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Historic Buildings Make Affordable Homes

Once Housing For Immigrants Arrived To Work In Factories, They Are Making Comeback

August 2, 2006
By ANNIE TASKER, Courant Staff Writer

The first homes built on Zion and York Streets in Frog Hollow were within walking distance of nearby factories such as Pope Manufacturing and Pratt & Whitney. The workers who lived there were reasonably well-off, but horses and buggies were out of their price range.

That was 1905. The factories have closed since then, and many of the century-old houses on Zion and York Streets have become boarded and blighted. But thanks to a joint effort of the state's Department of Economic and Community Development, the city and some local developers, the Frog Hollow historic houses are seeing new life.

Nine buildings on Zion Street and one on York Street are being renovated to create 50 units of family housing in the new Brick Hollow development. Two more on York were razed to create parking for the occupants. The units should be ready for occupancy soon, said development consultant Mary Beth McNerney. The rental rates for the units, which range from two-bedroom apartments to townhouses, are $650 to $750. Seven units are being put aside for low-income applicants: $195 for a two-bedroom apartment, $225 for three.

Many aspects of the "perfect-six" style historic houses have been modernized. There are new back porches, carpeted floors, washers and dryers. The ornamental cornices at the top of each building, however, are as they were a hundred years ago. So are the tile entryways and the staircases that connect the units to one another.

The double bow fronts - three-sided windows that look out from the living room - are a unique characteristic of the homes, said architectural historian David Ransom. So are their central common stairs.

The people who lived in the neighborhood back when it was built at the turn of the 20th century were likely the children of immigrants, said Dr. Andrew Walsh, head of the Hartford Studies Department at Trinity College. Walsh said he'd heard that Zion Street was occupied by leaders of the machinist local, mostly second generation Irish-Americans. The 1908 directory of Hartford lists some of the names and occupations of the people who lived on Zion Street: Joseph Devaney, steamfitter; Thomas J. Doyle, polisher; Timothy P. Desmond, driller.

Frog Hollow was the city's factory district after the Civil War. The residents' jobs at the factories were a step up from the jobs their parents had when they arrived in the United States, said Walsh. The children of those immigrants had the education they needed to work higher on the ladder than their parents had at Hartford's factories. "Frog Hollow is the chief example of a neighborhood meant for skilled workers," said Walsh.

Frog Hollow was home to a reasonably prosperous working class, said Walsh. While the period homes in Parkville were typically of less-expensive wood construction, many Frog Hollow homes were made of higher-quality red and yellow brick.

Today, the only thing in the Brick Hollow neighborhood resembling a carriage is the hot dog cart near the intersection of Park and Zion. Cars are parked up and down the street, and the nearby commerce is no longer factories, but Los Cubanitos Bakery and Robert's House of Liquor.

The rehabilitation is being funded in part by $3.6 million from the State of Connecticut's Department of Economic and Community Development and $1.2 million from the city. Also funding the renovations are federal low-income housing tax credits. Potential tenants can apply for low-income status to take advantage of the development's lower rents.

The renovation of the perfect sixes on Zion and York will help preserve the character of the neighborhood, said Walsh. Where there are whole rows of perfect sixes like there are in Brick Hollow, they should be preserved, he said, especially if it creates a way for people with modest incomes to have a stake in getting good-quality housing.

"They represent the texture of Hartford's history and the way it looks," he said. "This is really of this place. This is really Hartford."

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 |
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