16 Harvard: Every Property has a Story to Tell

On Sunday, February 14, Valentine’s Day we announced a list of what we believe are the Ten Most Endangered historic properties in Hartford. Not to our surprise with the media attention of our HARTBomb event, the Preservation Alliance heard from people with truly interesting stories to tell about properties with which they are connected. One such email came from Jim Newton who grew up in the house located at 16 Harvard Street. 6. 16 Harvard yesterday & today collage

We were delighted to see 16 Harvard St. on the Hartford Endangered Property list. My parents Flora and Bob Newton bought the house in 1964 and moved to Simsbury in the late 1970’s.Bob Newton was a Chief in the Hartford Fire Department and a descendent of Thomas Hooker.

The house was moved from the Batchelor School property to Harvard St. The house was remodeled in the early 1960’s and the original handrail and balusters were removed much to the dismay of the neighbors the Flamio’s. During the renovation there was a fire caused by a spark from the plumber that went up the balloon framed walls to the attic and scorched the original timbers. There is still evidence of the fire today. Bob had a woodworking shop in the basement and made many pieces of furniture there. We have been observing the property and feel sad that the house looks empty and that someone removed the two front ceiling to floor windows. The front attic had the original lead glass window, we don’t know if it is still there. It will be wonderful to see the house preserved and hopefully restored.

Jim and Mary Ann Newton

We are really pleased that attention has been focused on historic buildings which live throughout the City. Often we drive by without paying any attention to the historic significance of the properties or their important contribution to the historic fabric we cherish about Hartford. Our work is not only to draw attention to these properties but provide technical assistance to advise and guide realistic strategies of restoration and renovation. Our office welcomes inquiries and we are available to anyone. Please consider exploring our website and definitely like us on Facebook. We want to help because we believe that Historic Preservation Matters!

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Is It a Convertible?

97 Willians assessor pixAs you review the staff proposal of work to be approved by the Hartford Historic Preservation Commission at 97 Williams Street, it is somewhat puzzling.  There are several pictures of a two-family house, quite attractive, surrounded but large, mature trees.  It is a picture taken in the summer so the trees have their leaves and the property looks really good.  Well, maybe the porches could use some attention because they look as if someone has kind of knocked them around and columns and rails are somewhat askew.  The property is attractive with nice porches set on either side of the building and are painted a nice color.  Then the reality sets in as you read the request for approval.

150706 06

The applicant, 97 Williams Street. LLC, headed by Sohodra Dilchard , is requesting permission to complete a total renovation and repair of the building which has been significantly damaged by fire.  On closer inspection we realize that a fire has basically eliminated the third floor.  (link to images). Damage has been extensive throughout the property and will require a significant investment to return this two-family to a productive homeownership opportunity.  Yet Sohodra, who has good experience in renovating properties in Upper Albany Avenue, has stepped up to bring a team to make the house whole once again.  She has done several similar projects and is convinced that 97 Williams Street is a keeper.  (Unfortunately this includes asking the homeless person who lives on the damaged porch to move along.)    Her team has experience with tackling properties in such dire straits and they have been successful in turning these around.  She hired Bob Hurd, The Architects, our neighbor here at 56 Arbor Street, to guide her through the process of restoring the original exterior fabric of the house to include wood shingles, wood windows and the front porches which are truly nice.  She intends to utilize the State’s Homeowner Historic Tax Credit.  Our role has been to review the plans and to give our blessing as the project is put before the Historic Commission.  I am happy to say that the petition passed with unanimous support!

In writing I want to once again give a shout out to the City’s Department of Development Services for engaging and supporting entrepreneurs like 97 Williams Street, LLC who are dedicated to improving our neighborhoods.  Step-by-step renovation projects which attempt to preserve and protect neighborhoods are critical actions that contribute to the future of Hartford.  Their commitment needs our collective admiration and support.

Please continue to follow the progress that we will witness at 97 Williams Street.  We at the Preservation Alliance invite property owners to seek out our technical assistance to offer advice and guidance as they tackle their properties.

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A Vision, A Commitment . . . and Patience

Cargill Mills

Last week I visited one of the quiet corners of Connecticut, Putnam.  Honestly I had skirted he city many times on my way between Hartford and Providence but never actually driven into the city. My purpose was to visit the Cargill Falls Mill. This project represents “a renaissance of America’s oldest mill site merging environmental sustainability with historic character.”  I met with the visionary couple, Greg Renshaw and Leanne Parker, to walk the site and discuss a minor role which we might play in the Lofts at Cargill Falls Mill.

What I discovered is perhaps one of the most exciting and transformative projects in Connecticut. Take a site containing the oldest extant mill laying along the Quinnebaug River (which is lovely!) in various forms of decay and in need of lots of money to renovate and reuse, add the commitment to harness the River to produce hydroelectric energy and the vision to produce 82 units of housing and you have a dream defining wizardry or insanity.

Over many decades I have learned that truly good developers of historic places have the power to see vacant and abandoned buildings alive and thriving once again.  The successful projects ignore reality and see the finished development, always keeping in sight that it can happen and never losing the belief that with time and patience it will happen.  What most impresses me is the determination to bring hydroelectric power to the Mill Lofts as if the complete and total renovation of fours dilapidated buildings is not a sufficient challenge.  Think about the additional hurdles of dealing with the environmental and regulatory roadblocks inherent in fooling with a river and adding electric production to the grid!  By the way, there was an attempt to build a new bridge over the river but that’s a story for another day.

Lofts at Cargill Falls Mills

The mill buildings, there are four, date from the 1800’s to 1950’s and each has a distinct architectural style.  Visually engaging, the four buildings follow the banks of the river.  As Greg and Leanne point out, this is most fortunate in that the complex has a very strategic southern exposure.  All the residential units will enjoy amazing light.  We typically see mill buildings as monoliths.  Cargill Mills appears as a village of different materials and styles due to the eras in which each addition was added.  Yet practically speaking imagine the process simply to gain approval of the National Park Service for plans to complete an historic restoration.  Oh, do not forget that a river runs through it!  Actually the flow does in fact run under parts of the site and is channeled to produce energy.  The wisdom of the Yankee mill developers in harnessing the power of water is now to be re-purposed to produce electricity.

There is more to write about and tell of this exciting project.  Pictures are to follow as a series of before images.  The Lofts at Cargill Falls Mill is to be an interesting work in progress.  Our role is minor but strategic in a financial collaboration to bring more resources, generated through the State of Connecticut Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits, to aid in producing greater equity for the development.  Stay tuned for more information and to be a witness to this amazing project.

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By No Measure a Bureaucrat

59-61 Magnolia Street

59-61 Magnolia Street

On entering a room one first notices the impeccable attire of the person with whom we have been asked to meet.  Recently he joined the meeting, well over 6 feet,  wearing a hat, brown felt with a feather in the hat band having come in from being outside.  A medium brown suit, blue shirt, yellow tie and a caramel, what appeared to be cashmere, sweater.  Most striking were the purple polka dot socks!  I do not for a minute think this a costume as I remind myself that perhaps I am underdressed for the meeting.  Next you realize that he has commanded the meeting and assuming the role of host he takes charge with his usual enthusiasm thanking all of us for taking the time to meet because he has a project specifically, requiring a team to work together on a city-owned blighted building.  His hope is to introduce a young, eager brother and sister development team Stoneyhill Properties to the Preservation Alliance in hopes of renovating a ten-year vacant and abandoned residential property in the Promise Zone (North End) which lies in an historic district.  He know the Alliance can offer the financial opportunity of utilizing the State’s Historic Homes Rehabilitation Credit and bring additional funds to a complicated restoration plan.  More to the point this property, 59-61 Magnolia Street, holds the potential of sparking neighborhood revitalization.  The developers are committed to offering an affordable homeownership opportunity and to bring new life to Magnolia Street.  Our host is doing what he always does and does well – get people together to improve the City he loves.  He is Glenn Geathers, Neighborhood Project Manager!

Over the past several years I have come to know Glenn, typically by a voicemail summons:  “Frank, I have something important to talk about. Call me back right away on my cell”. He is the big picture guy who wrestles with Hartford’s portfolio of vacant, abandoned and blighted properties. He is also the mother hen of the churches which struggle to maintain their historic sanctuaries.   Glenn is the guy with vision.  He has worked for years to bring life back to the Northwest School at 1240 Albany Avenue, long-abandoned, and soon to be reused for a multi-purpose center.  A multi-million dollar renovation which will soon break ground has had Glenn hard at work for many years to cobble together the funds for a community asset. Glenn presents at many Neighborhood Revitalization Zones (NRZ) as an advocate on behalf of the City for neighborhood investment.  Perhaps introducing a potential developer or maybe representing Hartford itself about properties which are in great need of vision, money and effort to become vital once again.

The Magnolia Street residence is a perfect example of Glenn getting people around a table to encourage a reusing properties which is the key to redevelopment in neighborhoods.  Our role is to bring historic preservation resources -money and technical assistance – to develops.  We bring tax credit equity to the project, help to navigate the process to win approval for the renovations with the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and to teach this model for other development to follow. Glenn understands the benefit of assembling a team to make a success of a project.  In the end we all benefit as communities are re-established in Hartford.

Glenn prefers to be known as the guy who makes things happen.  He revels in his role and seeks to continue to be a much-needed advisor choosing to work behind the scenes.  One wonders how he can do this wearing purple polka dot socks but…..….  We who work on behalf of the city we love need to acknowledge and cherish such dedication.  So Glenn we will always take your call!

Bureaucrat? Not by any measure.  I wish to thank him for his clever wizardry on behalf of Hartford.

It’s A Good Thing

In a previous blog I wrote about the concept and benefit of adopting a Form Based Code in Hartford as a preservation tool. One reader posed a terrific question: As I consider what neighborhood in which to buy a house what level of comfort do I gain by this code?  I want my investment to be sound.  In fact the new code would support the investment decision predictably with regulations which would inform and preserve the neighborhood feel and look.  It considers the context of the neighborhood by informing owners, developers and builders that new buildings or the reuse of existing structures needs to adhere to the preservation of form.

289 Farmington Avenue - Comet Diner

289 Farmington Avenue – Comet Diner

Living on Asylum Hill I worry daily about the vacant and abandoned diner, the Comet. Widely known and at one time or another patronized by many in the City its future is uncertain.  To be sure it exists in the Asylum Hill National Historic District and enjoys a certain protection.  Yet, what if the building were to be destroyed what might the future development look like on the site?  As it is now interest has been shown to develop a “big box” pharmacy, we all know them.  Current code would allow for the replacement of an iconic building, set back from the street with some green space surrounding to build a blacktop sea of parking with a stucco box of no architectural merit.  In my humble opinion it condemns an intersection of Farmington Avenue to contain soulless commerce where once it contained residential and retail energy.  (For you who know the City think of the creation of the CVS and Walgreens at the intersection of Washington and Park Streets.)  Rather with the establishment of a new code redevelopment of the corner would require consideration to scale, building placement and type of structure which would be compatible preserving a feel of the neighborhood.  By the way there exist three pharmacies along a two mile stretch going west.  As we who live along Farmington Avenue strive to improve the community Form Base Code become an ally.

I will get off the soapbox (not so very likely) with drawing attention to one more example. Across from South Green where Wethersfield Avenue begins arWethersfield Avenue (blog 2)e two imposing mansions built in the 1890’s – the Borden-Munsill Mansion (yes, the house that Daisy the Cow built) that has been endangered for many years and the house Mrs. Munsill built for her son, Gail Borden Munsill.  Next door to these imposing homes is a used car lot! Existing code could not prevent the insertion of an eyesore.  With the new code such consideration to context would guide a reuse of either the former building or vacant lot to preserve the façade of what was once a truly grand avenue.

The Preservation Alliance is behind the proposed code change not simply to preserve the gems.  Our objective is to promote community development, economic development of a really historic city.  This is not accomplished by ignoring scale, context and community need.  Historic preservation matters and Form Base Code engages Hartford in that philosophy.

I would welcome any comment or questions.  Hearing from you is a terrific way to discuss how we can contribute to Hartford’s future.

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