Remembering the Ritz
Written by Ellen Beveridge
Tuesday, 14 February 2012
On my way to the Trumbull Library Sunday afternoon
to hear a talk on Bridgeport's historic Ritz Ballroom, I
wondered about the turnout on such a cold and blustery
I needn't have worried. The first clue that dispelled my
concern was the difficulty I had finding a parking space,
followed by the difficulty I had locating a seat in the library
Later, I would hear someone remark that it was one of the largest crowds ever seen for a library event sponsored by the Trumbull Historical Society.
On a table near the entrance was a printed biography about the speaker, Jeffrey Williams, a long-time and enthusiastic admirer of the ballroom and the music of the Big Band era, from roughly the 1930s to the 1960s.
Appropriately, because the Ritz was a Mecca for popular orchestras of that era, large black musical notes decorated one wall of the library. At the front of the room were two large easels that held posters extolling the Ritz Ballroom as the "Home of Happy Dancers," which happens to be the title of Williams' recently published book about the heyday of the famous ballroom.
From the size of the crowd, it was obvious that memories of, and interest in, the ballroom are still very much alive and well today. Many have fond memories of this popular dance venue located in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport from 1923 to 1961.
Williams' talk took the audience through his years of interest in the Ritz, how he tracked down the wealth of historical facts, and how he came in contact with many of the big name musicians of the day.
He also spoke of the Trumbull connection: It began with a wooden floor made from local trees, which was built for the Parlor Rock Amusement Park in upper Trumbull (circa late 1800s to early 1900s) and how part of this floor eventually become part of the Ritz Ballroom floor.
Unfortunately, twice during the presentation technology reared its ugly head when the ring of a cell phone filled the air.
Williams spoke with spontaneity and knowledge of his subject, and the audience matched his presentation with equal enthusiasm. For example, when he asked for a show of hands of those who had ever danced at the ballroom, more than half of the room responded.
In contrast, barely half responded when asked if they own or operate a computer; probably indicative of those with fond memories of the Ritz.
During a question and answer session that followed the talk, several in the audience spoke of their memories of a time when not only the ballroom was so popular, but so were many places in the area. The movie theaters, Pleasure Beach and Seaside Park were among the sites remembered with affection.
I attended Williams' talk because of my own connection with this spectacular ballroom when it was the setting for the magical night of my first prom (see "Memories of my first prom linger fresh and sweet," Trumbull Times, May 9, 2009).
Jeffrey Williams did not disappoint.