Hartford Preservation Alliance- Party Poopers?

Another West End House Built in 1910, or at least the City says so...The City of Hartford told us that our house was built in 1910. It says so right on our property data card on their online database. Given that it’s 2010, we thought it would only be proper to throw our house a 100-year birthday party bash this year. I blogged about it a few months ago on our home ownership anniversary.

I’ve been happily planning this party in my head for months now. It would take place on a Saturday in September. There would be a very large cake. Lots of balloons. Maybe some bows for the house to dress up its columns in the front. A piñata. Truthfully, the piñata is more for me than the house. But I digress.

Unfortunately, much to my dismay and chagrin, someone rained on my parade quite recently and there will be no party this year.

You see, one of those industrious employees, who shall remain nameless, at the Hartford Preservation Alliance tromped their way down into the bowels of Hartford’s property records division and started searching in their really old files for information on our house. Like the really, really old files that contain yellow, crumbly paper. And lo and behold, what did they find? The original building permit filed for our house. This industrious employee made a copy of the lengthy permit and happily delivered it to Kyle at an event they both attended.

And when was it filed you ask? Well, 1911.

Yes, the building permit for our house was filed in 1911 which of course means that our house was not built in 1910 as the City says, but in 1911 or some point thereafter. So there goes the 100-year birthday party in September. No balloons or cake or bows or piñatas. My apologies to those that would have been invited but are now forced to wait another year until 2011.

I will admit that the permit information the HPA person dug up was pretty interesting. It spec’d out how the house was to be built, the types of building materials used, and the total estimated cost of a whopping $8,000 to construct the house. It also had some funky 1900s penmanship.

I should have known the City’s build date of 1910 was suspect. The industrious individual told me previously that whenever the City had a question about the true build year of a property it was most likely just given 1910. But now we have confirmation. Thank you Hartford Preservation Alliance for keeping it real and true. You will still get an invite to our party next year, but may receive a smaller piece of cake than the other guests…

Demolition in Detroit

This local property has been restored since the photo was takenFriday’s Wall Street Journal article about the demolition of historic homes in Detroit came at an interesting time. The previous evening we had attended the Hartford Preservation Alliance awards event, a gathering to celebrate the architectural history of our city and the efforts of community members to restore and reuse buildings rather than knock them down.

Detroit has a rich architectural history, as can be seen on sites like Forgotten Detroit and Detroit1701.org. Some of the historical homes are currently in use, and in good condition, while others appear to be abandoned. The city has lost a substantial number of residents over the past 50 years and there are apparently blocks with few inhabited houses. A piece on the Land+Living site from 2006 shows some images of Detroit’s residential landscape.

The WSJ article raises an important question that we face here in Hartford too … how much should we preserve? Is preserving the exterior sufficient? Is bulldozing ever the right thing to do?

Houses are large, and they’re expensive to maintain. This makes preserving them much more difficult than paintings, sculptures, or other works of art. However, like a work of art, each house is often unique since it reflects the site on which it was built and may have been customized for the owner. Therefore homes are different from cars, stamps, or guns, where having one example of each “model” could be considered sufficient.

I like to think of myself as a practical, if not pragmatic, person. Houses need to be functional; otherwise they’re not going to survive. I think that older homes should evolve over time to meet the needs of modern society. They need regular maintenance, and the best way to achieve that is by continuing to serve their primary role as a shelter and an oasis from the outside world. However, in making the updates property owners have a responsibility to make changes within the spirit and character of their home. They should make historically appropriate choices as often as possible.

The larger challenge is when neighborhoods and regions evolve. This is the primary issue that Detroit faces, and is also a relevant topic in the City of Hartford. What happens when it no longer makes economic sense for homeowners to maintain and restore their property? Or a block of properties? Or an entire neighborhood?

Detroit has chosen to sacrifice some of their history in an effort to move their city forward. Without living in the area and experiencing their problems first-hand, it’s difficult to fully understand that decision. I can only imagine the intense debate that led up to the final demolition orders. Mayor Bing’s State of the City address on March 23, 2010 outlines Detroit’s major challenges and initiatives, of which the demolition program is just a small piece.

It’s always sad to see grand old homes in disrepair – you can still see their beauty shining through the years of neglect. At some point taking them down may be the only option. Hopefully here in Hartford we can continue working to protect our historic properties as we confront many of the same challenges as Detroit, just on a smaller scale.

Hartford Preservation Alliance Fall Tours 2009

The fountain on Constitution PlazaKeeping with the walking theme, the Hartford Preservation Alliance will be leading four guided walking tours in the coming months. Each tour includes stops at a few points of interest where the tour leader shares historical and/or architectural information about the sites and structures. This is a terrific opportunity to explore different areas of the Connecticut’s capital city. All events are held on Saturday mornings at 10:00am, rain or shine, and cost $10 per person.

From the Hartford Preservation Alliance mailing we received the other day…

Ridgefield Street Historic District
September 12, 2009; meet at The Artists Collective parking lot, 1200 Albany Avenue
Ridgefield Street in the Blue Hills neighborhood marks the last step in the evolution of Hartford’s northern neighborhoods, where, beginning in the mid-19th century, residential developments had fanned out from the central city. View the original Weaver High School, former synagogues, and the impressive residences that were home to generations of Hartford’s families.

The West End
September 26, 2009; meet at the UConn Law School Sherman Street Parking Lot
Journey past the impressive facades of one of Hartford’s most architecturally diverse neighborhoods. View an array of styles showcasing the results of Hartford’s prominence as a state capital and center of business and culture.

The Moderns
October 3, 2009; Meet on Constitution Plaza at the Fountain, 1 Constitution Plaza
Explore the modern architecture of Constitution Plaza – why it came to be, what the vision was and who the nationally renowned architects are. Plus discover the ‘hiding place’ of a rare Civil War artifact.

Fairfield Avenue
October 10, 2009; Meet in front of 8 Fairfield Avenue (firehouse at corner of New Britain Avenue)
From farmland and gentlemen’s estates to trolley car suburb, join us to learn how this neighborhood grew and explore how residential architecture evolved from the Victorian Age to the Progressive Era.

Again, all of these events will be held rain or shine beginning at 10:00am on the respective Saturday, and cost $10 per person. Be sure to check in on the HPA website as each event approaches just in case they have to change the meeting place.

We’ve been on HPA tours in the past – they’re a wonderful way to spend a fall morning.

Hartford's West End Walking Tour, Saturday October 4th

If you enjoy architecture, Hartford history, or just spending time outside on a nice fall morning, you might want to participate in an upcoming architecture tour in Hartford’s West End neighborhood.

Behind the Facades: Architectural Heritage of the West End is sponsored by the Hartford Preservation Alliance and co-sponsored by WECA’s Architectural History & Resources Committee.

The walk will showcase the results of Hartford’s prominence as a state capitol and center of business and culture. Stops will include peeks inside some whimsical homes along the way.

The walking tour will take place on Saturday, October 4th from 10:00am-12:00pm, rain or shine. The cost is $10. Please meet at the UCONN Law School Parking Lot on Sherman Street.

Payment for the tour should be made by check to the Hartford Preservation Alliance and mailed to 56 Arbor Street, Suite 406, Hartford, CT 06106. You may also pay in-person by check on the day of the tour. Call the HPA at (860) 570-0331 or email them if you have further questions.

We hope to see you there!