records were in HL Greens on Main Street, as well. I do recall Edison 4-1000; we had a lot of fun on the date line and met some girls, too. Bobby Lindsay and Dick Grass were friends with Dr. John Law on Arrow Records, which was a local label.
Thursday nights we used to cruise Main Street with our custom cars. I had a Fairlane ‘57 Ford which was my baby. Cost me thousands of bucks to customize, but it was my thing as a hot rodder. I used to go to the track on River Street — remember demolition derby nights on Saturday? The location became the twin drive-ins: Candlelight/Pix. Dick Alexander was on WNAB-AM and used to host some rock ‘n roll shows at the Majestic on Main Street. We used to hang out at the Congress Candy, and the Esquire Diner, too. Seaside Park was a great place when you used to be able to drive all the way to the breakwater at the end of the park. I can recall all the hip cats organized a big beer party, but the cops set up roadblocks and searched all the cars coming into the park looking for the beer and wine. Drugs were not the scene back in the good-ole days. We used to park and listen to Alan “Moondog” Freed on 1010 WINS back in the 50s. We parked at Beardsley Park, too. Remember when the cops had precinct stations around town — the old blockhouses which reminded me of forts? I believe headquarters in the 50s was on Fairfield Avenue.
I used to go to the Ritz Ballroom to see the big bands, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Harry James, Maynard Ferguson, Lionel Hampton, and even Fats Domino and his band played there. I think it closed down around 1965 after over 50 years of swinging. Pleasure Beach had a ballroom, too, but not as classy as the Ritz. WNAB-AM was located on the corner of Washington Park and Noble Ave. Wildman Steve played some nice blues there and Dick Alexander was with the station. WICC-AM had Bob Crane, and then Harry Downey, who played some nice music of the day. I can recall when their studios were below the tower on Booth Hill Rd in Trumbull, Ct. We used to visit and make requests to Harry Downey by writing them down on paper and showing it to him through the window of the studio in the mid-50s. Things like the Great Pretender, the Platters, Little Girl Of Mine, Cleftones, etc. Remember the Stratfield Hotel on Main St? They had a real nice lounge in there. The bowling alley was across the street, upstairs on Main St. How can I forget the Greeks hot dog stand and Whites Diner across the street on Boston Avenue, and lest we forget the Merritt Canteen on Main St in the North End. Man, Bridgeport was a happy place in my time as a teen and early 20s.
I met my wife in downtown on a Thursday night cruise in 1961 and we have been married 45 years. I have a million memories about Bridgeport, Connecticut. I have been on radio WPKN-FM since June of 1969, playing RnB from the 40s and 50s, and many times I talk to the listeners about my exploits in the Park City!!
If I can assist you in any way, just give me a shout. I can’t believe all the people from this great era who are passing away. I must be getting old, but the music keeps me going!
WPKN-FM RADIO 89.5