Savin Rock… Now and Then
Through the re-creation idea of James Holt, in placing these structures of where they once stood long ago in West Haven’s Savin Rock, to now in today’s time; also, credit to Marc Friedland in the sharing of his vast photograph collection and knowledge.
I hope to breathe life in these photographs through story form – of where these structures once were at Savin Rock, sometimes known as “Connecticut’s Coney Island.” Savin Rock is a place I heard stories of when I first came to West Haven… a place my husband was able to somewhat enjoy throughout his boyhood, but not in all its glory of what it once had been.
Savin Rock is a place that holds dear memories to many… of times once enjoyed and not forgotten!
Bishop’s Colonnade once stood in the area where the boardwalk dancing takes place today. The “No Lifeguard on Duty” sign marks the spot. An unidentified man stands, unaware he’s been made famous… standing as if staring at the building! Photo Credit: James Holt
Bishop was already a prominent businessman in the New Haven area owning Bishop’s Hotel which promoted Savin Rock by offering his hotel as “the place” to stay and enjoy the local seashore. New Haven was known world-famous as a center of learning because of Yale University, but it was Bishop’s Colonnade where the elite and sea-shore vacationers came to eat.
What a deal! A room for $2.00, including a bath!
Being a family researcher, the first names of Sherlock and Yale greatly intrigued me…. did his father attend Yale University… and so named his son? Where did his father’s name of Sherlock come from, and his middle name of Hubbard… was he related to the large Hubbard family of West Haven? Sadly, I found no mention of him or his father attending Yale University, but the name Yale must have had a deep impact on his father for some reason.
Bishop’s father, Sherlock Hubbard Bishop (1817-1901), was born in North Haven, CT. to parents Benajah and Sarah Bishop; he married Mary Jane Domkee ( 1830-1934) in 1852. Yale D. Bishop (1870-1944) must have inherited his business sense from his father, who was a carriage manufacturer with a business at one time in Derby, but later moved it to New Haven. I can only assume the Bishop’s ran in the same circles as the Wilcox’s, as Fannie M. Bishop, sister to Yale, married Frank Wilcox. I did find that Yale also managed Wilcox’s restaurant for a short time before opening the Colonnade.
Yale Densmore Bishop married Inas M. (unk) in 1906 and had three sons, Wade D. (1907), Yale Jr. (1908), and Charles W. (1910). Between 1910 and 1920 Yale and Inas divorced… that solves the mystery of why she wasn’t listed in his obituary.
By most accounts, I found that Yale D. Bishop built his spectacular and unusual Colonnade in 1904, but I also read conflicting dates on the opening through several newspaper clippings. While it’s possible to assume that the actual building began in 1904 and opened a few years later, but we might also assume that it was whoever gave information to the newspapers and took guesses. The opening of Bishop’s Colonnade was always a spectacular opening… and generally opened on Decoration Day, near Memorial Day and remained open through Labor Day; like anything seasonal, its success depended on the weather.
In building the Colonnade, Bishop designed the structure of a middle central rotunda with several wide-spread lofty columns across each side… extending to the right and left of the main entrance. It was the open middle where the patrons entered the restaurant… being open, allowed for light, cool breezes off the water and magnificent views of the bright lights of White City and the band concerts in the park.
The front of the building on Beach Street was extremely spectacular, stretching out over 360 feet along the street. If you can imagine how long a football field is at 300 feet, then picture that sitting along the boardwalk now, which was once Beach Street. The entire restaurant was located in the back area and built out on pilings completely over the water. Besides the buildings square footage, the land area stretched out to over 460 feet, which allowed for the extra space needed to park all the automobiles and carriages that came daily.
An open kitchen was built at the rear of the central structure, and with glass partitions added between the colonnades of the front pillars, it made for two long dining halls on each side. Bishop prided himself on having a spotlessly white kitchen, and by having it open, his patrons could view every detail of the cooking and every department connected to it. (In as many times as I’ve read, and reread how the kitchen was constructed, I still find it hard to imagine an open kitchen in those times. Being this is written on an establishment existing over 100 years ago… there are no living persons today who witnessed it to give us an actual account.)
The only dish I found mentioned that was served at the Colonnade was a seafood dish called “Crab Meat Tokyo”… ironically invented by one of their Italian chefs. It was served in a small brown beanpot and consisted of crab meat with a Mongol sauce… which is a combination of tomato and pea soup. While it doesn’t sound appetizing to me, it seemed to have been quite popular as it was mentioned in a newspaper clipping.
One of the menus listed from a Yale Alumni Reunion… you can easily tell no women were in attendance with the listing of cigars. Yale was strictly male until 1969, although in 1892 they admitted women to their graduate schools. I’m actually surprised that it remained an all-male school up to 1969!
The seating capacity was on average of 550 patrons daily with 50 waiters in attendance; even more was brought in on Sunday and holidays, often it took 90 to 100 waiters to accommodate serving on those days. The Colonnade was built in anticipation of serving large groups of diners, and Yale University alumni soon became their frequent guests in holding their yearly reunions at Bishop’s Colonnade… which was proclaimed to be the best restaurant between New York City and Boston. At that time, there were few places, even in the New Haven area, which could accommodate large groups of patrons at one sitting. The Colonnade quickly became known to be able to handle as many as 1,000 diners at one time. Bishop even built a pier similar to the Wilcox pier next door, and frequently used by the Yalies because they could easily travel from their yacht club further up the harbor… making it more accessible and convenient to dock behind the restaurant.
A newspaper account in September of 1913 wrote that it had been their most successful season in the history of its operation. It was noted that over 150,000 patrons passed through their doors and over 18,000 cars were parked by attendants… arriving from every state. That’s quite a drove of people in attendance to a business which is only open for a short four months out of the year.
From the many postcards found of Bishop’s Colonnade, the newspaper accounts were true when they wrote about the stream of carriages and cars found there on the weekends… especially true during holidays such as Memorial Day and Fourth of July, when over 500 automobiles could easily be counted. The cars were packed so tightly on both sides of Beach Street that often people couldn’t even pass between them. I can just picture attendants parking all those cars…. so tight that only they could somewhat get in and out… bringing them to the front when the patrons were ready to leave.
Sunday’s seemed to be the day for more locals to dine as it was noted that you could pretty much find an automobile from every town in Connecticut as well as out-of-state plates.
These women and men were sitting in the grove area across from the Colonnade… in about the same area of where the grove is today.
As prominent as the Colonnade was, I don’t imagine you could walk in off the street without a reservation, and if you were from out-of-town, this was where you wanted to dine. Most people reserved their tables in specific locations, such as facing the park if you wanted to enjoy the lights and sounds coming from White City… or on the waters edge if you wanted to enjoy the cool sea breeze while dining… or more central inside if you were there for the nightly music of Marcossano’s Italian orchestra, which seemed to be the main attraction.
A postcard showing the bright white Colonnade and the Wilcox Pier; This must have been an early postcard before his pier was built.
Marcosano and his Italian Orchestra was the main attraction nightly
Through newspaper articles, I found accounts of what was purchased in their best season … just by reading the quantities, you easily get a feel of just how busy the Colonnade really was.
Served in a Season at Bishop’s Colonnade
17 ½ tons Bluefish
833 bushels steamer clams
16 ¼ tons Lobster
164,800 rolls and biscuits
5961 loaves bread
8,750 pounds butter
After reading the newspaper accounts of all bought, I immediately wondered…. who sold them their eggs and butter? Was it a local dairy? If so, they must have had quite an immense dairy herd to supply the milk, and the cream that was churned into butter… and supplying all those eggs sure kept the hens busy. The bakers must have arrived quite early every morning to mix the dough to make all the fresh bread, rolls and biscuits served daily. Wagons probably lined up out front every morning to make all the fresh deliveries needed for every day; and picture the local fisherman arriving early at his dock every morning to unload a fresh catch of lobsters, clams, and bluefish. I’d like to know the count of kitchen help needed to process and cook all that food daily!
Before opening in 1914, Bishop redecorated the interior and installed hundreds of incandescent bulbs. He strived for everything white and bright, wanting the extra lights to turn the interior into a dazzling white to compete with White City. He was meticulous in details, from the interior decorations to every food dish that left the kitchen; he believed that everything reflected on him personally.
Another holiday the Colonnade celebrated was Mardi Gras… but it was celebrated as one of their last gala evenings before closing in September, and held the week before Labor Day. What first confused me was that Mardi Gras in New Orleans is celebrated generally the second week of February, the day before Ash Wednesday, but at the Colonnade, it was a celebration of the ending of summer. It usually began on a Tuesday with a week-long event of nightly parades of decorated automobiles, monster parades of floats and ending with huge firework displays on Labor Day… all to celebrate their closing until the following Memorial Day opening. Reservations were most definitely needed, and the best spots for that week were near the glass front windows to view the nightly parades.
On January 17, 1920, the 18th Amendment outlawed the manufacture, sale, and transportation of liquor; all business who served liquor last year… could no longer serve. The era of “prohibition” changed the life of the park… those who came to drink and dine probably found other places behind locked doors to now drink and dine. The Colonnade quickly lost business in that season, soon becoming one of the less popular hot-spots to dine… and drink. It wasn’t just Savin Rock Park affected, the entire United States had officially become a “dry” country! Little did their patrons realize that the summer of 1919 was going to be their last dining experience there! It wasn’t until 1933 when prohibition was repealed and legal liquor once again flowed through the restaurants and bars in Savin Rock Park.
Bishop’s Colonnade burns on January 4, 1921
The Colonnade’s end came on January 4, 1921, just one year after prohibition went into effect … it was said to be of a mysterious fire which quickly razed the entire restaurant; six firemen were injured in fighting it. The Colonnade and pier were now gone! While many rebuilt fire ravished businesses, no plans were ever mentioned of rebuilding the Colonnade. The word “mysterious” seemed to have sent a message of what really happened; prohibition closed many businesses. The pier seemed to have been the only part of the Colonnade which remained after the fire, but it was completely demolished in the hurricane of 1938.
Yale D. Bishop died at his summer home in Wallingford, Ct. in 1944, and was buried in the family plot in Oak Grove Cemetery, West Haven.
Yale D. Bishop left an inventory estate of property value over $127,817; many antique pieces were also listed in his probate file, as he had been an enthusiastic collector through the years.
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