Vintage Views & Memories Of The Brass City

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A view of East Main Street from Exchange Place, circa 1908.

A view of the block of buildings on the north side of East Main Street between Phoenix Avenue and Exchange Place in the early 1900s. The F.W. Woolworth Co. was in the building on the right then. Businesses in this block in the 1950s included the Fitzgerald & Platt men's store, Musler-Liebeskind women's store, Kay Jewelers ("It's OK to owe Kay 'til payday"), and Liggett's Rexall Drugs. 


Two views of the same block above, looking east from Exchange Place, in 1905 and 1945. Liggett’s Rexall Drug Store is on the bottom left, at the corner of North Main and East Main Streets.

The Riker-Hegeman Drug Store was in the Rexall location in this 1917 photo of the same block.

A Connecticut Company trolley passes in front of the block in the early 1930s. Part of the F.W. Woolworth store sign can be seen at the far right of the photo.




Brass City moonshine: Adolph Sanditz sold his homebrew whiskey to go in jugs at his tavern at 77 East Main Street in the early 1900s. His son, A. Robert Sanditz, had a liquor store on North Main Street and an insurance/travel agency on Grand Street in the 1940s and 1950s.






A view of the north side of East Main Street, facing west toward Exchange Place, circa 1915. The buildings in the foreground were demolished in 1951 for the new W.T. Grant's, Robinson's, National Shoes, and F.W. Woolworth stores.

The same area circa 1952. The Everybody's Market sign can be seen at far left.

Everybody's Market was on East Main Street across from Woolworth's from the 1930s until the 1960s. They also opened a supermarket on South Main Street in the former Big Dollar Market site in 1956.

The first Everybody's Market was founded in the mid-1920s by William Shore in Waterbury as a small grocery store. Taken over by his son-in-law Irving Morris in 1945, Everybody's later expanded to a regional brand, reaching 13 stores at its height.

The Anchor Grill next door to the Strand Theater was one of the most popular restaurants in town in the '40s. It relocated to Harrison Ave. in 1951 as Dan's Anchor Grill when the entire block on East Main St. was demolished for "urban renewal".

Further up East Main Street, facing west toward Exchange Place, circa 1925. Van Arnum's Minstrels were appearing at Poli's Palace Theatre.

East Main Street, circa 1935. "Les Miserables" was playing at the Rialto.


Flying saucer over downtown Waterbury, June 18, 1954! Photo of East Main Street showing a UFO in the area behind the light post at right (it was actually our Waterbury time machine that had a cloaking device malfunction on a test flight). The cars are coming from Phoenix Avenue. Stores shown in the photo include F.W. Woolworth, National Shoes, Robinson’s Department Store, W.T. Grant's, and the State Theater, which were demolished in 2001 for the new University of Connecticut Waterbury Campus.  Larger photo  


Bill Mori, owner of the K&J 3 Decker Toasted Sandwich Shop, talks with Mort Galvin Jr., owner of Galvin's Men's Store, on East Main Street in 1944. The former Poli's Palace Theatre, now named the Loew's Poli Theater, and the Palace Hotel / Newstand / Barber Shop are on the left. (Online Archive of California photo)

A view of the same area 31 years later. The K&J and Galvin's were long out of business by then.






The record listening booths at Mattatuck Music on East Main Street were a popular after school destination in the 1950s.






East Main Street was named Broadway in the late 1800s. The Broadway Casino, which became the Rialto/State Theater, was built next to Moriarty's Buildings in the early 1900s.

The Rialto Theater and Moriarty's Buildings in the 1920s. 


Moriarty's Buildings are on the right in these 1940 and 1946 photos of the East Main Street "Theater District" facing west toward Exchange Place. Larger photos:  1940  1946


Four of the theaters on East Main Street: Poli's Palace, Plaza, State, and Strand. One of the largest theaters that Thomas W. Lamb designed for S.Z. Poli, the Palace was renamed the Loew's Palace in 1934, when Poli sold his regional circuit. The theater received a partial restoration in 1978 and then served as an all-purpose hall until closing in 1982. The Waterbury Palace Foundation formed in 1995 with a goal of purchasing and renovating the theater as a performing arts theater. The theater reopened in November, 2004. The Waterbury branch of the University of Connecticut now occupies the site of the Strand and State Theaters, and the Plaza Theater site is now an arts magnet school

For profiles and some photos of the theaters in Waterbury during the first half of the 20th century, visit the Cinema Treasures website and our Waterbury Theaters page.

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Mr. Peanut greets a young fan at the entrance to a Planters Peanuts Store. The Waterbury store, which was at 122 East Main Street across from the State Theater, was one of a chain of retail stores where people could buy fresh roasted peanuts, a Mr. Peanut peanut butter spreader, bank or doll, or a glow-in-the-dark Mr. Peanut toy, and other merchandising items. Planters sold or closed all their retail stores in 1961.






Brophy's Tivoli Restaurant was on East Main Street in the "Theatre District" near the State Theater, directly across the street from the Plaza Theater.




Back in the 1940s and 1950s, before there was McDonalds, it was the White Tower for hamburgers. The Waterbury White Tower was in the heart of downtown on East Main Street between the State Theater and W.T. Grant's. They not only served diminutive 5-cent hamburgers, but everything from fried eggs to spiced ham. Desserts included 10-cent pie, jelly rolls, marble cake, and fruit cocktail. It may have been a chain, but White Tower was a different kind of place. Most locations varied slightly in appearance from one another but the legend is that they were all clean and well-lit.

Construction of the city’s first Immaculate Conception church on East Main Street began in 1857. Anderson’s History of the Town and City of Waterbury speculates that this may have been the first Immaculate Conception church in the entire country. The Immaculate Conception moved to its present location on West Main Street in 1926.

The Garden Theater (center) became the Plaza Theater and closed around 1956.

The park that vanished: Stanley Park was a small triangular patch of green with a fountain at the intersection of East Main Street and Cole Street across from Crosby High School that was paved over to improve traffic flow in the 1940s. The church spire at right center is the original Immaculate Conception Church.

My Alma Mater, Crosby High School, on East Main Street. The building was demolished for the new Waterbury Police Department headquarters after the new Crosby High School was built on Pierpont Road in 1977. Crosby High School websites: Class of 1952  Class of 1957  Class of 1959  Class of 1975 


Jo-Ray's Army-Navy Surplus Store across the street from Crosby on the corner of East Main and North Elm Streets was destroyed by an overnight fire in 1955.



The Margaret Croft School on South Elm Street became Leavenworth High School in the 1930s. The name was changed to Croft High School in the late 1950s, then to Kennedy High in 1965.


What caused downtown Waterbury’s demise in the 1970s? The demise of the brass industry? The construction of new public high schools? The Naugatuck Valley Mall? The answer is probably "all of the above".

The massive brass mills which employed most of the residents began leaking employees like air from a punctured tire in the early '60s. Operations slowed to a crawl through the 1960s and 1970s, and finally shut down completely in the early 1980s.

All three public high schools were located near downtown in the 1950s and 1960s, filling downtown with youthful energy and exuberance every day after dismissal when the teenagers headed to The White Tower for some burgers, The Handy Kitchen for fries and a Coke, or Mattatuck Music to listen to some of the latest hit 45 rpm records in one of their listening booths (and maybe even buy one) before catching the bus home. Now Kennedy/Croft is in Town Plot, Wilby is in the Bucks Hill neighborhood, and Crosby is out east.

In the 1960s a former pig farm on the Wolcott town line was transformed into a spectacular regional mall, one of the first of its kind in New England. During the next twenty years Wolcott Road sprang to life with a series of strip malls and plazas and became the place to shop in Waterbury. Retail business moved outside the city core, but Waterbury was not unique in this regard, the pattern played itself out all across the country. When retail left, the people left. Downtown became best known for low income housing and as a center for social services.


The Hodson Hotel and Restaurant was in this block on Exchange Place at the corner of Harrison Avenue and Bank Street in the early 1900s, and the Front Page Restaurant in the 1940s & 1950s.




The former "Bauby's Corner" at the corner of Bank Street & West Main Street


The Silver Package Store on West Main Street next to Bauby's Corner was still selling beer and booze but the Epicure Shop, Waterbury's gourmet foods store for decades, was now just one of many abandoned storefronts in decaying downtown buildings.


The Carmel Corn shop was where the Lake Drug Store had been in the '40s, '50s and '60s in the Lewis building at the corner of West Main & Leavenworth Streets. The Handy Kitchen had been in the Wolff's Draperies storefront in the building on the right.


A view of Exchange Place looking up East Main Street from The Green. The Hotchkiss Block building (left), site of Dexter's and Liggett's Rexall drug stores for more than seventy years, was now just another vacant building in a dying city.


Waterbury is now in the revival business. "Prices are up, but it's still a good buy here," says Waterbury Development Corp. Chief Executive Officer Michael O'Connor, who has charted heightened interest in commercial and residential real estate. A recent market study highlights the area's strengths as a retail, distribution and niche-manufacturing hub.

Carl Rosa, director of Main Street Waterbury, says the city compiled a comprehensive inventory of its downtown buildings available for sale or lease in 2004, and now is looking for ways to attract, retain and expand businesses in the Brass City. Rosa says the recent multimillion-dollar restoration of the Palace Theater, the opening of a new downtown arts magnet school and UConn's relocation of its Waterbury campus to East Main Street are paving the way for the reinvigoration of downtown. A recent marketing study recommended recruiting restaurants, and Rosa also would like to see an influx of other retailers, including a music store, art gallery, grocery, "shoe cobbler" and Jewish deli.

In February 2005 the landmark downtown Apothecaries Hall building was bought by an investor connected with Yeshiva Gedolah, an orthodox Jewish school that moved into the former UConn branch in the Hillside section of town. Rosa says other Yeshiva members have bought 60 homes there over the past 24 months, and they've become "an integral part of the neighborhood."

In the late 1990s, Waterbury established what Rosa says was the first designated information technology (IT) zone in the state, offering financial packages and incentives to entice companies to open or relocate downtown. Nearly a dozen companies currently are in the IT zone.

Rising prices also are encouraging more companies to "look at the I-84/I-95 corridor for warehouse, distribution and retail use," observes John Famigletti, a commercial broker at Druber Industrials in Waterbury.



The rediscovery of downtown living in Lowell, Mass., has fueled much of the cultural and economic resurgence there and in many other old industrial centers. Waterbury boosters are asking: Why should we be any different?  

Urban planning expert John Shapiro, for one, says Waterbury's stately old buildings on Bank Street, Grand Street and other downtown areas could make for ideal apartments and condos -- and help breathe life back into the Brass City. "The building stock is fantastic and very high quality, (and) there's potential for all the cultural activities that someone wants," said Shapiro, who's based in New York but has studied the city on behalf of Main Street Waterbury and other groups. Factoring in the proximity of good restaurants, plentiful retail options and two major highways, "there's one thing after another that recommends it," he said.  

According to the 2000 census, about 4,800 people live in the downtown area, many in subsidized housing for the poor and the elderly such as Exchange Place Towers on Center Street and Josephine Towers on Union Street.  

But Shapiro and Carl W. Rosa, Main Street's executive director, want to lure younger, more affluent residents. They say that would add some buzz and bustle to downtown streets -- now often vacant outside of work hours -- and attract higher-quality retailers to capture their dollars. "I'm convinced it could lead to a domino effect if it's done right," Rosa said.City Historian Philip Benevento said downtown apartments were filled at least through the 1950s, before the decline of the manufacturing industry hollowed out much of Waterbury, Lowell and scores of other New England cities. Bringing back more of those residents might go a long way to refurbish downtown, Benevento said, and add the energy that recent revitalization has brought to parts of New Haven and Hartford. "People coming in ... would feel the excitement around," he said. "That would be something."


Exchange Place and the Apothecaries Building

The former “Bauby’s Corner” in Exchange Place

The Rowland Government Center at the corner of West Main and Leavenworth Streets

The Sovereign Bank building at 81 West Main Street

The former Brown Building at the corner of East and South Main Streets 

The new Palace Theater on East Main Street

The new UConn Waterbury campus on East Main Street

 New:  Photos of downtown Waterbury and the Green today 


Waterbury is gritty, that's for sure. But come springtime, when the snow and rain let up and the people of the Brass City begin to take to the streets, Waterbury becomes one of Connecticut's best places to be poor. And not just because you'll have a lot of company. The town's a free and cheap mecca. Looking for something to read? The fine John Bale Book Company (158 Grand St., 757-2279), with 60,000 used volumes lining its shelves, offers some of the best cheap reads in the state. But the real deal is out front, where the 4 Books for $1 table offers everyone from Trollope to Douglas Coupland for 25 cents a volume. It's lunchtime, so head over to Maria's Restaurant (146 Grand St., 573-0322), where burgers, fish sandwiches and various plates of comfort food, all cooked by Maria herself, can be had in the $4 to $10 range. Walk off your stuffed belly with a stroll down to the legendary Brass City Records (489 Meadow St., 574-7805), where just browsing through the racks of vinyl, cassette and CD is a cheap pleasure in itself. Plus, there will always be something good playing on the speakers. Then, for a little higher-brow culture, conclude your day at the Mattatuck Museum (144 W. Main St., 753-0381) or the Timexpo (175 Union St., 755-TIME); the former features paintings and other fine arts, while the latter features Timexes. Four bucks gets you to see the paintings, and it's free for kids; the watches you can view for $6, free if you're under 5. For more events, pick up a copy of the Waterbury Observer , a scrappy weekly with a decent listings section. (Mark Oppenheimer, New Haven Advocate)


Waterbury 2007 Revitalization Report


Waterbury Thoughts – A blog about current events and conditions in the Brass City.


An evening out in downtown Waterbury used to be a treat. Older residents can still recall an era when people took a bus to shop, see a movie, eat, and meet friends and neighbors in stores and on streets that today stand more than half-empty. Tales of transformation come to life as city folk recount a glittering -- and vastly different -- era of their existence: generations of families converging to take advantage of the commerce thriving in the arteries of the city. Blaming everything from the building of highways that made living in the suburbs feasible, to the assault of the malls, to high property taxes in the city and the parking situation downtown, older residents seem to sigh collectively, trudging on the best they can in the hope that people -- especially those with higher disposable income -- will repopulate the core of the district.  

"Everybody" used to go downtown, said Virginia O'Rourke, who in the 1950s frequented Woolworth's and The Handy Kitchen, a restaurant that had a sign that read "Order or leave." "There was so much activity, the Green was always full of people and we used to see movies in the theaters. There was a peanut place and a man dressed like a peanut used to walk up and down the streets," recalled O'Rourke, current owner of O'Rourke and Birch, a flower store in business in the area since 1922. "It was viable, it was clean and it was safe. It is disappointing that you don't see the activity there anymore."  

When they do visit, what people feel is the "spirit," said Hank Paine, 55, president of the Howland-Hughes Co., a downtown fixture since the turn of the 20th century. It morphed from a five-floor department store carrying practically everything a family needed -- from rugs to pressure cooker gaskets to clothes and toys -- , to a single-level "Made in Connecticut" store when the malls sucked out clientele. "The building has retained the spirit, a special feeling," Paine said, adding that when the lights go out in buildings, cities become "nasty" places to live in. It wasn't any different in Hartford, he said, when the famed G.Fox department store closed. "People didn't know where to meet Santa," Paine, a Waterbury resident, said.  

Downtown used to be a destination, agreed Natalie Bram, owner of the building on South Main Street where her father, Max Bram, ran the Rose Shop between 1928 and 1960. After his death, Natalie was in charge of the store that sold "family fashion clothes." In the 1980s, the store ran into the same problems as its neighbors -- shoppers were usurped by the malls. The Rose Shop closed. More recently, it became the venue for another discount store, BB's Best Bargains, selling inexpensive gift items, housewares and clothing. "It is merchandise that is appealing for customers who shop downtown," said Bram, who lives in Litchfield. "I wish we could bring back how it was in the 1950s ... until then, we can just try to position ourselves for the future." 


Looking at empty storefronts "tells you a story," said Arnold Minicucci, owner of a men's clothing store on Bank Street since 1956.

Fifty years ago there were 17 men's clothing stores downtown, said Minicucci, a Watertown resident. "There was Fitzgerald and Platt, there was Garstons, there was Sullivans, there was Jones Morgan. ... In those days, everybody dressed up. Today, very few men dress in suits and shirts and ties," he said. Attorneys are about the only ones who still dress conservatively and form a loyal client base for his business, he added. When some of the banks left, it was a big blow to downtown business, adding to the problems created by the popularity of malls with their free parking spots, Minicucci said.


From Frieda Rubin: My husband Joe founded The Record Shop in the 1940s and ran it for 51 years. The first Record Shop was in Harrison Alley, and that was a jewel. It looked larger than it was because it was designed with mirrors. The doctors were all great buyers of classical music, and they would come in and say, “Joe, I heard [a particular favorite]” ...and Joe would have it. The store moved to 17 South Main Street in 1952.


From Pete Smith (pete@heywhateverhappenedto.com): 40+ years ago, my two older sisters had their loyalties divided between two cliques, reflective, I'm certain, of their sibling rivalry. One sister was happily ensconced with the 'Clickers' while the other was displaying all evident markers of being a 'Hood'. I was just a 5yr old squirt at the time but they would occasionally let me tag along with them to the place in Waterbury where these two groups hung out, the Handy Kitchen. The HK had threadworn upholstered booths, sassy waitresses and - I'm half remembering and half imagining here - a surly grill man whose hair and complexion were the inspiration for the grease in the term 'greasy spoon'. As the five yr old tag-along, I remember being treated pretty well by both camps. The Hoods were more dangerous in appearance but both groups had their appeal. I remember a mock rivalry breaking out between the Hoods and the more collegiate, straight-laced Clickers as to where I would place my allegiance. Frankly, I don't have a clue which group I chose but I seem to remember feeling more spiritually akin with the Clickers. Ironic then, that when I reached high school myself some ten years later, I was every bit the Hood, and then some.

1950s Downtown memories of the Lincoln Store, Curtis Art, the Handy Kitchen, Wooster’s Pool Hall, Genlock’s Pool Hall, and Catholic High School girls.

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