Web Sites, Documents and Articles >> Hartford Courant News Articles >

Another Pointless Loss

September 18, 2005

If you've been around Hartford for any length of time, you've probably been in the building at the corner of Wethersfield Avenue and Airport Road. It was the legendary Pippie's Italian Restaurant from 1959 to 1983, then it became Carmichael's. It closed over the summer.

A developer now proposes to demolish it, and the three residential buildings immediately to its south, to build a small suburban-style strip mall anchored, no surprise here, by a CVS Pharmacy.

Here we go again: Hartford selling its architectural heritage for a box of pills and a six-pack of Coke.

This is a good building at a key location. "It's an excellent example of Victorian turn-of-the-century architecture," said Tomas Nenortas of the Hartford Preservation Alliance. Indeed it is. The three-story brick building is austere but graceful, with the characteristic Italianate bracketed cornice along the front of the roof.

The building is the predominant style found in the South End, part of what gives the neighborhood its historical character. We shouldn't be tearing such buildings down.

The alliance went to the developer and asked that the Carmichael's building be incorporated into the new development. Nenortas said his group was willing to let the three undistinguished residences go, but wanted to save the large corner structure.

No dice.

The developer, Frank Colaccino of the Colvest Group of Windsor, told me he tried "every which way" to save the Carmichael's Building. "It would have required parking in the back, and CVS didn't want that." The drive-through will be in the back.

The two restaurants managed to survive for 45 years with parking in the back and on the south side of the building. Colaccino said he's building a second structure on the south side of the Carmichael's building, and that there wouldn't be room for parking there.

Chain pharmacies have become the scourge of good urban design in this country. For the past decade, chain drugstores across the country have targeted historic buildings for replacement with boxes surrounded by pavement. In Connecticut, there have been battles in Enfield, Windsor, Colchester and elsewhere.

In 2002, Brooks Pharmacy demolished an attractive, historic, fully occupied, well-maintained, multi-use building on Franklin Avenue for a new big-box drugstore.

This was a lovely building, a buff-brick, three-story Italianate/Neo-Classical Revival structure, built in 1912. It was what you want in cities, a building with commercial tenants - a physical therapist and an optician - on the first floor and an office and apartments upstairs. The city did prevail upon Brooks to build a brick building that's a sort of cartoon of the older buildings on the street. Whoopee.

In Glastonbury, developers for CVS want to remove a hillside to build at Hebron Avenue and Manchester Road. The excavation reportedly would require 5,700 truckloads to remove much of the 400-foot-high hill. There's no other commercial space in Glastonbury?

Doesn't anyone at these pharmacy companies have a conscience? It's hard to believe that the developers and CVS can't get everything they want and still save the Carmichael's building. Collacino said he met with the neighborhood revitalization zone committee, and acceded to some of their suggestions about landscaping and a sidewalk along the Airport Road side of the building. The city got them to build another brick building. They drive a hard bargain.

I don't dislike the development. The mix of tenants - Collacino has letters of intent from Quiznos and Starbucks as well as a commitment from CVS - is first-rate. But the overall impact would be improved if he saved and reused the Carmichael's building. If that were the anchor and there were a second building that matched it, the neighborhood would be enhanced. So what if there's parking in the back - there'll be a sidewalk on that part of Airport Road.

Wethersfield Avenue has been mucked up over the years with inconsistent commercial architecture. But that shouldn't be a license to make it worse. Attractive streets are the ones that draw the best businesses and residents.

If Mayor Eddie Perez really understands that preserving and reusing attractive historic buildings enhances the city, he ought to intervene. The Carmichael's building isn't on a register or in a district of historic buildings, so there is no leverage but the bully pulpit, now empty. CVS has occasionally been persuaded to put stores into older buildings. The great strength of Hartford is that it doesn't look like a suburban strip mall. When it does, the city loses. Save the Carmichael's building.

Tom Condon is the editor of Place. He can be reached at tcondon@courant.com.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
Powered by Hartford Public Library  

Includes option to search related Hartford sites.

Advanced Search
Search Tips

Can't Find It? Have a Question?