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Rell Decries Colt Rebuff

Her Tart Letter Hits Rejection Of Gateway As National Landmark

October 14, 2006
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer

In a short but sharply written letter to the chairman of the National Park Service, Gov. M. Jodi Rell expressed "bitter disappointment" over the rejection of the Colt Gateway complex's request for designation as a national historic landmark and urged the agency to reconsider.

"The Colt legacy, and the Colt complex in particular, has special historical significance for Hartford, Connecticut and all of New England. Samuel Colt's contributions to this nation's manufacturing history are well known and this former factory site, in addition to preserving his legacy, serves as a gateway to our capital city," Rell wrote. "I have seen first-hand the progress being made in redevelopingthis historic landmark. Its federal designation is key to our state's collective efforts to bring the facility back to prominence."

In the coming days, staff from U.S. Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman and Christopher J. Dodd and Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District, are expected to meet with Rell's office to plan an appeal, according to Elliot Ginsberg, Larson's chief of staff.

"We are of the collective opinion that this is unfortunate and we'll do whatever we have to do," Ginsberg said. "This is a complex of national historic significance, and we've worked collectively very hard to show that."

Rell's letter does not address the concerns of some members of the park service's committee that the construction of apartments in the Colt complex changes the appearance of the buildings' interiors so that its historical integrity has been compromised. Nor does she mention that questions have been raised about one of the signatures on a locally written letter articulating concerns about the interior integrity of the buildings.

James L. Griffin, director of a local group called The Sam & Elizabeth Colt Industrial Ingenuity and Cultural Center, conceded Thursday that he signed the name of developer Anthony D. Autorino to his letter without showing the letter to Autorino. And Autorino, who was identified as chairman of the board for Griffin's group, said that he is not chairman of the board and that the group does not have a board.

Robert A. MacFarlane, owner of the Colt Complex, said the buildings' interiors are not the only point of historical significance. He said the designation as a national historic landmark would help draw visitors to the grounds and to the nearby Parish house and church that were part of the Colt complex. Visitors also could be directed to the Wadsworth Atheneum's collection and to the Mark Twain House.

"There's no way we can reintroduce the manufacturing at Colt, but we can reintroduce the experience," MacFarlane said.

Over the years, MacFarlane said, the park service has held public hearings on the nomination for Colt's historic landmark designation, but the concerns stated in Griffin's letter were not raised. So he questioned the appropriateness in allowing Griffin's letter, dated Oct. 4, to sway the service's committee that voted on the nomination without chance for rebuttal.

"The committee made a mistake ... at least they should have tabled it," MacFarlane said.

The group of legislators will decide which points to address when it assembles to discuss avenues for appeal, Ginsberg said.

John Roberts, acting chief of the National Register of Historic Places and The National Historic Landmarks Program, said the next step will be for the nomination for historic status to go to the full board for consideration. Following that, it would be brought to the parks director and then the secretary of the interior, who would make the final decision. At that point, if the nomination is declined, it could be appealed, he said.

As the nomination moves through the process, new letters and newspaper accounts relevant to the nomination will be added to the package of materials officials will consider.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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