Downtown Strip, With Residences And Restaurants, Will Reopen To Traffic
January 2, 2007
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
It has been Theater Street. It has been Temple Street. And, since 1980, it has been closed.
The small east-west strip between Main and Market streets was all but erased from the map to make way for the infamous "Mixmaster" - a structure that sheltered pedestrians moving between three shopping sites. But the Mixmaster has been razed, and Temple Street soon will reopen, bringing foot and car traffic back to a downtown corridor in need of flow.
This is a part of downtown being revitalized, but where going around the block can be a confusing endeavor that could very well land you on an I-91 entrance ramp.
"The useful function of those streets until they were closed down was you could go around the block searching for a parking space without finding yourself inadvertently going to Bradley Airport, which is often the case now," said Hartford-area architect Patrick L. Pinnell. Plus, Pinnell said, small streets are vital.
"While Main Street and Market Street are the equivalent of major arteries, you need smaller capillaries like Temple to keep the blood of the city circulating," Pinnell said.
The Mixmaster building allowed downtown shoppers to pass from the G. Fox building, through the Richardson building, and to the Sage-Allen building without having to experience much of downtown at all.
These days, planning and political trends favor putting people back outside and making outside an inviting place to be.
So Temple Street will soon be reopened, roughly coinciding with the completion of the city's newest apartments at the old Sage-Allen - built for more than 130 University of Hartford students with an additional 78 market rate loft units.
Vehicular traffic will be able to travel from Main Street to Market Street, one-way from west to east. The north side of Temple Street will feature a handful of student-friendly restaurants that developer Marc Levine likes to call Chow Row.
"I think it will put feet on the street and give the retail life that everybody wanted," Levine said.
Streets have histories that aren't always easy to know, especially in a place such as Hartford, which didn't incorporate until 1784 - long after roads had names.
What is known is that the first theater in Hartford opened on an east-west passageway in August 1795. Sometime between that opening and 1824 that passageway took the name Theater Street, said Bill Faude, executive director emeritus of the Old State House.
In 1824, the residents of Theater Street - apparently irked by both the lack of good theater and the negative stigma that went along with things theatrical - petitioned to have the street's name changed to Temple Street, Faude said.
Others have stated that Temple Street also may have been called Bachelor Street and Division Lane at various times in its history, but proof has been hard to come by.
Faude and Pinnell think the street took the name Temple Street not from a synagogue that would eventually be built there, as many people think, but from a gathering place called Temple Hall that opened its doors nearby.
Temple Street and its surroundings have undergone various incarnations. What once was a theater district would eventually be home to most of the city's ethnic, immigrant, late-19th century poor.
"We are becoming a city," Faude said. "And this is our Lower East Side."
When the Bulkeley Bridge was built in 1908, many of the ethnic neighborhoods were leveled for a wide street called Connecticut Boulevard, Faude said. More was demolished in the 1960s for the construction of Constitution Plaza, displacing the Italian neighborhood to the city's South End.
Meanwhile, Temple Street saw little life between the construction of Constitution Plaza and the erection of the Mixmaster in 1980. Then it saw even less life.
"We used to have all these little streets, you could dash around town," Faude said. "Through the years we have closed up a number of streets, which is why, at times, the town doesn't work."
And the Mixmaster - which lost its purpose when the downtown lost big department store shopping - only made traffic problems worse, taking away parking and clogging up valuable passageways, Faude and Pinnell said.
So Temple Street's reopening is a good thing, said city Development Director John F. Palmieri. The city knows it has a traffic-flow problem downtown and is seeking to address it.
"The system was built to get people in and out of the city," Palmieri said. "But now we've got to think about making it easy for those who want to circulate routinely on a daily basis - not just thinking about how do we get people to flood in and out of the city in morning and night."
"What Temple Street does is allow a connection at an important juncture," Palmieri said.
"This is a great thing," Faude said. "The Mixmaster just never worked. When the stores on either side closed, it really became sort of a dead end. Now it will be a bustling street."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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