If you stand in the parking lot on the site of the former Statler/Hilton
Hotel on Jewel Street in Hartford and look east, you will see the
huge graphic covering the entire wall of 266 Pearl St. It advertises
an image of the condominiums being built within that will soon
be available for occupancy. Reaching into the sky in the background
is the steel frame of the residential tower that will bring another
262 apartments to the downtown. Nearby, just out of site, are
the recently renovated and now occupied apartments in the old
SNET building, and on Trumbull Street are more apartments to
come on line this summer.
New downtown housing is sprouting up everywhere, the surest sign
of Hartford's nascent resurgence.
But back at ground level in the parking lot, an excavator - what
we used to call a steam shovel - claws away at the brick shell
of a small four-story building set back between Pearl and Asylum
streets. This curious but well-proportioned building was formerly
owned by the Connecticut Light & Power Co., and housed switching
gear. It is a very substantial concrete and steel-framed structure,
as confirmed by its resistance to its own demise.
Its most distinguishing feature
is that it had no windows, except an elegantly detailed copper-clad
bay window, perched halfway up its south façade. This window
hinted at what this building might have been. With its large open
floor plates augmented with more bay windows, 294 Pearl St. could
have housed six or eight loft apartments with stunning views of
the state Capitol. The first floor would have been a natural for
a restaurant, with plenty of room for an outdoor terrace and more
captivating views of Bushnell Park.
The building was purchased in December by Pro Park. It owns the
sea of parking lots that surrounded this building, and many more
around downtown. A few people tried to approach Pro Park about converting
this building to housing. No interest and no response. They do parking,
In the grand scheme of things
this is a small loss to the city. Nevertheless, it is significant.
It is buildings like this that need to be saved and adapted to
new uses. Although the city now has a preservation ordinance that
will contribute to a collective appreciation of historic structures,
the city needs do more to see to it that we don't continue to give
away buildings to surface parking lots. They may not be landmarks,
but as well-built, handsome and often quirky structures, they contribute
greatly to the character of our city and our particular sense of
place. Without them, we are nudged ever closer to Gertrude Stein's
dire pronouncement that "There
is no there there."
Tyler Smith is a Hartford architect and a member of the Place board
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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