A Hartford landmark needs your help

Upon its construction on Charter Oak Avenue in 1876, Temple Beth Israel became Connecticut’s first purpose-built synagogue. With its twin domes and arched doors and windows, it also became an architectural jewel of the neighborhood. The congregation moved to West Hartford in 1935, but with the Charter Oak Cultural Center now operating there, the place remains as vibrant as ever, hosting everything from art exhibits and performances to free after-school programs for local kids.

But there’s a problem. As fund raisers put it: “The Rose Window, or more accurately the installation of multiple windows that form a visual centerpiece for our Bimah, is in serious disrepair. Nearly a century-and-a-half of harsh weather conditions have led to a potentially irreversible degradation of the stained glass, the frame, and the Bimah’s structural integrity. In short: it is in danger of collapse!”

A GoFundMe page has been set up for those interested in helping to restore the windows. Donations go to the Charter Oak Temple Restoration Association Inc., a certified charity.

Nice publicity from the capital city next-door

The Providence Journal had a nice article recently on Hartford’s historical attractions. Sure, it’s a got a chamber-of-commerce bent, but we’ll take it. Besides, it’s nice to be reminded every once in while of all the attractions we locals take for granted. If you’re coming to the city for the first time and want to know what there is to see, this isn’t a bad place to start. The line about Aetna moving its headquarters to New York City might be premature, however.

Stowe Center’s Kane interviewed

The Hartford Business Journal has a nice Q&A with Katherine Kane, who will retire next spring after 20 years as executive director at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. The Center has grown and improved vastly on her watch, becoming among other things a great resource for community groups, despite mounting pressures (mostly fiscal) on organizations like hers. She sums up nicely the mission of museums in the 21st-Century:

Museums are not repositories for old ideas and objects, they are vibrant community anchors helping people understand how history informs today and shape a positive future.

David Ransom, Hartford historian

Hartford lost one of its best historians with the recent death of David Ransom, at age 100.

Visitors to HartfordHistory.net may recognize Dave as the co-author, with Gregory Andrews, of  “Structures and Styles: Guided Tours of Hartford Architecture,” an indispensable (though, sadly, out-of-print) book that gave thumb-nail sketches of every significant building in the city, including ones even most Hartford denizens took for granted. I had the great pleasure of interviewing him for this article on the book.

Dave also wrote a biography of Hartford architect George Keller and worked closely with just about every preservation group in the region. But in reading his obituary, I’m struck most of all by the fact that Dave turned his focus to architectural history relatively late in life. He had been international sales manager for M. Swift & Sons Inc. of Hartford when, at age 50, he retired and embarked on a new life. The accomplishments after that move speak for themselves:

He was the author of “George Keller, Architect”, the definitive biography of the celebrated Hartford architect. This book is also the acknowledged study of Keller’s vast architectural legacy, which included designs for monuments, houses, institutional buildings and bridges. Dave also wrote “Structures and Styles: Guided Tours of Hartford Architecture”, co-authored with Gregory Andrews. He worked closely with The Connecticut Historical Commission, and was instrumental in establishing historic districts in Hartford, particularly the areas of Congress Street and Lewis Street. In addition, he was a visiting lecturer at Trinity College and served as a board member with several organizations, including Cedar Hill Cemetery, The CT Historical Society, CT Preservation Action, and the West Hartford Historic District Commission. He received the Harlan H. Griswold award, Connecticut’s highest award for historic preservation, from the Connecticut Trust for History Preservation in 1991.

A life well-lived.

How has this thing survived?

Because of the huge crowd, most of us who attended the Women’s March on Hartford back in January had to park their cars some distance from the Capitol. In my case, it meant parking in my old neighborhood, on Charter Oak Avenue. There, on one of the utility poles in front of the former Capewell factory, I spotted something I’d never noticed before: a bumper sticker from Lowell P. Weicker‘s 1990 gubernatorial campaign.

“Nobody’s man but yours.”

Has this thing really survived 26-plus years of New England weather? Probably, because it sounds more plausible than someone slapping Weicker stickers on utility poles years after the election. Congratulations to the responsible printer for making such a durable product.

By the way, if you haven’t seen the Capewell since its days as a deteriorating, boarded-up hulk, you’ll be thrilled to see how much nicer it’s looking these days, as a beautiful apartment complex.