Photos Record Change December 28, 2004
By SUSAN KANIA, Special to the Courant
University of Hartford students Adore
Ramans and Mary Beth D'Onofrio don't usually spend time in Hartford's
North End, but recently they've been out on Albany Avenue, meeting
and photographing merchants.
Ramans, 30, of Manchester, and D'Onofrio,
23, of Winsted, are two of the 14 senior photography majors from
the university who are helping to create an exhibit called "Now
and Then: Albany Avenue."
Together with historical photos, videos
and oral histories from the archives of the Jewish Historical Society
of Greater Hartford, the students' photos will show the transition
of Albany Avenue as a neighborhood of predominantly Jewish immigrants
and businesses in the early 20th century, to today's community of
African American, West Indian and Hispanic residents and businesses.
The exhibit will run between February
and August at the George J. Sherman and Lottie K. Sherman Museum
of Jewish Civilization, in the university's Mortensen Library. It
is presented through a collaboration of the Jewish community of
Greater Hartford, Upper Albany Main Street, and the Maurice Greenberg
Center for Judaic Studies and the Hartford Art School at the University
"Albany Avenue has a rich history,
and the businesses are participating so they can become a piece
of that history," said Marilyn Risi, director of Upper Albany
Main Street. "This project fits in with the reconstruction
of Route 44, and the new University of Hartford Performing Arts
Center, that will bring positive attention to the avenue, and open
people's eyes to what's here."
The project also complements the "micro
business incubator" program, in which University of Hartford
business students go to Albany Avenue to assist business owners,
Professor Richard Freund, director
of the Maurice Greenberg Center, said "Now and Then" explores
the "unique synergy" of Albany Avenue, a thriving center
of the Hartford's Jewish community until 1960 that is now being
re-developed by a new group of immigrants and residents.
"It brings these people together,
and allows them to see that they are all involved in the same process
of pursuing the American Dream ... that people from this community
faced the same challenges, overcame them and became extremely successful,"
Ramans photographed Precious Ross-Ellis
and her sisters Hortense and Monica Ross, who immigrated to Hartford
from Jamaica in 1976, and started Medical Temp Force, now located
at 541 Albany Ave.
"I love the idea of what they've
done, revitalizing a historic building on Albany Avenue and running
a business together," said Ramans. "They're three sisters
who had a dream, and they're sticking with it."
Ross-Ellis said they now employ eight
nurses and 50 certified nursing assistants, who work at nursing
homes in Greater Hartford. They will be expanding their business
soon to include home health care. In September, they added a new
retail section on their first floor called Uniforms & Stuff,
where they sell uniforms for health-care workers and First Communion
outfits for children.
They've depended on word of mouth and
handing out fliers for advertising, so they hope that being part
of the "Now and Then" project will help them attract new
"Many people in our community
face challenges, so we've always thought that we were given this
business to help them," said Hortense Ross.
The sisters said they've seen the West
Indian community grow and open several new businesses on Albany
Avenue since the 1970s. They can now shop for everything they want
from home: jerk pork and chicken, red snapper and the special herbs
and spices that give their island cooking its distinctive flavors.
Other Upper Albany sites that students
have photographed for the project include Unity Barber Parlor Evay
Day Spa, Love's Shoe Room, the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Albany
Grocery, the Artists Collective, and the Northwest School building
that was rescued from demolition.
D'Onofrio took photos of the Liberty
Christian Center International, which was formerly the Horace Bushnell
Congregational Church. She also went to Hartford Element Appliance
Service Co., located at 1500 Albany Ave. since 1978, where owners
Harry Berry and Wally Gitberg say they know everyone in the neighborhood.
They are now repairing appliances for the children and grandchildren
"It was remarkable to learn that
their business was once an ice cream factory," said D'Onofrio,
who ventured back into the recesses of Hartford Element, with its
racks of appliance parts and an interesting old cash register to
Harry Berry, 67, who grew up on Albany
Avenue, said he recalls walking to his neighborhood synagogue and
the old Vine Street School, skating at Keney Park, riding the trolley
cars that used to run on the avenue and going to stores such as
the Albany five-and-dime.
"Thirty and 40 years ago, people
came from all over to shop at the kosher meat markets, bakeries
and delis," Gitberg said. "Now they tend to go to the
malls, Bishops Corner or the big Wal-Marts. ... It's tough for small
businessmen to stay in business nowadays."
But Berry said they're hopeful that
the university's projects in the neighborhood will help revive Albany
The "Now and Then: Albany Avenue"
exhibit, which is free and open to the public, runs from Feb. 6
to Aug. 15. For information or reservations for docent-led tours
for groups of up to 20 people, call 860-768-4963 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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