By Dan Shine
In The News, 1971
By 1971, West Haven had entered its fiftieth year as an entity unto itself. In August, a sixteen day celebration took place throughout the city, including a parade with floats, a fairground midway at Morse Park that included rides, shows, an art show, a clambake, a contest between local rock bands, an anniversary ball and fireworks. “Hike For West Haven” covered a twelve-mile journey around the city and attracted hundreds of volunteer workers and thousands of participants.
Even as all of this was taking place, the normal day-to-day events of West Haven continued to make the news:
In keeping with the 1963 mandate-by-referendum, the time-worn Savin Rock amusement area was razed in 1967. In 1971 the redevelopment program for our shoreline had gotten off to a rocky and controversial start, continuing the seemingly endless controversy of how to put the best face on West Haven’s shoreline. While initial plans called for a 4-6 acre “open space” in the area of Bradley Point and the Rock itself, this project, which lasted through twenty years and several administrations would ultimately give West Haveners a 40-acre public park and a vast expanse of open shoreline.
Early in the year, Mayor Alexander Zarnowski, who had been mayor since 1966 was rumored to be considering dropping out of the 1971 mayoral race. Eventually however, he did run for re-election against Bill Heffernan who defeated him in the November municipal election. Despite their differences, Zarnowski visited Heffernan at Democratic headquarters after the polls closed, congratulated him, and offered a cooperative transition of power. The newspapers characterized both contenders as excellent family men with sterling characters and noted that West Haven was the richer for their presence.
For many years, July 3 was the date for the West Shore Fire Department’s annual carnival. Many of us can fondly recall the rides, the foods, the midnight fireworks and the friendships that were a big part of a child’s summer fun.
John Onofrio, long time principal at Harry M. Bailey Middle School was awarded the Doctor of Philosophy degree from Fordham University in June of that year. His career began as a teacher at Noble School, First Avenue School and West Haven High School. He served as principal of Forest Elementary and Bailey Middle School, Assistant Superintendent of West Haven Schools, Deputy Superintendent of Schools and finally Superintendent of Schools, retiring in 1995 after his 40 year tenure.
Following the first Earth Day which had taken place the year before, a group of concerned high school student junior ecologists prepared a series of articles for the local newspapers, which expressed their concern for the environment, and proposed quite a number of actions which they hoped would be taken in order to clean up West Haven’s neighborhoods, marshes and beaches.
Very early one morning in May, a home on Milton Avenue exploded and burned, killing one occupant, and leaving a lasting impression on the neighborhood, for blocks around. It was determined that a large quantity of fireworks had been stored in the home and that they were the cause of the explosion.
In November, former West Haven football stars, brothers Vinny and Pete Sgro returned to the New Haven area as members of the University of Pennsylvania football team as that team faced Yale University’s team in Yale Bowl. Both brothers had played on West Haven’s celebrated 1968 state championship team, and were pleased to see a crowd of West Haveners attending the game to cheer them on.
Of course, this only scratches the surface of what happened during one year in the life of our town, but it is this writer’s hope that the foregoing brings back some memories for our older readers, and gives our younger readers some insight as to what was happening in West Haven 50 years ago.