Art show recalls old-time Walnut Beach

There’s a bit of history hanging on the walls of Alfa’s Pizza in the Walnut Beach section of the city — images that recreate a Walnut Beach and Myrtle Beach long past, when residents walked along beach side shops and restaurants and rode the Ferris wheel and other amusement rides.

Elizabeth Wright, a local artist, retired teacher and former owner of the Beach Gallery at Walnut Beach, recently hung a series of prints that recreate some iconic scenes from the bygone days in this area.

The framed posters and some of her original paintings are for sale, with proceeds benefiting the Beth-El Center, outreach programs at Mary Taylor United Methodist Church and the Milford Boys & Girls Club.

Her artwork covers a period starting from about 1910 and running beyond the Depression years, when the Walnut and Myrtle beaches were a bustling area of shops, eateries and amusement rides.

The book Sand in Our Shoes, a pictorial history of Myrtle and Walnut beaches, paints a picture of the area at its heyday.

“As the area’s reputation became known as a wonderful vacation place, large, grand hotels were built, restaurants began to flourish, movie houses — we had two of them — were opened on Broadway, there were dance halls, a skating rink, and the new, bigger and better, Walnut Beach Park was built in 1924,” according to Sand in Our Shoes. “People came by the thousands to enjoy the shore. They came by train and trolley. From June to September, it was the place to spend the long hot summer.”
Redevelopment long ago took most of the beach cottages and those bars and restaurants, replacing them with housing and a retail plaza, which has since been replaced by new housing and new storefronts. Over the past years, residents have worked to turn Walnut Beach into an artist’s haven, drawing on its fun and colorful past and the memories that stayed strong with the people who grew up and lived there.

During her years running her Walnut Beach art shop, Wright was able to capture some of those memories from the “old timers” who talked about them.

She used those memories, plus images from old postcards, to create what she calls artistic collages of the beach area.

“I wanted to embrace the history of Walnut Beach,” she said as she hung her framed prints on the walls of Alfa’s Pizza, 54 Naugatuck Avenue, last week.

Her favorite framed poster features Penuchies, a hamburger stand that the “old timers” told her the Yankees used to eat at when they would pass through on their way to Boston. Bold oranges and blues create this scene of an open-air food stand from 1933: Empty stools surround the counter.

“People have said they’d see the entire Yankees team sitting around Penuchies, on those stools,” Wright said.

Wright said that after opening the Beach Gallery art shop at Walnut Beach in 2013, she fell in love with the area’s history through reading and looking at postcards.

“I decided to make the gallery not only a place for paintings but also for history,” she said. “I toiled over creating my own version of the many famous eateries and hotels, and adding vibrant colors.”

Her paintings and posters include the Emerald Room, where people years ago gathered to dance, Fagan’s Restaurant which later became Joy’s Restaurant, and the shorefront cottages that lined the beach.

“My original paintings and then posters never paid the rent but made me happy,” she said.

When she closed the gallery due to her husband’s health issues, she took her collection home.

Now, to reduce her inventory and help the community she is selling prints, with the hopes of raising at least $1,000 for charity.

She has about 23 different scenes. Each framed poster will sell for $40.

The pieces may be viewed at Alfa’s Pizza. There will be a formal event Tuesday, Jan. 22, from 4 to 6 p.m. where people may purchase the framed prints or order prints that have already been sold. They can also purchase some of Wright’s original paintings, or commission paintings based on other Walnut Beach postcards or images. Cash or check will be accepted.  

Mike Amoratis, who owns Alfa’s Pizza with his father Antonio (Pop) Amoratis, has been hosting local art shows like Wright’s for about two years. He said Alfa’s has been in the Walnut Beach area since 1980, and he’s happy to promote its history and artists.

Wright credits Alfa’s with offering local artists a place to display and sell their work, much as Café Atlantique does on River Street in downtown Milford.

Rick Senft, another local artist who has shown work at Alfa’s Pizza, agrees that it’s a great place to promote local artists in a section of town geared toward the arts.

“Now that the Firehouse Gallery has reduced the number of shows for local artists, it’s nice to have a place for artists to show their work to the community and keep the art scene alive,” he said.