STRATFORD - Fire destroyed one of Connecticut's historic and cultural landmarks early Sunday morning. The American Shakespeare Festival Theatre, where actors from Katharine Hepburn to Christopher Walken trod the boards, burned to the ground.
The historic theater on the shore of the Housatonic River opened in 1955 with a performance of Julius Caesar. In its heyday in the 1960's and 70's, performers including Fred Gwynne, James Earl Jones, Kim Hunter, Hal Holbrooke, Ed Asner and Barbara Barrie performed on its stage. When it ran out of funding the state took ownership, but by 1989 the theater closed and eventually the town assumed control. The town was preparing to restore the historic theater.
But at about 1 a.m., firefighters were called out and found the building already fully engulfed in flames. The building partially collapsed, and was still burning in spots at 6 a.m.
Stratford community members were heartbroken as they gathered too see what was left of the structure.
"I saw some Shakesperean plays here…i enjoyed more after the play left..they would bring musical groups like Motown," says Judy Amarks, from Stratford.
"It was just a beautiful place to come and walk your dog have lunch, go and see the plays," says Deborah Redmond, who is also from Stratford.