Newtown news of 25, 50, 75 and 100 years ago, from the files of The Newtown Bee. ...Read Full Article
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By Jan Howard
A stone structure that once housed goats became Newtown’s hottest place for an evening out in 1952. The Minkdale Farm barn became La Ronda, a nightclub located off Route 25 on Orchard Hill Road. The La Ronda also took a small place in sports history when it was used in 1960 as a training camp for boxer Floyd Patterson.
In the December 12, 1952 Newtown Bee, the La Ronda was described as a sumptuous restaurant, decorated in traditional Spanish style with a revolving stage. Its official opening was celebrated on Friday, December 19.
The proprietors were Enric and Pat (Gilmore) Madriguera, who moved to Newtown and purchased the farm in 1947. They opened the supper club in 1952 after rebuilding the stone barn that had formerly housed goats and creating a long driveway from Route 25 to make the club more accessible.
Mr Madriguera, born in Barcelona, was a musician who had won a worldwide reputation as an orchestra leader and interpreter of Latin American songs. A concert violinist as a boy, he came to the United States at the end of World War I and studied with Leopold Auer in New York and Chicago. In 1930 he became interested in Latin American music and formed his own orchestra. He acquainted many people with the rumba, samba, and tango.
Patricia Gilmore joined the orchestra in 1938 as a singer and became an immediate hit. She was a star in her own right with an NBC show.
Prior to the club’s official opening that evening, the December 19 edition of The Bee reported that members of the press had been had entertained in a preview of the restaurant. The Bee reported that Swiss Chef Armin served a continental-type dinner in the intimate dining room, at one end of which game and roasts turned slowly over a charcoal fire. After dinner, the grill was replaced by a piano in front of scenery representing Sugar Loaf in Rio de Janeiro.
Mrs Madriguera, who was widely known for her radio work and stage appearances with her husband’s orchestra, entertained with several songs, as she did every evening following the opening, accompanied by Ande Wayne at the piano. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, La Ronda offered dancing to Mr Madriguera’s orchestra.
La Ronda was sold out for its opening night. It had a capacity of 100 diners.
The newspaper reported that the nightclub featured traditional Spanish colonial themes with a number of innovations. Its Moorish influence was seen in the exterior of the building and interior columns. The cocktail lounge and â€œgarden roomâ€ were covered with Spanish tiles sent to Mr Madriguera by his mother in Barcelona.
Â The grill and fireplaces were decorated with picture tiles. The cocktail lounge, called the Majoica room, was dominated by a realistic marine life group placed in the wall.
Resident Caroline Stokes remembers the nightclub but never dined there. She and former resident Caryl Stratton said the nightclub catered mostly to people from New York City and was a little pricey for local residents.
The last advertisement for La Ronda appeared in The Bee in mid-1955 but the nightclub continued to operate after that date.
Before it was the La Ronda, the property was the site of a farm that raised mink and goats. In July 1932, The Newtown Bee reported that A.F.A. Konig, the “genial proprietor” of Minkdale Farm, was “making improvements on his attractive property.” The paper reported that in addition to raising mink for their pelts, he was raising Toggenberg goats and selling their milk.
“The animals are as tame and gentle as kittens and run all about the hillsides,” The Bee said.
At that time Mr Konig told The Bee that raising and breeding of mink was of “comparatively recent date” and that a small number of people were involved in the occupation. He said extensive trapping of wild mink had brought about a scarcity of skins, which resulted in the endeavor to breed the animal in captivity. He noted that it took 75 to 100 skins to make one mink coat.
In January 1932, Mr Konig wrote an article in The Bee in which he discussed the raising of mink, describing the size of their pens, which were equipped with bathing tubs and exercise wheels to keep the animals trim. He also explained the number of kids in a litter, what they were fed to enhance the quality of their fur, and the 19 different varieties of mink then available in the country.
In 1936, Minkdale Farm was selling goat milk to a dairy in Bridgeport. There were 46 goats in the herd, as reported on July 10. In 1938, The Newtown Bee reported that 800 people from 23 states had visited the model goat farm.
Mr Koenig was a past president of the Milk Goat Breeders Association and in 1938 was treasurer of the American Goat Society. He was quoted as saying that interest in goats had been growing, and that the health-giving qualities of goat milk were being more and more appreciated.
In the May 13, 1960 issue of The Bee, there is a photograph of boxer Floyd Patterson “in a thoughtful mood” outside his training quarters at La Ronda, after a flurry of vigorous training. He had finished three rounds with three different sparring partners and a routine of shadow boxing, bag punching, rope skipping, and exercises, and was facing the questions of a Swedish newsreel reporter.
“The dethroned champion will seek to recover the heavyweight title at the Polo Grounds on June 20 when he meets Ingemar Johansson in a return bout,” the paper said.
The June 24 issue of The Newtown Bee described his “stunning and historic triumph” over Mr Johansson. He was the first fighter to regain a heavyweight crown.
The story noted townspeople felt a part of his comeback because his training here brought the champion into contact with local people. Many had apparently visited him at La Ronda to watch training workouts, and others had contributed in a variety of ways to his well-being since he had begun his training here the previous fall.
The boxer was described as “modest, retiring, and paradoxical.” Ralph Tullock of Tru Value said, “Patterson was quite a gentleman, a real gentleman. It was a pleasure to have him here.”
Representatives of local supermarkets claimed a little of the credit for Mr Patterson regaining his crown. Ronald Baxter of the Grand Union said, “We like to think it was our steaks that did it.” He said Mr Patterson was in the store often, but he never arrived in a car. He was always walking.
Mrs Richard Hibbard of Flagpole Fountain was certain all those double egg malteds she prepared for Mr Patterson added to the power behind that “picture-punch” left hook in the fifth round.
Bob Otto of the Texaco Service Station had a picture Mr Patterson had given him in a prominent place in his office. He met Mr Patterson on a Sunday during the winter when he couldn’t start his car. Mr Otto soon had him on his way.
Mrs Kendall Hathaway of the Hawley Manor was busy because of the fight promoters, publicity persons, and sportswriters who stayed at the inn during the months the fighter trained here. One afternoon after the fight, she apparently had a rush call from La Ronda for a thick steak for a publicity photo.
The story noted that although sportswriters’ datelines from La Ronda frequently deprived Newtown of its second”, the writer was “certain that Newtown’s niche in boxing history, though small, is now secure. Never before has the heavyweight title, once lost, been regained.”
It had all started, according to Newtown realtor Ned Foster, who negotiated the lease on La Ronda, with a phone call the previous summer from a colleague in Southport who knew a group of men who were looking for a farmhouse for a short term — a place to train or just sit around for a while. Mr Foster said, following that conversation, he “bumped into” Mr Madriguera, and after meetings with various town officials and negotiations with representatives of Mr Patterson, the six-month lease was signed.
On June 24, 1960, The Bee reported there was still a small hand-lettered cardboard sign on Route 25 indicating the way to the Patterson Training Camp. After Mr Patterson left La Ronda, a reporter noted, “It is as if it had never happened, almost.” All that remained was a few empty cigarette packages, cloudy flash bulbs, and a yellowing copy of a June 17 newspaper.
The writer noted, “Can this be the same place the sportswriters giddily termed everything from a ‘depressing dive’ to a ‘sleazy abandoned roadhouse’? On this early morning of the first day of summer it looked beautiful and a little proud along the edges.”
On July 8 Floyd Patterson, who had left Newtown quietly after church on June 19 as a challenger, returned as a champion with bands playing. At Edmond Town Hall, he was greeted by loud applause and besieged with handshakes and autograph seekers. It took him nearly 20 minutes to cross the sidewalk and reach the steps. Inside at ceremonies in the gymnasium, he was presented with a proclamation setting aside that day as Floyd Patterson Day and presented with a “key” to Newtown by Wally Cox, a Newtown resident, who is best known for his role in Mr Peepers. Mr Patterson was made an honorary Jaycee and then rode on a United Fire Company truck to the annual firemen’s carnival at the Italian Community Center on Route 34. At the carnival, he was presented with a chief’s hat and made an honorary chief.
On September 25, 1962, contractors razed Mr Patterson’s former training headquarters at the La Ronda Restaurant. Sonny Liston won the championship from Mr Patterson in the first round of their title bout that evening. The former restaurant was demolished for a contemplated residential development in that area.