Oct 072013
 

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Pleasure Beach is the worst name for an amusement park, but the best name for a ghost town. Located in Bridgeport, CT, the beach is a tidal island, meaning at low tide, it’s connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of sand, and at high tide, it’s just a regular ol’ island. The land was first used as an amusement park, then residential housing, summer cottages and questionable art projects, most of which ended in arson or demolition.

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The amusement park operated from 1892 to 1958. First known as Pleasure Beach, it went through a few name changes, the second being Steeplechase Island, when the owner of Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park bought it in 1905.

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Two years later, the beach experienced the first of many fires, when a dropped cigarette alighted the bleachers during warm up for the Chicago National League and Bridgeport baseball teams.  By all accounts, the fire started small, and the 5,000 people in attendance just sauntered on out of the stadium with nary a petticoat rustled before the fire spread and burned the bleachers, grand stand, fences and a nearby cottage. Reportedly, the teams played another five innings after the fire, while the burned structures smoldered around them.

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The island was sold again in 1910 and briefly renamed “Sea Breeze Island,” which is the just awful because it reminds everyone of being in junior high when, either in the bathroom or at camp, someone let you use their Sea Breeze astringent and you thought it’d be the cure for your acne but instead it was just made it worse and it totally ruined your life for forever and now you’ll never get a boyfriend *sob!* Sea Breeze Park was ill attended and closed for a few years before being reopened in 1919 as “Pleasure Beach.”

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The Island was accessible by bridge and ferry, or by foot during low tide when a mile long stretch of sandbar served as a walkway. The park featured a roller-coaster, penny arcade, fun house, restaurants and bars, a swimming pool, carousel, a roller-skating rink, miniature railroad, and other rides. One of the more impressive structures was the largest ballroom in New England. According to the Bridgeport Library, “the maple dancing pavilion with bell towers and glass sides became the biggest attraction… Stars of the Jazz Age like Gene Krupa, Glenn Miller, and Artie Shaw played here, and thousands of young people flocked to dance on the beautiful maple floor.” (The photo below is not the ballroom, but was a stage of some sort.)

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In 1953, a fire, caused by faulty wiring, damaged many of the rides and structures. Due to the island being, uh, well, an island, for lack of a better word, it was difficult for the fire department to reach it and the access points couldn’t support their heavy equipment.  Consequently, the buildings burned to the ground. Attendance (aka money) was in decline, so the buildings were not replaced. In 1957, another fire, caused AGAIN by a discarded cigarette, partially burned the bridge. Basically everything was on fire all the time back then, because of cigarettes.

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When most of the rides, including the roller-coaster, were auctioned off in 1961, Pleasure Beach was officially closed as an amusement park but still had some operational structures, such as the Polka Dot Playhouse and dance pavilion, and dozens of residential cottages were still occupied.

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The Polka Dot Playhouse.IMG_6003

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From then on, the Beach experienced an endless parade of disasters. In 1965, an oil tanker crashed into the bridge and a year later, the bridge caught on fire for the second time. In 1972, a portable stove caused a large fire, and in 1973, the ballroom burned to the ground. There were plenty of amusing ideas to restore the park, including an aquarium, hotel/conference centers, Disney’s “regional entertainment center,” a Donald Trump owned theme park, a nightclub, luxury condos and a nudist colony.IMG_5895

Despite all the proposals, nothing happened and the land was slowly vacated. By the 1980’s Bridgeport had, “quietly morphed into the graffiti-covered, crime ridden drug capitol of the world,” earning itself the unsavory title of “the armpit of Connecticut.” Reportedly, “Pleasure Beach bridge linked to the heart of it all…needles and crack vials littered the landscape.” I have to use direct quotes when I address such topics because as someone who has lived in similar neighborhoods and has previously participated in the noted activities, it’s impossible not to hear phrases like “drug ridden capitol” or “crack vials littered the landscape” in anything other than a PBS documentarian’s voice.

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1996, the only bridge to the island burned, and the city ordered the remaining cottages to be vacated by ’97. Proposals for a new bridge and water taxi were tossed around in the following years, but ultimately the island was completely abandoned. The cottages that remained were subjected to graffiti, “artistic restoration,” and arson before being completely demolished in 2011. A few structures remain, but the island is mostly just a home for birds. That’s not a joke, it’s actually a refuge for the endangered birds, one species being called the Piping Plover, because everything on Pleasure Beach has a cartoon name.

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The carousel, which collapsed in 2009, was stripped by vandals but many of the horses were saved and sent to the unfortunately named Beardsley Zoo for preservation.

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The two million dollar bathhouse that never opened. The boardwalk to the beach was burned in 1996.

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You ever seen a deer take a shit? Well you have now. You’re welcome.

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The walk out to the end of the peninsula is half the adventure of visiting Pleasure Beach. I arrived at low tide, although it seems that now the sandbar is always visible/walkable.

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The active part of Pleasure Beach is a popular place for kiteboarders. I spent waaaaay too long using my iphone to take crappy photos of the boarders before I realized what I was doing and stopped. When I got home I had dozens of photos I didn’t care about at all.

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I’ve never seen piles of shells like the kind on Pleasure Beach. There are SO MANY shells that for a minute I was like, “whoa, these shells are so pleasing…maybe I could collect a few and make something out of them…” and then I realized I was considering MAKING SHELL ART and I snapped out of it in disgust. But now I totally understand why people do it, like you might start out collecting a pretty shell or two, perhaps lining them up on your windowsill and it looks nice so you get a few more and somewhere along the line you picked up some old fishing wire so you might as well put it to good use and string a little shell on it and then before you know it, you’re wearing a pucca shell necklace like a 17 year old scumbag beach bum from 1998. It’s slippery slope sea trickery! Haha I’m so upset about ocean crafts.

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Kids make the shittiest, most adorable signs.

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When I fist saw this, I posted it on Facebook with the caption, “This is the most obscene thing I’ve ever seen in my life, and I watch a lot of porn,” which prompted a frantic text message from my mother about how my saying I watch porn was “a cry for help,” and that I “sounded disturbed and had lost my bearings.” Once I got over my laughter, I texted her back that it was a joke, to which she admonished me for making on the internet, lest it should interfere with my ability to get a job. I explained (for the millionth time) that making jokes IS my job, but my poor mom is holding out hope that someday I’ll go back to school and then get a “real” job, whatever that is. Hi, Ma!

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And lastly, here’s a photo of a photo some snagged from Beardsley Library of Pleasure Beach in its early years. Below, an areal photo of the island as it is now. Its zoomed out further than the Beardsley one, but you can see where the flattened carousel and Polka Dot Theater still remain, as well as the outline of a manmade lake northwest of the theater.

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For more photos, see the Pleasure Beach flickr set.

Sources: Ancestry.comBridgeport LibraryConnecticut Post 

Disclaimer: If any information on this post is incorrect, if you have more info or would otherwise like to tell me something, feel free to contact me.

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