Coogan Pavilion, Edgewood Park, New Haven

Open Invitation

A photo essay.

Coogan Pavilion hasn’t always looked so sharp, though it’s always had sharp features.

Erected in 1961, the tall triangular building at the top of Edgewood Park, named for the longtime director of the city’s parks and recreation department James E. Coogan, was purportedly modeled after Swiss chalets then-mayor Richard Lee had witnessed while on vacation. For decades the pavilion was the place to lace up before hitting an adjacent open-air ice skating rink. It was also the place to warm up, and maybe grab a concession, after a session on the ice.

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Like many beloved public assets over the years have done, the rink slowly melted away. Old reports in the New Haven Register pin the beginning of its decline to 1986, its final closure to 1989 and its replacement by a paved skate park to 1999. Riding the rollerblade trend whose heyday was probably already over, the 1999 unveiling billed it as an “inline skate park.” In 2016, at least, it sees more boards and bikes than blades.

Through it all, the pavilion held on, hosting wintertime chili cookoffs, summertime children’s camps, Halloween-time haunted houses and anytime candle-making workshops—until 2012, that is, when its dated wood-, brick- and shingle-heavy structure was wrecked by fire.

It could’ve been the end of Coogan Pavilion. But government and community responded, and the building was not only salvaged but also greatly improved. Reopened in February 2015, it does a lot of what it used to do, holding summer camp sessions and the like. But the upgrades are many, including expanded rec space, a modernized climate control system and an attractive, indestructible-looking roof over the main portion. There’s still graffiti on the exterior, but instead of the blightish, hodgepodge vandalism that had begun to creep up the old Coogan Pavilion like an invasive plant, the work that’s there now is artful, inspirational and performed with full sanction.

The most striking difference, however, is seen in Coogan’s tall triangular ends. Where once there was mostly solid surfacing, there are now walls of windows reaching up to parallel peaks. Facing northwest and southeast, they open up the space, inviting in the light of the sun and the hue of the sky, and making Coogan Pavilion remarkably inviting.

Coogan Pavilion
Edgewood Park (entrance at Whalley Ave and Fitch St), New Haven (map)…

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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