It seems every year there’s something new about this city. A new park. A new mayor. A new, not-so-under-the-radar pizza place. Surely, there’s enough buzz and excitement to go around. Then, there’s the nostalgia factor. The imprints left by those who knew Stamford a little differently. Those who remember it as the small town just outside the big city. In this issue, we’re taking a moment to recall people and places that make up Stamford’s rich history. After all, vintage is the new trendy.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Stamford, part town, part city, has preserved open spaces as it has grown. From Cove Park (providing public access to the beach) to Mill River (which created a beautiful park for meeting up with friends, taking public fitness classes and dancing to big performances and concerts right downtown), Stamford has many open spaces to enjoy nature as a community. Here, we pay homage to the long-established centers that have sown the seeds for future generations to enjoy, learn from and be inspired by.
BARTLETT ARBORETUM & GARDENS • EST. 1913
At the turn of the twentieth century, a dendrologist (a botanist who specializes in the study of trees) by the name of Francis A. Bartlett secured a thirty-acre plot in North Stamford woodlands. He sought to study and preserve the natural tree specimens on the plot where he lived and conducted research and trained early professionals through his company, the Bartlett Tree Expert Company. An eminent researcher, he became the first to implement the use of sprays to manage landscape pests and use cables and braces to reinforce structurally weak trees. By 1965 the State of Connecticut had purchased the sixty-four acres he had redeveloped under the Federal Open Spaces Program, and, by 1966, the space was opened to the public.
Since those early years, the Bartlett Arboretum & Gardens (bartlettarboretum.org) has become one of the most populous and noteworthy green spaces in Stamford. Its commitment to environmental patronage and preservation of the natural world has been given a green thumbs-up by environmentalists and the community that it thrives upon. With its twelve scenic gardens, mile-long trails, educational and community involvement programs, it has sustained its good reputation and inspired horticulturists and budding botanists for over a half century.
“The Bartlett Arboretum has gone through many changes over the past fifty years,” says Peter Russell, chair of the Board of Directors at Bartlett. “Yet throughout all these changes, one thing has remained constant: The Bartlett Arboretum is a thriving environment with exotic and notable trees and shrubs, gorgeous gardens, knowledgeable and friendly staff and expert volunteers. Our volunteers are the wheels that keep the Arboretum going. Every day of the week, Master Gardeners can be found working hard in our gardens and offering horticultural knowledge and expertise to the public.”
Like the trees and greenery it fosters, Bartlett’s future is being nurtured. The nonprofit announced at the end of the year that they had received a $175,000 grant from the Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Program at the behest of Governor Ned Lamont’s initiative to enhance green spaces. As beneficiaries, they will use those funds to construct a 2,400-square-foot open-air pavilion next to the Silver Educational Center. The pavilion, which can house up to 200 people, will break ground this spring and will be used to host educational and community groups, such as the Boy/Girl Scouts, UConn’s Master Gardener program, festivals, summer concerts and weddings.
“The open-air pavilion will have a measurable and lasting impact on the Arboretum’s ability to serve its constituents,” says CEO Tracy Kay, who was elected to the position in 2021. “It will contribute to and enhance the Arboretum’s offerings, including our summer concerts, summer children’s camp, our Master Gardener Program, senior programming, a space for adult education and art classes and other organizational events. It will always be open to visitors to relax, enjoy a cup of coffee or a family meal, and sit in the shade while enjoying the view of our many gardens. This pavilion will enhance our urban open space and Stamford will see an increase in tourism and local residents enjoying and spending more time in nature.”
Because education and conservancy stand at the forefront of what they do, Director of Education Mike Belletzkie demonstrates how partnerships with community organizations have given them the ability to reach out. “We work with and educate more than 5,000 school children each year. The Arboretum partners with several Stamford organizations, such as Inspirica, Future Five, Children’s Learning Center, Villa Maria School, Mill River Park, Abilis and Stamford public schools. Our partnerships with these organizations are crucial to building meaningful connections in the community and to help us accomplish our goal of growing environmental stewards in every neighborhood.”
When you visit the arboretum; whether to walk your dog or learn a new skill, be grateful to those who made sure that Stamford locals have a place to contemplate and enjoy. The Bartlett is a place for a bright future.
STAMFORD MUSEUM & NATURE CENTER • EST. 1936
On the outskirts of the post-war years, the loss of Stamford’s position as an industrial base and the redefinition of the town as a city marked a time of momentous change. This era saw the overturn of The People’s National Bank, a New Deal mayor and an approved Consolidated Charter, enforcing town governments to join under one city banner—this was the small-town-turned-city moment. Amidst this great economic and social reckoning, an organization had its eyes toward simpler times. A time that relied on the community need for a collective breather—a safe place to enjoy nature, revel in tradition and congregate somewhere that wasn’t around the living room TV. The Stamford Museum & Nature Center (stamfordmuseum.org) emerged as that place. Originally in Courtland Park, Dr. G.R.R. Hertzberg and his associates founded the museum in 1936 as a place of fine arts—a “cabinet of curiosities,” he called it. Eighty-five years later, it still calls on the curious to examine our past and explore the possible through its philanthropic, artistic and cultural evolution.
“We revel in nostalgia, tradition and social engagement,” says Melissa H. Mulrooney, executive director and CEO. “Our eighty-fifth anniversary story begins at a simpler time. There was no television, no Internet, no computers, cell phones or social media. Communities relied on parks and town squares for family engagement, recreation, education and entertainment. Built upon these values over eight decades, we have creatively flourished into the beloved Stamford Museum & Nature Center destination we are today.” Sitting on an 118-acre campus consisting of the Bendel Museum, the Knobloch Family Farmhouse, Heckscher Farm, hiking trails and surrounding forest area, the museum celebrates nature, family memories and traditions and focuses on educating the next generation on art, natural sciences and history.
Many who step on the property will take note of the sprawling Tudor residence on top of the hill—that’s Bendel Mansion. In the 1920s, fashion designer and department-store owner Henri Willis Bendel sought to build a mansion reminiscent of a lavish British manor house. He had it designed with lead-framed glass windows, post-and-beam architecture, Italian marble sculptures and gargoyles, garden design and multiple chimneys. Today, the mansion serves as beautiful space for six annual arts exhibitions, including the eighty-fifth anniversary exhibition held this past summer, aptly called Enduring Wonder. “The exhibition reflected the beauty of artistic creativity and the wonders of natural history by featuring a selection of the museum’s permanent collection of paintings and sculpture, natural history and historical objects and Native American works,” the arts committee chair, Lynn Villency Cohen, says. In a true showing of support and celebration, the museum’s major fundraiser saw its greatest uptick in memberships: an unprecedented 4,900 new members—more than double the number of member households since the June 2020 reopening. Because of this incredible response, they extended celebratory membership rates through the end of 2021.
Every year, around 200,000 adults and children are welcomed to enjoy programs like drive-in movies, farm-to-table suppers, author talks, concerts, Sunday farm markets, local artisan markets, clam bakes, family festivals, astronomy nights and picnics on-site. It’s the landscape, however, that really speaks for itself. “With more than eighty acres of hardwood forest, hiking trails and walking paths, we are the model nature-based organization for getting families out of doors year-round,” says Mulrooney. This picturesque, rural oasis was perfect for the construction of Heckscher Farm, which was granted in 1955. It serves as a working, New England farm equipped with organic gardens and several different heritage animals like Randall oxen, goats, Jacob sheep, llama’s and chickens—all maintained by the hardworking staff and volunteers at the SM&NC. It is also one of two registered producers of maple syrup in Fairfield County—made right in the Sugar House and Cidery from the maple trees on the property.
With the addition of the Knobloch Family Farmhouse complex, which opened in November 2018, it marked the first time in fifty years an educational facility was introduced to their collection of offerings. “We knew this capital addition to our Heckscher Farm would be a sure-fire capacity builder for our renowned education programs,” Mulrooney heralds. “Its success transformed our programming pallet for intergenerational learning, entertainment and engagement when we and the community needed it most.” Even through the pandemic, the Farmhouse found a way to adapt to the climate while vitalizing the indoor gathering space for all its extracurricular and event programming. “To meet the needs of a public longing for connection in a safe and socially distanced way,” explains Mulrooney, “we nimbly leveraged our new buildings and outdoor spaces to launch innovative and enriched programming. At the height of the pandemic, our reimagined programs and offerings were highly successful. Admissions and membership soared and foot traffic doubled. Our 118-acre nature-based site offered a vital safe haven and welcomed more than 152,000 adults and children from Stamford and neighboring communities.”
With the interests of the nature-lovers in mind, the educational staff were able to introduce remote learning and digital camps into the program. “Our expert educators pivoted to support families with homeschooling, learning pods, micro-schools, digital programming, our own after-school programs and new options to take advantage of outdoor learning.” Through its Art, Nature & Me preschool program, SM&NC was able to reach 39,000 in 158 schools, pre-Covid—a number unsurprising to the youth they’ve been able to inspire within its environmental and STEAM-related programs. Unlike traditional methods of learning, which is done mostly inside, children get to learn from the great outdoors, rain or shine. Call it one big recess for them. “There is no such thing as bad weather at the SM&NC. Our kids are outside every day,” Mulrooney says.
Though rooted in a bygone era, The Stamford Museum & Nature Center is anything but dated now. Their consistent focus on growth keeps the community coming.
10 TIPS FOR GREENER LIVING from the Experts at the Bartlett
Paper and plastic plates and utensils, paper towels and napkins (goods designed to last for a short period of time) make up about 20 percent of America’s waste stream, which amounted to 50 million tons in 2015, according to the EPA.
Reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle
Reduce your garbage. Reuse things instead of throwing them away. Repurpose things you cannot reuse. Recycle everything you can.
Make your home energy efficient
Take steps to make your home more energy efficient and lower its environmental impact (such as seal or replace old windows, switch to solar energy to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, purchase energy-efficient appliances, etc.). These individual steps add up to a significant difference in energy usage.
Eat less meat
You will reduce your carbon footprint if you limit the amount of meat and dairy you consume. Animal-derived food production contributes higher greenhouse gases than grain and vegetable production do.
Eat organic and local
Growing organic food is labor intensive but requires 30 percent to 50 percent less energy to produce. Eating locally grown food also saves energy because of the lower transportation costs.
Use water responsibly
The EPA estimates that as much as 50 percent of the water we use outdoors is lost due to wind, evaporation and runoff. Reduce waste by watering early in the morning and adding mulch to gardens and shrubs.
Control pests and weeds
Choose plants that are naturally pest resistant. To prevent weeds from taking root, keep your grass height at least three inches or more.
Choose native plants
Native species adapt better to drier climates and tend to be more pest resistant.
Plant a tree
According to the Arbor Day Foundation, a mature tree can absorb more than forty-eight pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually and release oxygen in exchange.
Consider using a rain barrel
Collect rain water to use in your garden beds.
The arts have a history here in Stamford—a history of needing them, of being inspired by them and of allowing them to define our understanding of the human condition, thereby enabling us to be more empathetic and connected. A city that works, works better together, whether it’s experiencing a full orchestra, participating in a community play, seeing a live band or any of the many ways to take it all in. Read on as The Palace, The Avon, Curtain Call and Stamford Symphony look back on decades of transforming, inspiring and forward thinking.
THE PALACE THEATRE • EST. 1927
Since its restoration and rededication in 1983, The Palace Theatre (palacestamford.org) has remained the longest-running arts presenter in the history of greater Fairfield County. Its 1,630-seat historic venue has been a beacon for the best in music, comedy, dance and theater since the curtain rose in 1927. “The Palace Theatre has a rich history and many of the historical features have been preserved over the years,” shares Michael E. Moran, Jr., president and CEO of The Palace Theatre. “It’s the place that some remember coming to as a child themselves and they now come with their children and/or grandchildren. While the city’s population may change, residents have come to know The Palace Theatre as offering something for everyone, whether that’s live music, comedy, children’s programming or simply a night out experiencing something new. We keep our fingers on the pulse of what’s new, including emerging artists, young playwrights, breakthrough bands and first-of-its-kind entertainment opportunities.”
Originally built as an opera house in 1893, a fire set ablaze the original structure in 1904. It lay dormant for two decades until Mary C. Vuono, who owned the silent-movie house The Strand Theatre across the street, purchased the site in July 1920 for $200,000 (which would be around $2,750,000 in today’s dollars). She envisioned a theater of the future, one that would put Stamford on the map for Vaudeville, “photoplays” and other spectacles. World-renowned theater designer Thomas Lamb was engaged to design what became Vuono’s Palace Theatre. It formally reopened as The Palace on June 2, 1927, housing first-run movies, Vaudeville acts with such legendary stars as Lucille Ball, Red Skelton and Ben Bernie and His Orchestra, and world-class dramas. In its heyday, The Palace welcomed the “King of Jazz” Paul Whiteman and his white-jacketed orchestra to lead in The Jazz King, the movie about Whiteman’s climb to fame.
We believe in the power of the performing arts to inspire us, nurture creativity, express our values, improve academic performance and bridge cultures. By providing world-class entertainment so close to home, we reach the mind and heart of every patron who enters our historic theater, fostering diversity of thought, ideas and culture.
—MICHAEL E. MORAN, JR., PRESIDENT AND CEO
THE AVON THEATRE FILM CENTER • EST. 1939
Today, The Avon Theatre Film Center (avontheatre.org) anchors the constantly transforming Stamford Downtown as a nostalgic landmark. Its glowing marquee serves as a beacon for the wandering cinephile and Stamford proud. As an independent cinema, The Avon sustains its reputation and good standing by being community involved, participating in the social conversation and standing by the films and media they showcase. “We pride ourselves on selecting and screening new films that are of the highest quality, artistically, like Academy Award winners Nomadland and Parasite. They are provocative, educational and inspirational films that deal with critical issues of the day and lead to engaging discussions on those same issues. These are the films that transport the audience to different times and places, that leave us thinking and touch and change us,” shares Stuart Adelberg, The Avon’s executive director. “Of course, none of this is done at the expense of entertainment. We do want our patrons to enjoy every cinematic experience. Beyond our films, The Avon is driven to provide a warm and welcoming environment in our historic building, to engage with our patrons through panels and discussions with community co-sponsors and to make them feel part of The Avon family.”
The Avon was designed more than eighty years ago by renowned NYC architect William Hohauser and built by the F.D. Rich Company of Stamford (which, established in 1920, is still in operation today). The Avon formally opened in 1939 in the Golden Age of movies, which brought us classics like Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. The first film shown at the Avon was It’s a Wonderful World, starring James Stewart and Claudette Colbert. The building originally had only one screen with a main seating area and balcony that seated 700 patrons. In 1979 the balcony was transformed into a second theater. The main house now seats 278 and the second theater has 241. In the decades since opening, The Avon had changed hands multiple times and even closed temporarily in 1999. In 2001 the Royce Family Foundation aimed to resurrect The Avon and restore the theater to its historical significance, even preserving the original painted panels in the main house and the light fixtures in the smaller house dating back to the theater’s 1939 opening. The Avon Theatre got a new lease on life and in 2004 reopened as The Avon Theatre Film Center, a nonprofit, member-supported movie house offering a curated mix of independent films, documentaries and art house and foreign-language films and classic cinema.
The Avon is proud to be a part of the vibrant Stamford Downtown and makes it a priority to participate in, and be supportive of, all local community efforts. We focus a lot of attention and effort on working in partnership with other community organizations, making our beautiful theater and the magic of cinema available to as many different groups as often as we can.
—STUART ADELBERG, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
CURTAIN CALL INC. • EST. 1990
For visitors at Curtain Call Inc. (curtaincallinc.com), it’s not, “Welcome back,” it’s, “Welcome home.” That’s been their legacy for more than thirty years. It “calls” on Fairfield County to “lend their ears” to a Shakespeare production, be dazzled by “a few good men,” and for many, transform their lives through the performing arts. “We are a theater community,” says Lou Ursone, executive director since 2000. “That community centers on the people—on stage, behind the scenes and in the audience. I have always said that when I’m putting a season together, our two constituencies are basically equal. That is, we need to do shows that people want to see, but our volunteer performers’ interests are just as important. We can’t survive without either of them. Our mission to entertain and educate has never wavered.” When it comes to the pandemic infringing on live theater’s ability to flourish, “I think I’ll defer to the great John Steinbeck quote,” Lou says: “ ‘The theater is the only institution in the world which has been dying for 4,000 years and has never succumbed. It requires tough and devoted people to keep it alive.’ In that vein, the art form evolves and will continue to do so.”
Curtain Call Inc. and the grounds they share with Sterling Farms Golf Course once made up a 144-acre dairy farm. Atherton Hobler, who was a founder and CEO of Benton & Bowles, one of the largest ad agencies in the country, moved from Bronxville, New York, to Stamford in 1938 with his family. Atherton ran Woodsacres Farm, as it was called back then, from 1938 to 1941, and it was renamed Sterling Farms in 1943.
The turnover from farm to a state-of-the-art golf center in 1972 changed the course of this Newfield green and saw its first-ever performing arts venue. The Ethel Kweskin Theatre opened in 1972 and was run by Artistic Director Al Pia through the Stamford Parks and Recreation Department. Curtain Call Inc., as we now know it, was founded by Lynne Collatrella and Laurie Guzda in 1990. Their troupe first performed under the banner The Dressing Room Theatre; as they performed in the basement (former dressing rooms) of the State Cinema on Hope Street. With the help of the Stamford Community Arts Council, Lynne and Laurie took the stage from Hope Street to the Sterling Farms Complex in 1992. They made The Kweskin their main stage and utilized the studio next to it as additional performance space for more intimate plays—dubbing it The Dressing Room Theatre, a callback to their roots. In 2010 the 184-seat Kweskin Theatre underwent a major renovation, adding dressing rooms, rehearsal space and space to the lobby as well as restrooms. Curtain Call Inc. has since evolved into Stamford’s longest-running and only nonprofit, theater-producing company. It offers year-round comedies, dramas, musicals, concerts, events, workshops, Summer Youth Theatre, outdoor Shakespeare on the Green and more.
I wish I had a crystal ball to see Curtain Call twenty-five years from now, fifty years from now and beyond. But considering that The Kweskin celebrates fifty years in 2022, I have every confidence that live theater at Sterling Farms is here to stay. New artists and patrons come into our lives on a regular basis. It is an incredibly large theater family. We’ll continue providing a mix of classic standards, contemporary hits and original works, so there’s something for everyone each season.
—LOU URSONE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Photographs: Headshot by Andrew Sullivan; historic image, contributed; current shot, Diane Sembrot
STAMFORD SYMPHONY • EST. 1919
The current Stamford Symphony is perfectly in tempo with the times. The symphony was proud to be the “fourth emergency service” during Covid through the creation of the Stamford Symphony Channel on its website (stamfordsymphony.org). The channel was established just days after the March 2020 lockdown. Visitors can search through hundreds of hours of music, talks and conversations with extraordinary musicians. In the context of classical relevance in mainstream culture, the symphony excels in keeping classical music accessible to new and broad audiences. “In the past few years, the symphony has become less of a best-kept secret and much more embedded in the community,” says President and CEO Russell Jones. “Apart from our performances at the Palace Theatre, you will see us pop up at the mall, Stamford Museum & Nature Center, Half Full Brewery, the library and, of course, in many classrooms of Stamford’s public schools. At the heart of what we do is the extraordinary talent and quality of our musicians, led by Music Director Michael Stern. Stamford audiences deserve the best and we strive to deliver it at every performance, whether it’s with eighty musicians on stage or in a solo recital.”
An orchestra bearing the name Stamford Symphony was first founded in 1919. With World War II, many of those musicians fought overseas and the orchestra disbanded for years. In 1967 the Stamford Symphony was reinstated. Skitch Henderson’s appointment as music director in 1974 marked the turning point when the symphony became a fully professional orchestra. Roger Nierenberg, music director from 1980 to 2004, was an influential force in shaping what Stamford Symphony is today. By recruiting top musicians from the New York metro area, he positioned the symphony as an esteemed ensemble. Drawing from a roster of musicians who’ve performed with the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet and the American Symphony Orchestra, to name a few, the Stamford Symphony put Fairfield County on the map for classical music. With Musical Director Eckart Preu serving from 2005 to 2017, the Symphony evolved even further through its community engagement and educational programs to foster the next generation of classical performers.
Community engagement has been our success story this year. With the appointment of Nicolas Gonzalez, as our first-ever community engagement and education manager, we are exploding the opportunities for people of all ages to engage with us. Even through Covid, we were virtually in dozens of Stamford classrooms during the pandemic and presented online lectures for the library. Our partnerships with great music-education organizations, such as INTEMPO and Project Music, see our musicians take their experience and expertise right to where it’s needed.
—RUSSELL JONES, PRESIDENT AND CEO
Photographs: Flutist by Meredith Towers; Stern by Hildi Todrin; historic image, contributed by Stamford History Center
THE MOVERS & SHAKERS
Stamford residents know that if you live here long enough, you’re sure to know or have met one of its hometown heroes. Whether shaking hands with baseball legend Bobby Valentine or having trick-or-treated with Willy Wonka himself (the late Gene Wilder’s house was on Scofieldtown Road), Stamford is chock-ful of folks who have put it on the map. Then there are those you may not have heard of, even though they left an indelible mark. Read on to learn more about a few heroes of our past.
STAMFORD HISTORY CENTER • EST. 1901
When you dig up a long-since-forgotten part of history, you never know what kind of gems you might find. The Stamford History Center, founded in 1901 as the Stamford Historical Society, has dedicated its mission to sharing its finds with the community and using our unique past to inform the future. In 2016 the center made big moves, literally, by relocating the 1699 Hoyt-Barnum House from Bedford Street to its campus on High Ridge, in order to allow room for downtown center to grow, while also protecting a cherished, historic home, which anyone can visit. “It is the role of history and of this organization to give our children, and their elders, a sense of being part of a continuum that began with the dawn of civilization and will continue with their own progeny,” says Thomas Zoubek, executive director of the Stamford History Center.
Pellegrino Sabini was an Italian immigrant who started out selling ice cream out of a truck that didn’t run. Someone had a horse that towed it to its business location and back. In 1920 he founded P. Sabini & Co., which sold used furniture. Pellegrino did so well that he bought a house in Greenwich— but he didn’t want to live in Greenwich, so Sabini had that house picked up, loaded onto a barge and brought to, and off-loaded at, the Halloween Basin. It’s still there on Sea View Avenue. After Pellegrino died in 1934, his oldest children, Elbina and David, invested in selling new furniture. They operated out of Pacific Street, then moved to Shippan Avenue in the 1960s until it formerly closed in 1986.
On Memorial Day in 1901, a cannon from the U.S.S. Kearsarge, donated by The Grand Army of the Republic, was placed in West Park (now Columbus Park) as a memorial to Civil War veterans. It sat in a lot, overlooked, until the wife of Mayor Homer Cummings (who served 1900–1906) decided it would be an appropriate war memorial. Cast at West Point in 1827, the cannon had also been used on the U.S.S. Lancaster. The artillery piece sat in the park until 1942, when it was hauled away for WWII.
Henry King McHarg
In the 1880s a railroad man by the name of Henry McHarg (1851–1941) moved to Stamford. He went on to purchase and revitalize the Texas Central Railroad in 1891, which stretched forty miles from Albany, Texas, to a barren rail head at the other end. He and his partners ended up creating a new town out of that strip of railroad, incorporating Stamford, Texas, as our sister city in 1900. He also was one of the earliest members of the Stamford Yacht Club and helped organize its founding in October 1890.
Elizabeth Crocker Bowers
A famous stage actress, Elizabeth Crocker Bowers (1830–1895) was born in Stamford. Her father was an Episcopal minister and her sister, Sarah Crocker Conway, was also a famous stage actress. Most notably, she performed in the first theater in New York City to be called The Winter Garden, which produced plays, variety shows and Shakespearean works. Her most famous roles there were Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth and Marie Antoinette.
Emily Hubbard Roosevelt
Hubbard Avenue, Hubbard Hill and the former Hubbard Heights golf course were named after Emily Hubbard Roosevelt (1893–1976)—who was a fifth cousin of former Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt and a direct descendant of two pioneer families, the Roosevelts and the Hubbards. She was a famous opera singer, writer, poet and lecturer who was born and lived in Stamford. She also served on many Stamford boards and groups, notably Stamford Woman’s Club, Stamford Historical Society and Stamford Museum & Nature Center.
All images contributed by Stamford History Center
COLONY GRILL • EST. 1935
A SLICE OF HISTORY
When you think of history, let’s face it, pizza probably doesn’t come high on your list. However, those who know Stamford know that Colony Grill (colonygrill.com) has stood the test of time. Opened as a post-prohibition tavern in an Irish neighborhood, Colony was a shelter during the Great Depression: a place a wandering traveler could post up on a barstool, talk war stories or bet on a sports game and enjoy a cold beer and one-of-a-kind slice. Its signature “hot oil” bar pie is the stuff of legends and, no, you will not find more than just pizza on the menu. But that’s the way they like it, and that’s the way it’s been since 1935, making it the oldest, continuous pizza joint in town. It’s such a cult favorite that it was rated a whopping 8.4 out of 10 by Barstool Sport’s pizza king, Dave Portnoy. We spoke to co-owner and operator Ken Martin, who shares how they preserve its unique, culinary history.
After eighty-six years, what is Colony’s key to longevity?
The longevity of Colony Grill only means something if we deliver hospitality and quality every day to our current guests. Like in baseball, we’re only as good as our last at bat. We are happy to say that Colony Grill has been around for a long time, but that only means something to our guests if they’re satisfied right now. So, we constantly are training our people and adjusting to the marketplace and making sure we’re sincerely and consistently gracious to our patrons. Otherwise, the history of Colony Grill, or of any business, doesn’t really amount to very much.
How is the Colony pie unique?
Our pizza sits nicely in a unique category called the ‘bar pie.’ Synonymous with watering holes and taverns in the tristate area and up into parts of New England, it’s an ultra-thin crust, very balanced amount of sauce and cheese, chewy and crunchy at the same time, and extremely flavorful with our signature hot oil topping. Our pizza is deliciously different compared to the many other rightfully popular pizza styles in the marketplace.
Why are photos along the Wall of Heroes important?
Our Wall of Heroes is actually something we codified in 2010. We took a mishmash of photos and organized them in a way that we feel respectfully celebrates service. We happily accept new photos at all of our locations and it’s an honor to do so.
Photographs: Colony staff, contributed by the Stamford History Center; pizza by Gravin Burke; wall, contributed