Task Force 1

Task force meeting Oct 20 2015Of late I have reported about the effort to create a Comprehensive Community Action Plan for a six-block stretch of Farmington Avenue between Sigourney and Woodland Streets. A situational analysis was presented September 21 to a diverse and dedicated group.  We asked that people interested in creating of action steps, a timeline and key goals would gather as a task force.  Happy to say that the first meeting was held yesterday at the Hartford Preservation Alliance.

The promise to those participating is a crisp set of meetings, one hour in length. Utilizing the Framework For Action as a road map, we plan to present research articles, information and other material to inform a discussion on what are to be the established priorities.  Throughout the conversations our number one priority will be to develop a capacity to carry on with the work.  In Indianapolis, where I have participated in profound community economic development, these activities typically fall to community development corporations.  These geographically specific organizations wake each day with community as the focus.  Due to the exceptional historic fabric of Farmington Avenue the Preservation Alliance will accept the responsibility to move the action plan forward.

We presented two items to provoke discussion. First was The Harwood Study, underwritten by The Hartford in 2013.  This study helps to outline what can and should be done to improve the Hill, along with understanding the perceptions and realities facing Asylum Hill.

Secondly, our CCSU intern Jake Fusco gave a presentation about the Greenbridge Project, a program initiated by the Brooklyn Botanical Garden that offers a fairly simple solution to “softening” an urban streetscape with vegetables, plants and flowers.  And as hoped, those gathered had questions and comments immediately (ex. if planning to green up the area, it requires a structured community commitment to the project by engaged building owners and residents).

As had been anticipated, yesterday’s gathering was lively.  It is exciting to get creative, thoughtful people together in a room and let the conversation unfold.

Going forward we will continue to broadcast our progress and the steps being taken in creating and executing an action plan for this section of Farmington Avenue.  Regular updates will be made to the FarmAve section of our website.  And we encourage you to sign up for our blog notifications below.

We always welcome your advice, comments and suggestions. Collaborating with the greatest number of people possible can only benefit this city that we live, work, play and worship in.
Wish to receive our latest blog posts in your email in-box? Sign up below.

[email-subscribers namefield=”YES” desc=”” group=”Public”]

Every Litter Bit Hurts

For many years I have traveled to Greece and witnessed things which have changed garbage-can1during those visits.  In years past the joke would be that if one were homesick for Americans all you had to do was to stand by a trash container.  Invariably the only persons using them were foreigners.  While traveling outside Athens the roads were covered with all sorts of trash.  This year I realized that the exact opposite was the case.  I would routinely witness Greeks going out of their way to find a receptacle and deposit their trash.  This action was multi-generational and how remarkable to watch a parent instruct a child in throwing away whatever.  The countryside is far cleaner and you get the impression that someone cares. Obviously some form of education has changed thinking.

Mine is the generation of indoctrination against litter.  Among my contemporaries the notion of throwing waste out a car window or dropping on the ground was firmly forbidden.  Even now an act of litter pretty much causes me to have a physical reaction.  I lurch if seeing trash being chucked without a thought.  Many recall the advertisement of a Native American with a tear and the admonishment that litter hurts.

This brings me to my point of the stunning observation of Hartford streets teeming with trash.  As a resident of Asylum Hill I witness parents and children who simply drop whatever waste they have in hand without a thought.  One day I watched mother and daughter, walking hand in hand, dump candy wrappers simultaneously.  At stop lights entire McDonald’s trays are simply shoved out the window of a car.  Often we are informed that the Hartford Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) is our ally in cleaning the streets and sidewalks of the Hill. Litter is a line item on its budget. I am especially shocked on a Sunday morning to walk through a sea of trash on my way to church, very hard to ignore the waste and wonder what goes on in one’s mind to spoil Farmington Avenue. One might argue that the City does not empty trash containers frequently enough which might have some merit.  The greater question in my mind is what does this say about our city?  Obviously this speaks directly to a community which thinks so little of itself that trashing it is done without reflection, thoughtlessly.  I see no evidence of making the public aware of how badly litter reflects on Hartford or what it says to our belief in it.

What are we able to accomplish if greater attention was paid to a city which respects itself enough to prevent littering? It is a small observation but I believe that it speaks volumes.

State Office Building

DSCF4297Let’s give a big preservation round of applause to the state’s Department of Administrative Services for their plans to renovate the State Office Building at the corner of Capitol Avenue and Washington Street. Yes, a top-to-bottom, inside-out renovation of the State Office Building will cost a significant amount of money. But we think historic renovation dollars make a lot of sense.

We ask that you consider the following:

  • Comparing the cost of renovations to the cost of building a new office tower is like comparing pate to Cheese Whiz. An estimated cost of $300 a square foot for new construction would not include the irreplaceable architectural features including
    Gorham brass lamp

    Gorham brass lamp

    the Indiana limestone façade and the marble interior features. And even if – shudder the thought – the building was razed, the estimated $10 million price tag for hazardous material removal would still exist

  • The State Office Building has served the state well for just over 80 years – and yes, they don’t build them like that anymore. The recent demise of such structures as the Aetna’s Middletown complex and Pfizer’s R&D building in Groton, acclaimed at the time of their construction as buildings for the future, gives weight to the argument that restoration makes more sense than demolition and rebuilding.
  • Preservation of the structure makes available the option for reuse should the State
    Restoration Hardware, Greenwich

    Restoration Hardware, Greenwich

    no longer need the space sometime in the future. Classic and timeless architecture like this adapts well to new uses as is wonderfully illustrated by Restoration Hardware’s renovation of the Greenwich Post Office (not to mention the numerous historic rehabilitation projects currently happening in downtown Hartford).

At the time of its construction, the Hartford Courant noted that the office building “forms an important unit in the development of the State Capitol group.” [1] The array of state-owned buildings circling Lafayette and Columbus Squares forms a collection of significant architecture and the State Office Building and the County Building’s Art Deco designs contribute solidity and confidence to the urban landscape.

At the laying of the cornerstone in 1931, then Hartford Mayor Walter E. Batterson described the State Office Building as “an added beauty to a beautiful city.” [2] H. Hilliard Smith and Roy D. Bassette’s impressive design is indeed a thing of beauty and is worthy and deserving of preservation.

DID YOU KNOW . . . ?

  • When newly constructed, the Department of Motor Vehicles occupied the entire first floor
  • One proposed design for the State Office Building called for a 16-story tower, with the top floor to be reserved for a “Governor’s retreat” that would have a lounge, sleeping rooms and servants’ rooms for the Governor’s private use – not a totally outrageous idea given that Connecticut governors did not have an official residence until 1943. [3]

[1] Departments Occupy New State Building, Hartford Courant, Nov 24 1931
[2] Cornerstone of New State Building Laid, Hartford Courant Sep 26 1930
[3] Skyscraper Design Made for State Office Building, Hartford Courant Jul 7 1929


2022 Albany Avenue: May She Not Be Demolished In Vain

(photo: Deb Cohen)

(photo: Deb Cohen)

The Hartford Preservation Alliance was invited to appear this week before the West Hartford Historic District Commission to express its thoughts and opinions about the impending demolition of an iconic bungalow-styled house at the intersection of Albany Avenue and North Steele Road. We, of course, joined the majority of those attending in voicing our opinion that 2022 Albany Avenue is an important property for the neighborhood and the town and should be saved.

The West Hartford Historic Commission has jurisdiction over three local historic districts (Buena Vista, Boulevard-Raymond and West Hill) and eight individual properties. Their reach DOES NOT extend to any other West Hartford property listed on the State or National Registers of Historic Places.

Maybe now is the time for that to change.

Hartford was the first municipality in the Connecticut to enact a city-wide Historic Preservation Ordinance (HPO) which created the Hartford Historic Preservation Commission and gave it oversight powers over any Hartford property listed on the State or National Register of Historic Places. For nearly ten years, the HPO has provided real and concrete protection to the historic treasures of the city and has far exceeded all expectations that it would

protect the unique architectural nature of the city’s historic neighborhoods, so as to enhance the appeal and attractiveness of the city, promote rehabilitation and property maintenance, strengthen the city’s economy, and foster neighborhood pride. (Historic Preservation Ordinance Section 28-211)

The benefits of such an ordinance include:

  • adherence to approved Guidelines for Renovations and Additions to Historic Buildings
  • preservation of the unique architectural fabric of the property and its surroundings
  • prevention of the indiscriminate and wanton demolition of architecturally significant buildings
  • new construction within a district that is sympathetic and compliments the historic character of the neighborhood

The Connecticut Legislature has enacted enabling legislation to allow for any city or town in Connecticut to create a preservation commission. To date, New Britain, Bristol and Milford have put historic preservation ordinances and commissions in place.

The best case scenario is that the current owner of 2022 Albany Avenue will split off this gem of a house and sell it to a party that will renovate and repair her back to life (and yeah, we’ve got a tax credit for that!). If demolition does proceed, let us hope that the residents take a stand and act to protect the many, many other buildings and sites that represent the historic character of West Hartford.

Wish to receive our latest blog posts in your email in-box? Sign up below.
[email-subscribers namefield=”YES” desc=”” group=”Public”]

Asylum Hill Artists: A Celebration of Art & Culture

Asylum Hill Artists Collage

Last week we kicked off a month-long celebration of arts, artists, diversity, creativity and fun on Asylum Hill.  During the next four weeks events will happen all over the community which are open to the public underscoring that everyone is welcome.  Born from the Welcoming Committee working with the Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association this multi-cultural celebration demonstrates the rich fabric of the population here.  30 % of the residents represent 24 different countries.  We wish to highlight their talent and desire to live in a totally integrated neighborhood which embraces so many people sharing a desire to live their lives with peace and prosperity.

On Tuesday, the 16th artist took over the gallery at ArtSpace the artist live/work place on Farmington Avenue.  The walls were lively with works from artists who live on Asylum Hill.  At least ten nationalities are represented in the show.  (By the way the gallery will be open each weekend for the next four weeks. )  Photographs, sculpture, painting, mixed-media all are there wowing the overflowing crowd of visitors.  Then, on Thursday the Town & County Club hosted “Black Boy Jungle” a dance by Tnmot Aztro, choreographed by Arien Wilkerson. Simply stated the talent brought the crowd to its feet.  Artistry that can only make one shout with enthusiasm and joy that we have such people who live here among us.

The next three weeks will witness the West End Farmers Markets each Tuesday where artisans will sell their wares.  Each week will highlight different performances during the market.  This coming Thursday there will be a multi-cultural Fashion show, again at ArtSpace.  An exciting evening of color, pageantry, food and music.  Please refer to the schedule which is attached to this blog.  Join us in embracing the excitement of being diverse.

Wish to receive our latest blog posts in your email in-box? Sign up below.
[email-subscribers namefield=”YES” desc=”” group=”Public”]

Posted in General Comments Off on Asylum Hill Artists: A Celebration of Art & Culture