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Edgewood Street Rehabs Are Christian Activities Council's Latest Effort In Upper Albany Area

NANCY SCHOEFFLER

July 10, 2009

Historic preservation isn't just about preserving significant architecture by significant architects, says Laura Knott-Twine, executive director of the Hartford Preservation Alliance.

"The battle cry, I would say, for 2009 is that this is not your mother's or your grandmother's preservation," she says. "Preservation has really shifted its focus a bit over the last, I would say, 10 years."

The work of revitalizing neighborhoods and buttressing their historic character goes beyond glorious and grand buildings. Of necessity, it also has to include preserving homes where ordinary working folks can live and thrive to foster what Knott-Twine calls "the fabric of the community."

The alliance recently honored the Christian Activities Council with its second Hartford Preservation Alliance Award for doing just that.

Two buildings on Edgewood Street are the latest to be transformed by the CAC's Upper Albany Revitalization Initiative, which focuses on revitalizing a 15-block area of Upper Albany Avenue.

The buildings were in terrible shape, says the Rev. Donald R. Steinle, executive director of the CAC. "We got them for a song and a dance. I think we paid $1,000 each."

The roof at 19 Edgewood St. had collapsed and, he says, city officials told him, "We're going to tear it down tomorrow."

And the back wall at 29 Edgewood St. was bulging, he says, because there had been a fire.

But the three-story structures were handsome and historic red brick "Perfect Sixes" designed by Hartford architect William Scoville and built in 1909.

Edgewood is "one of the toughest streets in our neighborhood," Steinle says. It already had five vacant lots, and if the three buildings scheduled for demolition there had been torn down, "that would have been devastating for the neighborhood."

"There was a period of time when [city officials] were just demolition-crazy," he says. "The excuse was the [buildings] were public safety hazards, and the truth is, they probably were."

No longer.

The two structures were gutted, rehabilitated and redesigned as side-by-side townhouses. While the historic character of each building is preserved when seen from the street, the interiors are modern. Each townhouse has a large unit on the upper two floors for the owner and a smaller rental unit on the first floor.

"It's an unusual configuration," says Steinle.

Linda Moss who works with her husband, Alton Moss, as the Moss and Moss Team at Prudential Connecticut Realty in Windsor said Tuesday that both sides of 29 Edgewood St. are under deposit, with closings expected later this month. In both cases, she said, the buyers are first-time home buyers. Meanwhile the Mosses have held showings of the slightly smaller townhouses at 19 Edgewood St., each priced at $199,900.

"The successful rehabilitation of these two buildings is an example of how even the most deteriorated of historic properties can be saved," the Hartford Preservation Alliance said when it honored the CAC.

The CAC is also renovating a larger building at 54 Edgewood St., which will be a six-unit condominium.

Maintenance And Gardens

Steinle has seen first-hand how revitalization and home ownership can stabilize a neighborhood and foster residents' pride in it.

The Christian Activities Council an organization of 35 United Church of Christ churches in the region grew out of the Hartford City Missionary Society, which was founded in 1851 to help the poor.

"The organization has been doing affordable housing work of one sort or another for over 50 years," Steinle says. Nearly a decade ago the CAC decided to concentrate its community revitalization efforts in the Upper Albany Avenue area.

The first target was on Deerfield Avenue, a single block with 39 homes. The block had some "homeownership strength," Steinle says, but signs of deterioration. The CAC bought four abandoned historic houses and three vacant lots on the block. It rehabbed the existing structures and on each vacant lot it built a two-family home that mirrored the historic architectural style of the neighborhood.

Today, says Steinle, all are owned purchased by working families with incomes at or below 80 percent of the median upwardly mobile lower-income families who have a stake in the neighborhood and can strengthen it, he says.

Driving slowly along Deerfield Avenue, Steinle happily points to signs of better maintenance and more gardening at other homes on the tranquil block.

"One of the things that has happened is that neighbors starting improving their own properties," he says.

As with other homes the CAC since has renovated or built elsewhere in the area, including Irving and Vine streets, home buyers on Edgewood Street will get eight hours of homeownership training, including money management training and foreclosure prevention.

"Part of it is trying to engage residents in their own well-being," Steinle says.

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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