Story By Ken Krayeske • 9:45 AM EST
Chalk up another empty lot for the historical apathy of Mayor Eddie Perez. Saturday morning, January 17, 2009, driving down Franklin Avenue, I caught a glimpse of another piece of Hartford's past demolished.
Even though the building at 118-136 Franklin Avenue, on the corner of Shultas Place in the South Green neighborhood, was listed in a historically significant neighborhood, forces conspired to allow its destruction.
We should mourn the passing of a building from 1906, as we did for the two prior historic structures in the South End that Eddie Perez failed to protect - the mixed-use dentist's office on Franklin Avenue crushed for a drug store, and the 1888 Italianate on Wethersfield and Airport that fell for a box drug store.
I used to bicycle down Franklin Avenue to work, dreaming of the possibilities for the edifice at Shultas Place - a small neighborhood boarding school, a community center, a media center, or even its original use - mixed use retail and housing.
Once, the boards blocking the doors had opened, and I peered inside. The dusty floor sagged so much, I dared not even enter, lest I fall into the basement. Though dilapidated, the building was saveable.
A few weeks back, Hartford's tireless housing advocate Rafie Podolsky of the Hartford Preservation Alliance sent out a clarion call for help, since the city was doing nothing:
Like a number of other historic and architecturally significant buildings in Hartford neighborhoods, this building has been vacant for many years, is in seriously deteriorated condition, and needs a great deal of work. It is, however, possible to stabilize and revitalize it. It is also well worth the time and effort required to do so.
The city issued a demolition order in February but delayed action to allow the owner to try to find a use. We believe he did not succeed in finding such a use only because, at the time, he tried to sell the building for an unrealistically high price, in the process discouraging at least one interested developer.
HPA first learned that the building was in jeopardy in November, when the owner himself filed a notice of intent to demolish the building. Since then, HPA has obtained a preliminary structural engineering report, has met with the local NRZ (neighborhood revitalization zone) committee, and has opened conversations with the owner. We need your help, however, in finding a person or entity willing to take over and rehabilitate this significant building, provided that if it can be obtained for a sufficiently low price.
The building...is the cornerstone of the Shultas-Annawan Historic District, a district on the State Register of Historic Places, linking the Shultas Place and Annawan Street portions of the district.
It was singled out in Structures and Styles: Guided Tours of Hartford Architecture by Gregory E. Andrews and David F. Ransom as a long commercial block that is “relatively rare in the South End” (p. 66). The authors continue: “Inspired by the Renaissance Revival, this handsome building presents a rhythmic series of arched openings to the stores at the first floor and of windows in the upper floors.” They also speak favorably of the molded cornice above the store fronts and the modillioned cornice at the roof line.
The design and location of the building makes it particularly important in the historic district in at least two ways. First, it beautifully “holds” the corner of Franklin Avenue and Shultas Place. Corner buildings are especially important to the fabric of the urban environment, and the demolition of this building would produce a very large empty lot on a corner. Second, its combination of storefronts and apartments makes it an ideal structure for neighborhood revitalization and a potential candidate for state historic preservation tax credit programs.
The greenest building is the one that you don't build, but revitalize. Yesterday morning, a few men stood on the sidewalk watching this crime against our fair city. I think that they too saw the potential of the edifice, and the surrender that is demolition.
I am nothing but disheartened by this destruction. We cannot continue to destroy parts of the city like this and expect the city to retain its architectural character. It is this character that attracts people to come here.
In Europe - heck, in Baltimore - this would not have happened because historic structures are treated with the respect they deserve. Eddie Perez has never shown an understanding of this. In a city with a strong chief elected official, such a demolition stains the mayor's hands, for he bears the ultimate responsibility for the policies that condoned this demolition.
Here's to one day having a mayor of Hartford who will save such structures. Hartford's history is one of the cornerstones of its charm, and it must be promoted and protected at all costs.