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Save the 1855 Italianate at 220 High Street

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Hartford, will you ever get it right?

Of the many reasons people love Hartford, its history ranks high. Where else can you rent an apartment once owned by Isabella Beecher? Hartfordite Chill Will Griggs used to host Sunday Night Chess in the salon in Beecher’s Nook Farm mansion – now carved into apartments. We’d play chess (and I’d lose my queen) where Susan B. Anthony once visited, surely talking suffrage and women’s rights.

Where else but Hartford can you buy an apartment formerly owned by Mark Twain’s best friend, Joseph Hopkins Twichell? My wife and I are so lucky. Twain used drink whiskey, smoke cigars and enjoy a feast of conversation in our living room. Our party guests love the story.

Hartford’s history is in its buildings. We eat among the ghosts who lived, worked and played here. We walk and bicycle and drive the paths first made by feet thousands of years ago.

Every time we pass the Charter Oak monument, we acknowledge not just the colonial history of that massive white oak of peace, but the indigenous people who adored it in a riverside meadow for a millenium.

That history has value. So, why in God’s holy name is the City planning on tearing down the 1855 Italianate at 220 High Street, across from the Isham-Terry House, to make room for this God-awful baseball stadium and associated development?

Quietly, the City has obtained a demolition permit for the 220 High Street. Where is the Hartford Preservation Alliance? Where is the Historic Properties Commission? Where is the Historic Preservation Commission?

When we fail to preserve our heritage, we fail to secure our future. One should not expect Mayor Pedro Segarra to champion historic preservation when he does not even know that there are 169 cities and towns in Connecticut.

So, while the state touts itself as still revolutionary, and believe me, the Isham-Terry sisters were completely revolutionary for fighting the highway, the City tears down its past. We should worship that fighting spirit of their neighborhood.

The Isham-Terry fight saved the 1855 Italianate. Now, the Isham-Terry House will be lonely without it’s gorgeous brick neighbor.

I have railed in this space before about dumb City moves, like tearing down the 1890 Italianate on the corner of Brown and Wethersfield to make room for a CVS.

Why did we not force the CVS to move into that building and preserve that architecture? That corner now looks likes anywhere America, the soulless, corporate place of profit over people and place.

Or what about the teardown of the 18th century house on Broad Street to make way for Trinity’s new hockey rink? This was a harder argument, but when we lose our heritage to new buildings, we lose the spirit of that which came before us.

The 1855 Italianate is the same problem. By scribing this polemic, I do not expect Mayor Segarra to suddenly say, Oh wait, Krayeske is right, we shouldn’t raze that structure. Segarra does not listen to anyone outside his circle of sycophants, pushing him to cronyism and re-election.

I write this is an obituary for yet another building lost to the corrupt corporate capitalist machine that drives the economy for the one percent, by the one percent.

I write that as an attempt to put on the record that people disagreed with this shortsighted decision, that people in this city value their history and want to see it preserved, that this is yet another problem with that god-forsaken baseball stadium development.

I write this to give ammunition for a mayoral candidate who cares about Hartford, who wants another arrow in his quiver to throw at Segarra for his lack of leadership and vision and respect for the past.

What would have been so hard about telling Bob Landino and Centerplan – hey, save that building as part of the development? Nothing.

On social media, Hartfordites are furious about this proposed demolition. Bill Hosley wonders if the Isham Elm, one of Hartford’s only elm trees, on the same property, will fall victim to this terrible stadium.It shouldn’t.

Certain arguments online stated that the house is gutted with no redeeming period architecture. But the entire outside of the house is redeeming period architecture. Inside my 1870 Italianate in Asylum Hill, there is limited redeeming period architecture, but we still have a plaque from the National Register of Historic Places. This 1855 Italianate is no different.

Bill Hosley suggested online the City looked into moving the building but determined it was not worth it. Why? Other than shortsightedness, I’m not sure. Go to UConn in Storrs, and look at the new development that Landino just built on Route 195.

That is exactly what we are going to get on Main Street. It is cookie cutter forgettable, and will not respect the City’s past. The 1855 Italianate has character and charm.

Journalist Starre Vartan might say the soon-to-be-destroyed Italianate has “Wabi-Sabi.” Vartan described Wabi Sabi as “the Japanese idea of embracing the imperfect, of celebrating the worn, the cracked, the patinaed, both as a decorative concept and a spiritual one — it’s an acceptance of the toll that life takes on us all.”

Vartan continued: “If we can learn to love the things that already exist, for all their chips and cracks, their patinas, their crooked lines or tactile evidence of being made by someone’s hands instead of a machine, from being made from natural materials that vary rather than perfect plastic, we wouldn’t need to make new stuff, reducing our consumption (and its concurrent energy use and inevitable waste), cutting our budgets, and saving some great stories for future generations.”

Instead, Mayor Segarra and his cronies give us new, new, new. We like the past. It gives us a sense of who we are. The past guides us. When we destroy the past, we destroy irreplaceable parts of ourselves.

Leadership that does not recognize this is no leadership at all.

Sir Isaac Newton (borrowing from Bernard of Chartres six centuries before him) once said “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” If we see farther in Hartford, it is because we stand on the shoulders of those giants who came before us.

We stand on the shoulders of the German craftsmen who built the gorgeous Victorians on Laurel Street, on the shoulders of the Italian masons who laid bricks for Front Street and other neighborhoods. In 20 years, I hope that people who are here will say, we see farther into the past, and we enjoy our past, because of people who tried to get it right. Sadly, I don’t even think we will get this one right. The biggest outrage is when you are powerless, standing on the sidelines, watching as men in high places run roughshod over the past past like a bull through china shop. What a downright bummer.

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