OLD LYME — By 5 p.m. Monday, the 1930s-era building that once housed KiddieLand and prior to that O’Connor’s Dance Hall, was a jumble of metal, wood and concrete being prodded and crunched into a pile by the jaws of an excavator.
Across Hartford Avenue, building owner Frank Noe and his wife, Lois Noe, observed the process with friends and neighbors who gathered on the sidewalk to reminisce and talk about the future, some passing around old photographs.
“The structure is all down and the next move is just cleaning it up and waiting for sewers and then deciding what I’m going to do. We’re a good three or four years out,” he said, adding that the building was “beyond repair.”
Voters passed a referendum in August authorizing the town to bond $9.5 million for the construction of a gravity sanitary sewer and wastewater pump station sewer construction in Sound View, where Noe’s building is located, and Miscellaneous Town Area B. The project is expectation to receive a 25 percent Clean Water Funds grant.
The town plans to share the cost of constructing a gravity sanitary sewer and wastewater pump station with three adjacent chartered beach associations.
Noe, who purchased the building in 2013 when it was under foreclosure, said he planned to build townhouse condos on the site but final designs will depend on the market at the time.
Among those witnessing the demolition was Joel Silvestro, of Berlin, Connecticut, who owned KiddieLand from 1959 to 1981 along with his sister and two brothers. During that era, Sound View Beach was a bustling neighborhood full of food vendors, evening entertainment venues and vacationing families, he said.
“When the building came down, I saw all the spirits rising, a lot of memories,” Silvestro said, watching the excavator drag huge wooden beams to one side of the demolition site. “The place was booming when we had the El Morocco… we had Doyle’s on the beach… in the summer you couldn’t even walk the streets, there were so many people walking up and down.”
It was a different era, said Silvestro, who now owns a house in Hawk’s Nest.
“Buses would come in from Hartford, and people would stay for the weekend and we had a train station that was up at the end of the road years ago. People could come from the city easily without a car. It was a different type of life. Things change,” he said.
Silvestro, 81, said he was 19 when he and his siblings purchased the building. They sold it when their parents died, and the neighborhood began to change, he said.
“It’s very emotional, it changed. It changed after we sold, there were different people coming down here, motorcycles, and gangs,” he said. “It’s a lot of history.”
Looking through a stack of old pictures was Michael Cohen, of Old Lyme, who worked at KiddieLand from age 11 to 14.
“I grew up in West Hartford and summered here,” he said. “I worked at Kiddieland for three years — it was fun.”
Cohen said he operated KiddieLand’s rides, including the whip, the boat and the merry-go-round.
“I had to sweep the floors every night, I couldn’t leave until I got it done,” he said. “I got up to $2 an hour — and started at 75 cents.” The job “kept me out of trouble,” he laughed.
Shirley Annunziata, 82, a year-round resident of Sound View Beach, said even if the building was dilapidated and needed to be torn down, it represented a bygone time that she cherishes.
“I feel bad — it was a real eyesore and it really had to come down, but just the memories we had when we were growing up here and the things that happened in the community itself that enjoyed it, that’s what you feel kind of bad about,” she said. “But it’s a whole era that we’ll never see again, it’s the end of an era.”