It Was a Beautiful Banner Day

Banner Lodge became the largest resort in Connecticut

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 started inviting people to stay at the farm's cottage colony. By the 1940s, Banner Lodge had become one of the state's leading vacation and outing destinations.

After a Successful 50-Year Run, Banner's Met a Sad End 

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Former Banner Lodge staff during a July 2018 reunion at the GrandView Hotel, now Grandview Camping and Cottages. 

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The Banner lifeguards and athletic director in 1968 (top photo) and at a 2018 reunion at Grand View (bottom photo).  1968: (L-R): Robert Bernstein, Mark Perkell, Stephen Pevar, David Baggish, Ken Simon. 2018: (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 Moodus resorts that catered to Jewish vacationers and the largest resort in Connecticut

 

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 major marketing star 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.

 

After two decades of deterioration, inaction, and several failed attempts at 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 wanted to bring the property to country-club status. They hoped to build 200 to 300 townhouses, single-family houses and rental apartments. Today, there are about 35 condos built and occupied. Although sale prices started at about $299,000 in 2005, these days, no new condos are being built or sold. Some are rental investment properties. Existing condo sales these days start at $TKand go up from there.

The Longhitano brothers put most of the property up for auction in January 2019. No bids were received.  Then a months-long attempt to get zoning approval to build apartments in the old playhouse building failed, due in part to stiff resistance from condo owners. The property is still for sale. In 2021, the Longhitanos again tried to get approval for 20 units of affordable housing in the playhouse. Their application is being reviewed by local officials.

Whatever the future holds for Jack Banner's old creation, tens of thousands of vacationers and staffers who knew it in its heyday have pleasant memories of their time there. These pages contain resort memories and photos dating from the resort's beginnings and continuing to its sad, last days.

After Hours, the Banner Staff Often Partied On

The Banner staff, like those at most town resorts,  comprised mostly local and out-of-state teens and 20-somethings. It was a summer job that allowed many opportunities for parties and social activity. In 1952, Banner Lodge staff and some Moodus townies celebrated front office staffer Sylvia Sober's 21st birthday. Here's a clip of that party.