It Was A Beautiful Banner Day
Jack and Ceil Banner's Resort Grew To Be the Largest in CT, Attracting Thousands of Vacationers to Moodus
By Ken Simon
Banner Lodge was the best known and largest of East Haddam campgrounds, cottage colonies and resorts, which had their heyday from the 1930s to the 1960s..
Like many other Moodus resorts, the Banner property was first a farm. Started by Samuel "Pop" Banner in 1922, Pop's son Jack and his siblings began to invite people to stay at the farm. Though years of hard work and continual expansion, Banner Lodge became. one of the state's leading vacation and outing destinations.
Former Banner Lodge staff during a July 2018 reunion at the GrandView Hotel, now Grandview Camping and Cottages.
Here are the Banner lifeguards and athletic director in the late sixties (top photo) and at the 2018 reunion. Top (L-R): Robert Bernstein, Mark Perkell, Stephen Pevar, David Baggish, Ken Simon. Bottom (L-R): Stephen Pevar, Ken Simon, Mark Perkell, David Baggish, Stan Bernstein.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Banner Guests were kept happy with numerous activities and attractions. Many guests returned year after year, first as singles, then with their families, staying for a week or two or longer. The resort was the largest of the many in Moodus that catered to Jewish vacationers.
The pastoral setting combined with a full schedule of food, sports and entertainment provided years of pleasure for guests from New York City, Boston and throughout Connecticut. Another key to the Banner success, especially in the 1940s through the 50s, was a thriving singles scene.. Countless "Banner couples" met there, married., and returned year after year, often with their kids.
For many years after Jack Banner's death, in 1979, the 430-acre property deteriorated until it resembled a war zone. Half-built, vandalized and crumbling structures dominated the forlorn landscape. Most of the original buildings that had marked the resort all but disappeared -- demolished as part of a misbegotten revitalization scheme in the mid-1980s.
The main building, which combined the upstairs residence of Jack and Ceil Banner with the downstairs resort offices, was thoroughly trashed. The Olympic swimming pool, once a star of Banner advertising and the focus of daytime activity, stood empty and beyond repair, marred by huge cracks.
Ugly undergrowth was everywhere as nature threatened to obliterate what remained of the once renowned vacation playground. It was a squatters' paradise.
It was impossible to tell from this depressing mess that back in the Banner heyday, more than 700 people, singles, couples and families could party all day and into the evening before bedding down in the resort's rustic cabins and motel-like buildings. Hundreds more could be accommodated for day outings and activities, from high school outings to the largest corporate events.
Business had been in decline since the 1970's, a victim of cheap airfare and changing vacation habits. By the time of Jack's death in 1979, the resort had long since peaked. The only going concern was the golf course, which continued to attract golfers to its pleasant rolling hills. Before his death, Jack had received approval from the town to build 85 condos on the resort property as part of his vision to update and future-proof the Banner Lodge experience.,
Jack's death brought those plans to a halt. Eventually, the condo approvals and the beauty of the property attracted a bunch of slick New York City real-estate operators. For a short time after the sale, things looked promising. Dozens of carpenters arrived from out of state and started to remake the face of the resort. The crew demolished some buildings, renovated others and built still others from the ground up. The main hall was restyled with contemporary Victorian architectural flourishes. Condo-style resort units were quickly built.
Soon partner infighting, the 1980's real estate bust and good old-fashioned incompetence combined to bring the Banner Lodge property to its knees. One day, construction and demolition activity stopped overnight. The partners became unreachable and the property mired in a jumble of competing liens and other legal slush.
Through it all, the golf course continued to operate,, although course maintenance was minimal. Just down the road, the old resort buildings were a sorry sight, in ruins. Those that were inhabitable were occupied by squatters, some by legal tenants, early buyers of the first condos to be built. Junk vehicles littered the property.
In 2005, prospects considerably brightened for the increasingly forlorn property. After about two decades of inaction and several failed attempts at a sale and redevelopment, the Banner property was sold for $7.3 million in early 2005 to developers Anthony and Frank Longhitano of New Rochelle, New York. The brothers planned to bring the property to country-club status. They hoped to build 200 to 300 townhouses, single-family houses and rental apartments over the next five years. Today, there are XX condos built and occupied. Although sale prices started at about $299,000 in 2005, these days, no new condos are being built or sold. Resales start at $XXXXXX and go up from there.
The Longhitano brothers put most of the property up for auction in January 2019. No acceptable bids were received. The property is still for sale.
Whatever the future holds for Jack Banner's old creation, tens of thousands of vacationers and employees who knew it in its heyday retain pleasant memories of their time there. What follows are resort memories and evocative photos dating from the resort's beginnings and continuing to its sad, last days.
The Banner staff, like at most town resorts, included local and out-of-state teens and 20-somethings. It was a summer job that allowed numerous opportunities for social activity and casual parties. In 1952, Banner Lodge staff and Moodus townies celebrated front office employee Sylvia Sober's 21st birthday. Here's a clip of that party.
For most guests, Jack Banner personified Banner Lodge. Along with his wife Ceil and other close relatives, Jack had built the resort up from its humble beginnings as a dairy farm. His dad "Pop" Banner started the farm in 1922 on land that he purchased from relatives. Jack was an ubiquitous presence at the resort, charming guests, greeting entertainers and managing the outside staff and the grounds.
Heavily involved in local and state politics for many years, Jack was an key advocate of the Connecticut tourism business. As a Connecticut State Representative, Banner was the prime force in getting the state to rescue the Goodspeed Opera House from its use as a state DOT garage in the 1960's.
Jack's death in 1979 sealed the resort's future. Changing vacation habits had already made for a tough atmosphere. In an attempt to deal with changing times, Jack had grand plans for a condo development but those plans stalled after his death and things deteriorated from there.
During the 1940s, 50s and 60s the entertainment roster included popular bands, singers, comedians and dancers. On Fridays and Saturdays, the playhouse would host popular performers who traveled the country's resort and nightclub circuits and later appeared on comedy, variety and talk television programs. In the 40s and 50s, the Banner staff also provided entertainment, in the form of goofy skits, sing-alongs and comedy.
There were three stages at Banner Lodge. The large playhouse, which was built in the 1940s, could seat about 500 people. This main stage was bracketed by a coffee shop, a den-like card room, a ping-pong room and an arcade space with games and pinball machines.
In the 1950s, a nightclub was built in the basement, which extended the typical Banner day into the wee hours.
A small stage was also situated at one end of the Olympic-size swimming pool, where bands and other entertainers would entertain.