Lifestyle Park Road

From the West Hartford Archives: Cypress Arms Restaurant, Park Road

Cyprus Arms at 138 Park Road in 1966. Photo courtesy of Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society

Historian Jeff Murray takes a look into West Hartford’s past to uncover some surprising information, stir up some memories, or reflect on how much life has changed – or hasn’t changed at all. Enjoy this week’s ‘From West Hartford’s Archives’ …

By Jeff Murray

Taken in 1966, this photo of the Cypress Arms Restaurant at 138 Park Road shows this business block nearly halfway between its construction in the 1920s and the closure of the restaurant in the mid-2000s.

It wasn’t until 1909 that Park Road became as subdivided as it is today. It was many acres of open land stretching west from Prospect Avenue through to Arnoldale Road, centered on a large house still standing at 9 Fairlawn Street (originally fronting on Park Road back from the street). This house was owned by Mary E. Arnold (1844-1935), whose family had owned a significant amount of land in the east side of West Hartford, and her husband James P. Allen, proprietor of the stables at the United States Hotel in Hartford.

The Arnolds were prominent Quakers, along with the Gilberts, with whom they intermarried. It is also where we get the street name Arnoldale Road, where they lived at the corner of Farmington Avenue in the early-to-mid 1800s.

James and Mary owned both sides of Park Road for decades and were proponents of the improvements to road, sewers, and water when West Hartford was debating the costs of investment in the 1890s and 1900s. In the summer of 1909, they sold the entire farm and house to a Boston real estate developer, Fred C. Tobey, who subdivided the property and named it Allen Manor.

He laid out Beverly Road (then called Calumet Street); Troy Street (then called Barker Street); Fairlawn Street; the extension of South Highland Street (then called Fairview Place); Allen Circle (which was paved over many years ago); West Beacon Street; Lockwood Terrace; and Warren Terrace. He also created Tobey Street (named after himself, of course).

It is truly impressive how much of the land changed that summer. This was Tobey’s first real estate adventure in West Hartford, but it would not be his last. Soon after, he would parcel out the Homefield Tract across the street, which included Ringgold, Crescent, and Kingston to connect with Gillette and Crosby already laid out a decade before by a neighbor on Oakwood Avenue. Tobey would also buy up everything north of Charter Oak to St. Augustine in 1916 and sell lots throughout the 1920s on this Edgewood Park tract.

Map of the area in 1909 when it was just subdivided.

One of the first blocks built on Park Road was in 1913 at the southeast corner of Oakwood Avenue by the prominent builders Kaplan Brothers of Hartford. They opened a grocery store and other shops soon after its construction. The Kaplans were involved in the building of West Hartford’s first apartment on Prospect Avenue near Farmington Avenue a few years later.

In 1928, lots 29 and 30 on Allen Manor at the northwest corner of Troy Street were bought by Louis Kaplan, who built the property there now. He leased stores in the block for the Robertson Drug Company and the Economy Grocery Company, which soon after merged with First National Stores. It was also occupied by the Park Road Bakery in the early 1930s.

When the whole block was bought by a company for investment in the spring of 1935, it contained six stores, including another drug store. The First National would remain here until the 1950s.

Next door, however, a restaurant was taking shape. In November 1935, the Cypress Arms opened under the tagline “Where Good Fellowship Reigns.” Boasting dining and dancing for many hours, the cover charge was a whopping $1.50 (that is $34 today!). Can you imagine paying the equivalent of $34 to enter a club in the middle of an economic depression?

The restaurant thrived though and a decade later, it was taken over by the DiBella family, first Anthony DiBella and later with his brothers. Anthony was also president of the Hartford Restaurant Liquor Dispensers Association. Under his stewardship, the organization pushed to limit competition by opposing taverns that serve alcohol for six days a week, abolishing clubs that allow members to bring their own alcohol, and eliminating mobile restaurant trucks that skirted regulations. This kind of regulation would better standardize restaurants when it comes to serving alcohol, but it also is a bit comedic considering that Cypress Arms became well-known for selling to minors.

A police raid in the summer of 1957 led to the arrest of a bartender for selling liquor to underage teens, which had been witnessed by undercover investigators sitting nearby. The DiBellas maintained that Cypress Arms never allowed this, but it seems at least some of its popularity in the 1960s and 1970s certainly came from its … inclusiveness.

Cypress Arms was also the site of political and other organizational meetings over the years. The Young Democrats Club met in the restaurant in April 1960 for a speech by the Secretary of State Ella Grasso, who later became the first woman to be elected governor of a U.S state in her own right (Connecticut, 1974). They met again in February 1965 to hear Harry Kleinman, West Hartford’s Democratic town chairman. The restaurant also sponsored teams in leagues for bowling, basketball, and other sports.

The restaurant remained consistently popular through the years – nostalgic posts on social media often mention the pizza and the basement. After the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18 in 1971, Connecticut followed by lowering the drinking age to 18 (although this would later be raised again). This brought an influx of younger people into the restaurant (officially this time). The DiBellas owned and managed the place until it closed in the mid-2000s and was replaced by Plan b, which is still there.

Cyprus Arms was formerly located at 138 Park Road, which is now Plan b. There are four restaurants now located along this block. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Jeff Murray was born and raised in West Hartford and has been involved with the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society since 2011 when he was a high school student and won the Meyer Prize for his essay on local history. Jeff routinely volunteers as local history researcher uncovering information for numerous museum programs such as the West Hartford House Tour and West Hartford Hauntings. Jeff works as a data analyst at Pratt & Whitney.

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1 Comment

  • My brother Tim McCarthy was the owner of the Cypress Arms from about 1988 to 2004. It was the best local pub in West Hartford.

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