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.

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201 Ann Uccello Street – Masonic Temple

Masonic Temple 201 Ann Street detail 4th floor croppedA reader to our website asked if we had a picture of the detail on the old Masonic Temple now undergoing its 2nd renovation and reuse since being built in 1894. Happy to oblige.

Hartford Courant article from March 9 1983 by Blair Kamin does a much better job of describing this section of the elaborate architectural detail than I ever could:

In its center section, which consists of wood carvings, the architect set, in descending order, an all-seeing eye, the Masons’ square and compass, a Masonic cipher in Hebrew letters acknowledging God’s power, the date of construction and an imaginary Greek temple containing the five classical orders (from left to right, Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite). [1]

[1] Kamin, Blair. Restored Masonic Hall Poses Marketing Test. Mar 9, 1983, pg. B1.

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Battle Flag Day 2014

Putnum Phalanx Armory 1879

Putnum Phalanx Armory 1879

September 17 has been a special day of remembrance in Hartford since the Civil War. Four Connecticut regiments suffered heavy losses at the Battle of Antietam in 1864 – many of these casualties were Hartford’s sons. In 1879, September 17 was Battle Flag Day, a day of great celebration in Hartford as veterans just 14 years away from the “War of the Rebellion” gathered to parade their tattered and war-ravaged regimental flags from various armories to the Hall of Flags in the newly built State Capitol Building.

Just seven years later veterans from across the state would converge on Soldiers & Sailors Memorial ArchHartford for the dedication of the Hartford Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch, the first triumphal arch built in the country. Dedicated to the 400 Hartford sons who died in service during the Civil War, the Arch has stood not only as a monument to our war dead but as sentry to the historic Bushnell Park, the first publicly-funded park in the country.

One hundred and twenty eight years after its 1886 dedication, the Arch was again rededicated today in celebration of restoration work undertaken by the Bushnell Park Foundation. Since its founding in 1981, the Foundation has served as the preservation advocates for the park and have continuously raised the necessary funds to restore and maintain the park and its monuments. The Foundation will next start the work of raising funds for restoration of the Spanish American War Veterans monument located on the south side of the park near Elm Street.

At the re-dedication ceremonies, Mayor Pedro Segarra commented that Hartford, though only 18 square miles in area, is more complex than cities many times its size. We have many organizations who sometimes work alone and sometimes work together to affect change in the city. And this complexity is also our strength.

We applaud the Bushnell Park Foundation, a past winner of a Hartford Preservation Alliance Preservation Award, for its continued stewardship of this historic treasure.


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