World Class Entertainment
New London is known for its convenient location about halfway between New York and Boston, but that doesn’t mean you need to travel to either to gain access world class entertainment. Thanks to historic and culturally rich institutions like the Garde Arts Center and Hygienic Art, you can experience the best in theater, music and art right here in your own backyard.
Garde Arts Center
The Garde Arts Center encompasses an entire city block of adjoining buildings including the Garde Theater, the Mercer Building, the Garde Building, and the Garde cottage. Most notable is the Garde Theater, one of the few remaining movie houses from Hollywood’s Golden Era. The historic 1420-seat theater was built in 1926 during the height of motion picture and vaudeville and played an integral role for decades in the New London and Southeastern Connecticut entertainment world. It was once hailed “one of the finest theaters in New England” but fell into a decline during the 60s and 70s and was finally forced to close in 1977. In 1985 it was sold to the newly created non-profit Garde Arts Center, Inc.
The Garde made its triumphant return in 1987 when the Eastern CT Symphony Orchestra made it their home, and from then on it has continued to gain national recognition for its unique architecture and fine programming, which over the years has included performances by Marvin Hamlisch, Itzhak Perlman, Johnny Cash, Tony Bennett and Bob Dylan.
The recently restored state-of-the-art, Moroccan-inspired theater now plays host to national Broadway musical tours, headliner entertainment, dance, opera, family and special events and authors, as well as contemporary, classic and independent films and movie premieres.
Upcoming shows include Melissa Etheridge, Rosanne Cash (daughter of Johnny Cash) and Chaz Palminteri’s A Bronx Tale. For ticket info, visit https://gardearts.org/events/. Please note that shows have been and may be rescheduled due to COVID-19.
Hygienic Art is another New London venue steeped in rich history, dating all the way back to 1844 when it was known as the Harris Building. Named after its builder Captain Harris, a member of one of New London’s prominent whaling families, it was first used as a ships provision store and crew quarters.
After the city was burned to the ground by British Forces in 1786, the Hygienic building was essentially rebuilt and was used as a hotel and restaurant for several years. In 1931 it became the well-known Hygienic Restaurant and Delicatessen. The restaurant was extremely popular in the 40s and 50s and President Roosevelt even dined there during a visit to New London. After the slow decline of the city, the establishment began to attract a bad element, and then in 1979 local artists began holding yearly non-juried art exhibitions there, modeled after the Salon des Independants movement in Paris.
When the restaurant closed its doors in 1985, it remained vacant until 1996, when the artists who started the Hygienic Art Exhibitions took up a grassroots effort to save the building, ultimately purchasing it in 1998. It has since been completely gutted and rebuilt and stands now as a true testament to community activism.
The non-profit arts organization is now home to galleries, exhibitions, events, live music performances, an outdoor art park and an artist’s cooperative, featuring studio and living space for artists. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, they also now offer virtual galleries as part of their mission to make art more accessible to everyone.
To this day, the Hygienic is still best known for its annual art show, which abides by the four original rules of no judge, no jury, no fees, and no censorship. Over the years, the show has become a full-on festival celebrating the arts and enriching New London’s cultural scene.