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Life on the Hill: The Victorian Lady Lives On

A 120-year-old house known as “The Victorian Lady” has been saved from demolition, gutted, moved, renovated, restored and is now one of the finest residences in Asylum Hill.

By Andy Hart

September 08, 2011

It is fairly safe to say that Valerio and Dulcie Giadone live in the most magnificent mobile home in Connecticut, and perhaps in New England. Of course, the three-story home known as “The Victorian Lady” was only mobile for a brief two-day span, hardly a blip in its 120 year history.

Up until 2004, the home was located on Sigourney Street, just north of Hawthorn Street. The owner of the property, Aetna Insurance, needed the space for parking and planned to demolish the building. But neighborhood residents and architectural preservationists united against the demolition of the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The effort was spearheaded by the newly founded Northside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance (NINA), a coalition of six Asylum Hill corporations that work to improve the neighborhood’s quality of life.

Eventually, NINA Executive Dir¬ec¬tor Ken Johnson and others came up with an innovative idea. Why not move the Victorian Lady to Ashley Street, where a space had opened up following the demolition of an abandoned and blighted property?

And so, on a muggy summer morn¬ing in 2004, the Victorian Lady began a seven block journey to its new home. The sight of the three-story, brick building sweeping majestically down Farmington Ave¬nue had drawn local, regional and even national attention (the Victori¬an Lady would later be featured on Home & ?Garden Network’s “Re¬store America” series).

After a journey that took twice as long as anticipated due to a few (quite literal) bumps in the road, the Victorian Lady was slid into its new home on Ashley Street.

The groups of spectators then quickly dispersed and the newspaper and tv crews packed up their cameras and left.

And then the real work – the renovation of the Victorian Lady – began.

NINA?had made an agreement to sell the house to Valerio Giadone, currently an architect at Crosskey Architects in Downtown Hartford, and his wife, community activist Dulcie Giadone.

The couple had been living in a three-family home in Hartford’s Barry Square neighborhood for several years but were looking to make a move.

Dulcie had first heard about the Victorian Lady from Louise Blalock, former executive director of the Hartford Public Library. “I ran home and told Valerio that I found our dream house and we must have it...He was skeptical at first about moving a brick house, but when he walked through the house, he could visualize how beautiful it could be and that it would be perfect for us.” she said.

Although the Victorian Lady was originally a private home, it had been converted into office space while it was located on Sigourney Street.

Valerio drew up an architectural plan to build an entirely new interior for the building. “I included some elements of the Victorian flair that is evident on the exterior of the building, but I also wanted to give it a more contemporary feel,” he said.

The Giadones had purchased the Victorian Lady for approximately $100,000 and then secured a loan of $90,000 for the materials needed for the renovation. Almost all of labor was provided by Valerio and Dulcie, along with their two sons, Alex and Joe, and Valerio’s brothers. His father, Giuseppe, also lent a hand and helped Valerio both design and build the home’s ornate porch. Volunteer groups also worked on the property, including Knox Parks and Valerio’s own firm at the time, Schoenhardt Architects.

The Giadones first gutted virtually the entire interior of the building and then started rebuilding it all according to Valerio’s plan. “We did everything, with the exception of the heating and cooling system and the sheetrock,” said Valerio. “We did the rest: the demolition work, framing, electrical, plumbing, carpeting, flooring, every¬thing. And we both had full-time jobs at the time.”

Dulcie said that for over a year and half, she and Valerio would work on the house after work almost every day until about 9:30 pm, plus weekends.

“It became like a second job,” said Valerio.

The Giadones moved into the Victorian Lady in the fall of 2006. A few weeks later, they held a holiday party to welcome in their new neighbors. “When we first considered moving to Ashley Street, I was happy to see that they had a strong, active community group here. That made me feel a lot more comfortable,” said Dulcie, who has served as President of Hartford Areas Rally Together (HART), the oldest community organizing group in New England, and as executive director of Hartford Children’s Theatre. She recently opened up her own business, Curves of West Hartford, which is located on New Park Avenue on the Hartford-West Hartford town line.

The couple are enjoying the neighborhood and Valerio said, “We initially agreed to live here seven years. But we have no intention of leaving.” One additional incentive for staying on Ashley Street is that their son, Alex, lives right across the street in a home he purchased with his brother Joe shortly after Valerio and Dulcie moved into the Victorian Lady.

The Giadones are continuing to work on their property. They’ve installed decorative paving in the backyard and also built a Victorian-style tool shed. “The next project is to finish the attic,” said Valerio.

“For our grandchildren,” added Dulcie.

Reprinted with permission of the The Hartford News.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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