If you've been around Hartford for any length of time, you've
probably been in the building at the corner of Wethersfield
Avenue and Airport Road. It was the legendary Pippie's Italian
Restaurant from 1959 to 1983, then it became Carmichael's.
It closed over the summer.
A developer now proposes to demolish it, and the three residential buildings
immediately to its south, to build a small suburban-style strip mall anchored,
no surprise here, by a CVS Pharmacy.
Here we go again: Hartford selling its architectural heritage for
a box of pills and a six-pack of Coke.
This is a good building at a key location. "It's an excellent example
of Victorian turn-of-the-century architecture," said Tomas Nenortas
of the Hartford Preservation Alliance. Indeed it is. The three-story
brick building is austere but graceful, with the characteristic Italianate
bracketed cornice along the front of the roof.
The building is the predominant style found in the South End, part of what
gives the neighborhood its historical character. We shouldn't be tearing
such buildings down.
The alliance went to the developer and asked that the Carmichael's building
be incorporated into the new development. Nenortas said his group was willing
to let the three undistinguished residences go, but wanted to save the large
The developer, Frank Colaccino of the
Colvest Group of Windsor, told me he tried "every which way" to save the Carmichael's Building. "It
would have required parking in the back, and CVS didn't want that." The
drive-through will be in the back.
The two restaurants managed to survive for 45 years with parking in the
back and on the south side of the building. Colaccino said he's building
a second structure on the south side of the Carmichael's building, and that
there wouldn't be room for parking there.
Chain pharmacies have become the scourge of good urban design in this country.
For the past decade, chain drugstores across the country have targeted historic
buildings for replacement with boxes surrounded by pavement. In Connecticut,
there have been battles in Enfield, Windsor, Colchester and elsewhere.
In 2002, Brooks Pharmacy demolished an attractive, historic, fully occupied,
well-maintained, multi-use building on Franklin Avenue for a new big-box
This was a lovely building, a buff-brick, three-story Italianate/Neo-Classical
Revival structure, built in 1912. It was what you want in cities, a building
with commercial tenants - a physical therapist and an optician - on the
first floor and an office and apartments upstairs. The city did prevail
upon Brooks to build a brick building that's a sort of cartoon of the older
buildings on the street. Whoopee.
In Glastonbury, developers for CVS want to remove a hillside to build at
Hebron Avenue and Manchester Road. The excavation reportedly would require
5,700 truckloads to remove much of the 400-foot-high hill. There's no other
commercial space in Glastonbury?
Doesn't anyone at these pharmacy companies have a conscience? It's hard
to believe that the developers and CVS can't get everything they want and
still save the Carmichael's building. Collacino said he met with the neighborhood
revitalization zone committee, and acceded to some of their suggestions
about landscaping and a sidewalk along the Airport Road side of the building.
The city got them to build another brick building. They drive a hard bargain.
I don't dislike the development. The mix of tenants - Collacino has letters
of intent from Quiznos and Starbucks as well as a commitment from CVS -
is first-rate. But the overall impact would be improved if he saved and
reused the Carmichael's building. If that were the anchor and there were
a second building that matched it, the neighborhood would be enhanced. So
what if there's parking in the back - there'll be a sidewalk on that part
of Airport Road.
Wethersfield Avenue has been mucked up over the years with inconsistent
commercial architecture. But that shouldn't be a license to make it worse.
Attractive streets are the ones that draw the best businesses and residents.
If Mayor Eddie Perez really understands that preserving and reusing attractive
historic buildings enhances the city, he ought to intervene. The Carmichael's
building isn't on a register or in a district of historic buildings, so
there is no leverage but the bully pulpit, now empty. CVS has occasionally
been persuaded to put stores into older buildings. The great strength of
Hartford is that it doesn't look like a suburban strip mall. When it does,
the city loses. Save the Carmichael's building.
Tom Condon is the editor of Place. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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