February 9, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
It is a two-sided,
green-glassed, dominating structure affectionately known as
the "boat building."
Now, just over 40 years after it opened, the Hartford headquarters
of The Phoenix Companies Inc. has something else to be known
for: a place on the National Register of Historic Places.
In October, the State Historic Preservation Board nominated
the Phoenix building for the recognition. Late last month, the
register officially put the building on its list, company officials
It is somewhat unusual for a building just 42 years old to be
placed on the register, but architects say it's form makes it
"You have to remember, we've grown to loathe most of the
modern buildings," Hartford architect Tyler Smith said. "I
think what you're seeing now is a growing appreciation for some
of the best of the early modernist work that heretofore had been
thrown out on the scrap heap."
He added, "I'm glad it's
being recognized. It's worth it, and it's a real Hartford landmark."
Architect Max Abramovitz designed the building, which opened
in 1963. He was known for designing the United Nations and Lincoln
Center buildings in New York city.
Hartford architect Patrick Pinnell said the building arrived
at the tail end of an era in which rectangular, modern, glass
boxes were falling out of favor. Architects thought of ways to
use materials differently, Pinnell said, and then looked again
"The boat building was one of the pioneering ways of breaking
out of the box, not so much by changing the skin as by changing
the structural shape of it," Pinnell said.
The building also is a testament
to 1960s-era corporate "enlightened
self interest," Pinnell said.
"Corporations hadn't built anything to speak of since the
stock market crash," he said. "There was a kind of
joy in rediscovering how a major corporation could present itself
as not just a business machine, but as enlightened by the symbolism
presented by its architecture."
But there is an irony in the building's new status, he said.
The National Register came into existence in part because historic
structures were being demolished to make way for new, modernist
ones, not unlike the boat building. Now, though, it's the modernist
buildings that need preserving.
"It's kind of an irony of history that the historic preservation
movement - which was started when the old traditional buildings
were getting knocked down - is now faced with saving some of
the things knocked down by its previous clientele," Pinnell
The Phoenix plans an extensive rehabilitation of the building,
and will relocate all of its statewide operations under that
In addition, to mark the occasion of the National Register listing,
The Phoenix Foundation is granting $10,000 to the Hartford Preservation
Alliance, an organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing
Hartford's architectural assets.
According to its website, the register was authorized under
the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 to support public
and private efforts to protect historic and archaeological resources.
The register is managed by the National Park Service.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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