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It was 1989 . . . Jay Misencik and Geralene Valentine were operating a commercial photography studio in Bridgeport, CT. They were working in approximately 5,000 sq. ft. of renovated loft space in a 100 year-old building that once housed the Rose Dress factory.
That summer Jay and Geralene began photographing the people on Bridgeport’s Main Street. They hoped to show the City’s rich diversity by focusing on the different occupations that existed on Main Street. There was the butcher, the barber, the bootblack, the police officer, the museum curator, the bank president, the psychic advisor, and a newspaper “boy” who would soon celebrate his 81st birthday.
Jay and Geralene met Barbara Jean Zanesky. Barbara was operating the Joy Center Church Ministries out of the building complex that housed the Palace and Majestic Theatres, a hotel, and several storefronts . . . all on Main Street. The Palace and Majestic Theatre complex had no heat, a leaking roof and was plagued by tax problems and court litigation. The “Joy Center” offered daycare services, evangelical religious services, drug and alcohol treatment, spiritual guidance, and sometimes just a safe place to spend the night. Barbara took on the task of helping many of Bridgeport’s most needy people.
Jay and Geralene spent time photographing several people at the “Joy Center”. With limited electrical service in the theaters, Emil and Bob Rolleri at the Ocean Sea Grill let them run an extension cord from their restaurant across Main Street to light the theatres. This made the initial photography of the theatres’ architectural highlights possible. They photographed the theaters every now and then for the next three years.
The City of Bridgeport took ownership of the building complex in January 1992.
After 19 years, in the summer of 2011, Jay and Geralene went back into the theatres to take more photographs. The Ocean Sea Grill was gone but the City had upgraded the electrical service to the theatres, which made it easier to photograph the theatres’ interiors.
Their Main Street portrait series and early Palace & Majestic theatre photographs led Jay and Geralene to their two current Bridgeport projects . . . The Bridgeport Portrait Project and Poli’s Palace & Majestic Theatres Memories Project.