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The Hartford Begins Demolition Of Former MassMutual Building

CONNECTICUT PROPERTY LINE

By KENNETH R. GOSSELIN

January 27, 2009

Excavating machines will start clawing at the former MassMutual building on Hartford's Garden Street in two weeks as work begins on splitting the nearly 500,000-square-foot structure in two.

The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. bought the 16-acre property in July for $9.1 million. The insurance company said it intends to preserve the oldest part of the building, about 40,000 square feet, that is just across the street from its headquarters.

The demolition comes more than a year after The Hartford first said it would buy the long-vacant property for possible future expansion. At first, the insurer wanted to knock down the entire building. But later, after preservationists and community groups rallied, The Hartford agreed to save the oldest part, dating to 1926 and distinctive for its Georgian Revival facade and interior rotunda.

The Hartford declined to disclose the cost of the demolition, but city records show the insurer estimated a year ago that the cost would be about $3 million. It hasn't been decided how the building will be used.

The Hartford has been removing asbestos from the building for months in preparation for the demolition. More recently, work also started on digging out soil contaminated with arsenic, an ingredient found in lawn fertilizer in the 1920s and 1930s, added to kill insects. The soil removal to a depth of 5 feet in most places forced the felling of about 20 trees.

"No one was happy about it," said Michael Knipper, senior vice president of enterprise services at The Hartford, "but there was no practical way to save the trees."

Two large trees, an oak near the front entrance and a copper beech at the corner of Garden and Myrtle streets, were saved by hand-digging the soil, Knipper said. The copper beech is thought be more than 100 years old.

The felled trees will be replaced by maples, beeches and spruces, which will be planted over the course of a year, Knipper said.

Once the building is demolished, The Hartford needs to close the back of the original building and will use architectural elements from a wing added in the 1950s for an authentic look.

A week ago, contractors using diamond-blade power saws and hand chisels finished removing limestone window lintels, quoins adorning a corner edge of the wing and a gable pediment for later use.

Preservationists and some neighborhood leaders had hoped more of the building would be saved, but The Hartford said saving more than the 1926 portion would be too costly.

"As long as the building has to come down, we would want to see any part of the building not being used recycled," said Tomas Nenortas, historic resources adviser at the Hartford Preservation Alliance.

Knipper said there are no immediate plans for the company's expansion to the site, although employees will use 1,244 existing parking spaces. The Hartford will not add more parking unless it builds.

The Hartford is still offering the city a portion of the property for a magnet school. The city says it continues to consider several locations.

The Hartford also initially explored whether redevelopment plans might include a mix of housing and retail to attract more development. Knipper said The Hartford is still open to the idea, but said the economy was stronger when those discussions took place a year ago.

"For practical reasons, I don't see it coming forward any time soon," Knipper said.

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.
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