Remembering Bruno Arcudi

Former 1st selectman Joe may be the most well-known Arcudi.

But his 6 siblings were also quite accomplished. In the mid-20th century, they were the pride of Saugatuck.

Bruno Arcudi — who died on March 17 in Buffalo, at 93 — has a particularly intriguing story.

The son of Italian immigrants Carmelo and Mary Arcudi, he graduated from Staples High School in 1941,  then from Yale University in 1944 in an accelerated program. He immediately entered the Army Air Force, and served as a navigator during World War II.

Bruno Arcudi

He returned to Yale for a Ph.D. He taught at Yale, Rutgers and the University of California-Berkeley before serving his country again, with the United States Information Agency in Brazil and Italy.

Arcudi completed his teaching career as head of the Italian department at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

But it was during his stint as chairman of Westport’s Board of Education — a role he assumed while earning his doctorate at Yale — that he made his most enduring mark on his home town.

In 1954, Westport desperately needed a new high school. The Staples building on Riverside Avenue (now Saugatuck Elementary School) was bursting at its postwar baby boom seams.

Arcudi and superintendent of schools Gerhardt Rast decided that a minimum of 25 acres was needed for a new site. The board decided to buy at least 30.

The high school on Riverside Avenue (shown here from a yearbook, with the alma mater) was very crowded when Bruno Arcudi chaired the Board of Education.

Four sites were considered. One was Blue Ribbon Farm, a 53-acre tract on Cross Highway.

Another was George Gyurkovics’ 23 acres on West Parish Road, near the state police barracks (the current site of Walgreens).

The 3rd site was the Masiello family’s 35 acres on Cross Highway. But it was low-lying, vulnerable to flooding, and the least attractive of the 4 choices.

The 4th was a 67-acre parcel on North Avenue between Cross Highway and Long Lots Road, owned by George May. The hilly land seemed perfect — except for one thing.

Army engineers had just identified the area as a launching station for Nike guided missiles. The Army was building a defensive ring around Bridgeport — home to many key manufacturing plants. The high ground and sub-surface rock made the May property the perfect location for a Nike site.

A typical Nike site — much like the North Avenue one. Missiles were buried underground.

Arcudi and the Board of Ed hoped that a large expanse of trees could separate the Nike site from the school. RTM moderator Herb Baldwin appointed Ralph Sheffer chairman of a 5-man committee to determine if the May property could be shared with a new high school “without impairing the national defense.”

The Army gave assurances that the missiles would never be fired — except, of course, in response to an actual enemy attack — and that all fuel and explosives would be stored underground, with rigid safety precautions.

A safety expert from the US Rubber Company added, “Explosive and gasoline being trucked along the Post Road every day constitute more danger to Bedford Junior High School [now Kings Highway Elementary] and the Green’s Farms Elementary School than the Nike would to the high school.”‘

The RTM was left to decide whether joint tenancy between the Army and Staples High School would work.

They agreed it could. After a number of delays — involving design work, budget and construction — the new Staples High School opened on September 4, 1958. Just north of it, the Army occupied its new Nike missile site. Today, we know that property as Bedford Middle School.

But none of it would have happened without Bruno Arcudi.

(Bruno Arcudi is survived by 3 sons, Charles, Anthony and John; 2 grandsons, Joseph and Zachary; and 5 siblings, Rose DiMartino, Anna Malootian, Elvira Ebling, Angela McKelvey and Joe Arcudi. He was predeceased by his brother John, and ex-wife Lynn. A memorial mass is set for Saturday, May 6, at noon at Assumption Church.)

The “new” Staples, circa 1959. The auditorium (center left) and gym (large building in the rear, near the track) are the only original structures remaining today.

14 responses to “Remembering Bruno Arcudi

  1. Vivianne Pommier

    My condolences to the Arcudi family.

  2. Do you have any idea where the missiles themselves were built? I have heard stories that the property on Newtown Tpke. where Martha Stewart filmed her tv show was once a company that manufactured missiles. Does anyone have any information on that?

  3. Fun fact: They never bothered to number the houses on North Avenue until they built the school.

  4. Love reading your stuff.
    Want to make a contribution to your blog. Who do I make the check out to?
    Tnx

  5. Great story. As a student of staples in the early 70’s I was fascinated by the “twilight zone” feeling at the nike site when we used to sneak over there. The barracks had long since been abandoned but desks and chairs and papers still remained. The silos were open and filled with rain water. Imagine if one of us fell inside. It was a cool place to explore. Fond memories from my childhood.

  6. Having grown up nearby at the end of Woody Lane, you can correctly guess that I (along with other neighborhood kids) were unable to resist the attraction of an abandoned missile launch site ringed by an impressive looking chain link fence with barbed wire on top but with plenty of holes cut into it, which never had any human security presence (well, the local po-po did show up during one especially noisy visit). The Nike Site also happened to be located right in the middle of our chosen minibike riding area, being the dirt path loop around the land between the Nike Site and Staples.

    Somehow we knew enough to stay off of the large launch bay doors that covered the three water-filled missile bays (which appeared to be absolutely bottomless to our 10 year old eyes). I could never shake the creepy feeling when exploring that place, the nature of the abandoned military site (there were papers still inside the desk drawers in the buildings) imparted a left-in-a-hurry, post-apocalypse vibe in my head.

  7. Michael Calise

    Great story Dan,
    I graduated from the last class at the “old staples” and was in Paris Island when the new staples opened. My condolences to the Arcudi family they have been great contributors to our town as public servants, office holders and teachers.

  8. Philip M. Perlah

    Of course the missile site was the inspiration for “Rally Round the Flag Boys”. The movie starred no other than Paul and Joanne.

  9. Tony Masiello

    Great story Dan! I had no idea that my family’s property was ever considered as a site for Staples. Our condolences to the Arcudi family!

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