The preservation of a 130-year-old Italianate style house at 53 Wadsworth St. in Hartford's South Green neighborhood is a lesson in effective community intervention.
The 21/2-story brick building, empty for several years but still salvageable, was going to be demolished for a center for the Institute for the Hispanic Family, a well-regarded program of Catholic Charities.
Catholic Charities officials believed they had to demolish the older building to get the space they needed. Enter the Hartford Preservation Alliance. Instead of simply opposing the demolition, it took a more practical tack. The alliance got one of its members, Hartford architect Bill Crosskey, to draw up a plan showing how Catholic Charities could get the necessary space without demolishing the Italianate house. City officials assisted in the process as well.
After some meetings, Catholic Charities - also under deadline pressure to find a new home for its program - announced it would not demolish the old building, but would build a new center on adjacent land. Catholic Charities chief executive Rose Alma Senatore said her organization planned to "assess and evaluate" possible uses of the historic building.
So far, so good. Wadsworth Street was once part of an elegant downtown neighborhood. It suffered from neglect, abandonment and ill-considered design in the postwar period. Nonetheless, there are enough Victorian-era buildings left to be the basis of a stylish neighborhood restoration.
It's been a good month for preservation. The Wauregan Hotel in Norwich, brought back from the brink by builder Bruce Becker, reopened as affordable housing, to much acclaim. Hartford's former Sage-Allen department store, another difficult restoration, is about to reopen as housing with ground-floor retail.
It's a sign that communities are understanding the esthetic and economic value of legacy buildings, and listening to groups such as the Hartford Preservation Alliance, whose imaginative intervention helped save a very nice old house.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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