Monday, January 14, 2008

How 'bout we smash a few antiques for the sake of progress

(I stand corrected, below)

Pardon me for being pissy, but I'm one of those "cranky" preservationists who insisted that the house at 9 Liberty Street be saved. And it was, as it was moved early Sunday morning to a new site on Rapallo Avenue.

Thank god for Izzi Greenberg, of NEAT (North End Action Team) who originally was skeptical of the house move, but now recognizes the beauty of the building, and the integrity it will bring to the North End as housing is transformed there.

Unfortunately, the house move gave Sloan Brewster, of the Middletown Press, the opportunity to get the story wrong again, mostly by quoting people on only one side of the story (every story has two sides, Sloan).

Let me make some things clear about me, and about most preservationists:
- Every old building is not sacred, and not worth saving.
- Old buildings, are not more important than the lives and well-being of residents.
- Progress is not bad.
- All new development is not bad.

As for this particular story, here are some facts that are lacerated in the Middletown Press tale:
- That Peter Harding "donated" the house. Technically, yes, but the town "deeded" the house to Peter Harding with the condition that it would be moved. I can't recall clearly, but I believe the town took the house through eminent domain, and "deeded" it, at no or nominal cost, to the developer. His "cost" for the property was to help pay to move it.
- Mayor Giuliano says we can't make up for mistakes made in the 60's and 70's when a wave of redevelopment left parking lots where beautiful historic buildings once stood. No, Mayor, but we can avoid making the same mistakes again. I grew up in a once beautiful town called New Britain, you don't have to tell me about the ravages of redevelopment.
- "Some people have said it is not a remarkable example of an historic house..." Some? Who? Just plain old lazy journalism not to have that answer.
- "...others protested and so Harding offered it to the cause." Others? Again, who? Oh, me. That's right, I protested, and so did many other residents with names. Who might have known those names? The mayor, the town planner, the developer, the NEAT representatives. More lazy journalism Sloan.
- The house had lost its "historic relevance." Well, it was on the National Historic Register of Historic Structures, is that relevant enough? May I remind you that the Mark Twain House was a rooming house before it was rescued by pesky preservationists. (I stand corrected. The Mark Twain House was an upscale apartment building before it was renovated as a monument to one of America's great writers. Thanks to Susan Forbes Hansen for setting me straight) In 1915, the Old State House in Hartford was abandoned. In 1921, a group of pesky preservationists started a restoration drive. In 1961, it was declared a National Historic Landmark. Sure, 9 Liberty was no Old State House, but it was, and is, significant to Middletown's history. Ironically, as a result of the move, it lost its place on the National Register. There are buildings all over town that don't look like much because they're covered with ramshackle additions, asbestos and aluminum siding, and cheap porches, but that's not an excuse to knock them down.
- The story quotes the mayor and "others" (who?), who claim that it would be more economically sound to have demolished the old building, and built anew. I don't think that was ever proven to anyone's satisfaction, and several meetings were held to discuss the issues. Maybe the mayor knows something we don't. Maybe he and the "others" are simply wrong. But you wouldn't be able to determine that unless you asked someone on the other side of the issue....Sloan?

As many of the people quoted in the article agree, this is a needed, and positive step forward toward revitalization in Middletown's North End. There are unasked questions about the revitalization. Has the redevelopment East of Main, simply relocated the poverty and some of the attendant problems into other North End neighborhoods West of Main? Is the grand experiment of mixed-income housing at Wharfside Commons working? Is another surface parking lot, adjacent to the sidewalk on Main Street, a good thing? And is a driveway, across that sidewalk, leading to a busy grocery store, safe?

One final note. I've been in several banks, lawyers offices, stores, and restaurants on Main Street where I see a familiar photograph. It's of the beautiful old town hall. Demolished to make way for a surface parking lot. We should use that old photo as a reminder to keep the wrecking ball at bay until we're sure we want to sacrifice our past for the sake of our future.


steadyjohn said...

Your dedication to historic preservation in Middletown is appreciated. Middletown in 2007 saw the saving of the Seth Wetmore house (in private hands for now) and the destruction of the St. John Community Center, although here the windows and some other architectural elements were saved. More recently (Fall 2007), we saw the 18th century mill on Washington St removed, presumably to be erected elsewhere.

Anonymous said...


Quite by accident, we came upon your blog on my story, written in January, about moving the historic house from Liberty to Rapallo. I apologize if you felt the story was missing something but I take great offense to your comments about lazy journalism. In point of fact most of that story was completed in my free time. Also, the only reason I wrote that story was because I was psyched the house was being saved. And, seems to me, your side of the story was in the action... IT WAS SAVED!!!

Sloan Brewster
Middletown Press