Preservation Matters: Old Buildings Have Intrinsic Value

HPA has invited a group of partners and friends to be our guest bloggers during Preservation Month. We have asked them to write on various topics surrounding the theme “Why Preservation Matters in Hartford” based on the web articles Six Reasons to Save Old Buildings and What’s ‘Historic’- and Who Says? Nine Practical Reasons to Save Old Building

photo: Geer's 1926 City Directory

photo: Geer’s 1926 City Directory

Marguerite Carnell Rodney

If you want an apartment that has unique character—not a plain vanilla box—where do you look? Most often, it’s not in a new building. By its very nature, adaptive re-use of mills and factories for housing often produces spectacular living spaces. Our firm is working on the old Capewell Horse Nail Factory, which has stood vacant for over 25 years in the Sheldon-Charter Oak neighborhood. Finally the right developer has taken on the challenge, and it will be renovated to become apartments with the distinctive industrial character of the factory building.

Photo: Crosskey Architects

Photo: Crosskey Architects

The Capewell factory, which made nails for horseshoes, was an important Hartford manufacturing center from the late 19th century to 1985. Built in 1903 after a fire that destroyed an earlier building, it’s three stories high, with a tower and a roof monitor. A single-story wing on the west side served as the storehouse. While the factory has deteriorated, it was well built and the steel and concrete structure is basically sound.

The exterior will be restored and the interior character will be retained both in the public spaces and in the apartments. The floors will remain concrete, and tenants can decorate with their choice of area rugs to add warmth. The brick walls will be left exposed. The high concrete ceilings will remain, and we are selecting pendant lights, ceiling fans, and other fixtures with just the right industrial flavor.  On the third floor, loft units will be flooded with light from the roof monitor. The apartments will look and feel like part of an early 20th century factory, with modern conveniences added for 21st century living.

Capewell April 2014 Crosskey Architects roof monitorBut the intrinsic value of old factories goes beyond their cool industrial aesthetic. Reusing old buildings almost always has less environmental impact than building new ones, and many old buildings have features that make them sustainable. Capewell’s roof monitor and large operable windows, for example, will supply lots of daylight and natural ventilation. The project will be certified as LEED-NC Gold, with photovoltaic panels on the main building and a green roof on the single-story wing. Energy efficiency savings will be passed along to the tenants, 30% of whom will qualify for affordable housing. When it reopens, this old building will add economic value and much-needed affordable housing to the city, while enhancing the character, sustainability, and well being of the neighborhood.

Marguerite Carnell Rodney is Director of Historic Preservation at Crosskey Architects, winner of multiple Hartford Preservation Alliance awards.

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Anne Cubberly – “Hartford Has Her”

A City worth living in (or visiting) requires a cultural vibrancy. As I have come back to Hartford I am rediscovering its limitless opportunities to get exposed to the arts and artists who live here. Yet, of late, I have to admit to becoming an acolyte of the merry jester of the court of staid Hartford, Anne Cubberly. As I reflect on those events which have delighted and enchanted me, Anne’s fingerprints are everywhere:

  • Nightfall – haven’t been, not done . . . yet!
  • First Night 2014: The Big Game – held in the lobby of City Hall, this “board game” navigated participants by a roll of the dice. Landing in jail required me to sing “Amazing Grace” as a penalty. All materials are recycled.
  • Boar’s Head Festival: Asylum Hill Congregational Church: a spectacular program with a cast of hundreds, live animals and presided over by an angel who floated above the audience giving each of us her full attention
  • Hartford Arts Sled Derby: in cahoots with Paul Spirito, this event takes the cold and blahs out of winter
  • Night of the Gypsies: March 1 – one can only imagine the delights which wait to chase away the blues!

So Hartford is alive and vibrant with the contributions of Anne Cubberly.

Quote the maven: “Evermore.”









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Keystone Property on Asylum Hill: 293 Farmington Avenue

293 Farmington Ave,

For several years the signature building on the corner of Farmington Avenue and Marshall Street has been abandoned.  According to the assessor’s records, it was purchased by Farmington Hari LLC in August 2009.  Since then any remaining tenants were evicted and according to rumors the building was to have been demolished.  Unfortunately for the buyers, 293 is a contributing building in the Asylum Hill (Laurel & Marshall) Historic District.  Since that time, although maintained, no activity has been evident.

The Farmington Avenue Alliance, concerned about the future of Farmington Avenue, has worked for a decade to prevent the evident decline of a major artery linking Hartford to points west.  Plans call for a holistic improvement of the corridor from Asylum Hill to the West End with a comprehensive set of activities aimed at stimulating the historic quality of the Avenue.  What cannot be lost in the great work is the preservation of key properties which make up the community fabric.  For Asylum Hill the historic building at 293 is critical to maintaining the streetscape of residences.  It was developed to mimic the townhouses of Columbia Street.  For Asylum Hill to restore such residences would be a distinct and important redevelopment activity.

What to do:

  • Ask the Hartford Preservation Alliance to seek contact with the current owners to determine what they have planned for the use of the property
  • Focus a joint task force of Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association (suggest Transportation & Economic Development Committee) and the Farmington Avenue Alliance to discuss potential reuse of the property
  • Seek an arsenal of potential financial resources which the owner might utilize in a redevelopment/reuse strategy.
  • Engage the City to become an ally in the preservation of this signature property.
  • Raise the profile of preserving keystone properties along Farmington Avenue

Sigourney Square

Sigourney image 1Several weeks ago the Hartford Old House Club ( held one of its summer meetings on Asylum Hill.  Our host was Jonathan Clark, a thirty-year veteran of Huntington Street and the lively neighborhood located in the shadow of the Aetna, the Hartford, St. Francis Hospital and St Joseph Cathedral.  Jonathan, a friend of many years, did a great job of giving us a tour of the Hill, more specifically, Sigourney Square, as he pointed out various strides in community improvement.  He had also resurrected several historic pictures and maps to give the group a taste of how Asylum Hill has developed.  Unknown to me was the installation the Lord’s Hill Reservoir which served the city briefly at the end of the 19th Century.  Apparently it didn’t work.  It was situated where the Hartford’s office tower now stands.  Much of Sigourney Square was occupied in the early 1800’s by the Town Farm!

During the tour we had the opportunity to visit the new two-family house on SargeantSigourney image 2 Street which has been renovated by Northside Institutions Neighborhood Association (NINA) and is now for sale.  Just a few steps from the Sigourney Square Park with the neatest water playscape.  This whimsy presents kids with a lively and imaginative water feature to stay cool in the summer.  Several of these playscapes are installed or being proposed around Hartford. 

 I have always been captivated by the spirit of the people living on Asylum Hill.  142 Collins Street was my first address in Hartford.  Many great people have come and gone but their work and dedication lives on.  Most recently I visited with Dulcie and Valerio Giadone and their son, Alex.  They have done some terrific renovations on houses they bought on Ashley Street.  These Italianates are lovely and make amazing contributions to the streetscape.  Sadly, the introduction of several apartment building in the 60’s truly dominates the original residential fabric of the neighborhood.  Still and all, commitment to neighborhood improvement and cohesiveness is so apparent on every block.  As neighborhoods go, this is one with much life and vitality.

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