The automobile was one of the worst things to happen to American cities.
Or, more importantly, city designs.
Cars became commonplace in America in the mid-1900s. And afterwards, many historic CT downtowns throughout the country met their end via the wrecking ball.
But one little stretch of Stamford’s cityscape escaped a similar fate. And it’s more cherished with each passing year: Bedford Street in downtown Stamford, Connecticut.
Stretching from Broad Street to Ridgeway-Bulls Head, Bedford Street is a microcosm of Stamford.
This street is a major draw for its unique boutiques, delectable cafes, and vibrant atmosphere.
Though the architecture and history of Bedford Street is pretty impressive.
History of Bedford Street in Stamford, CT
Downtown Stamford contains several integrated and well-preserved streetscapes of historic buildings.
And Bedford Street represents one concentrated section of Stamford’s commercial history. Part of the much larger downtown Stamford historic district, Bedford Street is unique for its development in the 1920s and ‘30s.
The beginnings of Stamford’s Commercial District
Downtown Stamford became the city’s commercial hub because it was the oldest and most centrally located-spot in the city.
The commercial district expanded outward from the original settlement core, centered on:
- Atlantic Street, running north and south
- And Main Street, running east and west
By the 1920s, conventional dense commercial growth came to a stop at the railroad tracks to the south and Main Street (U.S. Route 1) to the east and west. From there, more dispersed, automobile-oriented development took over.
Bedford Street’s transformation in the nineteenth century
The business sector only continued to expand conventionally to the north, along Bedford Street. What started as just Atlantic Street’s northern extension became its own prestigious area.
For the most of the nineteenth century, there was minimal industrial and/or commercial activity on Bedford street. The 1837 Beer’s Atlas shows a stove foundry and a tin factory, while the 1867 Beer’s Atlas depicts a simple lumber yard. And yet, large middle-class dwellings and at least one true mansion coexisted with all the uses. The latter mansion occupied the future site of the Ferguson Library, in fact.
That said, the wealthy lost interest in all save the northern section of downtown. As in most downtowns at the time, close-by mixed-use, lower-income areas became unfashionable. In contrast to other downtown streets, Bedford Street eventually became the place for more expensive stores.
To be fair, it had the most potential for growth, thanks to its northern orientation. The majority of Stamford’s undeveloped property was there, after all. And middle-class neighborhoods also surrounded Bedford Street.
By the 1890s, mixed-use zones had become single-use, for example:
- And residential
The sole non-residential use that remained at the lower end of Bedford Street was a private boys school.
Bedford Street before World War II
The five-story Bedford Park apartment building, built in 1925, is located at the intersection of Bedford and Spring Streets. It was one of the city’s earliest “elevator apartment buildings.” It was a figurative step-up from the less expensive walk-up tenements of lower income regions. Construction of this building laid the groundwork for future commercial development on the street.
The southern end, in contrast, did not experience commercial growth until the 1930s. The first commercial structures popped up here several years later.
Merchants wishing to keep their street’s high status founded the Bedford Street Association in 1939. The area quickly developed a distinct identity apart from downtown. Most importantly, it had an aura of prestige drawn from the surrounding residential neighborhood.
Specific uses here were more upmarket. For example, in 1948, the bulk of street level uses were:
- Clothing boutiques
- Two fur stores
- And five gift shops that catered to wealthy housewives
A variety of pharmacies, bakeries, a leather shop, and a hardware store served the wider community. The grocery store was an upscale food store, and the liquor stores called themselves “spirit shoppes”. The names implied that even the most basic applications reflected affluent preferences. Over 50 professional offices occupied the upper levels, including:
- A juvenile court
- Legal services
- Seven doctors
- Nine dentists
- And nine lawyers
The Avon Theater was significant for attracting customers from a larger radius than most other businesses. It also generated activity in the area after regular business hours.
There hasn’t been much significant building development since the mid-1940s. Given that urban renewal has destroyed much of Stamford’s historic core, this is exceptional.
Modern, postmodern, and beyond on Bedford Street
- Its prominence
- And the vocal presence of the Bedford Street Association
Bedford Street survived 1970s urban renewal plans and accompanying wave of high-rise development.
While particular uses have changed to meet the needs of various enterprises. And yet the region remains appealing for small businesses. The most visible change is the growth of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. Women’s clothing businesses departed for the mall. All medical offices closed, and architectural and business firms now use their former locations.
Architecture on Bedford Street
Historic Bedford Street is mostly influenced by early- to mid-20th century commercial structures. The buildings range from one to four stories.
Many different Art Deco elements combine geometric and stylized motifs with projecting piers. Other examples represented include a variety of styles from the early 1900s:
- A Classical Revival temple of distyle-in-antis design
- Spanish Eclectic displaying terra cotta ornament details
- Late Gothic Revival displays foliate corbels and arcades of pointed arches
- Even Tudor Revival styles make an appearance in some of the 1920s residential buildings
That said, the Art Deco style is the most distinguishing architectural concept here. These buildings along the southern end of Bedford Street form the city’s largest collection of Art Deco structures. They are aesthetically distinct due to their proximity to the existing historic district. The tops of projecting piers that rise above the facades to enter the sky dominate the roof line. Contrast that to the existing historic district, often distinguished by some sort of cornice.
Some of the major buildings to be on the lookout for while walking the street include:
The Avon Theatre Film Center
The Avon Theater has a magnificent Neoclassical façade with distyle-in-antis columns and pilasters. And it’s all capped by Temple-of-the-Winds capitals. It also includes a huge third story defined by an inventive curving recess in the center above the original design’s portico. The portico is then accented by a towering, projecting vertical sign.
Ferguson Library is a two-story Georgian Revival brick edifice. It sits at the corner of Broad and Bedford Streets. Egerton Swartwout designed, and Hedden Company built the library in 1910. It has two low wings with large arched windows flanking a high central portico. Four Ionic columns and a modest modillioned pediment support the portico. Arched niches surround the main door, and the top is adorned with an arched panel with garlanded appliques.
Notable interior elements flank the lobby as:
- An open arcade at the front and back
- The side arcades with engaged columns and glass-paned arches
The new (1981) addition in back is two to four stories tall and composed of reinforced concrete, glass, and marble.
Latham Park, AKA Bedford Park
The 19th century Universalist Unitarian Church and old Congregational Church overlook Bedford Park. This trapezoidal-shaped small green space acts as Stamford’s city green. You’re sure to see citizens strolling, playing lawn games, or enjoying a picnic here, depending on the time of day.
Shopping and Dining
Bedford Street, home to a plethora of retailers, eateries, and coffee shops, has plenty to keep you entertained.
Shopping on Bedford Street
High-end retail boutiques meet chic cafes and unique specialized stores on Bedford Street. There’s a little bit of everything on this little section of street.
Be on the lookout for:
- Zemo Men’s Store: a long-standing company specializing in formalwear, custom tailoring, and traditional men’s clothing
- French Country Furniture USA: vendor of French country furniture from southern Europe, plus a workroom for furnishings and upholstery
- Whim: a one-of-a-kind women’s clothing boutique
- Downtown Golf: a golf shop that focuses on club fitting, maintenance, and instruction before you hit the links at the public golf courses nearby
Bedford Street Restaurants
Bedford Street is also a popular dining destination. Small cafes to fine dining places line the street. And restaurants in historic buildings add to the street’s attractiveness and ambiance. It’s an even better place to eat in the summer with ample outdoor seating.
Some top picks of Stamford restaurants that line Bedford Street include:
- Chez Vous Bistro: a relaxed, comfortable café in a historic stone structure serving wine and modern French cuisine
- Remo’s: traditional Italian cuisine, gourmet brick-oven pizza, sandwiches, and freshly baked bread are served at this laid-back restaurant
- Lorca: a modern, cheerful cafe that serves pastries, breakfast dishes, coffee drinks, and sandwiches
- Fish Restaurant + Bar: stylish restaurant with a full bar, patio, and a seafood-focused Sunday brunch buffet
- Bedford Diner: A classic diner offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a strip mall a little higher up Bedford Street
- Capriccio Cafe: during the summer months, this easygoing, contemporary Italian restaurant serving wine and food spills out onto a large sidewalk dining area along Bedford Street
- Tigín Irish Pub: Craft beer pints, pub games, and inventive takes on traditional Irish pub fare are served in a neighborhood hangout where this writer spent many a night in their 20s
- Kyushu Ramen & Sushi: a relaxed neighborhood ramen restaurant serving Japanese comfort food in an industrial setting
Events and Activities on Bedford Street
Bedford Street also hosts a variety of year-round events, markets, and live performances.
Arts & Crafts on Bedford
Buy one-of-a-kind handcrafted items made by local and regional artisans at the Arts & Crafts on Bedford event.
WineFest on Bedford
WineFest on Bedford attendees can enjoy lawn games and live music in Latham Park while sampling wines from over 35 wineries.
Brews on Bedford
Brews on Bedford serves beer samples from a variety of worldwide, regional, and local craft CT breweries. Besides the outstanding beer, the event will feature live music, lawn games, and regional food vendors at Latham Park.
Stamford Greek Festival
Enjoy authentic Greek food, games, and dance with the Archangels Greek Orthodox community on Bedford Street. The Stamford Greek Festival is the perfect place to try their famed spanakopita or by taking part in amusing activities and music.
Explore even more attractions near Bedford Street, a microcosm of Stamford, Connecticut
You may have noticed that this writer is a fan of Bedford Street.
But its architecture, cuisine, and events are not the only draw to downtown Stamford!
A few more Stamford attractions on or close to Bedford Street include:
- The Palace Theatre hosts a variety of events, including musical concerts, dramatic shows, and humorous performances.
- Rich Forum: This performing arts center hosts a variety of live acts, including dance, theater, and music.
- The First Presbyterian Church is known as the Fish Church for its unusual shape and is a remarkable piece of modernist architecture.