I remember many old, long-gone buildings from my childhood.
I’m fascinated by our 2 sanitariums, downtown (now Winslow Park) and on Long Lots Road (Hall-Brooke).
I’m sorry I never got inside the original Staples High School, on Riverside Avenue (the current site of the Saugatuck Elementary School auditorium).
And I hear that whatever happened at the Compo Inn, stayed at the Compo Inn.
But nothing fascinates me like the Penguin.
I’m not talking about Le Penguin — the French bistro in Sconset Square. It’s a very good restaurant, mais oui.
But it’s nothing like the Penguin.
A white building with a nautical theme — portholes and a big anchor outside — it sat proudly on the crest of Hillspoint Road, just south of the train tracks.
The Edgewater Commons condos are there now. But for several decades — from the early 1900s through the ’40s, I think — the Penguin was the place to be.
I heard it was the first air-conditioned jazz club between New York and Boston. I heard it was a speakeasy during Prohibition. I heard there were white tablecloths and a crystal chandelier, and that George Raft and James Cagney were frequent guests.
I heard it was also a hotel, and once you left the bar for your room, anything — and everything — could happen.
By the time I got to junior high, it was long since past its prime. It looked seedy and abandoned — though it was really just an apartment building.
But word on the 8th grade street was that it was a “whorehouse.” On a dare, some friends and I walked inside. It was dark, musty, and scary as hell.
We had not thought through what we would do if we met an actual “whore.” Suddenly, a woman wearing a frumpy housecoat stepped into the dim hallway.
We fled. We did not stop running until we got to Old Mill Beach.
But boy, did we have a story to tell our gaping classmates the next day.
The Soundview Hotel. (Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)
Oh, yeah: Before it was the Penguin, it was the Miramar. Before that, it was the Soundview Hotel.
I don’t know too much else about the Penguin — or whether my knowledge of it is fact, fiction or a combination of both.
But if I ever have a chance to time travel back to the Westport of yore, I’ll head to the Penguin.
I’d hear great music. I’d eat and drink. I’d head to my room. And then … 😉