Dillon Stadium, which recently underwent a complete renovation, opened in 1935 as Municipal Stadium but was renamed in 1956 to honor James H. Dillon. Who was he?
Several Hartford-area executives already have invested in the project, which has a projected budget of $1.5 million, according to the Journal. The investors hope this movie, named “Pep,” will raise Hartford’s profile the way another boxing movie, “Rocky,” did for Philadelphia in the 1970s.
The Hartford Business Journal reports that a New York-based production team is raising money to create a film on the life of Hartford boxer Willie Pep, with shooting to take place in the city.
“We have so many people speaking negatively about the state,” investor Manon Cox told the Journal. “It’s important for Connecticut to start creating some buzz, and whatever we can do to make that happen is good.”
Willie Pep was the professional name of featherweight boxer Guglielmo Papaleo, who was born in Middletown but trained to fight in Hartford. Starting in 1940, he won 63 straight fights. He held the featherweight title for six years, finishing his career with a record of only 11 losses out of 242 bouts. He achieved that record despite having to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II and suffering serious injuries in a 1947 plane crash. Pep died at a Rocky Hill nursing home in 2006. Read more about him here, here, and here.
Here’s some news that got lost in the holiday hub-bub.
The Hartford Courant reported that the 160-year-old Lewtan Building on High Street, just off Bushnell Park, will join the many downtown buildings undergoing conversion into apartments. (This Google Maps photo shows it in relation to the park.)
As reporter Ken Gosselin put it:
For nearly 160 years, people went to work at 28 High St. in downtown Hartford, employed in everything from silver plating and paper-box manufacturing to furniture making and, finally, turning out promotional products like the “Mighty Grip” jar opener.
Now, a developer is betting people will find the five-story building near Bushnell Park the place where they want to come home.
The Lewtan originally was known as the Batterson Building, named after the man who constructed it in 1860, James G. Batterson. Owner of a highly successful cemetery monument business headquartered on Main Street, Batterson is best-known today as one of the founders of the Travelers Cos., as well as its first president. Learn more about his extraordinary life here.
The new owner of the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes is having his team play a couple of games this year in the uniforms of its previous iteration, the Hartford Whalers. The New York Times used the occasion to take a look at Hartford’s longing for its old team–and the very mixed feelings around here about the throwback games. The story, headlined “The Whalers Are Back in the N.H.L. Sort Of,” includes interviews with former Whalers, including Ray Ferraro:
“I really liked living there,” said Ferraro, now an N.H.L. analyst for Canada’s TSN. “The insurance industry was still big, downtown was vibrant, the restaurants were packed. Plus, a lot of the players were in the same stage of our lives, in our early 20s. I liked everything about Hartford.”
The Connecticut Trolley Museum in East Windsor is leading an effort to restore the “Isle of Safety,” the trolley stop and shelter that stood at the corner of State and Main streets from 1913 to 1976.
The isle, with its distinctive red-tiled roof, was nearly destroyed in 1976, when State House Square was paved over, but it was rescued by the Knox Foundation and later re-erected at the Connecticut Trolley Museum, according to the Hartford Courant. But since then, it has fallen into disrepair; hence the recent announcement of a drive to raise $175,000 for the restoration.
“We are preserving not only a significant portion of Hartford’s history, but Connecticut’s history as a regional transportation hub,” Michael P. Speciale, chair of the development committee at the Connecticut Trolley Museum, said. “Tens of thousands of passengers were served by the Isle of Safety for seven decades, until the trolleys were replaced by buses. It became a common place for travelers to gather and seek shelter, all in the shadow of the historic Old State House.”
The museum says the work will include replacing all of the terra cotta tiles on the roof of the Isle of Safety. The same company that made the tiles in 1913 is still in business and has the mold to create new authentic tiles.
You can learn more about the Isle of Safety and contribute toward its restoration here.
Anyone who cares at all about Connecticut history needs to follow Today in Connecticut History, a daily posting by state Historian Walter Woodward and Connecticut Humanities. You’ll actually learn something new every day–and often about Hartford History. The December 26 post, for instance, concerns Morgan G. Bulkeley. As Woodward writes:
While the state — and colony — of Connecticut has been helmed by a number of colorful personalities over its long history, few of them can compare to the widely-accomplished Morgan G. Bulkeley: Civil War veteran, financier, insurance executive, baseball enthusiast, and strong-arm politician who earned himself the nickname “the Crowbar Governor” while in office.
Today’s ceremonial groundbreaking for the renovation of Dillon Stadium put me in mind of the Hartford Knights, the minor-league football team that played there in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I was nine years old when my father brought me to Dillon for the September 5, 1970 game against the Indianapolis Capitals. I don’t remember much of the game action, but I vividly recall an incident that put the game in the news: a bomb threat that prompted a temporary evacuation of the stands. All 5,000 or so of us were led onto the field, where we milled around with the players and coaches. Soon, we had cleared spaces to watch players toss footballs around–with fans as well as each other. Everyone was smiling, enjoying the novelty of the moment and (seemingly) not taking the scare very seriously. Maybe at that point in the era, bomb scares were taken in stride.
Andrew Crossley’s excellent blog about minor-league sports franchises, Fun While It Lasted, has a great entry on the Knights. Then there’s “Connecticut Gridiron: Football Minor Leaguers of the 1960s and 1970s,” a book by William J. Ryczek that confirmed my memories of the bomb-scare game. (See page 240.)
Amazingly, it will be 20 years on Thursday since the Hartford Whalers played their last game. On April 13, 1997, they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Civic Center, 2-1, then decamped for Raleigh, North Carolina and changed their name to the Carolina Hurricanes.
It still hurts.
The Whale began life in 1971 as the Boston-based New England Whalers of the World Hockey League. The team moved to Hartford for the 1974-75 season, playing its first game in the brand-spanking-new Hartford Civic Center Coliseum on January 11, 1975. The team thrived in Hartford, which led to it becoming one of just four WHA teams accepted into the National Hockey League in the WHA-NHL merger of 1979. Along with the new league came a new name: the Hartford Whalers.
Software entrepreneur Peter Karmanos Jr. bought the Whalers in 1994 and soon began pressing the state of Connecticut, which owned the Civic Center, for a bigger and better facility, along with better lease terms. (Increased luxury-box seating and similar “revenue streams” figured prominently here.) Negotiations with the administration of Gov. John G. Rowland broke down. In March 1997, Karmanos announced that the current season would be his team’s last in Hartford.
Hartford Courant columnist Jeff Jacobs, who began covering the Whalers in 1984, wrote a tribute to the Whalers last Sunday, making sure to eviscerate both Karmonos and the recently re-imprisoned Rowland. One line in particular was news to me:
Rowland, from Waterbury and not a hockey guy, didn’t love the Whalers enough to do everything to save the team. General manager Jim Rutherford later told me if he had offered Karmanos anything resembling what he offered Robert Kraft to move the [New England] Patriots [to Connecticut], the NHL would still be in Hartford.
So we are left with nostalgia. To that end, enjoy the great photo gallery that accompanies Jacobs’ column. It might also make you feel better to follow the indefatigable Hartford Whalers Booster Club on Facebook.
With the Hartford Yard Goats finally set to begin their inaugural season, Hartford Magazine has marked the occasion by publishing a short history of professional baseball in the city, accompanied by some great photos.
Starting in 1874, when the Hartford Dark Blues played as one of the charter members of the National League, pro and semi-pro baseball has had a few sojourns here. The most notable teams were the Hartford Senators, a minor-league operation that lasted into the 1930s, and the Hartford Chiefs, who began began play in 1938 as a farm team of the Boston Braves. When the Braves left Boston for Milwaukee after the 1952 season, the Chiefs likewise left Hartford.
The Chiefs, Senators, and other teams played at Morgan G. Bulkeley Stadium, in the South End. Built in 1927, the 6,500-seat facility fell into disuse after the Chiefs left and was demolished in 1960. In 2013, local baseball lovers installed a plaque commemorating the stadium on the grounds of Ellis Manor, a rehabilitation and health care facility that now occupies the site.
For more on the stadium, here’s an article that stadium buff Norm Hausmann wrote for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).