Marina Park Historic District
The Marina Park Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Marina Park Historic District is a 14-building late-Victorian/Edwardian residential neighborhood extending along lower Park Avenue in the South End of Bridgeport. It is suburban in character and encompasses some 11 acres northwest of Seaside Park, approximately 1 mile south of the city's downtown area. The terrain slopes upward gradually from the Park's north boundary and offers a view of adjoining Long Island Sound from nearly every vantage point.
The area, contained within the Marina Park Historic District constitutes the surviving intact portion of what was an 80-acre wealthy residential section in the late-19th century. The neighborhood once extended from Seaside Park north to Atlantic Street and west to Iranistan Avenue. Beginning in the late-1940s, most of the large houses with their capacious grounds were acquired by the newly-chartered University of Bridgeport, which demolished many of them for parking areas and modern classroom buildings. Today roughly a half-dozen remain outside of the district boundaries, each of them isolated from a complementary environment by large-scaled 20th-century structures. Within the Marina Park Historic District, however, the Victorian streetscape as well as much of the landscape is still relatively unscathed.
The south boundary of the Marina Park Historic District is formed by Seaside Park, a narrow peninsula which separates Long Island from Cedar Creek and Black Rock Harbor for a distance of some 2 miles. The park is yards wide at this point. It contains mature plantings and winding drives and was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. At the foot of Park Avenue, just inside the park, is the William H. Perry Memorial, a 60-foot-high double granite archway which serves as a ceremonial entryway as well as the focal point of the Marina Park neighborhood.
The remainder of the boundary has been drawn to incorporate what survives of the genteel turn-of-the-century suburb while excluding later, more intensive urban developments. The east boundary is formed by Park Avenue from Atlantic Street south to Linden Avenue. The side of this street opposite the district contains large-scaled university buildings almost exclusively, including the 8-story Wahlstrom Library. At the southeast corner of Atlantic Street and Park Avenue are two early-20th century houses which were not considered to be of sufficient architectural importance to be included. Below Linden Avenue, the east boundary takes in both sides of Park Avenue while excluding an undistinguished row of World War I-era two-families on Myrtle Avenue.
The west boundary is formed in part by Marina Park itself, a 2-acre grassy oval that slopes upward from Seaside Park to the former site of "Marina," residence of P.T. Barnum (located outside the district limits, it was demolished in 1964). Above Marina Park the boundary includes all properties facing Park Avenue and eliminates the area to the west, which was almost entirely rebuilt in the post-World War II-era (it contains 4-story brick dormitories, a cafeteria, athletic complex, and extensive parking area). The north boundary is at Atlantic Street, which has historically been the dividing line between the estate district around the park and the South End tenement district. Park Avenue above Atlantic Street shows an immediate change in character and is lined with early-20th century multi-unit dwellings situated on smaller lots with considerably less setback than the houses to the south.
The dwellings of Marina Park were built for the most part by members of the city's industrialist aristocracy. As a whole they represent the highest achievement of Bridgeport's domestic architecture from the late-1880s almost to the beginning of World War II. Included are highly-developed examples of the Shingle Style and later academic revival styles, as well as Bridgeport's first "modern" (International Style) house.
The first house to be built in the Marina Park development (1887) was the George Comstock House. It is typical of Queen Anne villas found throughout Bridgeport, of wood frame construction, clapboarded, with a Chateauesque corner tower and wrap-around veranda. There is half-timber detailing in its numerous gables. The front entry leads into a large central hall which contains a fireplace and a three-turn staircase lighted by colored leaded glass. The rooms are informally laid out and the entire structure is informally massed. The next three houses to be constructed — the Lavinia Parmly House (1890), "Greynook" (1891) and the William A. Grippin House (1891) — repeated this formula on an elaborated scale. Evidently the work of the same architect, their first stories are of stone or brick, with wood shingling above. In this manner they conform to the popular late-19th century ideal of the "English manor-house" popularized by Norman Shaw and first brought to the attention of Americans in the mid-1870s. All are fitted with partially-encircling verandas across the front and south side, apparently constructed to take advantage of breezes emanating from Long Island Sound.
The next house to be built in chronological order, the 1892 Charles B. Read House, is a very unusual design in the context of Bridgeport architecture of this period. A low-slung, ground-hugging shingled cottage, its style relates more to the shore resorts of New Jersey and Rhode Island than to the suburbs of a Connecticut industrial city.
The Waldo C. Bryant House, constructed 1895, bears a strong similarity to the Parmly and Grippin Houses and "Greynook" with its granite first story and shingled upper floors. However, its formal plan and Palladian detail reveal the impending demise of Shingle style plasticity in favor of the symmetrical forms of academic revivalism.
The William Beardsley House (1902) is the last Marina Park residence to use the informal Shingle style plan with a rough-faced stone first floor and wood shingles above. Its contemporary, the John G. Howland House, is a much more sedate work of architecture in a correct Tudor Revival style and seems to have set a precedent for subsequent building. The Charles Pettigrew House (1904), the Judge George Wheeler House (1906) and the Eugene Smith House (1911) were all built of wood in a rigid Colonial Revival style with formal massing. The William J. Grippin House (1908) and the Lewis B. Curtis House (1909), both masonry structures, utilized French Chateauesque and Italian Renaissance detail respectively on equally academic designs.
The Marina Park Historic District is an open, residential greensward in the midst of a heavily urbanized university campus. The wide setbacks from the streets — a standard 70 feet along Park Avenue between Atlantic Street and University Avenue, varying between 40 and 200 feet elsewhere — and the ample grounds surrounding each structure place it in direct contrast to its environs. Its houses all retain much of their outward integrity.
Marina Park is the last uncompromised concentration of monumental late-19th century domestic architecture in Bridgeport. It slopes upward from Seaside Park and forms a fitting, almost integral complement to that important Olmsted-designed landmark. Its buildings are among the finest the city produced during what was perhaps its heyday of residential development on a grand suburban scale.
Marina Park's history is associated with the lives of persons significant in both local and national history. Its progenitor was P.T. Barnum, the 19th-century showman, who had been instrumental in obtaining Seaside Park for the city in 1865. Barnum built his own home "Waldemere" adjoining the park in 1869 on land which encompassed the present area of Marina Park. By 1886 he was working on plans to replace the stylishly-outmoded Waldemere with a more modern, Richardsonian style structure which he named "Marina." The 30-acre grounds were subdivided into house lots for Bridgeport's fast-rising industrialist and merchant class.
Following are brief biographical sketches of the individuals who constructed homes in Barnum's development:
William A. Grippin (c.1851-1911) was the president and principal owner of the Bridgeport Malleable Iron Company, president of the Vulcan Iron Works and the North and Judd Manufacturing Company of New Britain as well as a director of the Century State Bank of New York, He was born in Saratoga Springs, New York and came to Bridgeport in 1884 (see obit., Bridgeport Post, 2 March 1911).
Charles B. Read (1858-1912) was the secretary of the D.M. Read Company, a major Bridgeport department store. He was prominent socially, and at one time was president of both the Seaside Club and the Brooklawn Country Club (obit., Bridgeport Post, 5 July 1912).
Lewis B. Curtis (1863-1938) was the president of the People's Savings Bank of Bridgeport; Curtis, Curtis & Company, manufacturers of pipe-cutting machines and geared die stocks, and the Beers Realty Company of New York. He was the inventor of the Curtis Pipe-Cutting and Threading Machine (Who's Who in Engineering, 1938; obit., Bridgeport Post, 25 October 1938).
Eugene H. Smith was the president and treasurer of the E.H. Smith Silver Company (Bridgeport City Directory, 1912).
Charles Pettigrew was a consulting engineer (Bridgeport City Directory, 1905).
Dr. Charles B. Baker (1858-1902) was a prominent Bridgeport dentist, a member of the State Dental Commission, city alderman and member of the Board of Education (obit. Bridgeport Post, 22 December 1902).
William J. Grippin, son of William A. Grippin, succeeded his father as president of the Bridgeport Malleable Iron Company (Bridgeport City Directory, 1913)
Judge George W. Wheeler (1860-1932) was a justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court from 1910 to 1927 and was one-time Democratic Party chairman of Bridgeport (obit., Bridgeport Post, 27 July 1932).
William N. Beardsley was a prominent local real estate agent (Bridgeport City Directory, 1903).
Albert J. Erslew was a sales engineer with the Dahler Die-Casting Company of New York.
Lavinia L. Parmly (?-1894) is known only as a wealthy New York widow who used her Marina Park home as a summer residence. Upon her death it was bequeathed to her 22-year-old grandson Parmly S. Clapp, who was later to become a prominent New York City stockbroker (Bridgeport Post articles "Lucky Parmly Clapp," 5 May 1894 and "Departure of the Clapps," 14 March 1900).
George Comstock (1849-1923) was chairman of the board of the Comstock-Willett Company, wholesale grocers. He also served as first vice-president of the People's Savings Bank (obit. Bridgeport Post, 21 January 1923).
Waldo C. Bryant (1863-1930) was chairman of the board of the Bryant Electric Company; president, treasurer and general manager of the Perkins Electric Switch Manufacturing Company, and inventor of the Bryant push-and-pull switch (obit., Bridgeport Post, 6 July 1930).
John G. Howland was president of the Howland Dry Good Company, a major Bridgeport department store (Bridgeport City Directory, 1903; also article "Building Operations" Bridgeport Post, 17 February 1902).
With its monumental architecture combined with park and ocean views, Marina Park in its prime was probably one of the more impressive residential districts in the state. Even in the 1940s, a time when appreciation for late-Victorian architecture was generally considered to be in eclipse, Anne Whelan was moved to write:
"Marina and Seaside, with its verdued lawns, and its unrivaled sea view, which Barnum had transformed from vast virgin acres, was Bridgeport's Faubourg St. Germain. Its superb beauty reminded one of Charleston's Battery, with the added charm of woods. In its exclusiveness it took rank with Boston's Louisbourg Square, with less tradition, however. It had grown up through the industrialists, who supplanted in the social realm the old colonial families, who even then, in the late-eighteen-eighties and early-nineties, had begun to fade from the scene, for they had only distinguished lineage and little cash.
During his development of Marina, Barnum imposed such restrictions as would ultimately characterize it as one of the most beautiful residential sites in America, with its combination of woods and sea and remoteness from the urban center less than a mile away. No houses could be built over three stories high, and no barns...could be built on the property."
Marina Park is representative of the characteristics of late-19th and early-20th century domestic architecture as well as the work of a master architect, George Longstaff. The succession of large houses extending up Park Avenue from the Perry Memorial Arch is unique on such a scale in Bridgeport, which is otherwise lacking in well- preserved enclaves of such buildings solely from this period (Marina Park's only counterpart in the city at the turn of the century was Fairfield Avenue, which has since been overtaken by commercial development).
George Longstaff, whom the Whelan article credits as being "the Barnum architect who planned all Marina," had many important commissions throughout Connecticut and much of the Northeast. Locally he was responsible for the P.T. Barnum Institute of Science and History (now the Barnum Museum, enrolled, in the National Register of Historic Places), the Bishop Arcade (enrolled N.R.H.P.), the tower and chapel of St. John's Episcopal Church, and the Edinburgh Block (both of these buildings have been accepted for study for the N.R.H.P.). In Hartford he was the architect of the 1892 addition to the Wadsworth Atheneum.
The Marina Park Historic District today is a landmark of wide local recognition, accessibility and appreciation. Its mainly institutional ownership has begun to realize the intrinsic value of the area to the community as a whole. The University of Bridgeport in particular has initiated steps to assure that what remains of Marina Park be ultimately preserved in a manner befitting its status by sympathetic reuse, maintenance of existing fabric instead of uncomplimentary remodeling, and cessation of further demolition.
News clipping file, Historical Collections, Bridgeport Public Library.
Real Estate records, Bridgeport Town Clerk's office.
† Charles W. Brilvitch, Bridgeport Architecture Conservancy, East Bridgeport Historic District, nomination document, 1978, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.