Over a year ago, back in Post #31, I wrote about how I discovered the former Yale & Towne factory site in the South End of Stamford and how the loft colony there developed. I recently “reconnected” with one of the artists, the photographer Bob Baldridge. He lived (illegally, of course) in a dream loft on the top floor of one of the buildings along Henry Street, next door to Jamie Burt, a potter/sculptor who occupied most of the 6th floor. There were even more interesting, older structures along Pacific Street but they were uninhabitable and torn down in the 1980s soon after I arrived. The photos now being exhibited at Curley’s Diner on West Park Place date back to the late 1970s and show the way the site looked when the artists first moved in, before extensive demolition took place.
In those early days, only men lived in the complex; the neighborhood was just too dangerous for a woman and even the men kept their doors locked and rarely ventured out after dark. Drug dealing and robberies were not uncommon. The women who had studios there were careful about coming and going, often keeping a dog for protection. I had an office for my preservation organization on the second floor, with huge, industrial-sized windows that looked out over a row of Victorian cottages on Henry Street. We even had room for a twelve-foot sideboard we had salvaged from a demolished house that once belonged to Lowell Weicker’s grandparents. One of the things I came up with while I was there was a yearly Open Studios weekend where literally thousands of people came to gape at SOHO in Stamford.
Between the ambiance, the light and the camaraderie, it was the closest thing to artist’s heaven I expect to achieve in my lifetime. It ended for me when the landlord, upon hearing that I wanted to have the complex listed on the National Register of Historic Places, refused to renew my lease. The irony was that the next owner was eager to have the complex listed so that he could use the Investment Tax Credits the government gave for rehabilitating historic buildings.
Baldridge and I were recently reminiscing about a party we gave at his loft. He had a girlfriend at the time who was considering becoming a chef and opening a restaurant. Bob offered her a chance to see what it was like to cook for a crowd and we arranged a spaghetti dinner to be held in his loft. He had a small, but functional kitchen and a couple of big pots. I drew up an invitation; we borrowed chairs and tables and Bob put out the word: Loft Supper, $5. - all the spaghetti you could eat and all the (cheap) wine you could drink. The party was a huge success; in fact, it was too huge a success. Close to seventy people showed up and we were overwhelmed. (We should have taken reservations!) They were lined up in the halls. The water for the spaghetti wouldn’t boil and dinner didn’t get served until well after midnight. However, with unlimited wine, everybody seemed happy to wait while Bob’s friend worked frantically in the kitchen. People still talk about it today, but it was not a success we wanted to repeat.